Highly functional anxiety: what it is, characteristics and how to manage it

Let’s see what highly functional anxiety is and its effects on life and work.

Anxiety is a human emotion that, although necessary, many people associate with psychological disorders and reason is not lacking. Extreme anxiety can bring diverse psychopathology, physical and mental health problems that take their toll.

There is a type of anxiety that, at first, seems to help us move on, function properly in our day to day life. This, which they call highly functional anxiety , gives the feeling that it is nothing more than working under a little pressure but, in the long run, it brings some problems with it.

Today we are going to see what this peculiar problem consists of, which, although today it is not considered a disorder, everything seems to indicate that it may be a risk factor for presenting an anxiety disorder.

Highly functional anxiety: what it is, characteristics and how to manage it

What is highly functional anxiety?

Anxiety is a common emotion. There are those who consider it an inherently negative emotion, although others consider that, in its proper measure, it serves to be able to face the demands of life, preparing us to face moments in which many resources will have to be mobilized to be able to get out of trouble. . However, it is known that extreme anxiety can lead to mental disorders and, in fact, in DSM-5 there is a specific group for anxiety disorders.

In recent years there has been talk of a type of problem that, although it is not considered a genuine mental disorder, it can bring with it certain problems and moderate to intense psychological discomfort: highly functional anxiety. As its name suggests, it is a type of anxiety in which the person apparently works well in their daily life, especially in the workplace, without blocking or panicking when having to do their chores.

It could be said that they are people who manage to function a lot in day-to-day obligations, despite presenting worrying anxiety levels. People with highly functional anxiety, seen from the outside, fulfill the cliché of a hard-working and successful person: arrive at work early, looking immaculate, always on schedule, never absent from work, and despite having a thousand and one commitments, fulfills them all.

But behind this facade of high performance and productivity, there is a person who is afraid of failure, of disappointing people in his family and work environment, especially those who helped him get the job or who have been supporting him.

She suffers from extreme nervousness, an almost pathological need to fulfill, even if it means taking time for herself. In fact, the moments in which you are not working can be experienced as moments in which you waste time, feeling guilty for not taking advantage to advance work.

The advantage of being a highly functional person with anxiety is that you are very productive, but the list of disadvantages outweighs the pros. These people worry a lot about looking good to everyone, they can talk too much, suffer nervous tics, overthink things and waste a lot of time arriving too early for work or their commitments. In addition, they often need reassurance in everything they do, putting themselves in the worst-case scenario if they feel that they are not fulfilling what they think people expect of them, are unable to enjoy the moment, and suffering from sleep problems.

People with highly functional anxiety can suffer a lot in their personal life because they are not able to stop the machine, get some rest and enjoy their life despite being exhausted. Being with family and friends, be it in a meeting, trying to enjoy the outdoors, or playing on the beach, you can’t help but have your head be elsewhere, thinking about pending tasks, work obligations, how much you do. pending to deliver a project or to write a report.

Those who present this particular type of anxiety may well be called “perfectionists” and be seen as individuals who tend to be naturally stressed, people with a lot of neuroticism. How they emanate an image of success, to the minimum that they complain and worry about their mental health, their environment may tell them that they are too exaggerated, even dramatic and that, after all, they work well, “what a problem? is there going to be?

Functional at first, upset at the end

Highly functional anxiety is not a psychological disorder. Although being highly effective in the workplace can be seen as a long-awaited advantage, the fact that this implies doing it at the expense of family life, social life, and leisure make the person with this type of anxiety deprive himself of meaningful experiences with family members, friends and other significant people around him.

We may accept that we are like that, that having anxiety is normal in our lives and that there is little that can be done to it. However, anxiety maintained for a long time and constantly can bring with it more serious problems, such as presenting a genuine anxiety disorder, in addition to presenting psychosomatic symptoms such as gastrointestinal, dermatological, cardiovascular problems …

Being very effective in our job is fine, but if this causes us psychological discomfort and does not allow us to enjoy life, then we are facing a problem that most likely requires psychological help. Going to a psychologist for this should not be seen as an exaggeration or a symptom of weakness, but as a way to learn to better manage the anxiety that, if left to roam, can play a trick on us.

It is important to understand that our value as a person will not be found in a list of tasks carried out in our workplace, nor that our self-esteem or self-fulfillment depend exclusively on the pressure we are subjected to in employment. Physical and mental health are very important aspects to take care of, in addition to our family and friends, spheres of our life that will offer us pleasure and that, if they are a healthy and functional environment, will function as a protective factor against an anxiety disorder.

What can we do?

Apart from going to a psychologist to make sure that the problem does not get worse, there are several small changes that we can incorporate in our day to day that will help us to reduce highly functional anxiety while we remain functional people in our job.

1. Learn to say “no” at work

Yes to this, yes to that, yes to that … this type of phrase is very common in people with highly functional anxiety, who accept all reports, projects, meetings, and other work tasks that their boss or another colleague asks them to do. do.

The time has come to say no. It is time to set limits, paying attention to how we feel when they tell us if we can kindly do such a project or such a report. It is true that it is difficult to say “no” to a boss, but if what he asks of us is outside of our obligations, it is convenient to leave it to someone else or, at least, leave it for later.

A good way to avoid this oversaturation of work obligations is to change the initial “yes” to “when I organize, I confirm it”; so we don’t put that burden on ourselves and if we see that we have a hole, a moment that allows us to do that calmly and without haste, then we take it freely.

2. Write the break in the agenda

If you are one of those people with a tendency to work too many hours at a time, a good option to put a “stop” on it is to mark the time for rest or leisure in your own agenda and, of course, respect it.

People with highly functional anxiety tend to respect the tasks that have been noted on the agenda and this, even if it is to rest, should also be seen as one more to fulfill. By writing it down, you establish a commitment to yourself, leaving time for your care and rest from work. It is highly recommended to take a full day a week to rest.

3. Move the body

Exercising is essential for our physical and mental health, but sometimes we don’t have time for it. The feeling that you don’t have time for anything is common in people with highly functional anxiety, so an alternative to conventional exercise is stretching.

With just 15 minutes of stretching, mindful breathing, followed by a few minutes of walking or gentle physical activity, you can combat feelings of anxiety.

If, on the other hand, we have more time or we motivate ourselves to do more intense exercise, go ahead! All physical activity helps to calm the mind and, therefore, it takes away a bit of anxiety.

4. Disconnect to connect with yourself

When we think of a person who is very attentive to his work, an individual comes to mind who is every two by three checking his email, chat messages or looking to see if he has received a call. Even at break time, having devices turned on doesn’t allow people with highly functional anxiety to forget about work, more than enough reason to decide to turn them all off and truly disconnect.

At the end of the day, at the end of work, or at the time of rest, put down your mobile, computer, tablet, and any device and take the time to perform a pleasant habit. Whether it’s reading, listening to music, meditating, making macramé, or whatever, do it without having your mobile connected. Disconnect to connect with yourself.


Highly functional anxiety: what it is, characteristics and how to manage it