DR. MITCH: High-Functioning Anxiety?

Anxiety is real. For many of us, it’s a normal response to a stressful situation that helps us to focus and function at our best. But when anxiety starts to interfere with our life, it’s important to recognize what’s happening and do something about it. That’s where this new term ”high functioning anxiety” has come into vogue. You’ll see it on the internet or in social media. It is not a diagnosis recognized by any medical association. What it’s supposed to be describing is a situation where the individual’s inner turmoil is hidden by their external appearance. In other words, you’re being torn up inside but most people won’t see anything wrong with you and you seem to be doing okay. Often people who have this problem cope by self-medicating. They may use alcohol or marijuana or prescription drugs to help deal with the feelings of panic, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea and vertigo triggered by their stress reaction. They may also have associated fears or phobias. For example:  a fear or phobia about being in public or of being in a crowd are common.

Why is it important to recognize what’s happening? Because the coping mechanisms may not work all the time or may fail to be as effective over time and so it’s important to acknowledge that something is going on and to seek help before that happens. Luckily the stigma associated with mental health issues is slowly being eroded but it’s still far too common for people to be afraid to recognize what’s happening to them or a loved one and to seek help.

And there are many sources of support. Online therapy can make us more mindful of what is happening and provide coping techniques such as guided mediation. Counseling is available. It also is helpful to take good care of yourself. Eating and sleeping properly and getting enough exercise especially outside where exposure to greenery and nature is therapeutic are all part of the way to deal with this. Whether you want to call it high functioning or not, anxiety that interferes with your life needs to be addressed.