High-functioning anxiety (HFA) is like regular anxiety only less noticeable because sufferers can still mostly get on with their daily lives uninterrupted and sometimes even accomplish more than those without the condition. HFA isn’t an actual diagnosis but it’s certainly a legitimate experience. Here’s what you should know about it.
HFA leads us to keep busy rather than preventing us from doing things. Anxiety often cripples a person, leaving them unable to fulfill daily responsibilities. It slows them down. HFA, on the other hand, means that we’re propelled into action by the condition. It’s actually the driving force behind a lot of what we do, good and bad. It can really keep us busy and may be brushed under the rug because we seem to be incredibly productive.
You can’t always spot it. Because it disguises itself as being high-functioning, sometimes HFA can be hard to see. It’ll show up as us being incredibly organized or religiously on time. We have a gripping hold on our lives so the condition is almost invisible. You can only really know if someone has it based on their own experience of life—we have to tell you what’s going on.
HFA isn’t all bad—it can have its benefits. People with anxiety who are high-functioning can be some of the most successful people because we always have the green light on. We’re hyper-aware of our relationship with the world and how we’re doing things. This is because we’re often perfectionists. While this all may sound good, it comes at a stark price for the folks dealing with the condition. It drives us crazy and makes us hate ourselves.
We’re constantly obsessing. My own experience of HFA takes many forms. One of them is that I deal with relentless obsession. I think about the world, myself, what people think of me, what I did wrong, what the future holds, etc. My mind is constantly spinning about the endless amount of possibilities. This obsession is totally exhausting. It leaves me feeling completely burnt out and I accomplish very little with it. This is common with people with HFA.
We regularly imagine the worst case scenario. Doomsday scenarios are our BFFs. We’re frequently thinking about the absolute worst thing that could happen then get our panties in a bunch around it. In other words, we freak out. We think that these scenarios are really going to happen and that someone we love is going to die or our boss is going to fire us. Personally, I usually don’t share these concerns so I appear normal—but they’re there.
We’re our own worst critics. The HFA voice in our heads is not a nice one. It’s pushing us to be the best people we can be, yes, but it has unrealistic expectations, always leaving us to fail. It tells us that we’re never going to be good enough no matter how we try. It rips apart everything that we try to do and hardly lets us feel content. It’s a tough thing to get over.
Parties trigger so much anxiety. Parties are supposed to be fun, a time to engage with friends and meet new people. Parties for people with HFA are a nightmare, especially when we don’t know too many people. We freak out about who’s at the party, what people think of us, and what we’re supposed to be doing. We often end up hiding in the bathroom or sneaking away to make a phone call to a comfortable friend.
We seem put-together but we’re often freaking out on the inside. People generally think that we’re well-adjusted, that we have our acts together. We generally seem successful and engaged, but in reality, we’re freaking out on the inside. We may appear to be calm and collected, but if you look closer, you’ll see that our hands are shaking and our breathing is short. This is one sneaky condition because it hides behind a facade.
So many people struggle with this. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” Although high-functioning anxiety isn’t an actual condition, I’d dare to say that many people who struggle with anxiety fall under the sub-category.
There can be physical symptoms. HFA isn’t “all in someone’s head.” Anxiety is a legitimate condition and it affects people in all sorts of ways. It can affect the physical body. Some examples being diarrhea, nausea, shaking, and sweating. The experience isn’t limited to what goes on in the mind.
People can have different symptoms. Everyone’s HFA can manifest itself in different ways. While mine manifests in restless legs, a rapid heartbeat, and racing thoughts, someone else’s could look more like dizziness, fiddling, and insomnia. The condition is still the same either way.
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