The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — the current standard for diagnosing mental illness — does not include high-functioning anxiety as a recognized diagnosis. DSM-5 defines anxiety disorder as having a disruptive or impairing effect on daily activities, as well as a change in behavior in order to avoid situations that cause anxiety. There is an argument that anxiety disorder does not exist if there is no clear disruption or impairment of life functions. Some experts in the field of mental health, however, acknowledge that people with anxiety disorders can experience a wide range of impairments. To describe mild symptoms as anxiety disorder, rather than as an absence of symptoms, is more appropriate. According to the current consensus, mild anxiety rather than high-functioning anxiety is to blame for this condition.
Rather than being “high-functioning,” people with mild anxiety are often labeled as “having mild symptoms” rather than “having mild symptoms.” However, this line of thinking ignores the tension that exists between the way a person feels on the inside and the way he or she expresses that feeling on the outside. The person’s external anxiety symptoms may be mild, but their internal anxieties are likely to be much more severe. This is known as the “internal anxiety symptom” phenomenon. The concept of high-functioning anxiety is derived from this conflict between intense internal feelings and the ability to function despite those feelings. Rather than arguing that the symptoms are mild, the idea is that people who suffer from high-functioning anxiety may be better able to control how severe their symptoms appear to be, even though they are struggling in silence. The fact that high-functioning anxiety isn’t recognized as a mental illness doesn’t mean that sufferers don’t experience severe symptoms. They may be able to conceal them effectively.
What Does It Mean To Be High-Functioning?
As a general rule, the term “high-functioning” refers to someone who is operating at a higher capacity than others in similar situations. To indicate that a person’s functioning is above what is considered normal, the term is frequently used in connection with mental health disorders as well as developmental disorders.
The term “high functioning” in the context of anxiety disorders has been hotly debated. The symptoms one experiences are very real, even if they are not part of a formal diagnosis. As a result, many people, even those who suffer from high functioning anxiety, do not realize that something is wrong, even if they are experiencing the anxiety themselves. Even though a person’s heart rate is elevated and he or she is experiencing intense feelings of doom and gastrointestinal distress, he or she may appear to be fine. There is also a high level of self-confidence that allows one to overcome public anxiety. Others “crash” later, when they are alone. Intense emotional control can take a toll on one’s mental and physical health and necessitate time alone or periods of low functioning to recuperate. Situations like these can lead to additional medical and mental health problems. If someone is a high-functioning individual, they may not be receiving treatment. Symptoms can worsen if left untreated. By the time someone with high anxiety function meets the criteria for an official diagnosis, the problem has gone untreated for far too long.
Dangers of High Functioning Anxiety
The risk of developing other serious medical or mental health problems increases when anxiety is left untreated. Anxiety has been shown to impair memory, reasoning, and the ability to make simple decisions. Anxiety can also worsen or lead to death in people with certain chronic medical conditions that are not treated. Anxiety can have a significant impact on the body, especially if left unchecked for an extended period.
- Cardiovascular Problems—Numerous studies have found a connection between anxiety, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues. Men and women with a history of heart disease had a risk of heart attack or stroke that was three times higher than that of people without a history of anxiety disorder, according to one study. High levels of anxiety in women have been linked to a 59 percent increased risk of heart attack, as well as a 31 percent increased risk of death.
- Anxiety can cause breathing difficulties, which is a common symptom. It is difficult for other bodily functions that depend on oxygen to function properly when one is unable to breathe. Cognitive, muscle and other bodily functions can be affected by a decrease in oxygen intake. Anxiety disorder has also been linked to chronic respiratory problems. Chronic respiratory disease patients are more likely to be hospitalized if they are experiencing a higher level of distress and anxiety. A decrease in overall quality of life may be a sign of anxiety when it is combined with respiratory issues.
- Gastrointestinal distress, such as an upset stomach or nausea, is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can worsen if anxiety is left untreated. However, treatments for anxiety disorders have been linked with decreased symptoms of digestive distress, even though little research links the development of digestive issues with anxiety.
Delray Beach Psychiatry; High Functioning Anxiety
The vast majority of people with anxiety disorders do not seek help. For people with high functioning anxiety disorder, the number is even higher, in part because it is difficult to diagnose, but more often because most people are unaware of the problem. No unusual behavior is noticed by those around, and those who are anxious have come to accept their anxiety as “normal.” Make an appointment with Delray Beach Psychiatry today to get started on your treatment and get back to enjoying life.