High Functioning Anxiety

High functioning anxiety can underlie the lives of many outwardly-seeming successful people and often goes undiagnosed due to being percieved as just the accepted consequences of a high pressure job

Success at work, personal achievements and an active social life would appear to be a perfect and inspiring life and HFA sufferers are often perceived by others as high achievers. This goes against recent findings that high performing children are more prone to sadness and anxiety than less highly performing colleagues.   High performance and excellence in many aspects of their life along with a tendency towards perfectionism make it difficult to imagine that high performers may be going through an internal fight against anxiety.

Often these are highly active people who will spend long hours in the office and who may have difficulty refusing the proposals of others, a severe self-critical attitude and an obsession with productivity.  

High-functioning anxiety is characterized because, contrary to what happens with other disorders with the same root, people who suffer from it manage to maintain what is considered a successful life with good performance in all aspects of their life, like work, social and interpersonal relationships.

However, this external image that everything is under control often has nothing to do with the reality that these people go through every day, which consists of a constant fight against anxiety. Behind this perfectionism and apparent mastery of all situations hides a fear of failure and the possibility of disappointing others.

Symptoms of high functioning anxiety

This type of anxiety can easily go unnoticed, but there are certain characteristics that make it possible to identify a person who is struggling in silence with this High Functioning Anxiety. Although symptoms will differ in individuals, there are some main characteristics that include.

  • A persistent sense of worry or stress, even over trivial matters
  • Sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Physical manifestations such as headaches, stomach pains, and tension in muscles
  • Restlessness and an overall feeling of unease
  • Struggles with focus and completing tasks
  • An unhealthy preoccupation with perfection and a fear of making mistakes
  • Avoidance of social activities and gatherings due to anxiety

Causes of high functioning anxiety

There is no single cause for anxiety and can be a combination of genetic disposition and enviromental factors, but some common causes include.

  • Traumatic or stressful events
  • A family history of anxiety or mental health issues
  • Prolonged stress and high-pressure situations
  • An unrealistic quest for perfection
  • Substance abuse or excessive alcohol consumption

Diagnosis and treatment

High functioning anxiety is not recognised as a mental health disorder in its own, but will be treated as a level on the anxiety spectrum or treated as an individual’s response to stressful stimuli. Because HFA does not meet the diagnostic criteria of anxiety it can often go untreated. With 6.8 million adults in the US being affected by generalised anxiety disorder and only 43.2% actually reaching out for treatment, it is more likely that people suffering HFA will not seek treatment as the symptoms can often be seen as just being a driven high achiever.

If you or someone you know is suffering from HFA, there is a range of treatments that are available from mental health experts

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which will focus on changing unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours

Medication, such as anti-anxiety medication

Mindfulness-based therapies, which focus on connecting with the present moment

You can find a list of English-speaking mental health professionals in the ESHA Spain business directory 

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