What is highly functional anxiety and when to seek help?

Highly functional anxiety has a double face; on the one hand, efficiency and productivity. On the other, a very high price is paid in terms of mental health.

Last update: September 27, 2021

Highly functional anxiety is like the calm that precedes a hurricane. That is to say, is the one in which it seems that everything is going well, but over time it shows the precarious balance that sustained it.

Behind a facade of efficiency, perfectionism and productivity, hides the progressive deterioration of health. Furthermore, it is more difficult to accept and work with compared to other forms of this disorder, since being functional has its halo of "charm." Let's see what this is about.

What is highly functional anxiety?

Highly functional anxiety does not have a diagnosis recognized in the usual manuals, although its figure is used to refer to those people who are efficient, especially in the workplace and responsibilities, but at a very high cost of nerves and worries in other areas.

In general, those who suffer from it are classified as meticulous, neat and compliant workers. And while they are positive qualities, the truth is that they are capable of working endless hours to maintain that status. They even end up investing the time of rest and leisure.

So, functional for whom? It is clear that not for himself, since over time this will be reflected in health and in other areas of personal life. In fact, this condition begins to affect results and performance.

People with highly functional anxiety fear losing the image they project of efficiency and success.

Symptoms of highly functional anxiety

The clinical manifestations of this type of anxiety can vary in each person. Not always all symptoms occur simultaneously. However, once they are detected, it is convenient to attend them. The most frequent are the following:

  • The person reports feeling constantly accelerated.
  • He also has a mental noise that he can't turn off. You cannot tune out or "stop your head."
  • He usually has a nervous tic or an anxious behavior such as moving his legs, biting his nails. In some cases, they present allergies or somatizations.
  • Their agenda is full of activities and commitments, and no plan is usually tied to rest.
  • All of the above results in the person performing, but also being tired and stressed. However, he is unable to slow down because it is often justified that leading that rhythm of life pleases him.

Advantages and disadvantages of highly functional anxiety

The advantages of highly functional anxiety are rather "pseudo-advantages." Although at the beginning we consider the attributes of punctuality, organization, meeting goals and work commitment to be positive, on the other hand we know that it involves a lot of wear and tear.

One of the biggest disadvantages is that this type of anxiety is permanently reinforced by the environment. People find the way this anxious person works and handles himself great, so he is always praised and congratulated. In this way, it is difficult to recognize its toxic undertone.

In this same sense, another disadvantage arises; it is hard to recognize it. This is because we live in a society that rewards productivity, whatever the cost. In turn, the person who suffers from it will rarely complain of their discomfort. One of the reasons is that if she is upset, that image of success that she supports collapses.

How can it be dealt with?

Seeking psychological help is one of the first steps in overcoming highly functional anxiety. In addition to this, the following recommendations can be taken into account:

  • Practice relaxation techniques. For anxiety, oriented to worrying about the future, the mindfulness It is one of the most widely used techniques, as it focuses on the present and focuses attention on the "here and now." Breathing exercises are also very helpful.
  • Learn to limit yourself and set limits. It is important to replace yes as the only answer with "I can help you but not at this time" or "I have the next few days committed, but maybe we can see it for later." That is, it is necessary to stop accepting all commitments and orders, and start to locate them in a more real period of time to take care of yourself and not have to spend late at night finishing pending.
  • Question beliefs and thoughts. We must weigh and relativize what is recognized as advantages in this mode of operation. As we have seen, people with highly functional anxiety justify themselves and convince themselves that it is okay to be this way because "it is not that bad for them." For this very reason, if they begin to question those arguments, they will see other scenarios and points of view emerge.
  • Work on self-esteem. Much of what sustains this type of anxiety has to do with pleasing others, even when it means going against oneself. In this sense, it will be essential to strengthen a self-esteem where your own needs and desires matter first.
  • Dedicate time to rest and leisure. Do not stop thinking about truly free time, of disconnection. Even if it is difficult to disconnect, it is possible to "forget" the cell phone at home when going to exercise, for example.
The practice of relaxation techniques such as mindfulness It can contribute to the control of this form of anxiety.

This form of anxiety is a false friend

As we observed, functional anxiety is a double-edged sword, since it initially "seduces" because it receives praise and an image of success is projected. Nevertheless, the more time passes, sustaining that facade becomes very demanding. This becomes a problem both on an individual level and in other areas, especially with relationships.

All extremes are negative. Being wild cards and meeting all the demands implies a very high cost. Therefore, it is necessary to reflect on the role that society plays in sustaining this type of malaise. Today, the lifestyle normalizes it and supports it with an image of efficiency.

Maybe, we should start questioning and banishing those stereotypes that we build, endorse and promote, but that compromise people's physical and mental health.