While having an anxiety disorder can negatively affect your work, home, or social life, there's one type of anxiety that might feel like it's an asset to your career. But, how do you know if you have it? Certain work habits might be a sign of high functioning anxiety, and though they might help you get ahead in the moment, they might not be great for your mental health in the long-term. Even though it's not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, high functioning anxiety can still have negative consequences despite the sufferer appearing motivated, poised, and successful to the outside eye.
According to the website American Family Physician, in order for something to be classified an anxiety disorder in the DSM, the symptoms must cause "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning." Because high functioning anxiety appears to do the opposite, it's not technically an anxiety disorder in the traditional sense. However, that doesn't mean it's not what's driving a lot of people's behavior, and they might be totally unaware that what they're feeling is anxiety.
"There are times that anxiety is very motivating, very facilitating," Carmen Tebbe Priebe, a sports psychologist at the University of Iowa, told Health. "It makes people work hard, so it can seem as if they’re functioning well, but they’re not [always] disclosing everything that’s happening." If you suspect that your high performance at work is driven by unconscious worries, doing these things at work could mean you have high functioning anxiety.
1. You Do More Than What's Expected
People with high functioning anxiety may worry that they're not doing enough, which often results in them doing more than what's expected. This is especially true at work. If you're the first one in the office in the morning, and the last one to leave at night, you might have high functioning anxiety. What's more, your peers might be surprised at what's going on with you beneath the surface. "Outwardly, you appear to have it all, but deep inside you know your success is hard-won," Deane Alban wrote for Be Brain Fit. "Others don’t see your obsessive negative thinking, irrational fears, sleepless nights, and self-imposed pressure. You live in constant fear of not living up to the expectations you have for yourself and that others have of you."
2. You Help Others Get Their Work Done
If you have high functioning anxiety, you're likely the go-to person at work for people who need help. Whether it's advice, a shoulder to cry on, or out-of-the-office coverage, everyone turns to you. "Friends, family, and co-workers rely on you because you are dependable and they know you get things done," Alban explained on Brain Be Fit. You likely finish your work early, and because you like to keep busy you might volunteer to work weekends and holidays, or offer to pick up additional projects. While this makes you look like rockstar at work, staying busy 24/7 will eventually lead to a crash.
3. You Wear Your Busyness As A Badge Of Honor
According to Brain Be Fit, being proud of how busy you are at work — especially if you're working so much that your sleep and health are affected — could be a sign of high functioning anxiety. What's more, if you manage others and expect the same 24/7 work schedule from them, you could be fostering a toxic work environment. People with high functioning anxiety tend to be workaholics, are often labeled as having type A personalities, and strive for perfection in everything they do. While this means you can get a lot done, it doesn't leave any room for work/life balance, and it sends a dangerous message to your direct reports that they are expected to work nonstop.
4. You Come To Work Sick
If you're so afraid to call in sick that you drag yourself to the office when you should be at home in bed, you might have high functioning anxiety. Even though your job affords you a certain number of sick days (that you should take!), if you have high functioning anxiety, you might fear being fired if you use them even though you are the ideal employee. Not only is going to work when you're sick bad for you, it also puts your co-workers at risk for catching your illness.
5. You Arrive Early To Meetings
Are you the first one in the meeting room or on the conference line? If you fear being late so much that you arrive unusually early for meetings — maybe even dialing into a call while you're in the bathroom — you might have high functioning anxiety. According to Very Well Mind, this is called lost time, and it happens when you show up too early because you're afraid of being late.
6. You Turn Down Invitations From Your Co-Workers
While you appear helpful, kind, and put together at work, if you have high functioning anxiety, you might be a bit of a mystery to your co-workers. According to Very Well Mind, people with high functioning anxiety tend to be hard to read, and they guard their emotions closely. What's more, they tend to keep so busy with work that they decline most social invitations because unstructured socializing makes them feel anxious and unproductive.
7. You're Easily Startled
Do you jump when someone comes up behind you in the break room or pokes their head into your cubicle? Being easily startled is a sign of high functioning anxiety, therapist Annie Wright explained on The Mighty. What's more, people with high functioning anxiety engage in a number of self-soothing behaviors in an effort to avoid feeling anxious.
"Attempts to self-cope with those uncomfortable symptoms can lead to maladaptive behaviors like regular use of substances or addictive actions — such as multiple glasses of wine on the weeknights, nightly smoking, regular Netflix and YouTube binging, endless social scrolling, etc. — all in an attempt to self-soothe and tolerate the intolerable feeling states that may be brewing inside you," Wright noted. Sound familiar?
The good news is that high functioning anxiety responds well to cognitive behavioral and talk therapy. Personally, I find meditation, specifically pranayama breathing, highly beneficial for quelling anxiety because it forces your mind to actively focus on your breath. This helps pause those repetitive thoughts. While your high functioning anxiety might seem like an asset, it's actually making your world smaller. If you think you have high functioning anxiety, talk to your doctor about treatment options.