3 Calming Thoughts: High Functioning Anxiety vs Self Compassion

What is the truth about  “high-functioning anxiety?” High-functioning anxiety is a term that has recently been trending on TikTok, and The Mayo Clinic Health System refers to high-functioning anxiety as  “a subset of generalized anxiety disorder that often goes unnoticed or undiagnosed. It occurs when a person has anxiety symptoms, but rather than retreating from situations or interactions, they work hard to face their fears and are skilled at covering up symptoms.”


Mayo Clinic also states that,  “Women are more than twice as likely as men to be affected by generalized anxiety disorder in their lifetimes. This may be due to societal pressures, gender roles, and relationship concerns.”

And unfortunately, one of the hallmark symptoms of high-functioning anxiety is self-criticism. Amidst the unfair beauty standards and judgments from society, women are also commonly confronted with their persistent inner critic. The inner critic challenges our self-worth and beauty, perpetuates self-doubt, and questions our abilities. 

Constantly having to deal with this may lead to muscle tension, a racing heart, stomach problems, fatigue, but most of all, an unwavering will to overachieve and defy this inner critic. However, it’s no secret that this will to overachieve can become inundating, causing burnout and unrealistic expectations for ourselves. 

So, in a world where we’re faced with criticism from the inside out, how do we catch a break?

Accept that overachieving is  literally overachieving.

So, to begin with, because overachievers set the bar so high, they easily have personality traits such as ambitiousness (Mayo Clinic, 2023). They may also have an affinity for growth and development. While admirable, over time,  it’s easy for overachievers to continuously inch the bar up higher and higher without realizing the implications of doing so.  

The definition of overachieving is “doing more than the standard.” Yes, overachieving is more than the standard. This is worth repeating because overachievers often set excellence or astronomical expectations as the standard. When in reality, it’s definitely not. That is the point.  In comparison to the norm, “standard” means satisfactory and that expectations have been met. 

Thus, recognize that you are doing uniquely even exceptionally well. You are extraordinary, and remember that while having amazingly high standards can be a positive quality, it is not necessarily an objective standard. It’s important to reframe the high standards as aspirations.  In contrast to standards, aspirations are what we would like to happen not necessarily what should happen. 

When you make ideas around overachieving the standard (what should happen), it’s very easy to put an incredible amount of self-imposed pressure on yourself. You may even place unfair judgments on yourself. It can also lead to burnout (Mayo Clinic, 2024). 

Accept that you are resilient.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility. Resilience allows the adjustment to external and internal demands.” 

However, just because one capably adapts to demands — doesn’t mean that they don’t feel the pressure or stress of these demands.  But, did you know that adapting can cause fatigue (Healthline, 2018)? Because resilient people are constantly adapting, they can be the main ones experiencing constant fatigue, stress, and burnout. But, due to their high-functioning nature, this might not be clear. 

And although it may come naturally, it’s important to know that resilience actually places demands on the mind and body. Likewise, it is especially important for resilient people to care for themselves with dedication and to show compassion for themselves. Don’t take yourself for granted. 

Accept that you deserve acceptance.

So, it’s important to point out that “standard” also means what is acceptable. If you’re constantly moving the bar on what is acceptable for yourself, we can become wrapped into a feedback loop of pursuing self-acceptance. While overachievers are normally very skilled at giving themselves feedback, when do we tell ourselves “good job?” 

When you’re in a loop of constant feedback, you may feel like you’re not improving. But, you definitely are. You simply need to give yourself credit and compassionately accept that you are wonderfully amazing, you are good, and have the beauty to be a powerful source of inspiration for the world.