Even those who seem to have every success in life can be hiding anxiety symptoms - this is known as high functioning anxiety

Signs and symptoms of high-functioning anxiety

You may have seen or heard the phrase high-functioning anxiety more and more lately, but what does it mean? Despite the fact that anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in Australia, it’s very poorly understood.

High-functioning anxiety is not an official diagnosis, but describes those who to the outside world, seem to cope well with life. They are often successful in many areas of their lives; high-performing, achievement-oriented, perfectionistic and highly motivated.

Underneath, high-functioning people show many of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and some unique behaviours such as:

  • Controlling behaviour, with very rigid habits and strict routines
  • Constantly busy, with a ‘to do’ list that never seems to end
  • Perfectionism – the ‘all or nothing’ mentality – ‘if I’m not the best, then I’m the worst’
  • Often appear cold, unemotional, hard to read and relate to.

Many of these behaviours are coping mechanisms for underlying anxiety. The emotional battle often goes unrecognised even by the sufferer themselves as many of these traits are valued and rewarded by our society. Left untreated, extreme stress, depression and even nervous breakdown are real risks.  

What are the signs and symptoms of high-functioning anxiety?

Here are a few of the signs that you may have high-functioning anxiety:

  • You think, worry and obsess over things ahead to an extreme degree and plan long into the future to avoid potential issues
  • You work long hours and overdo all tasks to ensure you don’t make an error
  • You have an extreme fear of letting other people down and / or saying no
  • You have a constant need for reassurance
  • Your standards are impossibly high and you are never satisfied with your performance
  • You cling to detail and regimen to give you stability
  • You have habits like nervous chatter, playing with your hair, cracking knuckles or biting your lip or nails.


How can I deal with high-functioning anxiety?

If you’ve been feeling this way for more than six months, you may have an undiagnosed condition. If you feel that your worries or negative self-talk are detracting from your quality of life, there are ways you can find help:

  • Ask for help and talk about it
  • Talk to a counsellor, friend, colleague or family member
  • Make an appointment with your family doctor for an assessment or a referral
  • Have a plan in place that includes coping strategies for when you feel this way
  • Learn some mindfulness strategies – they can help anchor you in the present rather than worrying about the future
  • Look into cognitive-behavioural therapy to develop the skills to identify and challenge irrational and catastrophic thinking
  • Consider alternative therapies such as meditation, acupuncture and yoga
  • Investigate the benefits of deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation
  • Look into natural remedies for anxiety
  • Make sure that your lifestyle is in order – limit caffeine, eat a healthy balanced and anti-inflammatory diet, and get regular exercise.


If you need to talk, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or access free video and online counselling.