blurry background image of people walking on busy street. Text reads: 21 habits of people with high-functioning anxiety

Although “high-functioninganxiety isn’t an official medical diagnosis, many people identify with the phrase. To me (as someone who lives with it), it’s the difference between anxiety that keeps you frozen, and anxiety that pushes you through life, forcing you to move. Anxiety of the “high-functioning” variety is the latter, and because the person who experiences it is being “productive” and moving forward, it’s easy to pretend everything is OK, even if this isn’t the case.

So what does having “high-functioning” anxiety actually make someone do? We asked people in our mental health community to tell us one “habit” they developed because they have this type of anxiety.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “I apologize for literally everything that I could possibly need to apologize for, even for apologizing too much, because I’m so scared of driving friends out of my life. I’ve found that a lot of times I apologize for the ‘ifs.’ ‘I’m sorry if I’m being too affectionate.’ ‘Sorry if I’m annoying you.’ ‘Sorry if I text you too much.’ Trying to break the habit but its not easy.” — Park A.

2. “I nervous chatter. People think I’m ‘outgoing’ when it’s really just filling the air because I’m so nervous I can’t stop talking.” — Karri H.

3. “I pull at my clothes, bite the inside of my lips, crack my knuckles, play with my hair, pick at anything not smooth on my skin. I had acrylic nails for a long time to stop the picking actually. It helped a lot.” — Mandy V.

4. “I’m a college student with ‘high-functioning’ and GAD [generalized anxiety disorder]. My ‘habit’ is being an overachiever. Because when you look at someone like me who’s good at compartmentalizing, repressing, deflecting and my anxiety manifests in a way that makes me hyper-vigilant about very specific things (i.e: work, staying occupied, list making) it can be so, so easy to only see the outcome/success and not the struggle of how I get there.” — Molly C.

5. “I play with my hair all the time. I don’t usually think about doing it when I start, but once I realize I’m doing it it starts to bother me. I’ll twirl it around my finger, or pull at it. In the past, I would rake my fingers through a certain spot on my hair. This spot ended up incredibly short and rough. A lot of people think the hair twirling is ‘cute’ but actually the habit is distressing. Because I’m always doing it, and because I can’t stop unless I tell myself to consciously (and since I don’t always notice, I can’t always do that), my hair ends up damaged, my fingers calloused and I feel like people notice I’m doing it a lot.” — Benji Y.


6. “I write the alphabet over and over again because leaving my hands idle during stressful moments is a no. I also play games like Candy Crush on my phone during stressful conversations.” — Lily S.

7. “Overthinking everything I have done, said or that I will soon be doing. It’s the type of overthinking that kills me from the inside because it keeps on getting worse minute by minute until I have to tell my brain to stop thinking the worst out of everything.” — Nur N.

8. “I check my surroundings constantly. I make little to no eye contact. I check outside my window to make sure no one has followed me. OMG, I could go on and on. Even the sound of a type of engine triggers me.” — Claud H.

9. “Arriving to any appointment/college/social gathering at least an hour before it’s due to start. No one gets why I have to get to the movie theater so early.” — Krystina S.

10. “I ask people to repeat things. Especially directions I have to ask anywhere from three to 10 times to make sure I’m going the right way, taking the right exit, etc.
I’m just terrified I’ll get something wrong that I repeatedly ask people to say things again as many times as I can without them getting annoyed.” — Rebecca W.

11. “I’m sorry for [insert perceived error here]. I also struggle with eye contact sometimes.” — Kendra S.

12. “If anxiety is high and cleaning doesn’t get done, I’m pacing to ‘find’ something to do.” —Rachel C.

13. “Hyper-focusing. I will find something to focus all of my attention on. If I don’t I find myself very overwhelmed and potentially facing a panic attack.” — Jenni C.

14. “I pick at my cuticles around my fingernails a lot, I tend to rip the dead skin off of my lips and bite the inside of my mouth, constantly playing with my hair, once I get really anxious I’ll start babbling a lot. I’ll literally apologize for everything.” — Adison H.

15. “I avoid having a lot of friends in college and stick to myself because I always feel judged.” — Candace L.e

16. “I bite or chew my hands. It’s quite noticeable because I do it so much now.” — Josh D.

17. “Procrastination, typically due to worry over ‘how little time I have’ to get something done. Never mind that procrastination steals the time I do have. Also, I like to escape from reality via video games. The more immersive the game, the better. I still manage to get everything done though, even if I have to stay up 30-some-odd hours to do it.” — Lina N.

18. “I write down everything I have to do. It calms me down to have everything out of my head. And when I can see the list of things I have to do, I can divide them into more manageable tasks and prioritize them accordingly.” — Cymone L.

19. “I act ridiculously happy. Make jokes, laugh, be the ‘life of the party.’ No one that happy could possibly have such high anxiety or depression…. right? I also tap my fingers and ‘count’ them. Thumb to each finger over and over and over.” — Laura S.

20. “Lists. I make so many lists. I have whole notebooks of lists on everything from daily activities to bucket lists to my greatest fears. It allows me to organize my thoughts and focus on anything other than my anxiety. Any time I read (which is pretty often — I am an English major), I have to have a notebook accessible if I need to write down a quote I like. Unfortunately, these lists often times trigger more bouts of intense anxiety. I understand that I cannot do the 200+ items in my bucket list overnight, but the inability to immediately check these off is suffocating.” — Persephone A.

21. “If I’m walking up any sort of stairs I tend to count them to make my mind busy. It just helps me make my mind detour from the panic thoughts. I look down at the ground a lot when I’m in public so that I don’t have to make eye contact with anyone. I rock back and forth if I’m really anxious or click my pens a lot if I’m writing. Does get a bit annoying for other people! I take three, six or 10 sips of drink depending on how thirsty I am. If I don’t do the right amount of sips I get triggered and my whole day could be ruined! Sounds pretty silly, I know, but that’s just anxiety for you I guess! Darn brains!” — LJ S.


My head is the loudest place on Earth. There’s not a moment when it’s quiet, when it’s calm, when it’s settled. I’ve got a thousand questions looping around, tormenting me day in and day out.

“Why would you do that?”

“Why would you think that?”

“Why did you just say that?”

“Are you stupid or something?”

“How is anyone going to like you now?”

“Why aren’t I good enough?”

“Why do you even bother?”

“Why do I feel like this?”

“Why can’t I stop it?”

They swirl around and around and as they do my heartbeat quickens, my mouth gets dry and my palms get sweaty. I can feel the world begin to spin and I become helpless, an observer lost in the cycle, forced to watch the whole scene play out while I can’t do a thing to stop it. I get lightheaded and my eyes begin to tear up — it’s happening again. It gets harder and harder to breathe as another small voice from deep within begins to speak.


The questions keep swirling getting louder and louder to match my heartbeat.


Now the questions are joined by insults.

“You really are ‘stupid.’”

“No wonder nobody wants to be your friend.”

“You really don’t deserve to be happy.”

“Nobody cares about you.”

“They are all just using you.”

“You really are ‘crazy.’”

They keep going and going. Suddenly every fear, every insecurity I’ve ever had in my life are brought to mind all at once, and it suffocates me like someone reached down my throat and yanked those fears up from my chest and now they are stuck.


But it doesn’t listen and there’s no stopping it now.

I find a place that feels comfortable — someplace quiet, away from everything else. In my bed with the blankets pulled up, or in the closet with my knees curled up, I reach for comfort — something that will help me to feel grounded.

It’s a full-blown panic attack now; I’m hyperventilating and it feels like I’m having a heart attack and that scares me even more. I’ve completely lost touch with anything happening around me. I’m stuck in this whirlwind and it’s spinning and spinning and I’m getting more and more out of control with every breath.


Everything that’s been stressing me out lately is all coming flooding back to me. My job, my relationships, my finances, my whole entire life — every single thing that made me nervous, every little mistake I ever made — I am overwhelmed by it all. Then I start thinking about all the times I’ve failed or about how I am just not good enough.

It doesn’t seem possible, but my heartbeat and my breathing are still getting faster. Now I’m shaking and the sweating won’t let up.

“Am I ‘crazy?’”

“If I’m doing this to myself, why can’t I just stop?”

I start to wonder if there is someone in my life who can stop this for me, so I start to think about all the most important people in my life, about that one person who I care for just a bit more than the others. For a brief second, I can take a regular breath. But this doesn’t last either because then I start to feel like maybe this person doesn’t really care about me and even worse maybe they are secretly trying to get back at me for something.

My head starts to swirl that around for a bit. Now I’m really freaking out.

“What if I lose this person?”

“What if I never really had this person?”

“What if they never cared for me at all?”

“What if this is all a joke to them?”

I try to remind myself that I’m not in a good place right now — that this is an anxiety attack and it’s going to go away. But anxiety doesn’t let me believe that, of course. So instead I think about how I’m alone and I’m drowning and there is no way out.

I know I should stay away from my phone. I tell myself not to send that message. It’s completely irrational and ridiculous and I know it’s going to push that person further away from me, the very last thing I want, the very last thing I need.

But I do it anyway. I start to type out that message and it releases something, it feels good. I take the blame away from me — it’s no longer my head that’s causing all this, it’s their fault! So, I push and I push, I accuse my person of being out to destroy me, to hurt me. They don’t understand it, where this is coming from — how on earth they could have possibly done the things I said. But I can’t believe them, no matter how many times they deny my accusations.

I can see it all happening like I’m outside my body — like it’s all a really bad dream. Unfortunately, I can’t wake up and I can’t stop it. All I can do is watch as I destroy everything that mattered. Sometimes this cycle will continue for days until that person I care so much for finally snaps, saying: “Are you fucking ‘crazy?’”

And it stops. Maybe I am.

My heart sinks because I did it again. I find my back inside my body once again and it feels so damn heavy. That heaviness sinks like a boulder to the pit of my stomach and I feel like I want to vomit — there’s no going back, there’s no undo button.

I feel the loss right away, even if that person sticks around for this to happen a few more times, each time I’m pushing them further and further away. Now I’m heartbroken and devastated because I’ve lost the one person I couldn’t bear to lose. It plays over and over in my mind and all I want is a chance to undo all that but it’s too late — the damage is done.

This happens again and again and again. Each time I see it, I know exactly what the result is going to be and there’s nothing I can do, no matter how much work I put in to try and get a handle on my anxiety.

It just keeps coming back.

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Thinkstock photo via markp73

My mind is like the ocean. My thoughts are the waves. It is continuous like the blue depths of the ocean. Some parts are calm. The water being motionless, unruffled, undisturbed. My thoughts calm and tranquil.

Some parts comprise tiny waves, small ruffles within the serene water. They create tiny agitated storms but dissipate into nothing more than a ruffle. They leave me uneasy, but vanish, leaving me as I was before: unchanged.

Then there are intervals of gigantic waves that could reach above my head. The type of waves that look small and inadequate at first, but over time, as it inches closer, becomes a enormous thunder of water. It’s a wonder how these form. They start as small disturbances in the water, and grow. They grow larger and larger as if the ocean is throwing all of its energy into such a small fragment of itself.

The thoughts all start minor, too. Things that shouldn’t matter, things that don’t matter. They grow and grow, until they embody a greater area. It becomes stronger and harder to forget. They can grow into an entity of its own. They crash down hard, they are strong and solid.

These waves can be hard to navigate. When the water is still, a boat would move gently across the surface, unharmed. As the waves move in and become stronger, my boat will need to steer clear of these waves, but it can’t avoid every one. Some times my boat will need to ride the waves.

Together, these waves and quiet pools of water make up the voice inside my head. That voice I listened to once, demands to be heard every occasion after. You have to listen to me, it taunts. It gets louder and louder, with an ever-increasing volume, so that every part of me, every inch of my body hears it, feels it. These are the unavoidable thoughts that run through my head on the bad days, and the mumbled, quiescent cries I hear on the good days.

Doing all this thinking can be lonely and overwhelming, to live life inside my head. Every night is spent replaying events on repeat, being filtered out for all the positive, leaving behind a negative core that is cold and raw. It’s gets hard to navigate that boat alone, through all the rough patches of waves. I get tired. It gets harder to steer clear of the dangerous waters.


As any earthly event, it cannot be controlled. The waves cannot be tamed, and sometimes they cannot be avoided. The ocean holds its power and gives no one else the reigns. All that can be done is steer my boat to safety, to a part of the ocean that makes me feel safe, protected and secure. I cannot control the waves, I can only steer the boat.

These are just like my thoughts. Some of them can’t be avoided. Some of them pass with no need to steer the boat. And some require my utmost strength. I have to concentrate on the direction that the boat moves, avoiding all the subtle bumps in the water so I can reach my final destination.

When the waves get aggressive and fierce, it may get hard to steer my boat alone. Sometimes I need a second pair of hands to set the sail in the right direction. Sometimes I need help to make it to safety. It can be hard and miserable to go through it alone. I believe no one wants to venture through an unforgiving and overwhelming encounter by themselves.

But it doesn’t have to be lonely. And it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I don’t have to let those thoughts take control of my life. I don’t have to drown in the water. I don’t have to stay quiet about what I’m feeling.

I have to let these thoughts out. I have to talk to someone, or write about how I’m feeling because once those thoughts are out in the open, unable to hide any longer, it isn’t a one on one battle anymore. It becomes a team effort to navigate through those fierce waves. Because I do deserve to feel better, and I am worth it and I do have value. Together, we can battle these thoughts and these voices. Together we can make it to the clear, blue, delicate water. Away from the storm.

This isn’t the first time Kesha has spoken out about living with an eating disorder, anxiety and depression, but in an honest essay in Teen Vogue, the pop star shared how social media affects her mental health.

She wrote:

When I think about the kind of bullying I dealt with as a child and teen, it seems almost quaint compared with what goes on today. The amount of body-shaming and baseless slut-shaming online makes me sick. I know from personal experience how comments can mess up somebody’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth. I have felt so unlovable after reading cruel words written by strangers who don’t know a thing about me.

It became a vicious cycle: When I compared myself to others, I would read more mean comments, which only fed my anxiety and depression.

For this reason, she said, she’s changed her relationship with social media, going on frequent breaks and making an effort to spend more time outside.

I love [social media] because it’s how I communicate with my fans—and nothing means more to me than my fans—but too much of it can exacerbate my anxiety and depression.

Although not all of us get the “celebrity” experience on social media, how we interact with sites like Facebook can have an affect on our mental health. A study from the University of Missouri found social media can lead to symptoms of depression when it makes the user feel envy towards others. For people who already have depression and anxiety, it’s not surprising that comparing yourself to others has the potential to damage your self-esteem and make symptoms worse.

But, there’s also a thriving community of people on social media who talk about mental health issues. Sometimes when people feel alone in their own lives, relationships online — mostly fostered by social media — can assure them they’re not alone.

To find out what our mental health community thought about the relationship between social media and mental health, we asked them (on Facebook) to tell us how social media affects their own mental illness.

Here’s what they told us:

“It is a positive and a negative. The positive is that I get to interact with people without feeling any social anxiety, and it helps me to feel less alone. The negative is that it can make me feel depressed, like I’m not worth as much as people who have more than me or that everyone has a happy and perfect life. I just need to remember that what people put on social media may not be the real story.” — Alaina M.


“Through social media I am able to express myself about my mental health issues and not feel so alone. I’ve made it a point to destigmatize mental health on my Facebook as well.” — Maija N.

“I have bipolar ll disorder, and seeing everyone in my newsfeed starting families, getting married or graduating college makes me feel like I’m worth nothing. I try to not let it affect me but seeing everyone else happy and feeling stagnant myself in life, I can’t help but let it get to me.” — Miranda F.

“Social media has been huge. It can build me up or tear me down. I’ve found community, but also lost in-real-life-friends because their drama negatively effected me. Definitely a double edged sword.” — Martha W.

“Many of my old friends told me that I should stop post stuff that’s relevant to me and my mental health. It would make them feel depressed. Good joke. My aim is it to destigmatize mental illness and I will continue to talk, scream, whisper and shout about my issues and how I manage them. If I can make just one other person realize they are worthy of life and worthy of getting help, I’m happy.” — Anki L.

“Social media has been an absolute game changer. Because of the connections I’ve made, there is peer support 24/7. Connections have been made worldwide and great friendships have been formed.” — Jeanine H.

“Social media allows me to be more open about my anxiety and depression with people, but it also makes me clam up at times because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing or have my words misinterpreted.” — Scott V.

“I live with bipolar disorder and my attempts to open a healthy dialogue on mental health have caused me to consider leaving social media altogether. My friends are supportive but no one else will talk about it. I feel like I’m not worth people’s time. No one wants to be reminded that ‘people like me’ exist.” — Matt W.

“It can help and it can hurt. It gives me a way to express myself when I’m too anxious to talk to people, I can reach out with a status instead of pushing past my social anxiety and confronting someone. On the other side though, I find myself scrolling through an endless emotional rollercoaster that is the newsfeed. ‘Sad story, happy story, look at this person who was murdered, look at this kid happy about a new puppy, look at this sailor come home to his sister, read about this new law, this place was just bombed, hey look more puppies!’ It’s hard to keep my own emotions at bay when my ‘surroundings’ have such a huge an unpredictable influence on them.” — Stephanie F.

“I’m constantly on social media. It takes a toll on me. Some days I am on it all day long. I then in turn feel like crap about it. I feel foggy and even more depressed.” — De C.

“Social media helps me stay connected with family and friends, see what’s happening in their lives when I’m too down on myself to ask or really talk to them.” — Danae N.

“Social media helps me feel close to those I love even if I’m far away from them. The downside is that normally people who upload photos or other things don’t show the reality of their feelings, so I’m always comparing myself to others and thinking their lives are better than mine.” — Kiranne S.

“Social media is mainly a positive to me, because it lets me know that I’m not alone. My friends don’t have the mental health issues I do, so it’s easy to feel isolated. Through social media I can see I’m not unique in my experiences and there’s people going through, or that have been through what I have.” — Katie B.

“Honestly it is such a trigger for anxiety, but I use it when I’m stressed for the immediate gratification of attention from strangers. I hate seeing others people’s lives and imagining how much better off than me they are, but also sometimes just an anonymous like on a picture or post can calm me and make me feel valid. I feel like that’s a sad way to use it, but sometimes it really does help.” — Nathan E.

I tend to read into post reactions more negatively. Someone could respond with, ‘Oh that’s nice,’ and I’ll immediately think it was a sarcastic response. Also, if close friends don’t respond I’ll wonder if they’re mad at me. On the positive side, I have an immense amount of support through social media concerning my mental illnesses.” — Stephanie T.

How does social media affect your life with mental illness? Tell us in the comments below.

Lead photo via Kesha‘s Facebook page.

I’m having trouble right now. This is hard. It hurts in my chest. Sometimes, I have really scary thoughts. I’m trying to do the next “right” thing, because everything is scary. I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying. Stop trying? Stop trying! But I’m trying to stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. I don’t need to tell everyone about this. I don’t need them. People don’t ask for help because they try. I try to write it out, but it’s not perfect, so I stop. I don’t want my daughter to feel that way. Can I be OK with that? It’s OK that I’m not OK with it. I’m not OK with it. I’m not OK with it not being right. What is right? Breathe in. Breathe out. Let. The. Earth. Support. You. Like an ocean. Breathe. The waves come in. I hate that song. The waves go out. Feel my teeth. My tongue. My toes. I did it, I did it! Look at me! Aren’t I great for doing it? I don’t need to help other people right now. The way I help them is if I help me. I’m scared to type certain things. I don’t want people to worry. I don’t want people to lie to me and tell me everything is OK. Breathe in. I don’t want a Band-Aid. Breathe out. I have a mental illness? I shouldn’t sugarcoat it.

I have a mental illness.

They are just words. I get why people with mental illness sometimes want to die, want to crawl in a hole. Want to write. Want to get it out! Want to get out. I have an illness. It’s not my fault. It’s not my birth mom’s fault. It’s not my mom’s fault. It’s not my husband’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s OK that I didn’t understand. It’s OK that I didn’t understand. It’s OK that I didn’t understand. It’s OK that I didn’t understand.

God of mercy. Sweet love of mine. I have surrendered to the divine. This is why people write. This is why writing is beautiful. This is why they say, “bare your soul.” I don’t need to tell everyone all the time that they’re doing it right. It helps. But I need to mean it. That’s mean. I’m trying to mean it. Breathe.


In. Out. Relax your jaw. Feel your tongue. They were just words before. I get it now. Are people worried? It doesn’t matter. It matters that you get better. I’m getting better. I need to do this. I need to do this. I need to do this. It helps to see it written out. I’m not writing a book. It doesn’t need to “sound good.” It doesn’t need to look good.

Come back. I missed you. It’s OK. You’re here now. And that’s all that matters. You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK. Breathe in. Breathe out.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Olarty.

Have you ever had a hangover? Chances are if you are old enough to drink you’ve had at least one dance with the hangover monster. Your head is killing you, your stomach is doing more flips than a circus acrobat and you can hardly function.

Now how about what I like to call an anxiety hangover, have you ever experienced one of those? In many ways, it’s just as unpleasant as an alcohol-induced hangover, but the downside is it can go on for much, much longer and bring in a bout of depression. Let me explain how this works.

First comes the anxiety attack. Your heart rate is up, you start feeling really, really anxious about every single little thing, your palms start sweating, your throat is dry and you feel suffocated, your stomach feels sick and you’re uncontrollably shaking. You know all too well exactly what this is but whatever attempts you make to calm yourself down are just not
working. Anything little thing that’s on your mind suddenly becomes front and center and turns into a do or die scenario. You feel scared, alone and helpless. Reality slips away and is replaced with this world that is frightening, lonely and dangerous. When you try to reach out for assurance you end up attacking and pushing away those people that you really want close to you. But this is not the monster I’m speaking of today. My monster comes after.

Much like waking up after a particularly good night of partying, once the anxiety goes out and the calm sets in you look around, try to piece back together the events of the night and survey the damage. All the things you said during the attack, all the things you wanted to stop yourself from saying but couldn’t have now been said. All your most irrational fears are right there up on the surface. You regret it, you regret it so damn much and would give anything to undo it. But you can’t. People have a hard time understanding how damaging your own thoughts can be, especially when you lose all control of them.


So, you try to apologize, try to explain that you never meant to be that way. More often than not the subject of your “attacks” is not a person who understands or has experienced anxiety, we naturally seek these people out craving their calm demeanor, but for them it’s almost impossible to understand. They generally don’t react well, it’s too much for them, they call you crazy. This is crushing, absolutely crushing!

This is where the depression sits in. You regret everything. The way you acted, the things you said, you regret that you even allowed yourself to interact with anyone in that state. Sometimes it’s unfix-able, you’re just too much and they don’t want to deal with it. Then the loneliness, the self-doubt, the feelings of unworthiness all set in and you’re left alone standing there in the middle of the battlefield, chaos and destruction all around you.

Every time it happens you feel a little less. Less worthy, less than enough, less valued. That ugly horrible part of you keeps popping up and strangling your happiness. You start to believe that maybe you really are “crazy,” that nobody will ever be able to see past this monster and discover all the beautiful things you have to offer. It’s a different kind of heartbreak because you want to be better, but you’re not sure if you can be.  So, you withdraw, curl up with the miserable way you feel and this can last awhile, until the cycle starts all over again.

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Thinkstock photo via pecaphoto77

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