What Is High Functioning Anxiety? 9 Things People With The Disorder Want You To Know

When I tell people about my general anxiety disorder, they're often surprised. Based on the question I always get — "What triggered it in the first place?" — it's clear I don't fit the stereotype of an anxious person. I embrace public speaking opportunities, love going to parties, and can count on two hands the number of work days I've missed because of my mental health. I graduated college with highest honors and was the president of my university's journalism society. But an anxiety disorder isn't a personality trait — it's a medical condition. I've had crippling panic attacks since I was a young girl, and I've had two short-term hospital stays for suicidal ideation.

High-functioning anxiety isn't an official diagnosis, but it's become a term used to describe people who have anxiety and live successful, busy lives. People with high-functioning anxiety want you to know what we're dealing with, but it's often difficult to find the words. If anything, you might look at someone with high-functioning anxiety and envy their discipline, since we're often perfectionists and love to stay active. We may stay silent about our anxiety for fear of seeming dramatic, and you might be shocked to find out we've been suffering. After all, we seem just fine. I can't act as a spokesperson for every person with high-functioning anxiety, but there are some things you should know if you have someone in your life with an anxiety disorder, especially if they have high-functioning anxiety.

It May Seem Like We Have It All Together

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Due to stigma, people with mental illness are incorrectly thought of as violent, scary, or hard to work with. High-functioning anxiety presents a contrast to the stereotype: We often seem to have our lives together in impressive ways, and we're detail-oriented and can meet deadlines. That doesn't mean we aren't suffering.

Making Mistakes Devastates Us

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Everyone looks back at errors and cringes, but if you have high-functioning anxiety, making a mistake feels crushing. Interestingly, some psychologists suggest those with high-functioning anxiety are better employees because of their fear. If you know someone with high-functioning anxiety, try to cut them some slack when they mess up. They're already overanalyzing themselves.

We Overanalyze Everything

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You know how you rehash a conversation with a crush to see if you missed any hidden signals? Imagine doing that, but with every interaction you have. From work meetings to casual talks with friends, we're replaying every single moment and chiding ourselves for any perceived errors.

Our Busyness Is Often A Coping Mechanism

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Anxiety often brings paralyzing fear, so it's not exactly surprising that you may think that busy people aren't prone to anxiety. If you know someone with high-functioning anxiety, they're likely staying busy to avoid their thoughts.

It's Hard For Us To Reach Out

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Asking for mental health help is difficult, but it's even worse when you have high-functioning anxiety. You live a decent life and can function, so why do you need professional treatment? Of course, treatment makes dealing with anxiety much easier, but it's hard to come to terms with needing help.

Our Anxiety May Not Make Sense To You

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Anyone with high-functioning anxiety will tell you they often face disbelief when they share their struggles with people. When you have a life that seems perfect, people don't understand why you'd ever have mental turmoil. Remember that anxiety is caused by biological factors and life experiences, so having good relationships, wealth or beauty doesn't mean someone won't deal with the condition.

You Should Ask Us How We're Doing

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Even responding to someone saying, "How are you?" is a complicated task for someone with high-functioning anxiety. Still, you should ask. Remind them that you care, and know that it's an honor if they open up to you.

We Internalize Your Advice

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If we do reach out for advice, we're going to cling to what you say. I still remember when my then-boyfriend told me to just "be happy" after I confided in him about my anxiety. (He ended up learning a lot later, and I ended up marrying him, but I'll never forget that awful advice.) Just listen. Don't try to offer solutions, especially if you aren't sure of the right thing to say.

Encouragement Goes A Long Way

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Someone who has high-functioning anxiety may not seem as if they need any encouragement or words of wisdom — after all, they look like they're doing pretty well. Remember that we're already beating ourselves up internally and are constantly criticizing ourselves. If you tell someone with high-functioning anxiety that they're doing a good job, they may not believe you, but you should still say it. Optimism and encouragement can help keep anxious thoughts at bay. You can't take away someone's anxiety, but you can be intentional in your words and actions. Even if you don't ever get thanked, know that the person in your life with high-functioning anxiety appreciates your effort.