Stress and anxiety are parts of everyday life; it’s something most people deal with at some level, but when does anxiety become a disorder?
Anxiety becomes a problem when it starts taking over your life and interferes with daily tasks and activities.
If you or a loved one is dealing with an internal struggle, here’s what you need to know about high functioning and crippling anxiety, treatment plans, and ways to improve mental health for a better and happier life.
What Is High Functioning Anxiety
High functioning anxiety is a psychological state represented by the feeling of constant stress, doubt, and worry. Someone with high functioning anxiety may appear as an ambitious, career-driven, positive, and high-performing individual on the outside but struggle with deep-rooted anxiety on the inside.
We will discuss different strategies for handling the condition, but nothing beats talking to a psychiatrist. It doesn't even have to be an in-person visit. You can get certified therapists on-call 24/7 via Talkspace.
What Are the Symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety?
Despite being an active mental condition in today's society, high functioning anxiety doesn't classify as a recognized disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) , so symptom information varies from person to person. Below are some common signs of people suffering from high functioning anxiety.
Behavioral characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety:
- Doesn't know when to say no and comes off as people-pleasing.
- Constantly overthinks, leading to stuttering and poor communication.
- Always looking for reassurance and needs validation from others to function.
- Is mostly negative.
- Appear to struggle interacting with others.
- Their fear makes them accomplish tasks instead of ambition.
- Gets upset when their routine is disrupted.
Physical characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety:
- Lack of adequate sleep and often sleeps throughout the day.
- Low energy.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Migraines and headaches.
- They can get anxious in front of people and rely on nervous habits like fidgeting.
- May resort to smoking or drinking.
All levels of anxiety are more common in people aged between 18-29
What Is Crippling Anxiety
Unlike high functioning disorders, crippling anxiety completely shuts down a person's decision-making abilities and daily function, affecting their mental health, daily life, relationships, work, and school performance. It may stem from an undefinable cause leading to a social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder GAD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health , roughly 2.7% of U.S adults suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder. Without proper treatment, GAD may evolve into severe anxiety even mental disorders such as:
- Severe chronic depression and negative thoughts.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Panic disorders.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What Are Crippling Anxiety Symptoms?
Crippling anxiety may trigger a series of emotional and physical responses, leading to impairment in a person's work and life. With adequate response and awareness, one may identify crippling anxiety by looking out for the following behavioral and physical indications as they manifest.
Behavioral characteristics of crippling anxiety:
- Aggressive behavior.
- Increased irritability and unstable emotional response to stress or panic.
- Social withdrawal from colleagues, friends, family leading to isolation.
- Troubling forming interpersonal relationships.
- Reckless behavior or substance abuse.
- A feeling of dread and apprehension.
Physical characteristics of crippling anxiety:
- Weight loss or unnatural weight gain due to stress.
- Poor sleeping habits represented as eye bags and puffy eyes.
- Chronic headaches.
- Stomach pain.
- Chest aches.
- Recurring twitches and shaking.
- Racing heart.
- Shortness of breath.
How to Deal With Crippling Anxiety
Here are some of the things anyone struggling with crippling anxiety may use to help minimize their condition's severity:
- Exercising More Frequently: Cardio, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise can help treat anxiety : By distracting people from their destructive thoughts, reducing tension, and improving mood by boosting dopamine output.
- Meditating: A journal by the National Library of Medicine shows that meditation might improve anxiety and mood in people experiencing anxiety disorders . A few minutes a day can induce positive thoughts and help people cope with their anxiety.
Differences Between High Functioning Anxiety and Crippling Anxiety
Despite sharing similar physical signs, here are a few specific things that generally distinguish high functioning anxiety and crippling anxiety victims.
High functioning anxiety isn't deemed as a DSM-V diagnosis, so not many treatment options are available for the condition. On the other hand, crippling anxiety is classified as a mental anxiety disorder with more available treatment options. The two are identified and distinguished in psychiatric literature so get a mental health assessment before pursuing medicative treatment.
Most Generalized Anxiety Disorders GAD or crippling anxiety cause victims to react in two ways: fight or flight. However, people with high functioning anxiety respond by channeling their feelings of fear and anxiety into productivity and work life.
A physical examination is one way to determine crippling anxiety from high functioning anxiety between people who struggle to understand their symptoms. Things like rapid heartbeats, nervousness, nausea, shortness of breathing under pressure, and many other crippling anxiety symptoms are easily diagnosed via a stethoscope.
Physiological Evaluation Test
Physiological Mental health assessment tests are an effective way of discovering high functioning anxiety, which isn't easy to identify through a physical assessment. During a psychological evaluation, patients answer questionnaires ranging from 17 to 21 multiple-choice questions graded by a GAF score for adults or a CGAS score for children and youth.
Medication doesn't cure all anxiety disorders, but it's a way that may help make the condition more manageable, allowing one better control and functionality over their life. Common anxiety medications include:
- Antidepressants: These pills work by minimizing feelings of depression by adjusting brain chemicals to feel elevated. They’re also great for combating negative thoughts and for use in high functioning anxiety treatment.
- Anti-anxiety pills: Benzodiazepine pills are an effective anxiety treatment medication that can help mitigate high functional anxiety, stress and improve life quality. However, they are a short-term solution as the body might build a tolerance. These meds are also highly addictive, so only take them under strict doctor instruction. Kratom for anxiety are a popular natural alternative to anxiety meds.
- Beta-Blockers: These medications are often taken to help reduce high blood pressure by reducing hyperventilation and trembling caused by crippling anxiety affecting the heart rate. Always make sure to take the recommended dosage prescribed by your doctor to avoid overdosing.
What Is Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks are sensations of fear and worry triggered by an individuals' definition of a danger leading to over-active bodily responses even in non-life-threatening experiences such as an overdue presentation or unexpected bills.
Anxiety Attack Symptoms
Like high functioning anxiety conditions, anxiety attacks aren't recognized as a diagnosis in the DSM-5, so there's not much information about its symptoms. For many people, the signs may vary even in mild conditions. Regardless here are some general characteristics of a sudden anxiety attack:
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Tightness in the throat or chest.
- Muscle spasms.
- Dry mouth.
- Stomach upsets.
- Profuse sweating.
Can Anxiety Cause Nausea
Yes, anxiety can lead to nausea. A recent post by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America  interlinks the brain and the gut nerve connections, stimulating excess hormone production in the stomach, causing a person to vomit when stressed.
How to Stop an Anxiety Attack
Despite being a DSM-5 condition, many people don't know how they can cope with their condition. To shed some insight, here are some effective methods you need to know when stopping an anxiety attack:
- Cut down on alcohol and cigarettes: Excessive drinking and smoking habits overstimulate the brain's dopamine emitters, decreasing the creation of the body's "feel-good" hormone. Gradually cut down on substance use as they might also fuel your anxiety instead of reducing it.
- Seeking help from mental health professionals: If psychiatrists make you uncomfortable, consider web-based platforms such as Betterhelp and Talkspace for online counseling sessions and access to resources and tools when you need them.
Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: Understand the Differences
Panic and anxiety attacks are easily mistaken for one another. However, the cause behind the attack is often what makes the difference.
Anxiety attacks aren't a clinical condition with a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-5), whereas panic attacks are affiliated as a psychiatric disorder.
Panic attacks are evoked by frightening physical experiences such as near-death situations, whereas anxiety attacks are personified by external triggers like failing to pay rent or missing work deadlines.
Anxiety attacks often occur as a reaction to a stressor, making them predictable. Panic attacks are unpredictable and can appear anytime. Once experienced, the victim may worry about facing another episode, which is called anticipatory anxiety.
What Is a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are classified as random episodes of intense dread accompanied by violent body tremors and hysterical fits. Throughout the attack, the victim is convinced that they are about to die and they temporarily lose sense even if the situation isn't life-threatening.
What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like
During a panic attack, a person may lose control over themselves and go berserk, falling prey to their fear and dread until the episode ceases. At this time, they may feel like they're about to die as their heart rate increases, chest tightens, and head spins which can be a very frightening experience if the ordeal is too surreal.
How Long Does a Panic Attack Last?
Most panic attacks generally last 5 minutes, while others can last up to an hour. Most people can experience them once or twice in their life, but others might have frequent panic attacks several times a week or month.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Panic attacks result in noticeable physical and mental effects, including:
- Chest pains.
- Racing heart.
- Throat choking feeling.
- Trembling limbs.
- Hot flushes.
- Extreme dread.
Nocturnal Panic Attacks
Nocturnal or nighttime panic attacks occur a few hours into non-REM slumber, disrupting a person's sleep with fear and panic. During such attacks, the person temporarily cannot differentiate between dream and reality, making it a very frightening experience.
How to Stop a Panic Attack
Breathing techniques are a common way to teach people how to stop a panic attack by allowing them to get well in control of their breathing. If you consistently experience panic attacks, here's what you need to know about performing these breathing exercises:
- Inhale gently through your nose and hold in a deep breath for a few seconds.
- Feel your chest expand and slowly breathe out through your nose, feeling it deflate like a balloon.
- Repeat the exercise a few more times if you need to, and even count down from five with each breath until you feel well.
Panic Attack vs Heart Attack
The primary relationship between panic attacks and life-threatening heart attacks is that they speed up your heart rate. Below are the key differences between the two:
Panic attacks last brief moments, and the symptoms end after an episode, but a heart attack is more dangerous and might worsen over time.
Those who experience heart attacks will also feel a tight squeezing pain in their chest which moves through their limbs. Panic attacks are much lighter in comparison and aren't painful.
Panic attacks often occur during stressful situations in the day. On the contrary, heart attacks are random and can happen regardless of the day or time. It always affects the heart and can often occur when coronary arteries get blocked or during insufficient blood flow to the heart.
Women's Heart Attack Symptoms vs Anxiety
Heart attacks often occur in women without chest pressure, but they struggle with intense feelings of upper back tension and jaw pain coupled with extreme fatigue and risk of fainting after suffering from a heart attack.
However, women cope differently during an anxiety attack as the symptoms are less severe with mild signs such as increased breathing, sweating, headaches, and some chest pressure.
Anxiety affects more biological women than men
Frequently Asked Questions
What Am I Having, Heart Attack or Anxiety
Heart attacks cause searing pain, starting from the center of the chest and spreading to the limb, shoulder, and jaws. Contrarily, panic attack pains are more subtle and feel like a heavy load that doesn’t spread but instead focuses on the chest.
Can Anxiety Be Physically Crippling?
Yes. In extreme situations, chronic anxiety disorders can increase cortisol (stress hormone) output leading to increased muscle tension and twitching, seizing body function and movement, leaving a victim temporarily physically crippled and unable to work.
Is Hyperfixation a Symptom of Anxiety?
While it isn't a recognized symptom of anxiety, hyperfixation is strongly linked to high functioning anxiety. It’s probably why people struggling with high functioning anxiety come off as positive and well adjusted on the outside. Hyperfixation drives them to work hard and focus more time on their hobbies or work when stressed.
While it is perfectly normal to get anxious in life, high functioning anxiety and crippling anxiety disorders are all alarming indicators that can affect your life if not dealt with soon.
The effects of anxiety attacks, such as tightness of the chest and increased heart rate, can lead to further stress as it can mimic the typical signs of a heart attack. However, it’s essential to differentiate between the two and know when to seek help.
With professional assistance, self-care improvements, and trigger relieving exercises, one can gradually overcome anxiety and live a life of peace and prosperous mental health.
- “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).” DSM-5, www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm.
- “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.
- John J. Ratey, MD. “Can Exercise Help Treat Anxiety?” Harvard Health Blog, 22 Oct. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-treat-anxiety-2019102418096
- Hofmann, Stefan G, et al. “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848393/.
- “How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 19 July 2018, adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-calm-anxious-stomach-brain-gut-connection.