High Functioning Anxiety: Symptoms and Remedies

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Last updated March 22, 2023.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

People with high functioning anxiety are often successful, but they also experience symptoms of anxiety. Here’s how to stay successful and reduce anxiety.

If you’ve ever been called a Type A personality, perfectionist, or workaholic, you may have high functioning anxiety.

High functioning anxiety is not a medically recognized disorder, but is a commonly used term to describe feelings of anxiety experienced by many highly motivated, successful people.

One thing that stands out about people with high functioning anxiety is that, rather than being paralyzed by fear, they use their fears as an impetus to succeed.

But just because high functioning anxiety is not a recognized disorder doesn’t mean that it’s normal or healthy.

The reality is that it takes a great toll on those who have it.

If you suspect that you have high functioning anxiety, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your anxiety and remain successful.

What Is High Functioning Anxiety?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the official list of recognized mental disorders.

There are many recognized anxiety disorders, but high functioning anxiety is not among them. 

Mental health is not black and white, it covers a broad spectrum.

On one end is good mental health, on the other is a diagnosable mental disorder.

At least by the current definition, high functioning anxiety fails to meet all the criteria of a mental disorder.

However, the symptoms of high functioning anxiety are very similar to the most common anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder (GAD).

GAD is defined as excessive worry that is difficult to control and is not attributable to substances or other physical or mental disorders.


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Also, to be diagnosed with GAD, you must regularly experience three or more of the following symptoms for the past six months: 

  • difficulty concentrating
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • restlessness
  • sleep disturbance

To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your anxiety must also significantly interfere with your ability to function at work or school or in relationships.

This is where high functioning anxiety deviates from the criteria of a mental disorder.

People with high functioning anxiety are successful and motivated.

Their fear energizes them to take action.

They use their desire to achieve more as a way to manage their fears.

Some experts believe that people with high functioning anxiety have an anxiety disorder that has not yet been diagnosed.

Others believe that high functioning anxiety is an alternate manifestation of generalized anxiety disorder since both conditions share so many symptoms.

The list of official disorders and their criteria is constantly changing, so it’s possible that, in the future, high functioning anxiety may become a recognized disorder.

High Functioning Anxiety Symptoms

If you or your friends would use words like workaholic, multitasker, perfectionist, controlling, and Type A personality to describe you, you are a prime candidate for experiencing high functioning anxiety.

The biggest determinant of high functioning anxiety is not your outward manifestation of success, it’s what’s going on inside of you that counts.

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Outwardly, you appear to have it all, but deep inside you know that your success is hard won.

Others don’t see your obsessive negative thinking, irrational fears, sleepless nights, and self-imposed pressure.

" While it may not feel like it, the reality is that anxiety detracts from success rather than contributing to it.

You live in constant fear of not living up to the expectations you have set for yourself or that you believe others have for you.

Friends, family, and co-workers rely on you because you are dependable and they know that you get things done.

Physical Symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety

You may or may not connect the dots that the physical symptoms you’re experiencing are side effects of your anxiety.

Muscle tightness, digestive problems, irregular heartbeat, pain, and the overuse of alcohol and recreational drugs are all signs of anxiety.

Nervous habits such as biting your lip, pulling your hair, tapping your feet or fingers, constantly fidgeting, or obsessively counting are additional signs of repressed anxiety.

Standard Treatments for High Functioning Anxiety

The standard medical treatments for anxiety are anti-anxiety medications and/or psychotherapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very useful for anxiety.

In CBT sessions, you examine how your negative thoughts and behaviors contribute to your anxiety.

You learn how to identify and challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic, positive ones.

Brand name drugs such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are usually prescribed for anxiety.

They belong to a family of drugs called benzodiazepines which work as sedatives.


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Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are fraught with side effects such as a high potential for addiction.

These drugs should be avoided by large segments of the population, including seniors, children, and teens.

They not should be mixed with alcohol or other drugs, either prescription or recreational.

Benzodiazepines should not be taken by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

And finally, they should not be taken by anyone prone to substance abuse since they are so addictive.

Why People With High Functioning Anxiety Resist Getting Help

If you have high functioning anxiety, you may not feel inclined to rock the boat and seek help.

You may rightly be concerned that taking a sedative anti-anxiety medication will make you mentally dull or that you’ll become addicted.

You may resist going into therapy; it is not a quick fix and demands a significant commitment.

People with high functioning anxiety rarely want to take the time out of their busy schedule for therapy and they certainly don’t want others to know that they need help.

You may wrongly believe that your anxiety is a key to your success and that, if you dial it down, you’ll lose your “edge.”

You may work in an environment where being a stressed-out workaholic is not only expected, but a badge of honor.

Or, you may feel that there’s nothing really wrong with you, and so resist taking measures to help yourself.

And, since your friends, family, and co-workers see you as a success, they are unlikely to suggest that you take better care of yourself.

From their perspective, you’re doing great!

If you exhibit many of the positive traits and coping skills linked to high functioning anxiety, such as being hardworking, punctual, detailed-oriented, and organized, you may worry that if you relax, you will stop being those things.

But, while it may not feel like it, the reality is that your anxiety is detracting from your success rather than contributing to it.

How You Can Reduce Anxiety and Boost Performance on Your Own

If the symptoms above make you think “that sounds just like me,” you may want to get help.

But you may be concerned that if you relax, you’ll fall behind.

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You may worry that relaxing equates to “slacking off” and that all your hard-won gains will be lost.

But it’s definitely possible to stay at the top of your game — be successful and keep your edge — and feel more relaxed at the same time.

Some of the most successful people use the same relaxation techniques we’ll be discussing here.

And, in fact, people who use these techniques consider them to be a key to their success — their secret weapon — rather than a hindrance.

There’s no reason that employing these techniques won’t make you more, rather than less, successful.

You’ll have greater inner peace as well.

It’s a win-win situation.


Anxiety doesn’t just make you feel bad, it actually changes your brain.

It causes the amygdala, the brain’s “fear center,” to grow, leading to a vicious cycle of even more fear and anxiety.

Anxiety increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol and decreases the formation of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. 

Regular meditation not only can reduce anxiety symptoms, it also can reverse the damage caused by anxiety.

When researchers at Johns Hopkins University conducted a meta-analysis of meditation studies, they determined that the best use for meditation is anxiety relief

The latest research shows that meditation works as well as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications. 

Meditation excels at quieting the mind and helping master negative thought patterns. 

It actually helps you grow a bigger brain!

So many high-profile people and organizations use or endorse meditation that it really can no longer be considered an alternative treatment.

Wall Street brokers and Silicon Valley workers famously rely on it to avoid burnout and keep their mental edge. 

The US Marines use it to reduce overall on-the-job stress, improve performance, and minimize the effects of post-traumatic stress. 

Major corporations like Google, Aetna, Target, Apple, Nike, and General Mills encourage their employees to meditate to achieve peak mental performance. 

Some of the most successful people in their fields — Michael Jordan, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Jobs — have attributed their success, in part, to their regular meditation practice. 

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Mind-Body Relaxation Techniques

Meditation may be the most popular mind-body relaxation technique, but it isn’t the only one.

Here’s a sampling of other techniques that have proven useful for anxiety and been embraced by superachievers.


Hypnosis is a trance state that’s characterized by increased relaxation, suggestibility, and imagination.

It is thought to work by altering brainwave patterns

Numerous scientific studies confirm the benefits of hypnosis for disorders with a stress-related component, including anxiety. 

Throughout history, successful and creative people have used hypnosis to enhance performance, overcome fears, or for general personal development.

Some of the most successful and creative people of all time — including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Sigmund Freud, and Winston Churchill — are believed to have used hypnosis to help them attain their place in history.

Autogenic Training

Autogenic training is a little known but powerful mind-body technique used by peak performance seekers, including professional and Olympic athletes, military personnel, and NASA astronauts

A review of 27 studies confirmed that autogenic training is particularly useful for treating anxiety disorders

Guided Visualization

Guided visualization involves using your imagination to “see” the results you want in your mind’s eye.

Over 200 studies have proven its many health benefits. 

Top uses include reducing stress and anxiety and improving quality of life and self-confidence.

Legendary sports figures including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird have used visualization to enhance performance and decrease performance anxiety.

Physical Exercise

Getting physical exercise may be the best thing to keep the brain healthy and operating at peak efficiency.

Exercise is particularly effective for anxiety since it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases resilience to stress.

Exercise also increases GABA, a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity, enabling the anxious mind to relax. 

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Physical exercise alleviates the symptoms of anxiety and numerous other mental disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder

Richard Branson, the world’s most fun-loving billionaire, considers physical exercise his top productivity hack.

He claims to gain four additional hours of productivity every day from the time he spends exercising — an attractive return on investment.

Steve Jobs did much of his best creative thinking while taking walks

He even held brainstorming meetings while walking.

Research supports that walking can boost creativity by an impressive 60%.

Physical exercise can make you smarter and more productive.

It helps you learn faster and remember more

And, it makes you better at time management, problem-solving, and decision-making. 

Ditch Caffeine and Take a Nap Instead

It’s no secret that the world runs on caffeine.

But the caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks may be responsible for your anxiety symptoms.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that significantly contributes to anxiety disorders

There’s evidence that simply quitting caffeine can be even more beneficial for anxiety than taking prescription anti-anxiety drugs!

There are currently four recognized caffeine-related disorders —  caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and caffeine withdrawal. 

The World Health Organization and many healthcare professionals recognize a fifth disorder, caffeine use disorder

Caffeine so reliably causes anxiety that researchers use it to induce panic attacks on demand when studying panic disorders. 

You may be freaking out at the thought of giving up caffeine — how will you stay competitive and productive without it?

There’s a surprisingly simple caffeine-free alternative.

Sara Mednick, PhD, is a leading authority on napping and the author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.

She has conducted human studies on the effects of both caffeine and napping on productivity.

People who took a nap after lunch experienced a boost in performance that lasted the rest of the day and into the evening.

But she discovered that those who drank caffeine after lunch stayed alert, but experienced a decrease in mental performance.

So, you may both sabotage your mental performance and fuel your anxiety by drinking caffeine.

Consider trading your afternoon caffeine for a power nap.

Some of the most productive and brilliant people in history believed in the restorative value of power naps.

The list includes Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and numerous US presidents. 

No Time? No Excuses!

You may be thinking “Who’s got the time to meditate, exercise, or take a nap?”!

If so, take another look at the famous people we’ve mentioned in this article.

If Richard Branson, Michael Jordan, and Oprah Winfrey can run their businesses and find time to exercise, nap, or meditate, maybe you can too.

[This article contains only a quick summary of some anti-anxiety techniques. Search our site to find in-depth articles on these techniques, plus many other ways to reduce anxiety.]

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