Although “high-functioning” anxiety 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.