How To Explain High-Functioning Anxiety To People Who Think You “Seem Great”

by Irina Gonzalez

Everyone gets a little anxious sometimes, like when they have to speak in front of a large crowd or are faced with life-changing health issues. But for some people, feeling anxious is simply a part of their day-to-day lives. So much so that they might actually be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Even more complicated is the fact that there are various different types of anxiety, including high-functioning anxiety, which is not an official medical diagnosis. Because of this, it might be difficult to qualify and figure out how to explain high-functioning anxiety to your loved ones if you believe you are suffering from this type of anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety affects about 18 percent of adults in the United States. Additionally, some of these adults are living with what is known as "high-functioning" anxiety, which means a lot of overdoing, overthinking, and over-performing. These individuals (such as myself) are typically very outwardly successful while suffering internally.

Typically, someone with high-functioning anxiety is a person who keeps organized with to-do lists, acts as a team player, has natural public speaking abilities, and is an overachiever in all areas of life, according to Healthline. If you are someone who is still struggling with recognizing and dealing with your symptoms of high-functioning anxiety, you might be even more confused about how to explain your disorder to others.

According to the aforementioned Healthline article, one of the most important ways to manage your own high-functioning anxiety is to create your own support squad, which is difficult for someone whose biggest fear may be telling others about their anxiety. The first thing you should try to do is reach out to the few people you might feel comfortable with. This group might first include your family, closest friends, and partner, then eventually expand to your most trusted co-workers.

When it comes to explaining to your loved ones what it is like to live with high-functioning anxiety, you can begin by sending them informative articles about what life is like for you, such as The Mighty's list of habits that people with high-functioning anxiety have. Afterwards, sit down with that person and explain to them why you relate to those who apologize for everything, overthink everything, have nervous chatter, or hyper-focus.

If the person loves you (and hopefully they do, otherwise you wouldn't be sharing this very private part of yourself with them), then they should understand certain things about loving someone with high-functioning anxiety, according to HuffPost. Be sure to let them know that there are physical and emotional symptoms, that your struggles are often invisible, that little gestures (such as helping you make a big list of everything going on) can go a long way, and that your anxiety can be unpredictable. I know that I can spend days or even weeks feeling fine, until one day I find myself so completely overwhelmed that I spend the entire day going from feeling angry, resentful, jittery, and crying.

Ultimately, how and when you share that you have high-functioning anxiety is up to you. I can say from personal experience, however, that it does feel good to open up and explain what high-functioning anxiety is like for you. One of the best parts of explaining your high-functioning anxiety to others is that you can find support in being able to talk about this with those close to you. That relief alone may be worth finally talking about the issue.