You’re probably well aware by now, but High Functioning Anxiety presents itself in different ways from person to person. In one person, it looks as you’d expect; panic-stricken face, fingernails were bitten to the bone, and a perpetually-worried disposition, however, some anxiety-sufferers continue to function at a remarkably high level; and this can be both a blessing and a curse.
SANE Australia Psychologist, Suzanne Leckie, says that those living with high functioning anxiety can be perceived by others as achievement-oriented, perfectionistic, and highly motivated, however “their own reality is likely to be one of racing thoughts, restless bodies and a sense that they are never doing enough.”
Here’s what sufferers of high functioning anxiety need you to know:
1. It isn’t rational, and they know it
Voicing the irrational thoughts of anxiety to your family and friends can often make an anxiety-sufferer feel more alone if their audience tries to downplay the significance of what they’re going through. They know it’s not rational. They know it sounds over-thought and out of proportion, but that doesn’t make their emotions any less real, or any easier to deal with. Letting someone know that you’re taking their feelings seriously is essential for creating a safe space that encourages them to share their anxious thoughts.
2. Don’t take things personally
If your girlfriend has bailed on pizza and wine night three times in the past month, don’t take it personally. It’s not you they don’t want to see, it’s likely that she just can’t face doing anything. Functioning at such a high level on a day to day basis can render anxiety-sufferers exhausted and depleted by the time the evenings and weekends roll around. Unfamiliar social situations can be particularly daunting; so try seeing your friend one on one as opposed to in a large group, and she’ll likely feel much more at ease and able to open up.
3. Sometimes you can’t even tell
High functioning anxiety differs from other forms in that those suffering appear to ‘have their shit together.’ They’ll likely enjoy career successes and appear to be #adulting with vigor – but this doesn’t make their anxiety any less of a battle. High functioning anxiety can be confusing to those that aren’t suffering because the disconnect between their external appearance and irrational thought patterns doesn’t quite add up, but know that compartmentalizing is often a fundamental tool in the sufferer’s arsenal. They’re able to turn up for work, be present and achieve a helluva lot; but as soon as work is over they’ll likely have nothing left to give.
4. Understand that every day is different
As with any mental health disorder, high-functioning anxiety doesn’t run to a schedule. It’s unpredictable and sometimes overwhelming, so bear that in mind if someone you love suffers from it. There will be days where they seem completely fine, happy, and in control, and others where they feel paralyzed with anxiety. They need you to be by their side through it all, and for you to show patience and pragmatism if things don’t go according to plan.