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High Functioning Anxiety

Anxiety is well known for most of us, perhaps many of us experience anxiety occasionally or more frequently. However, for some of us, feelings of worry, fear, or unease can have a much greater, lasting effect and can become overwhelming and this can develop into what is now being described as High-functioning anxiety or HFA

What is high-functioning anxiety?

It can be present for months or years without being diagnosed or treated, and symptoms can go unnoticed.

Many people who experience HFA may try to ignore symptoms and continue with life. It’s not until they are alone that they may ‘crash’. The intensity of controlling their emotions can be a drain on energy, meaning they need prolonged periods of downtime to recuperate, or that they may resort to faulty coping strategies such as drinking, drug-taking, or binge-eating as a way of coping with their anxiety.

Some signs of HFS can include being very quiet or talkative, fast movements and actions such as scanning your surroundings with fast eye movements, or overly submissive or aggressive behaviour when conflict arises.

More subtle signs can include constantly anticipating about what could go wrong and how to cope with situations when they go wrong, struggling to be present in the moment, daydreaming, experiencing a fear of failure or being a fraud, constant planning, or feeling embarrassed about behaviours.

All of these actions can result in increased stress and increased mental health struggles. Those who experience HFA may develop physical health problems, for example, cardiovascular, respiratory, or gastrointestinal disorders due to the enduring effect of stress on the body, or as a result of the unhealthy behaviours they use to copy with the increased anxiety.


What are the symptoms of HFA?

There are a number of symptoms that indicate High functioning anxiety:


  1. Fears of criticism or significant self-criticism.

  2. Fears of looking inadequate or foolish to others.

  3. Feeling on the edge or on the verge of losing control.

  4. Feeling a sense of impending doom.

  5. Significant life stresses.


Why do we experience HFA?

People can have high-functioning anxiety due to stressful events. For example, difficult childhood relations or trauma in life. High-functioning anxiety can be beneficial when growing up in a surrounded by stress, as it makes it easier to anticipate threats before they occur, and implement methods to avoid or control any perceived danger

While those with HFA can typically appear successful, together, and calm, often succeeding in different areas of work and life. However, this can conflict with how they feel on the inside. People with HFA can be plagued with self-doubt and even imposter syndrome.

What can we do to cope with symptoms?

Anxiety can affect us all in different ways and we all find our different ways to cope with anxiety symptoms in the short term. Trying different methods of coping with anxiety can be key to managing symptoms and give yourself time to find the right solution for you. Some of us try to avoid threatening situations, that we perceive to cause us to feel anxious.

The difficulty can be that anxiety can certain things appear as a threat even though they aren’t so it’s important to consider in a more relaxed state of mind, where and when this applies and how we can manage anxious symptoms.

Sometimes it can be important to embrace anxiety symptoms instead of avoiding them. Behaviour geared towards avoiding symptoms can make them worse, as the brain recognises this behaviour as an indicator of threat and can then make us feel more anxious, instead of less anxious.

Raising your awareness of your physical feelings of anxiety and accompanying thoughts can help you stop when the symptoms begin and learn how to intercept the cycle of anxiety.

The STOP technique is just one option that can help you to break the cycle temporarily. The STOP acronym stands for Stop, take a breath, observe and proceed. This four step technique can take a minute or less.

Ultimately, over time, anxiety can eventually become worse if your life stressors keep building, or if you struggle to reach out and talk to others about what you are struggling with, and how you are feeling. We can manage anxiety by looking out life stressors and managing our those stressors more effectively and not allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed. Also, working with a Therapist can help you to understand the root causes of your anxiety, as well as to learn coping techniques to manage anxiety in the short term.

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