Do You Have High-Functioning Anxiety? Dr. Julia Kogan Reveals The Warning Signs - Exclusive

Dealing with anxiety can be tough, but some people are actually so good at living with it that they can accomplish daily tasks and may even seem to be very successful. These people have what is referred to as high-functioning anxiety, and while this form of anxiety might sound like a skillful talent, Dr. Julia Kogan, PsyD, says that it comes with a cost.

Dr. Kogan, a health psychologist, and sleep and stress/anxiety specialist, explains that people with high-functioning anxiety might look like they're functioning well, but it may not reflect what's happening on the inside. The truth is that people with this condition often doubt themselves, have a fear of failure, and may not take care of themselves. "Because many people struggle silently and appear to be doing just fine, people with high-functioning anxiety often do not get the help that could really benefit them," she says. Since this disorder might lead to neglect, it could also result in mental, physical, and emotional consequences. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Kogan describes some of the warning signs of high-functioning anxiety. 

Procrastination, perfectionism, and people pleasing

Dr. Kogan says that putting off projects or avoiding tasks is one sign of high-functioning anxiety, primarily because procrastination creates anxiety as you stress over how you'll get tasks done. She adds that many people could end up sacrificing some other aspect of their life, such as getting a good night's sleep, due to the additional stress.

Perfectionism is another indication that you might suffer from this form of anxiety. "People with high-functioning anxiety often have unrealistic, perfectionistic expectations of themselves," Dr. Kogan points out. Impossible goals can be vague, she explains, and trying to achieve them only causes more stress. Not only that, but perfectionism can result in feelings of inadequacy, which can also raise stress levels.

If you work hard to please others, you might also be at risk for high-functioning anxiety. Dr. Kogan states that part of the reason why is because people pleasers tend to over-commit. People pleasers struggle with saying no to others, especially in the workplace. In other instances, some people pleasers may "say yes to things that are not in their best interest due to fear of others thinking negatively of them," says Dr. Kogan.  

Overthinking and self-doubt

Overthinking is viewed as a symptom of many types of anxiety, and that includes high-functioning anxiety. "People will often think about the same problem repetitively without a solution or path forward. They will often engage in unhelpful thinking about the future as well. They are more prone to 'what if' thinking, which often involves worst-case scenarios about the future or themselves."

Another glaring warning sign of high-functioning anxiety is self-doubt. Dr. Kogan explains that even when people are doing well, self-doubt can make them question their abilities, and that can trigger anxiety and even lead to decreased productivity. "Despite success, they are likely to doubt themselves and their abilities, further increasing stress and decreasing productivity," she explains. And it's not just an overactive mind during the day that's the culprit. The next big sign may happen late into the evening.

Poor sleep and low energy

"People with high-functioning anxiety (and anxiety in general) will often experience poor sleep," says Dr. Kogan. She adds that "overthinking and a racing mind at night" are generally the reasons for poor sleep. Additionally, if you were one to procrastinate on your projects, staying up late to catch up could also mean you're sacrificing much-needed sleep. According to the American Sleep Association, there are short and long term effects that can have big impacts on your health. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, which can seem impossible for those being kept awake by ruminating thoughts.

When you don't sleep well, you might feel tired the next day, but Dr. Kogan notes that poor sleep isn't the only thing that leads to low energy. She discusses how people with high-functioning anxiety tend to overextend themselves, especially those with the aforementioned people-pleasing tendencies. Doing too much can lead to a lack of energy and "this in turn makes it more difficult to be productive in their day, leading to further stress," she says.

How to treat high-functioning anxiety

Fortunately Dr. Kogan has advice for those with high-functioning anxiety. "The best way to treat this type of anxiety is to take a comprehensive approach to managing stress and anxiety overall," says Dr. Kogan. She explains that deep breathing and relaxation techniques are a good place to begin because they calm the nervous system. She also suggests prioritizing sleep because a lack of sleep can trigger high levels of stress.

Cognitive strategies can also benefit people with this form of anxiety because they often have false or unhelpful thoughts that make it difficult to accomplish tasks. "Addressing perfectionism and 'what if' thinking is especially helpful for those with high functioning anxiety, as unrealistic and unreasonable expectations often drive anxiety," Dr. Kogan says. "It's also helpful for people with high-functioning anxiety to learn to set boundaries and communicate assertively," she adds. Learning to prioritize yourself, trying not to please everyone, and learning to say no can go a long way in reducing stress.

The benefits of treating high-functioning anxiety

Dr. Kogan tells Health Digest that taking steps to treat high-functioning anxiety can yield many benefits. She discusses how the emotional and physical advantages can improve many facets of your life. "Decreasing anxiety helps improve overall physical health, cardiac health, digestive health, and even immune system functioning," Dr. Kogan says. She adds that there are emotional benefits as well that include "a greater ability to relax, feel calm, and experience positive emotions such as happiness and excitement." 

Your cognitive health will also improve when you work to treat high-functioning anxiety. "By calming the nervous system and addressing unhelpful thinking that often gets in the way of productivity, individuals can experience improved focus and attention, better working memory, and improved decision-making abilities," Dr. Kogan explains. All of these positive changes could lead to a higher level of confidence.

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