According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million, or 18 percent of the population, adults deal with an anxiety disorder. Of this number, some fall into a category called “high functioning” anxiety – the type of anxiety that is hidden from the typical symptoms.

High functioning anxiety isn’t an official mental health diagnosis; rather it’s a catch-all term for those people that live on the highly-functioning side of spectrum for anxiety disorders. These are the people that identify themselves as handling life reasonably well. They might notice that their anxiety propels them to move forward rather than leaving them paralyzed in fear. They appear successful, organized and put together – the typical “Type A” personality type. On the inside, though, they are feeling very different.

Here are some signs you have hidden anxiety that you might not have even known about.

Need For Order and Control

While for some the need for organization and control might simply be a preference, for others their impulsive desire for it is rooted in deeper problems. Those with hidden anxiety will feel unsettled when things are out of order, because it ruins their sense of calm. They want to eliminate anything that might cause them stress. This can manifest in how they structure their daily life to how they organize their desk at work. Paradoxically, the desire to control things backfires, often resulting in more anxiety.

Desire For Success

Those with hidden anxiety have an incredible fear of failure, and will do anything to achieve their idea of success. They are very worried about other people judging them, and want to make everyone around them proud. With hidden anxiety, the person is likely to appear to be an over-achiever. The fear of missing a deadline will send their anxiety soaring, so it pushes them to work hard to get it done. They are always working on some task trying to make sure it’s completed to perfection. This is all driven by an underlying fear.

They might also avoid taking any risks, because their fear of failure holds them back. Their worst fear is experiencing embarrassment, disappointment, anger, sadness or frustration. When they do fail, they might have a bigger reaction than what would normally be expected. They will take all constructive criticism personally, and feel they are being seen as a huge burden on others because of their mistakes.

Negative Physical Symptoms

There is a known connection between our mind’s health and our body’s health. Stress and anxiety can manifest into physical symptoms that most shake off as something else. General body aches and tension, restlessness (such as tapping their foot), gastrointestinal issues, ache, and frequent illnesses are just some of the many examples. In addition, insomnia, nightmares, or other disturbed sleep due to anxious thoughts is common.

One popular one is frequent headaches as a result of clenching their jaw or tensing their neck or shoulders. Visible tension may be the most common outward sign of anxiety. The fight-or-flight response, which is very active in an anxious person’s brain, often causes noticeable tension of the hands, neck, jaw, and shoulders.

Unlikely to Ask For Help

When one suffers from hidden anxiety, they might be less inclined to want to ask for help. There are many reasons. They might be worried that their work will suffer if they aren’t motivated to get things done due to their anxiety, or they don’t want to lose the positive influence their anxiety provides in terms of your achievements. They might not even realize that they are struggling (and think that everyone is going through the same thing), or they might not consider themselves sick enough to ask for help.

They Over-Prepare

People with high functioning anxiety are typically very good at being proactive, anticipating any and all negative outcomes before they happen. Their mind frequently jumps to the worst-case scenario for any given situation, so as a result they are always very prepared. For example, they might be the type that over packs for a weekend trip because they bring unnecessary things just encase. They are seen as the reliable one because of this, but others will not realize this “ready for anything” mentality stems from anxiety.


Due to their need for structure and control, those with hidden anxiety may have built their world around them to be one of avoidance. They do so to prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed. They stick to routines and familiar experiences, avoid intense emotional experiences such as new social events, and will avoid conflict with others. They will do whatever they can to remove themselves from situations that might make them feel uneasy. This includes being resistant to making new friends, and sometimes manifests in unanswered texts back.

Highly Reactive

Highly-anxious people are always on-edge which is a manifestation of a nervous system gone haywire. When the fight-or-flight system is active, the brain continually searches for external threats. Someone with hidden anxiety may become startled for no good reason, like when someone calls their name or walks near them. They most likely laugh it off, however it’s something that actually frightens them. Overall they will get spooked easily, and avoid situations such as haunted houses or scary movies.

Possible Depression Symptoms

Some with high-functioning anxiety show signs that more resemble that of a depressed person, because the two illnesses tend to go hand-in-hand. The co-development of anxiety and depression helps explain in some cases why anxious people are often able to “hide” their symptoms. For example, restless sleeping and lack of sociability are both also signs of depression.

Those with hidden anxiety might be seen as completely normal members of society; however inside everything they do is driven by an underlying feeling of fear. High functioning anxiety can really hurt the lives of those that live with it, so it’s important to acknowledge the signs. If you feel that you are living with this problem, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. Managing your anxiety can be easier than you think.

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