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4 Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety I completely missed

woman with anxiety holding face in hands

High-Functioning Anxiety (HFA) can be really hard to detect.

Not only because those who experience it are masters at coping with it, but many of those coping mechanisms are rewarded and reinforced by the world we work in.

The HYPER-VIGILANCE I had in my relationships was also called ‘detail-orientation’ at workplace. OVER-PERFORMANCE traits like constant busyness, an obsession with organization and order, and a willingness to routinely do more work or routinely do other people’s work. ….those were frequently labeled as being a ‘team player’ , ‘showing leadership’ or being a ‘hard-worker' in many fields.

In actuality, those traits were highly skilled ways I had learned to cope with, and ‘manage’ an overly-active emotional nervous system. And offloading or draining it through constant activity was one of my preferred strategies.

So not only was my over-active nervous system state getting reinforced by affirming words and recognition, but I was also getting paid highly for it! Which kept me unknowingly going back to it for the financial/affirmation dopamine hit.

So, although the CONSTANT BUSYNESS that stemmed from my over-active emotional state was EXHAUSTING... the recognition and financial reward kept me doing it - which of course, reinforced the pattern. It was sort of like getting an ‘upper’ and ‘downer’ at the same time. Oi.

AND IT WORKED FOR A LONG TIME, especially because I surrounded myself with others who lived and worked the same way. If I, my husband and my friends weren’t working, we were constantly on the go in other ways: traveling, parties, athletic competition. And it sort of ‘worked’ for a long time, until it finally became exhausting and our relationship started to suffer.

Patterns. They’re not a problem, until they’re a problem. And they won’t change unless we make them change.


Here are the FOUR SYMPTOMS I DIDN'T RECOGNIZE at the time, that prefaced my evENtual burnout.

1 - I felt a sense of URGENCY inside me all the time.

I wanted to rest. But I found it hard to relax, sit still or do nothing unless I exhausted myself first....

Man with anxiety working at a desk, rubbing forehead

2 - I was UNCOMFORTABLE saying 'no' or 'not this time' because I felt I had a critical role, was solely responsible and there was no room for mistakes or failure.

woman with anxiety working at computer rubbing the bridge of her nose

I cared deeply about what I did for work but...

3 - I was EXHAUSTED at the end of the day from giving so much....

nurse with anxiety sitting on floor in hospital exhausted


4 - My mental well-being and relationships were TAKING A HIT but I'd RATIONALIZE that it was a short-term sacrifice and necessary in order to get ahead.

couple with anxiety having a different conversation, back to each other

NOW PLEASE BE CLEAR ON THIS: I’m not saying that all high-achieving, successful people have high-functioning anxiety. And even if they did, I’m not even saying that it’s something that must always be remedied. I mean, if you’ve got a coping system that works for you, and you have everything going in your life as you want it to ( for real ), then by all means, carry on.

BUT I DO SUGGEST staying aware and asking yourself a few questions now and again, like:

• DO YOU KNOW what drives you to work and live the WAY you do it?

• DO YOU UNDERSTAND what’s happening ‘under the skin’ in your brain and body as you’re achieving and doing all that you do?

• Is the MANNER or PACE of how you live and work serving to offload or drain an over-activating emotional state? (Or to stimulate an under-activing state? That happens too)

• Are there any BELIEFS about work and performance that may be FUELING your behavior and reinforcing your current state?

• Do you have MORE THAN ONE source of acknowledgement, novelty or reward in you life?

In other words, is THE WAY YOU WORK AND LIVE a reflection of a moderate and stabilized state that gets its physiological needs met from a DIVERSE set of sources that include a MIX of financial reward, enjoyment, connection and alignment with your core values?

These are questions only each of us can answer for ourselves.

BUT I CAN TELL YOU FROM MY OWN EXPERIENCE, that I didn’t know what I know now, back then when I was ‘in it’.

As we all do, it was difficult to read my own 'label' from 'inside the bottle'. And I kept doing what I knew how to do, until I learned I could 'do' differently.

Woman free of anxiety sitting calmly at desk thinking



What we each know in any given moment, is not all there is to know. Believe me on that one.

And by the way, SOME GOOD INDICATORS that I was becoming more emotionally centered and using my brain more often as a whole is that I stopped routinely over-working, I'm rarely be exhausted and I'm far more comfortable saying ‘no’ and ‘not this time’ a lot more frequently, so I can take care of my health and enjoy other areas of my life.

So consider this blog post a 'heads up', or me giving you some insight and maybe a head start. Either way, just give it some thought and stay aware.

And if any of this does ' hit home' and you’re reading this wondering ‘could this be me?’ and ‘how do I relearn or backpedal a bit so I can recreate some of the ways I live and work?’, stick around. I gladly share what I’ve learned and what’s worked for me all throughout our classes and the Human Infusion Project website.

In the meantime, I always recommend starting by learning more about yourself. That way... knowing how you got where you are, you can use that knowledge to change behaviors, create new patterns and enhance your life and relationships going forward.

The Whole-Brain Relationships, Getting your Needs met in Healthy Ways and the What's Stopping You online classes represent the learning and self-discovery portion of my own recovery process and are designed to help you do the same, in a condensed, practical and highly affordable way. I hope they serve you in some way.

I’m in your corner,



The Human Infusion Project is a grassroots, philanthropic personal development platform that draws from the combined fields of modern brain science, applied psychology and spiritual philosophy. Our mission aims to augment and supplement the work of professional practitioners in simplified, practical and affordable ways. 100% of all online class profit funds the Wellness Assistance Grant. If financial constraints limit your participation, please contact me and we'll work something out.

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