Intense Anxiety and the Highly Sensitive Person
Intense anxiety can seem to take over mind and body, and when you're a highly sensitive person, it can feel crushing. Each of the two states can be obnoxious on its own; combine living with intense anxiety and being a highly sensitive person, and it sometimes seems like there's no place to go where you don't feel wired, hyper-alert, overstimulated, and like a complete wreck (Why Does Anxiety Disorder Make You So Tired?).
You're not a complete wreck. Intense anxiety and being a highly sensitive person can make you feel that way, though.
The Highly Sensitive Person
"Highly sensitive" is an aspect of personality. As such, it's part of what makes each of us unique. It involves how we think, feel, experience the world, and interact in the world.
If you have been told that you take things too personally or are too sensitive, you might be a highly sensitive person. There's more to being a highly sensitive person than just this, though. Often, highly sensitive people:
- Are easily overstimulated by what's going on around them (noises, lights, people, TV shows, movies, etc.)
- Are tuned into others' emotions to the point of feeling them, too (The Anxious Empath: Anxiety And Other People’s Feelings)
- Become easily overwhelmed
- Need to withdraw from stimulation (Noise Sensitivity: When The World Is Too Loud)
Intense Anxiety and the Highly Sensitive Person
If you live with anxiety, you might have noticed that some of the characteristics of the highly sensitive person also apply to intense anxiety (Anxiety symptoms: Recognizing the Signs of Anxiety). This can make it difficult to sort out what, exactly, is going on. Knowing whether you predominantly experience in a given moment anxiety or the effects of being a highly sensitive person will help you untangle the crushing jumble of strong emotions and anxiety's racing thoughts and begin to self-soothe.
My son's middle school recently held its curriculum night, during which parents followed their child's schedule, met teachers, and listened to presentations from teachers. When I arrived, I was relaxed and anxiety-free. The bright lights and noise in the cafeteria, where the event began, were bothersome but manageable.
Then the throng of parents dispersed into classrooms where the teachers began their talks. That's when it hit. I felt agitated and anxious, tense and alert. I began to worry about what others in the room thought about me.
But wait -- I wasn't doing anything to make people evaluate me, much less even truly notice me. I honestly wasn't anxious, so why did I feel that way? Then it hit me. I was reacting to the high levels of anxiety and nerves of those around me. As a former teacher with former colleagues in the same boat, I know that many teachers are very nervous on curriculum nights because presenting to parents is far different from teaching students.
As a highly sensitive person, I was picking up others' emotions. Given that I was already overstimulated by my surroundings, those emotions were more intense. Then, because I've experienced anxiety, it was natural for anxiety to kick in. Intense anxiety and the highly sensitive person can co-exist and intensify each other.
Anxiety and the Highly Sensitive Person: Whose Anxiety Is It, Anyway?
A key to soothing yourself when you're a highly sensitive person picking up on others' intense anxiety is to force yourself to take a mental step back. Because highly sensitive people take on others' feelings, it's important to separate yourself from those around you (Top 21 Anxiety Grounding Techniques).
During that school event, I asked myself, "Whose anxiety is it, anyway?" and then I thoughtfully answered the question. Just because I experience anxiety from time to time, it doesn't mean that I'm always anxious in every situation. Realizing that I went into the evening relaxed and anxiety-free and still truly felt that way allowed me to gently push away the anxiety of others to make room for my own thoughts and emotions. Sure, I still felt it, but I didn't own it or keep it.
Asking, "Whose anxiety is it, anyway," can help you put a space bubble around yourself so you can objectively identify how you really feel and think. Intense anxiety and the highly sensitive person may be partners, but you can step between them to reduce that overwhelmed sensation.
Peterson, T. (2015, October 8). Intense Anxiety and the Highly Sensitive Person, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/10/intense-anxiety-and-the-highly-sensitive-person
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Perfectly written. Exactly. Thanks so much
Thanks, Teri. :)
I can feel people that are around me feelings all of the time. I can tell when they really don’t like me and is trying to cover it up. I can also get strong feelings from people when someone is a good person. I can feel bad or negative energy from people and It’s overwhelming sometimes. I call the people I get crazy feelings from demons because they make feel scared. I’ve been having these feelings since I was a little girl ... I’m going through menopause and I’m feeling overwhelmed at times.
I can imagine that this would be incredibly overwhelming. Have you considered speaking with a therapist? He or she can help you work through this as well as help you buffer all of the emotions you pick up from others. This resource highlights how/where to find help. https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/i-need-mental-help-where-… You might find this worth trying.
I was diagnosed with social anxiety at the age of 14 and I only felt it in social situations, however it has progressed into generalized anxiety. Over the past year it has intensified tremendously. I have weird these déjà vu moments that happen at places I’ve never been or with people I’ve never met. My body feels like it’s floating, I get very hot & sometimes short of breath. It’s a very weird feeling that my description doesn’t even begin to describe. It’s overwhelming and on top of all of that I’m an empath and put everyone’s feelings ahead of my own!!
Hello i'm from nigeria i'm beginning to have symptoms of over1month and some weeks ago I experienced something troubling which kept me worrying and at that point things took a different dimension, indigestion, couldn't sleep, loss of appetite I looked unhappy facially and quite and it's weird, now i'm beginning to feel a bit of relieve though seeing my parents and siblings around when i walk out i feel strange when people look@me I am working spiritually on it and with the help of my parents talking me out of forgetting what happened and stop bothering about if I look leaner and what people think because of that troubling incident where I travelled to, I still believe according to 2timothy1:7 I have the spirit of a sound mind and not of fear. And it's getting better with the new kinda life, I have a history of allergies, (dermatitis) (conjunctivitis) taking treatment for open angle glaucoma)
Hello nosa edo joseph,
Thank you for sharing a bit of your experience and what you are doing to overcome this anxiety. Many people will appreciate and benefit from your words.
I feel so alone
You're not alone
I have had thoughts of futuristic situations about myself family friends and they always materilise
I can't separate my feelings from anything around me - I pick up on nearly everything that is going on with my family and friends
I'm homeless and I don't want to live any more
Homelessness is highly stressful in every way -- physically, mentally, socially, and more. It makes sense to feel the way you do. There is help available. Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call them at 1-800-273-8255. They can help you right away as well as help you know what resources are available where you are. Also, HealthyPlace has a list of hotlines and other resources that you might find helpful: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…. It's okay to seek support. You're in a very tough situation, and getting help just might make a big difference.
I am very spiritual and feel other people's anxiety sometimes. I get anxious and use a method God taught me called Disassociation from the anxiety. I am not disassociating myself from me, just from anxiety, restlessness and insomnia and fatigue. It works. I have done the affirmations for years. I try and keep busy helping others with their anxiety.
Without God's help I would be much more stressed now and have the overwhelming tiredness that accompanies it. I do meditation and use pictures of the mind of calming and peaceful scenes to be calm in times of panic. Mental Visualization- God calls it.
Thank you for sharing what works for you. Separating yourself from anxiety, meditation, mental images/visualization, and attending to spiritual beliefs all can be helpful in calming anxiety. Everyone is unique, so what works for someone might not be a good fit for someone else, but when we share ideas, we end up with lots of great approaches to reducing anxiety.
I don't believe I take on other's anxiety because I have enough of my own. A few things mentioned that trigger anxiety for me are; bright lights, people moving around and noise. Sometimes while I'm driving in a bigger city when cars move from one lane to another without using their signal lights it will trigger my anxiety.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on your triggers. Because people and their anxiety are unique, sometimes people might wonder if something is "wrong" because their experiences are different. It's nice for all people to see different perspectives and find something that clicks.
Excellent article. I can relate it to it all & it has given me the insight to realise that I need to stop taking on the anxiety and concerns of others.
Thank you for your comment! It's not always obvious that our feelings of anxiety are actually coming from others. Being a highly sensitive person has a lot of positive aspects, but picking up the stress, anxiety, and other negative feelings of others isn't one of them. Once we have that insight, we can begin to separate ourselves from others' anxiety. It's great that you noticed this in yourself!
I identify with all of it!
You're not alone!!