Queensland Law Society

Wellbeing: High-functioning anxiety

Not everyone affected by mental health issues shows the same level of visible signs and symptoms, and many people suffer in silence. Some are like ducks - gliding along smoothly and seemingly effortless on the surface, but frantically kicking below to stay afloat.

Take Daniel, the young family lawyer who seems to manage his stressful, challenging job remarkably well. The tight deadlines, demanding clients, an impatient senior partner, being asked to do some extra work for a sick colleague… he seems to take everything in his stride, skilfully juggling several projects at the same time and achieving amazing results, without ever losing his polite smile.

Inside, Daniel is driven by an incessant fear. A constant worry of failing his clients or colleagues, falling behind timelines, missing an important opportunity, identifying a risk or making a costly or embarrassing mistake. At night, he usually lies awake ruminating if he has done enough, worked quickly enough, performed well enough.

But none of this internal churn is visible from the outside, it is masked by an air of untiring efficiency, accomplishment and competence. Inside, Daniel feels weighed down by the growing expectations of those around him, and he knows that he won’t be able to keep up for much longer with what feels like a steadily accelerating race.

Daniel is a typical example of someone with high-functioning anxiety. What may look like high ambition and skilled performance, is a reflection of someone being relentlessly driven by anxiety. It does not allow them to enjoy their successes, have a break when they are exhausted, or set appropriate boundaries to avoid being overloaded with tasks and responsibilities at work and in their personal lives.

If you can see yourself in this description, there are things you can do:

  • Start by trying to recognise the negative, destructive thought patterns when they occur and counter them with more positive, helpful ones, such as “I am good at what I am doing, and even if this report misses a couple of points it won’t be the end of the world or my career.”
  • Make sure that your strong work ethic and high standards don’t keep you from looking after your own wellbeing – sufficient sleep, regular exercise, nutritious food, quality time spent with loved ones, hobbies outside work, immersing yourself in nature from time to time can all play a role.  
  • Feel empowered to look for support: sometimes an open conversation with someone we trust can help us unravel our tangled thoughts. Consider talking to a good friend or your GP, contact LawCare for a confidential, free conversation, or reach out to the QLS Solicitor Support service to speak to someone in a judgement-free and supportive environment.  


Rebecca Niebler
Organisational Culture and Support Officer, QLS Solicitor Support (QLS Ethics and Practice Centre)
18 November 2019