High Functioning Anxiety: 3 Signs You Might Be Struggling

anxiety burn out high functioning anxiety overwhelm Mar 20, 2021

We have just come out of launching The Unstuck Inner Circle and I have found my body feeling tense with the clear signs of stress. A recent interview on a the Bear Intentions Podcast also highlighted how our bodies often show signs that things are not ok, but we just don’t seem to listen. It got me thinking about High Functioning Anxiety and how easily this particular brand of anxiety is overlooked. So here are 3 signs that you might be struggling.

What is High Functioning Anxiety?

High functioning anxiety is not classified as an Anxiety Disorder in the DSM V. However, the effects are just as damaging as any other brand of anxiety. The only issue is that it is often overlooked.


high functioning anxiety

High functioning Anxiety is a form of anxiety that tends to propel people forward rather than freezing them and debilitating them. Well, it does debilitate over time. But the immediate effects are more of a forward motion that looks a lot like ambition and being highly organised.

In fact, most people with High Functioning Anxiety would be described by friends, family and co-workers as super competent, high achievers who always have their sh#! together. They are the ones that are never late, seem to have 100 things going on at the same time and in control of all of it. They seem outgoing and confident and appear to be driven to success. Most people envy people with High Functioning Anxiety because they seem to be so well put together.


The internal picture is vastly different though

People with high functioning anxiety feel like they are all over the place. They would describe themselves as a “hot mess” and feel overwhelmed. They complain of being “stressed out” and they often experience burn out.

On the inside, people with High Functioning Anxiety feel like they are always worried and struggling to make sure they are getting it right. They feel stretched thin and always in a rush.

What Is Really Going On?

While the picture seems to be that the person has taken on too much and is now feeling burnt out as a result, the truth is that they are riddled with unacknowledged anxiety.

The anxiety is often driven by a fear of failing or being ‘not good enough’. This fear drives behaviour that is aimed at disproving the sense of failing or being not good enough. Of course – if we succeed and achieve then we cant be seen to be failing, right?

if we are on top of it all and receiving accolades, then we must be good enough, right?

So the forward movement to be better, do more, stay on top of it all is actually driven by a very real fear that they are not good enough and might fail.

The Consequences of High Functioning Anxiety

Simply put: burn out.

Eventually those struggling with High Functioning Anxiety will crash and burn out. They might be diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or present with severe anxiety that now debilitates them.

burn out

High Functioning Anxiety is often misdiagnosed as “burn out” and the remedy is to “do less”. They are referred to retreats and advised to take more time for self care. And while all of these are always helpful, they do not address the root cause.

The root cause is anxiety.

When the root cause is overlooked, then the problem simply returns.

So how do you know you are struggling with High Functioning Anxiety?

3 Signs You Might Be Struggling

While people with High Functioning Anxiety seem to be doing really well. They often have the following three factors at play. Have a read through these and, if you can answer “yes” to all 3 then you are likely struggling with an underlying anxiety disorder.

1. You Feel Overwhelmed and Stressed Out

Of course, the very first sign is that you do, in fact, feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Despite the fact that you seem to be doing really well, the reality for you is that you feel like you’re barely hanging on.

People with High Functioning Anxiety tend to be relatively sensitive. Often easily tearful, the slightest thing can make them feel distressed. They describe themselves as “stretched thin” and often feel “stressed out”.

They find themselves sticking fast to routines and structures and the feel distressed when plans change and routines fall apart. It feels almost devastating when their control has been taken away.

In many instances they feel over-stimulated and irritable and might not tolerate loud noises or too much going on in the environment. A messy environment feels “noisy” so they are driven to keep things tidy and ordered. it looks like they are on top of everything, but the reality is that chaos is simply unbearable and overwhelming.

2. You Are Worried You Might Fail

While others envy your success and achievements, you’re secretly worried you might fail. Imposter syndrome is a familiar feeling to you.

People with High Functioning Anxiety are driven by a need to prove that they are good enough and not failures. Inherently they have this fear that they will, somehow, fail and so their attention to detail is an attempt to ensure they don’t get it wrong.

People with High Functioning Anxiety tend to overthink and overanalyse everything. They double check themselves and experience chronic self-doubt about their performance – Always wondering whether it is good enough.

It tends to look a lot like perfectionism, but it is really a need to make sure it is always right (no matter what they are doing).

Even in their social circles, they worry that they may have been too loud or too quiet. Maybe they offended someone. Perhaps the email was a little pushy. They feel concerned about the way they said goodbye or the tone of their text. Everything is analysed and checked. And it becomes overwhelming.

3. Your Body is Not Feeling Healthy

Are you struggling wit persistent headaches, gut health issues and muscle tension?

People with High Functioning Anxiety will often have all three these physical symptoms present. Persistent tension headaches as well as muscle tension – most often in back, neck and shoulders.

The biggest tell tale signs, however, are the gut health issues. People with High Functioning Anxiety often have a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and reflux, and they often struggle with ongoing, low level nausea. These symptoms are often overlooked and they will be treated by their GP for the symptoms. They never seem to link these experiences with anxiety, though.

In fact, people with High Functioning Anxiety tend to overlook their physical symptoms completely. They are really good at ignoring their tension and their headaches and treating the symptoms of these without addressing the underlying anxiety.


It is easy, as a high functioning achiever, to simply side step this and keep moving forward. The risk to your mental and physical health is real and the anxiety needs to be addressed.

Next steps in addressing this anxiety includes having a closer look at the core beliefs that fuel the anxiety. These are often around not feeling good enough or believing that you need to be perfect in order to be loved. Working closely with a coach or counsellor can really help you identify and shift those beliefs.

If you are interested in working with us in this journey then click here to schedule a free 15 minute call to see whether we would be the right fit for you.

Or find out about our super affordable Inner Circle Membership to get the support you need.