High-functioning anxiety: could you unknowingly be dealing with this mental health condition?

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Megan Murray
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High-functioning anxiety

High-functioning anxiety can cause us to continue taking on outside stress and obligations, even if we’re already overwhelmed with what’s on our plates. Here’s how to spot the signs.

Social media has many positive benefits, but it can also cause us to compare our lives and achievements with that of those we follow. From the holiday we’re planned to the job we’ve got, the millennial lifestyle can sometimes mean we feel where we’re at isn’t quite good enough. 

Alongside this pressure, we also happen to be the generation that’s battling with the worst economy, sky-rocketing house prices and plummeting financial security (don’t get us started on pensions) – so it’s not unexpected that a quarter of young women in the UK are suffering, or have suffered from, anxiety or depression.

In recent years the A-word has become a bit of a buzzword, as 20-somethings have started sharing their mental health worries more and 

But although we’re talking about our mental health more than ever, many seemingly high-flying females are in reality grappling to keep up appearances.

This is the rise of high-functioning anxiety – an increasingly prevalent condition that many women who appear to have it all are dealing with.

There’s most likely someone in your friendship group or sitting by you at work going through it. She’s the kind of person who makes the most of her weekday evenings seeing friends, always has a date lined up for Friday night and her Instagram account suggests she’s going to the coolest exhibitions and is in the know about the edgiest rooftops/underground bars/new restaurant openings. Plus, she makes it all look a piece of cake. But, in reality, this kind of jam-packed schedule can feel anything but fun.

What is high-functioning anxiety
High-functioning anxiety: what is it?

This idea is illustrated in Sarah Wilson’s book, First, We Make The Beast Beautiful, which she describes as “a new story about anxiety”.

The Australian author, who struggles with anxiety herself, notes just a few of the ways that living with anxiety can present themselves as positives in daily life.

And, when asked if living with anxiety has any positives, she humorously suggests that it does: at the very least, you and your anxiety-ridden friends will always be prepared.

Social media users agree, with readers on Instagram picking out some of their favourite quotes from the book.

“Planning a picnic? Get an anxious mate on board – they’ll be able to provide you with a full itinerary of weather contingency plans,” they suggest. “And better salad delegation techniques.”

Another popular quote reads: “Planning a dinner party/holiday/walk in the park/ any kind of event in the next 365 days? Their phone will be charged, they’ll have remembered Oliver is gluten-free, they’ll have factored in dinner with your mum next month and your couples counselling appointment at 5pm.”

Books like this are far from trivialising the issue, but shining a light on something that is affecting a huge number of us in a relatable way – and clearly it resonates with people.

High-functioning anxiety
High-functioning anxiety could be making compulsive habits worse 

Anxiety symptoms differ from person to person – but, when it comes to “high-functioning anxiety”, this piece from The Mighty describes it as “the difference between anxiety that keeps you frozen, and anxiety that pushes you through life, forcing you to move.”

According to the mental health website’s community, symptoms of high-functioning anxiety can be “hyper-focusing”, “arriving to any appointment/college/social gathering at least an hour before it’s due to start” or “writing so many lists”.

A persisting theme is that those attempting to combat their anxiety try to be over-prepared for every eventuality, because they are experiencing intense nervousness in their daily lives.

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Typical symptoms of anxiety can range from mental to physical manifestations and can include:

  • Restlessness
  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling constantly “on edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations

If you suffer from anxiety, experts advise that you visit you GP to explore the number of treatments available.

You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.

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Images: Getty 


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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a senior digital writer for, who enjoys writing about homeware (particularly candles), travel, food trends, restaurants and all the wonderful things London has to offer.

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