How Does High-Functioning Anxiety Differ from GAD

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common form of mental illness on the planet. A lot of what you need to know about it is included in its name. The anxiety you experience is chronic but not specific to any one cause. It’s not, for example, about a particular phobia. When feeling anxious, some with GAD are more likely to choose “flight” over “fight.”

High-Functioning Anxiety, on the other hand, is not a diagnosis. Rather, as its name also suggest, it’s a term used to define a tendency to mask anxiety by choosing “fight.” Someone with High-Functioning Anxiety aims to control the triggers (and situations) that may cause them to experience anxiety. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Signs and Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety

Someone who has GAD may choose coping mechanisms that manifest in ways that might be described as:

  • Extremely organized and detail-oriented
  • Proactive
  • Calm under pressure
  • Outgoing and friendly
  • High achiever

In other words, since the symptoms of GAD are hidden, a person with High-Functioning Anxiety is often viewed in a very positive light. Upon taking a closer look, however, you may identify trends like:

  • Going to extremes to not let anyone down
  • A fixation on numbers, productivity, and milestones
  • Rigid in their habits and routines
  • Black-and-white thinking
  • Unwilling to delegate or relinquish control
  • Nervous tics

You see, just because the GAD symptoms aren’t obvious does not mean they are not present. Those who struggle with High-Functioning Anxiety work relentlessly to hide their anxiety, but they are feeling the effects beneath the facade.

Daily Life With High-Functioning Anxiety

You may or may not realize you have anxiety. Either way, so much of your energy is allocated to disguising any perceived weakness. Such perfectionism can appear as:

  • People-pleasing
  • Over-thinking, rumination, and dwelling on the negative (no matter how minor)
  • Asking for help or directions multiple times
  • Arriving way too early for appointments
  • Checking in with others far more times than is needed
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty staying present
  • Fear of the future
  • Very efficient with tasks and chores, unwilling to step out of your comfort zone

The people in your life would likely be stunned to learn how much anxiety dictates your decisions. More likely, they see you as quirky or perhaps a “loner.”

What Causes High-Functioning Anxiety?

The actual question is, “what causes GAD?” A blend of environmental and genetic factors is often at the root of an anxiety disorder. Why someone struggles with High-Functioning Anxiety is, in turn, based on a variety of possibilities, e.g.:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Family history of anxiety
  • Personality type (shy, quiet, etc.)
  • Substance abuse
  • Underlying medical conditions, possibly related to the heart or thyroid

What Should Someone With High-Functioning Anxiety Do?

In this case, the actual question is, “what should someone with anxiety do?” Everyone can respond to an anxiety disorder differently, but they share one big factor in common. All of them need to seek help. Anxiety can be effectively addressed and managed. For someone with High-Functioning Anxiety, the first big step is to recognize and accept that it is present in your life.

Carefully and open-mindedly re-read the signs and symptoms above. Keep this information in mind as you assess your daily motivations and actions. If you suddenly see some patterns, there’s a chance you’ve been suppressing anxiety. There is no shame in that, but it is vital that you start taking steps to counter this tendency.

Self-care and acceptance are crucial. Also, it can be quite beneficial to connect with support groups. Most of all, please consider speaking with a therapist to clarify what you are experiencing. Thus, I invite you to reach out and schedule a free and confidential consultation as soon as possible.

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