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GAD or High Functioning Anxiety - How to Know the Difference

woman on the phone with hand on forehead

In the last few years, more people have begun to realize the importance of mental health. It's no secret that across the world, many people are struggling for many reasons. It probably isn't surprising to know that because of this, mental health issues are also on the rise.

Anxiety, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), has always been one of the most common mental health disorders. Despite being one of the most common mental health concerns, many people still suffer.

Did you know that someone can have high-functioning anxiety? Let's go over the differences between high-functioning anxiety and GAD.


Before we can go over the differences, let's start with what they share. Both conditions have the same set of mental and physical symptoms.

  • Excessive worrying

  • Uncontrollable fears or phobias

  • Negative thoughts or self-criticism

  • Always feeling on edge or restless

  • Racing heart

  • Feeling clammy or going from hot to cold very frequently

  • Muscle tension

  • Unexplainable or frequent headaches and stomachaches

Why They Are Different

Anxiety, in general, affects everyone differently. Not everyone will experience every anxiety symptom; some may experience all of them. The difference between GAD and high-functioning anxiety is the severity of their effect. For someone suffering from GAD, the effects of anxiety are noticeable. They may struggle with:

  • Procrastination

  • Being able to leave the house (because they fear something bad is always going to happen)

  • Social isolation from friends and family

  • Feeling easily overwhelmed and noticeably stressed by people around them

  • ...and so much more.

On the other hand, a person who is considered to be high-function isn't as easy to spot. All the anxiety symptoms are there, but it doesn't interrupt their day-to-day activities.

If anxiety doesn't really interfere with someone's life, they may not think anything about their symptoms. It's a condition that often goes undiagnosed because of this. General characteristics of a person's personality may point to them being high-functioning, such as:

  • Detail oriented

  • Outgoing

  • Great at organization

  • Passionate about work and personal projects

When someone has high-functioning anxiety, to the outside world, they have it all together. They are more likely to be in a management position at work. Or, they may constantly perform at the top of their class. From the outside, nothing looks wrong. However, on the inside, they are still suffering.

Perfectionism Isn't All It Seems

Wanting to always be at your best isn't a bad thing. However, it can cause a lot of problems inside when it turns into perfectionism.

  • Racing thoughts

  • Always feeling on edge

  • Hyper-focused on the future and not living in the moment

  • A need for validation or approval from peers, family, and coworkers

  • Intense fear of failing

  • Being a people pleaser and always saying yes to projects or responsibilities

High-functioning anxiety manifests itself differently than GAD. However, this doesn't mean your feelings aren't valid or real. It may impact you differently, but that doesn't mean it is easy to deal with.

How To Handle Having High-Functioning Anxiety

If you have ever looked up how to deal with anxiety, you probably see articles and blogs about GAD. But these articles don't really help you when you can function normally. Not identifying with the debilitating anxiety, you close the article and focus on something else.

However different they may be, the ways you can get anxiety under control are the same. You can calm your "nervous" nervous system by trying the following. Remember, finding what works for you may be a trial-and-error process.

  • Yoga

  • Deep breathing exercises

  • Physical exercise

  • Therapy

Give yourself the grace to understand that mistakes can and will happen. Caring for yourself now can help prevent full-blown GAD in the future. Anxiety therapy is a great place to start. Reach out to me to learn how I can help you lower your stress levels.


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