6 Common Work Habits That Are Secretly High-Functioning Anxiety In Disguise

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High-functioning anxiety can go unnoticed. It’s a term that is often used to describe a person who struggles with symptoms of anxiety such as racing thoughts, body tension,, or frequent worrying ― however, this person can mask or hide these symptoms and appear “fine” on the outside.

“It’s not a diagnosis, but rather someone who has anxiety but still goes about their day-to-day lives managing it,” said licensed clinical psychologist Scott Lyons. “They are typically someone who is successful and performs well but internally or at home experience this anxiety, rather than showing it in a work or public setting.”

Someone may experience anxiety at work for a lot of different reasons: deadlines, toxic work relationships, job security concerns,, and so much more. “People with high-functioning anxiety often are successful at work but will mask this anxiety to others,” Lyons explained. “It also is a sign of compound stress, like there’s too many things to focus on, and there’s not enough resources or control of the future.”

On the outside, someone with high-functioning anxiety may appear to have it all together, and yet their internal world and even their mental health is suffering. They are constantly in the mode of “something bad will happen if I do not get this done,” which can be pretty difficult to handle day in and day out.

Not sure if you actually show signs of high-functioning anxiety at work? We spoke with psychology and mental health experts to lay out six work habits that are secretly high-functioning anxiety:

1. Being a perfectionist and having to be the best at everything.

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“Perfectionism is a huge sign of high-functioning anxiety as you work to be the best at everything, which is an impossible task,” explained Erin L. Moran, a licensed mental health counselor in Jacksonville, Florida.

A perfectionist “often places a lot of shame and blame on yourself or others any time something is perceived as less than perfect,” she added.

The thought of your boss or co-worker being upset or disappointed in you, despite there being zero specific evidence that they actually are, may occur in your strides to be perfect. While you’re doing well with your tasks at work, if your personal relationships with those in your office are seemingly not up to the standards of those with high-functioning anxiety, you may begin assuming the feelings and intentions of others and personalizing them.

“Someone with high-functioning anxiety may be a perfectionist with their work or conversations as they are anxious of how it will be perceived by others,” Lyons said.

2. Having difficulty focusing on tasks due to stress and worry.

Getting distracted and not being able to focus on your tasks at work are two very common occurrences for those who have high-functioning anxiety. Often, those who experience issues with concentration and focus will implement their own coping mechanisms to be able to work efficiently.

For example, some people may wear headphones at work. “A person with high-functioning anxiety may wear headphones because this helps them feel less distracted and more in control of the information they receive,” Lyons said.

The stress, worry, and anxiety are to blame for the lack of focus at work and “will eventually lead you to have more difficulty staying present on your tasks,” Moran said. “When a person becomes overworked, over-stressed and places high pressure on themselves, there is an increased likelihood of their brain dropping some things due to the emotional energy drain attached to anxiety.”

3. Seeking reassurance and validation from others.

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Reassurance and validation are two very important things for those with high-functioning anxiety in the workplace because it will dictate how they perform, their thoughts, and emotions every time they come to work.

“At work, people with high-functioning anxiety will often seek reassurance on their work or projects from others to ease their anxiety,” Lyons said.

Seeking validation often reflects a fear response. “Validation is super important and helpful, but when you need your boss or co-worker to frequently provide this feedback without the ability to gauge your own success, this can create a sense of not being good enough when the likely reality is that other people are busy in their own work and will forget to praise or acknowledge you, which is not a reflection of doing anything wrong,” Moran explains.

Reassurance may also come in the form of interacting regularly with certain co-workers only. “They find people safe and more reassuring than others and, outside of those select individuals, they may not socialize at all,” said Michele Leno, a psychologist and founder of DML Psychological Services in Michigan. “They may even shun others’ attempts to get to know them.”

4. Overreacting to the slightest change in routine.

A routine is predictable and not anxiety-inducing. However, when there is a slight change, it can really stir up the entire day for someone with high-functioning anxiety.

“The person with high-functioning anxiety may view change as total injustice and spend days talking about it, as they can’t afford any disturbance to their routine,” Leno said.

5. Comparing yourself to your co-workers.

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Along with perfectionism and seeking validation, comparison is common in those with high-functioning anxiety.

“The root of this is insecurity attached to anxiety,” Moran said. “This is often associated with a fear of rejection, a desire to be seen as worthy, and overall pressure associated with attempting to be seen as good enough and not wanting to experience any negative feedback from others.”

6. Keeping yourself super-busy throughout the workday.

In efforts to feel worthy at work, it’s not uncommon for someone who has high-functioning anxiety to keep themselves extremely busy.

“This might include volunteering for extra projects, despite these additional projects creating additional stress and strain and not having the time to fully focus on them,” Moran said. “This often creates burnout due to the constant pressure and lack of balance in workload.”

Because of the overwhelming need to stay busy, these people will often arrive early to work and stay late in hopes to get ahead of any possible issues or changes. They’ll also rarely say “no” to things.

“Often people with high-functioning anxiety tend to be people-pleasers and will be hesitant to say no when they’re asked to do something,” Lyons explained.

What To Do If You Have High-Functioning Anxiety

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If these signs resonate with your work life, there are steps you can take to help you feel more at ease, mentally and physically, at work:

Deep-Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing is something that can help anxiety in the moment. Our bodies naturally respond to taking deep breaths and will calm down when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Consider Counseling And Therapy

Speaking to someone else about what you’re struggling with at work may help you immensely with your high-functioning anxiety. Not only will it help you talk about the things that cause you anxiety, it can help you learn to effectively manage your symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one option that helps people learn to reframe their thoughts about life and transform those behaviors that feed your anxiety. This could help you manage your thoughts, find solutions that work for you, and navigate your way through anxious moments.

Medication Can Be Helpful 

Going on medication can help reduce your symptoms of high-functioning anxiety, and your doctor can work with you to find the right one for you, according to the Cleveland Clinic.This post originally appeared on HuffPost.