How High-functioning Anxiety Impacts Women

High-functioning anxiety might be impacting you BUT you can return to yourself.

A blurry image of a girl with long hair depicting anxiety
Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

We often think of anxiety as this crippling force that takes over our body and psyche, arriving without warning to play out the worst-case scenarios imaginable. Symptoms come to the body like a tsunami — panic, trembling, sweating, racing thoughts, pounding heart and shallow breathing. It can be utterly immobilizing.

However, we don’t talk nearly as much about those with high-functioning anxiety: the workaholics, over-achievers, go-getters, perfectionists, and the “I can-do-all-the-things” individuals. In fact, this type of anxiety is often validated, honoured, valued, and complimented.

“Wow, how do you do it?” people may ask you. Or, “I have lost track of how much you accomplish in a day. When do you sleep?” others may comment. These statements are rarely replied with, “Thanks, it’s the anxiety and my deep fear of not being enough,” do we?

No. Instead, we accept the validation, but somehow it never truly lands.

I am just so stressed out!

High-functioning anxiety is something I am seeing and treating more and more in my practice, especially amongst women. Initially, many women do not describe themselves as anxious but will say things like, “I am just so stressed out!!”. They may be feeling an element of stress due to the increased cortisol levels in their bodies.

What is fueling all of this at the root is high-functioning anxiety and FEAR. Fear of not being enough. Fear of not being worthy. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being loved. Fear of judgment.

On the inside, many people with high-functioning anxiety spend a lot of time overthinking and ruminating about anything and everything. There is an intense fear of failure, and they often find themselves worrying about what others may think of them.

I know this first-hand because I used to be one of these women.

I used to be vastly overwhelmed. I would ruminate over the list of things I needed to achieve, accomplish and complete from the moment I woke up until I went to bed — and sometimes at 3:00 am as well. I was never present.

I was always thinking about something I needed to do or something else that required my attention. One day this all came to a screeching halt as my nervous system decided to shut down. I soon realized I had arrived upon an emotional burnout.

The Crescendo: Emotional Burnout

The thing with this type of anxiety is that you are still a highly functioning human being. The anxiety is there, but it is lurking just beneath the surface.

Many of the women I treat with high-functioning anxiety are often incredibly intelligent, successful, and goal-driven. To people on the outside looking in, they often appear as having it all together and even appear relatively calm and grounded.

Functioning with a heightened sense of anxiety for a long time can develop into a severe autoimmune response which can lead to full-blown emotional burnout. Reaching this point is your body forcing you to stop, quite literally. It is a call for you to come back to your center, back to yourself.

However, reaching the point of burnout before making a change is not the goal here. Ideally, we want to start paying attention to what our body, mind, and soul want and need and tend to it much sooner.

Healing and Slowing Down

For me, I embarked on a deeply spiritual journey. I already had many tools in my belt at this time, as I was undergoing my training to be a Psychotherapist (oh, the irony). I took to diving deeper into energy healing, journaling, rethinking my eating habits and meditation.

I also took a hard look at my boundaries (or lack thereof) and began exercising the use of the word “no.” Inner peace became non-negotiable in my life, something I was no longer willing to sacrifice.

If you suspect that you have high-functioning anxiety, know that you can also heal.

Healing asks you to take an honest look at how you are showing up in your life, your relationships and the fears at the root of your anxiety. It requires boundary setting, handing off the torch to someone else, practicing presence and developing a conscious relationship with yourself. The following is an excellent grounding technique that can help you return to the center:

Rooted Feet

A person stands on a small rock in the middle of a stream
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

This technique is an alternative to meditation and can be done either sitting or standing. With your feet on the floor, feel where your feet meet the surface. Feel your entire foot as much as you can: heel, sole, ball of foot, and toes. Notice all the sensations in your and focus all of your attention there. Take some deep breaths.

Rooted Feet is a somatic technique that allows you to slow down and be in the moment, giving your nervous system a much-needed breath.

Take-home: Healing from high-functioning anxiety is absolutely possible. Small and consistent changes and rituals add up and will be your anchors along the way.

Leanne Sawchuk is a registered psychotherapist with a private practice in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. She works with couples and individuals, both in-person and online. You can connect with her at or @leannesawchuktherapy.