If You Fixate On These 7 Things, You May Have High-Functioning Anxiety
High-functioning anxiety isn't any less distressing than other forms of anxiety, but those who deal with this form of anxiety find ways to function in daily life despite their anxious thoughts. Because of this, the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety often involve particular thought patterns, like fixations. And while everyone fixates on something every once and a while, certain fixations may be particular red flags. The obsessive thoughts about certain anxiety triggers may feel normal for you in high-stress situations, but many of these fixations can be a product of an anxious brain.
"High-functioning anxiety tends to migrate into fixations on certain things because our anxious feelings have to be channeled somewhere that isn't too limiting to our daily life function," trauma therapist Shannon Thomas, LCSW, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, tells Bustle. "Our subconscious attempts to make us feel 'safe' and funneling our anxiety to one or two fixation areas can give our mind something to chew on and not be anxious about every single thing."
While fixation may try to tell you it's a way of being in control, it can actually knock you off balance by being upsetting or stressful. Here are seven things that fixating on can be a sign of high-functioning anxiety.
1. Numeric Milestones
Everyone feels societal pressure, but people with high-functioning anxiety may assign certain numerical milestones, or deadlines, to their own life.
"For example, you may fixate on needing to have a child by age 35," Alyssa Petersel, licensed social worker (LMSW) and founder and CEO of My Wellbeing, tells Bustle. "This may feel like it provides structure, predictability, and a boundary on something [...] that is otherwise extremely gray and unpredictable." In reality, these fixations are likely providing you undue pressure that could be lifted with the support of a mental help professional.
2. Perfecting Your Work Life
Your work life is largely out of your control. So fixating on your success at work, and perfecting office tasks, can be a natural thought pattern for people with high-functioning anxiety.
"If you fixate on the things within your control — how much time you spend on a project, the quality of the project you complete, the teammates with whom you communicate and collaborate — you feel as though you are more in control of the outcome, which helps you feel more in control of your career at large." If you are distressed by this fixation, however, it's a good idea to seek help.
3. Food Choices
High-functioning anxiety can lead to a fixation on certain food choices. In some cases, this can mean a dual diagnosis of anxiety and an eating disorder, but any kind of disordered eating, or thoughts about disordered eating, can be a cause for concern.
"We fixate on food choices in an attempt to maintain some control over our bodies, because being chronically anxious leaves us feeling controlled by the anxiety," Thomas says. If you're dealing with intrusive or obsessive thoughts about food, it's important to consult your doctor or a mental health professional.
4. Your Clothing Choices
Everyone has had that day where they felt like they had nothing to wear, but with high-functioning anxiety, perfecting your outfit for every occasion can be a symptom of a bigger problem.
"High-functioning anxiety often manifests in being fixated on finding the 'perfect' outfit we believe may bring us good luck for the day," Thomas says. "[... But] getting trapped in the fixation cycle of finding the right outfit can quickly backfire and [give] us even more anxiety." If you're feeling stressed about what to wear more often than not, then you may want to seek help for anxiety symptoms.
5. An Exam Or Presentation
While exams, interviews, and presentations are incredibly stressful, if you feel fixated on your anxiety around these events beyond a short window of time, you may be dealing with high-functioning anxiety.
"For some, waiting for the results of an exam or interview could be excruciating," Indra Cidambi, M.D., the medical director of Center for Network Therapy, tells Bustle. "They do not want to experience the feelings they are feeling and they want to escape the situation." This can cause a looping thought pattern, or trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms. Talking to a trusted loved one may help you gauge how severe your symptoms are.
6. Medical Procedures Or Appointments
Going to the doctor can be scary. But those with high-functioning anxiety may fixate on making an appointment or going to an appointment much longer than others.
"Some can get anxious to go through a medical procedure, even a blood test as part of a physical," Dr. Cidambi says. It is worth it to bring up this distress when you do go to an appointment, so that you can potentially mitigate the fear on your next trip to the doctor.
7. Your Schedule
While detailed planners and packed Google calendars seem to be everywhere, a mental fixation on scheduling and organization can be a symptom of high-functioning anxiety.
"High-functioning anxiety can become a fixation with needing everything in our life to be organized and on schedule," Thomas says. "When life becomes messy, people with a fixation for routine can become grumpy and irritated by plans changing or some other disruption to their routine." If you realize that you feel really knocked off balance when things don't go as planned, you may find it helpful to reach out to a professional for help.
High-functioning anxiety is unique in that it may not always seem noticeable in your daily life. Because of this, it's even more important to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings so that you can pinpoint what is making you the most anxious, and how your brain is coping with these feelings. Everyone fixates on the things that stress them out every once and a while, but you deserve more than having this be your daily reality.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.