high functioning anxiety

A lot of introverts struggle with anxiety. It turns out that even those of us who think we’re calm cucumbers might have something called “high functioning anxiety”.

High functioning anxiety, which is not a mental health diagnosis, but a catch phrase to describe people with a more covert kind of anxiety, is not always easy to spot.

That’s because the characteristics of someone who struggles with high functioning anxiety are often the opposite of what you’d expect from an anxious person. As the name implies, people with high functioning anxiety have learned to function reasonably well within the life they’ve carefully crafted for themselves.

To understand what I mean, I’ve put together 10 signs of high functioning anxiety.

Warning Signs of High Functioning Anxiety

1. You have a stoic, calm demeanour.

Wait, what? Aren’t anxious people supposed be a vibrating bundle of nerves? Not necessarily. If you have high functioning anxiety, you’ve learned to wear a mask of calm by stuffing down and compartmentalizing your emotions. You’ve perfected hiding your emotions so well that people often tell you you’re stoic and hard to read.

2. You’re an achievement fiend.

People typically expect someone with anxiety to be unmotivated. But when you have high functioning anxiety, you actually use your anxious feelings to push you to achieve your goals. The problem is, it’s never enough. You always feel like you should be doing more.

3. You’re a perfectionist.

Geez, this list is starting to sound like the weaknesses-that-are-really-strengths you describe during a job interview. Perfectionism tends to be seen as a positive quality. But it can often be a coping mechanism for high functioning anxiety.

You try to calm your worries by obsessively perfecting your work and appearance, or becoming a self-help addict. You also have an ‘all or nothing mentality’ that leads you to take things to extremes. As millennials would say, “you’re so extra”.

4. You crave control.

I don’t mean in the power-hungry, gotta-call-all-the-shots sense. If you struggle with high functioning anxiety, you likely feel an intense need to control most aspects of your environment, such as your living space, what you eat, your routines, and who you allow into your bubble.

5. You keep your world small.

Do you shrink your world to prevent overwhelm? This is another sign of high functioning anxiety. You avoid situations that trigger your anxiety, such as social events, travel, confrontation, or anything else that creates intense emotional discomfort. You tend to stick to familiar experiences and routines that give you a sense of control and comfort.

6. You use a lot of negative self-talk.

When you have high functioning anxiety, your mind is filled with negative self-talk. Your internal dialogue is so dark that it makes HBO look like a kids network. You criticize yourself for falling short of perfectionism, and take inventory of every flaw with cruel precision.

7. You have nervous habits.

Though you can come off as composed and put together in public, the one thing that might give your high functioning anxiety away is your nervous habits: face picking, foot tapping, scalp scratching, nail biting, key jiggling—these are all subtle ways that you express your secret anxiety.

8. You can’t sleep.

No surprises here. When your mind is full of anxious thoughts, it’s pretty hard to get a good night’s sleep. You lie awake worrying and obsessing until even the sheep you planned to count grow weary and call it a night.

9. You are a people pleaser.

If you have high functioning anxiety, the word ‘no’ is not a part of your vocabulary. The thought of displeasing someone and potentially pushing them away makes your anxiety levels soar. So you try your best to make everyone happy—even if it means you just barely cling to your own sanity.

10. You need to stay busy.

This is another sneaky characteristic of high functioning anxiety. Far from being ‘crippling’, your brand of anxiety actually propels you to be in a state of constant doing. You know that the moment you stop, those anxious feelings will creep in, so you focus on staying busy with work, errands, hobbies, and taking care of others.

If you you’re an introvert who struggles with anxiety, be sure to get my free introvert confidence lessons and connection guide. Get the guide and lessons here.

Over to you

Do you struggle with high functioning anxiety? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! 🙂



Michaela Chung