The idea of “high functioning anxiety” is sometimes used to describe someone who is overly nervous, constantly busy, a perfectionist, always planning for the future, obsessive about to-do lists, an over-performer and always living with a sense that they should be doing more. In other words, a Type A personality according to Dr. Michael Wetter, author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, in an email conversation.
We all experience anxiety from time to time. Think about when you took your driver’s test, had a major exam at school or went for a job interview. You probably experienced feelings of nervousness such as sweating or nausea. This is normal.
Anxiety is a useful and necessary survival mechanism according Wetter, “Having anxiety can motivate you and at times help you be more productive.” Some people use the adrenalin that comes with anxiety to their advantage, for example, they might wait until the last minute to write a paper for school because the nervous energy helps them focus. Other people might find anxiety to be distressing, they would work to have their paper completed days or weeks ahead of time to avoid the distress of thinking about the looming deadline. Anxiety appears differently in each person.
High functioning anxiety can sometimes be disruptive but it isn’t so intense or pervasive that it stops someone from accomplishing what they want to do according to Wetter. The difference is in impairment. Worrying and nervousness might be a constant companion but it doesn’t stop them from functioning on a daily basis. They still go to work, take care of their home and manage their daily lives. Panic disorders, phobias, and other clinical disorders will often include anxiety that is so intense, an individual is usually unable to carry out any other tasks or objectives when crippled with such anxiety. While living with high functioning anxiety can be troublesome, it doesn’t meet the definition of an anxiety disorder. To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, symptoms must interfere with your daily life.
Living with what is referred to as high-functioning anxiety might seem like a good thing. You are always prepared, you constantly strive for perfection, you are super organized and are always willing to go the extra mile. But being Type A personality also means you are never satisfied, you always worry things aren’t good enough or you didn’t do enough and you worry constantly about what other people may think of you. You might put your own health and well-being aside to make sure things are done correctly and on time.
Sometimes anxiety can interfere with daily life without you understanding how it is impacting your life, work and relationships. For example, you might crave the adrenalin that comes with waiting until the last minute to complete a work project but you might not be putting the needed thought and research into it and may hand in subpar reports. You might feel the need for perfection and not see how this need drives other people away. You might be impatient and become irritated with people who don’t keep up with your breakneck pace. Your constant need for a high-stress life might also be affecting your health. You might not sleep well, may eat on the run more often than not; stress might be causing heart problems or other health conditions.
It can be hard to know whether your worry is normal, whether it is just your personality or if you have an anxiety disorder. Some of the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder according to FamilyDoctor.org are:
- Excessive worry that interferes with your day-to-day life
- Feeling tense and worried more days than not
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Muscle tension
- Trouble concentrating
- Getting tired easily
- Restlessness, or feeling “keyed up” or on edge
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heartbeat
- Dry mouth
If you think that you might have anxiety, it is best to talk with your doctor. While there isn’t a cure for anxiety, it is treatable and manageable.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.