What the Difference Between High Functioning Anxiety and GAD?

Anxiety is a wild beast that most of us have to tangle with at one point or another in our lives, but for some it’s an ever-present companion, barking, howling, and demanding attention. High Functioning Anxiety (HFA) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are both common long-term anxiety-related issues that affect people.

The beast of anxiety is a constant companion for them both; those with GAD are ruled by its presence, while those with HFA suffer in silence, appearing calm even as the beast wears them down.

If you struggle with anxiety on a daily basis, understanding the difference between the two may help you find the right way to heal and move forward.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorders are the worry warriors of the modern world. They are ruled by the tempest, and worn down by the toll it takes on their body and mind. With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, worries and fears are always at the forefront of their lives, whether it comes to work, romance, money, or healthcare. Even when there’s an awareness that some of these worries may be irrational, they continue to weigh on them.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety include:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Chronic Pain
  • Racing Thoughts
  • Inability to Focus
  • Panic Attacks
  • Hypervigilance
  • Task Avoidance

Generalized Anxiety Disorder can make it difficult to hold down a job or maintain an active social life. Worries about social situations or healthcare issues, or other problems may lead them to shut down and isolate themselves.

silhouette of man with his arms outstretchedHigh Functioning Anxiety

One of the hallmarks of High Functioning Anxiety is the Achievement Paradox. These individuals tend to be perfectionists and overachievers, looking for praise and approval to medicate the gnawing sense of anxiety that accompanies them. Counterintuitively, the more successful the are, the higher the stakes of failure become—as a result, their anxieties may grow as they achieve greater levels of success within their personal life or career.

People with High Functioning Anxiety are often restless, thinking through different outcomes and problems, and fretting over all the catastrophes they feel they should be able to predict. Instead of living in the present, they’re laser-focused on the future, worrying about everything that might go wrong.

Some of the common symptoms of HFA are:

  • Perfectionism
  • Conflict Avoidance
  • Overthinking
  • Restlessness
  • Fear of Failure
  • People Pleasing
  • Nail Biting
  • Skin Picking

Masking is one of the ways High Functioning Anxiety differs most from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People with HFA look like they have it all under control, but they’re constantly struggling to keep everything together. Often, masking behavior prevents them from seeking out the help they may need.

Long-Term Impact

Both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and High Functioning Anxiety carry long-term risks. Both GAD and HFA are rooted in an out-of-control fight-or-flight instinct that sends stress hormones rampaging through the body. As a result, there are a variety of long-term physical risks associated with them.

  • Depression
  • Heart Disease
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Substance Abuse

Getting Treatment

While Generalized Anxiety Disorder and High Functioning Anxiety are similar in some ways, treatment for the conditions varies due to the underlying causes. Those suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder should look for treatments that emphasize:

  • Mindfulness Practices
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Relaxation Techniques

Because people with High Functioning Anxiety are driven by perfectionism and a tendency to overextend themselves, they should focus on treatments and therapies that emphasize:

  • Self-Care
  • Setting Boundaries
  • Relaxing Expectations

Both High Functioning Anxiety and Generalized Anxiety Disorder are often rooted in trauma. As a result, trauma-focused therapies such as EMDR can be incredibly effective at helping resolve symptoms related to anxiety. Therapies like EMDR are action-oriented and results-driven, aimed at helping clients make real, measurable improvements in their day-to-day life.

Schedule a Consultation

Reach out today if you’re ready to stop letting anxiety, fear, and perfectionism run your life. It’s time for you to put yourself first and anxiety therapy can help.