For most people, anxiety is simply part of life. People are wired to deal with it on a daily basis. As with stress, a healthy level of anxiety drives people to do their best when studying for a test, participating in an annual review at work, or considering significant life decisions. For the majority of us, anxiety is temporary and situational.
But for others, fear or acute physical symptoms start presenting in tandem with anxiety, so it evolves into a disorder. The disorder can negatively impact daily activities including school work, job performance, and relationships. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that up to 19 percent of American adults experience anxiety disorders each year.
There are different levels of anxiety disorders ranging from generalized anxiety disorder to phobias. It’s often easy to observe how the disorder affects people with these conditions, especially if they’re related to other issues like post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But people suffering from high-functioning anxiety appear to be fine, so it’s harder to identify. High-functioning anxiety is a chronic condition that has long-term effects on people’s health, self-esteem, and relationships.
It’s common to assume that people with high-functioning anxiety are simply stressed out or just need some time off. But in reality, they’re struggling with high-functioning anxiety. To see what it’s like, here are four personal stories from people who suffer from high-functioning anxiety.
The problem with anxiety is that it can’t be seen. Dealing with high-functioning anxiety isn’t like dealing with physical conditions. Another problem for me is that others simply view anxiety as a component of my character. When I tell someone I’m worried, but they often just dismiss it. “He’s just a worrier.” Well, I’m not. I’m dealing with a disease.
At least with high-functioning anxiety, I can remain productive. My anxiety doesn’t shut me down too often. I usually can recognize my triggers and take action, such as using anti-anxiety medications, doing a body scan, taking deep breaths, or reaching out to people I trust to tell them how I feel. This helps keep the anxiety from taking over.
One thing that makes the disorder difficult for me is what I refer to as “indefinable fears.” I’m afraid, but I can’t identify what I’m afraid of or why. It’s irrational. I simply feel worried or scared about something I can’t define. It’s hard to get over an episode of this, and they occur pretty often. On bad days I get scared, I can’t figure out why, and there’s nothing I can do about it but hope it ends. If you ever feel like this, please know that you’re not the only one who does.
It took a long time for me to understand that anxiety was an actual condition. Growing up, I was told I was acting like a baby because unusual things would upset me.
Because I can function, my anxiety is often expressed as frustration, anger, and irritation. I struggle sometimes because other people, even my friends and family, disregard when my anxiety is causing me problems, because it appears nothing is wrong with me. But I still suffer sleepless nights because I overthink things. I still have to figure out how a “normal” person is expected to act. It’s hard to talk to somebody about it when I don’t appear to be suffering.
I have a great career and a healthy relationship. I’m out there living in the world, but I have a health condition that’s invisible. At times I get angry and resentful about what I have to do to control my health.
I need to be proactive about managing my stress level, so I must always be aware of what’s adding or subtracting from my energy levels. I’ve made significant changes to my lifestyle to maintain my mental health. I meditate every day and engage in regular physical activity. I need to make sure I get adequate sleep, follow a well-balanced diet, and avoid caffeine. I also regularly meet with a therapist.
My mind is in a constant state of anxiety. I experience terror, panic attacks, and obsessive thought patterns, and I’m unable to relax for extended lengths of time. My anxiety feels like constant grating inside my head. During especially intense periods, I’ve missed work and been forced to severely curtail my activities. I’ve gotten so overwhelmed that I’ve had to make last-minute cancellations with family and friends.
A common assumption about high-functioning anxiety is that it’s a lot like a mania. For me, though, that isn’t true. My anxiety is fully internal. I keep it hidden because I have things in my life I need to protect. I need to appear as though I’m handling it, which I usually can. But being anxious is not the same as being manic. I struggle.
Sometimes I feel like my doctor’s experiment. I take the medication he prescribes, and hope it makes my life feel normal again. Sometimes it will work for a while. Other times I experience intolerable side effects. So, we move on to another medication, and hope for better results.
For me, a good day is when I wake up in the morning after six uninterrupted hours of sleep and can go out on my patio to meditate. On a good day, I get to work on time, I don’t feel compelled to apologize for things nobody else noticed, and I don’t have to sneak into a restroom stall to enjoy a few moments of silence. On a good day, I get to eat dinner with my family after work, and we relax and spend time together in the evening. That’s a good day.
I’d love to be treated with compassion and understanding. If I know I’m being seen and understood, my whole outlook changes. I need people to realize what my normal looks like, and that sometimes I’m unable to “just calm down.” I know my anxiety wears people out, but it’s even harder on me.