Do you have high-functioning anxiety?

Do you have high-functioning anxiety?

Reviewed by:
Brenda Camacho, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
March 26, 2024
In this article

High-functioning anxiety isn’t a medical term but a colloquial one used to describe someone with an anxiety disorder who maintains a high level of function in their day-to-day life. If you met someone with high-functioning anxiety, you’d probably never know they suffered from anxiety. Many people with high-functioning anxiety are organized and overachievers—but underneath, they struggle with intense worry and distress.  

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. We understand that high-functioning anxiety can be frustrating, especially because it might feel like your anxiety is helpful at times. Or, it might be mistaken for perfectionism or attention to detail. While it’s true that some stress does help you get things done, that’s not the case for an anxiety disorder.  

Anxiety treatment helps your overall wellness, so you feel like yourself and live a more fulfilling life—even if you function well with anxiety. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about high-functioning anxiety, including symptoms and management tips.  


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What is high-functioning anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety is a term used to describe someone who functions very well in their daily life despite living with anxiety. Typically, people with high-functioning anxiety come across as high-achievers or even perfectionists. However, just because they appear to have everything together doesn’t mean they feel that way internally. If you deal with high-functioning anxiety, you may experience intense worry, pressure, and self-doubt.  

High-functioning anxiety isn’t a recognized diagnosis in the DSM—the manual that psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health conditions. Instead, it’s a phrase that describes the way some people cope with their anxiety symptoms. Many people with high-functioning anxiety are ultimately diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), although it’s possible they experience other types of anxiety disorders, like social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or phobias. Generalized anxiety disorder is a common form of anxiety that means you experience frequent, excessive worry about everyday things.

Signs of high-functioning anxiety

You might be thinking, “What does functioning vs. not functioning with anxiety look like?” It’s normal to have some anxiety in daily life, especially when stressful or significant life events happen at work, school, or home. However, if anxiety disrupts your everyday life, that’s when you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.  

On the outside, someone with high-functioning anxiety may not seem like their life is “disrupted” by anxiety. They may still go to social events, perform at work, and act calm and collected. However, it’s important to remember that someone with high-functioning anxiety still experiences anxious thoughts and physical symptoms, even if they’re good at presenting themselves otherwise.  

Some of the most common anxiety symptoms, as well as signs of high-functioning anxiety, are listed below.

Anxiety symptoms

  • Intense worry

Symptoms of high-functioning anxiety

  • Critical self-talk
  • Fear of failure and criticism from others
  • Perfectionism
  • Attention to detail
  • High achieving
  • Feeling burnout
  • Highly organized

6 Tips for managing your anxiety

Learning to manage your anxiety with healthy coping strategies is life-changing because when your anxiety is under control, you feel more present in your daily life and more like yourself.  

Several lifestyle changes can be incorporated into your daily routine to help manage anxious thoughts and symptoms. Here are a few to get you started.

1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment, your feelings, and your environment. This awareness helps you accept anxious thoughts and focus on the present instead.  

The good news is that mindfulness is a skill you gain through practice. Next time you feel anxious, practice mindfulness by taking a step back and living in the moment. Take a deep breath and accept whatever you’re feeling. Then, do your best to move on with your day.

To practice this skill, start incorporating mindfulness meditations into your routine. There are several ways to do this type of meditation. One simple way is as follows:

  • Sit comfortably and breathe in and out
  • Focus all of your attention on your breath
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath

2. Set boundaries

People with high-functioning anxiety may feel the urge to meet or exceed everyone else’s expectations of them. Boundaries are a great way to combat this.  

Practice setting boundaries by telling people “no” when you don’t have the desire or capacity to do what they ask. Another way to set boundaries is with your time. Set aside time for loved ones and self-care activities, and don’t let other peoples’ requests interfere.  

Setting boundaries may initially feel intimidating, but it just takes practice! Ultimately, protecting your time and energy helps ease your anxiety, and you’ll feel more fulfilled in your daily life.  

3. Develop a support network

If you struggle with high-functioning anxiety, you may have trouble talking to others about your anxious thoughts. However, if you’re open with your loved ones about how you feel, they can support you when you need it.

Have an anxious day? Tell a friend or family member. Need to decline an invitation for self-care? They’ll understand. A good support network helps you feel less alone, especially in moments of struggle.


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4. Incorporate self-care into your routine

Sometimes focusing on external projects and successes, like work and school, is easier than tackling what’s going on internally. However, taking care of your mind and body is just as, if not more, important. After all, positive mental health and self-esteem benefit other areas of life, including work and relationships.

Here are some self-care activities to add to your daily or weekly routine. Start with one or two and add more where you see fit.  

  • Exercise
  • Talking to loved ones
  • Reading
  • Taking a bath
  • Doing a skincare routine
  • Walking
  • Doing a puzzle
  • Yoga
  • Spending time with a friend

The good news is there are so many more self-care activities than the ones on this list. Anything that helps you feel centered, more like yourself, and like you’re investing time and energy into your well-being and physical health counts!

5. Do breathing exercises

Deep breathing combats your brain’s fight-or-flight response. So, next time you feel anxious, try a breathing exercise.  

Box breathing is one example of a breathing exercise. It requires slow, deep breaths in and out for the same amount of time. Here’s how to do it.

  • Sit comfortably
  • Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose for four seconds
  • Hold your breath for four seconds
  • Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds
  • Hold your breath again for four seconds
  • Repeat until you feel relaxed  

Related: Check out these grounding techniques for anxiety

6. Journal

Journaling is a great way to get spiraling, anxious thoughts out of your head and on paper. By writing down your worries, it’s easier to put them into perspective and understand the root causes of your feelings. Consider journaling for just five minutes each morning. You can write about the previous day or how you’re feeling about the day ahead. Over time, this self-expression will reduce stress and help you manage your anxiety.

When to get help for your anxiety  

If you experience increasing levels of anxiety, or if your anxiety feels overwhelming or disrupts your quality of life, consider working with a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or a therapist. If seeking therapy sounds intimidating, don’t worry. Many people like you have greatly benefitted from working with a therapist to form healthy coping mechanisms.  

You’ve already taken the first step toward a healthier relationship with your anxiety by reading this article. Next, tell your doctor or a mental health professional how you’re feeling so you can come up with a mental health treatment plan together. Talk therapy, known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often part of an effective treatment plan, as it’s a type of therapy that helps you change your thought and behavior patterns to cope with anxiety in a healthier way.  Anxiety medication, like SSRIs can also be an effective treatment option.

Ready to take the next step? Talkiatry is here to help. We’re a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care—and you can schedule a first visit within days. Get started with a short online assessment.  

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.

While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.

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