Jul 3, 2024 | Mental Health

The Problem with Labels for High Functioning Anxiety


As proponents of mental health, we want to ensure that the language we use reflects inclusion, acceptance, and understanding. The terms surrounding anxiety can often be insensitive, minimizing and harmful, like “high functioning anxiety.” Part of our mission at Candor Diversity Group is to spread awareness and encourage proper vocabulary when discussing these conditions.

What is high functioning anxiety? 

“High functioning anxiety” is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is more commonly diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder. Individuals with “high functioning anxiety” often experience anxiety symptoms but maintain high productivity and function at a “normal” level.  

Usually successful in personal and professional endeavours, individuals with high functioning anxiety also struggle with overthinking and overanalyzing, fear of disappointing others, and experience significant self-criticism internally. From the outside, these individuals appear to excel and are often described as hard working and goal oriented. However, beneath this mask lies someone who is dealing with internal struggles associated with high stress levels and feeling on edge most of the time. 

  • Racing thoughts 
  • Inability to relax 
  • Detail orientated 
  • Headaches 
  • Brain fog 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Racing heart rate 
  • Muscle tension 

“For various reasons, some folks can continue to seem ‘fine’ on the outside while still feeling like they’re drowning.”

Women’s Health 

The downsides of using the term “high functioning anxiety” 

There are reasons why the term “high functioning anxiety” can be detrimental to those who experience these feelings. 

  • Minimizes feelings 

Referring to someone with anxiety as “high functioning” can lead to feelings of frustration and can feel like their struggles are minimized. They often struggle in silence and are unable to enjoy their accomplishments. are exhausted due to their need to hide their feelings or hardships. High functioning tendencies can often be likened to masking. 

“You’re masking something you’re struggling with performance…You’re able to maintain the basic aspects of your life without people noticing a significant change, but you’re using a lot more mental effort to sustain that high performance.”

  • Can impact treatment 

It can be challenging to seek support, or even recognize you may need support, when you are succeeding in your daily life. Masking can also make it difficult for others to see or acknowledge anxiety, creating another barrier to seeking treatment fear of what others will say or think they are exaggerating their symptoms. 

  • Perpetuates misconceptions 

It is an outdated view that people with anxiety are short-tempered or unable to function in day-to-day activities. Being labelled as “high functioning” can lead to an individual feeling like they do not need to seek help and support. However, this is not the case. Those living with “high functioning anxiety” deal with unique challenges that are treatable with proper care. 

“So many people suffer in silence with high-functioning anxiety because they are afraid of people perceiving them as a failure if they don’t achieve or if they need a break.”

Women’s Health 

Anxiety is a complex condition with varying degrees of severity and manifestations. The term “high functioning anxiety” can oversimplify this complexity and fails to capture the full spectrum of anxiety disorders. More precise and clinically accurate language is necessary to ensure that individuals receive understanding and support.

If you are struggling, know that support and resources are available, and stay tuned for our blog next week where we will discuss some ways to help deal with anxiety.

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