16 Ways to Handle Anxiety as a Highly Sensitive Person.
Could this be a description of you?
- Extremely sensitive to sounds, smells, tastes, colors, touch, emotions, weather, food, chemicals, energy, bad news, criticism, the invisible world, and beauty.
- Feeling more, sensing more, thinking more, knowing more.
- A mind that moves at warp speed, seeks meaning, analyzes the hell out of everything, wonders, generates millions of ideas, and watches itself watching itself.
- A heart that weeps at the cruelty humans inflict on one another and on the planet.
- A soul that yearns for knowledge, understanding and love.
And you wonder why you are anxious?
Not only that, there are so many reasons to be anxious these days. So many reasons. What’s a sensitive, empathetic, intuitive, overthinking person to do?
I don’t need to tell you what there is to be anxious about. You are quite aware of the little things and the big things and all of the things in between. You could create a very long list.
Anxiety is a real phenomenon for people with finely tuned nervous systems, which you know you have. Not to mention, your capacity to feel the suffering of neighbors, animals, trees, children everywhere, and your lonely Aunt Lucille.
And, if you had to start worrying when you were two years old because your mother was screaming obscenities at you and your father was unreliable and self-absorbed, for example, well then, you likely have developed a remarkable ability to become anxious at a moment’s notice. Or to remain anxious all of the time on all occasions. Just in case. You never know. You need to be prepared for the worst.
Your anxiety may manifest in many ways:
You want to strangle your neighbor who uses her leaf-blower to clear the dust off of her driveway every morning. The chaos at birthday parties leaves you and your child shrieking. Your very active, creative mind imagines unending catastrophes. You can’t stop ruminating about the sad story you just heard on NPR. You are constantly overwhelmed by the news. You have migraines, allergies or insomnia.
What, then, are some ways that you can help yourself?
- Make a list of self-soothing techniques that work for you and then do them.
Try the different apps that exist, such as Calm, Insight Timer and Headspace. It often helps to create a daily meditation practice or an exercise plan. Try morning pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
- Make a list of calming reminders.
Here are some examples: I’m a fallible human. I make mistakes, like everyone. I’m learning. I’m experimenting. Making a mistake does not make me a bad person. Am I catastrophizing? Do I need to be this upset? My body tends to be anxious, but I’m actually safe. It’s going to be okay. I’m older now and I have more control over my experiences. Now that I’m older, it makes sense that there will be many things that I don’t know.
- Read The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne.
This is a good resource if you need many specific techniques. The book is thorough and includes ways to deal with self-criticism and irrational, obsessive thinking. It also includes guidance on meditation and much more.
- Read Procrastination by Jane B. Burka and Lenora M. Yuen.
If your anxiety leads you to procrastinate, this one’s for you. This book is the best book I’ve seen on both procrastination and perfectionism. It goes into depth describing the many complex reasons for procrastination and perfectionism and what you can do about it.
- Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
You have great compassion for others. Let yourself receive some of that sweetness too. Pay attention when friends and family reach out to help you. Let them.
- Instead of freezing and shrinking, expand.
You know how fear tends to make you want to freeze or shrink or hide or push it away? Instead, notice it and be with it. Where do you feel it in your body? Remember that it is just a part of you, not all of you. And you are bigger than it. Imagine yourself expanding. Breathe and expand. As odd as it sounds, welcome the anxiety. And keep expanding. With practice, you will begin to feel your higher self and the love that is in and around you. Breathe. You might start to notice that you feel lighter and more peaceful. The worries may still be there, but you’ve become so large that it becomes insignificant.
- Leave public events early if needed.
Move chairs so you aren’t right up next to someone. Sit on the edge or in the back so you can make a quiet escape. Breathe deeply and imagine undesirable energy moving through you and out your feet into the ground. Let the earth transform it.
- Move your body.
Walk, dance, shake, exercise, sing.
- If you grew up in a seriously dysfunctional family, get psychotherapy.
Events in your present life can trigger PTSD symptoms where you are unconsciously re-experiencing trauma. You may feel anxiety that makes no sense. Psychotherapy can help you identify the triggers and learn ways to cope and to heal.
- Keep a journal and write dialogues with your anxiety.
Visualize the anxiety as a person and be curious. Ask why it continues to hang around. You may be surprised by the answers. Your anxiety may have something to teach you. If you give it attention, it may calm down or share an insight.
- Get more tuned into your body’s needs.
Be aware of any food sensitivities, hormone imbalances, or sleep deprivation. Naturopathy, acupuncture, massage or energy work can be helpful.
- Look online for resources that you haven’t yet tried.
- Find your sense of humor.
If you are alone in your car, scream obscenities. Avoid eye contact with passing drivers.
- Get hugged by someone you love.
This can include your animals. Breathe and feel the connection deeply in your body.
- If you have perfectionism along with your anxiety, look into whether you have a rainforest mind.
Understand that your perfectionism and anxiety might exist not because of something you’ve done wrong, but because of the nature of growing up as a highly sensitive overthinker (sometimes called gifted or rainforest-minded). The complications begin at an early age. You have a right to take the time to focus on your self-understanding and growth. Read Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists.
- Consider working with a team of sensitive and capable practitioners.
Find the right people to help you. Choose from among the many types of practitioners, including naturopaths, physical therapists, acupuncturists, psychotherapists, energy healers, shamans, teachers, coaches, and artists, who will help you find the best tools for your particular needs.
And finally, being highly sensitive, empathetic, and deep-thinking, you are naturally inclined to be more anxious. Because you think a lot and deeply, it is easy to slip into an anxious state. You have a mind-heart-spirit that needs to be active, questioning, contributing, and creating. Imagine that if you get more intellectual or creative stimulation, you will be less anxious.
And, if all else fails, go for beauty. See the gorgeousness of the rose, the rainstorm, and the laughing children.
And the beauty of you, worries and all.
Paula Prober is a licensed psychotherapist, consultant, author, blogger, and tango dancer in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. She consults internationally with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Her book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released by GHF Press in 2016. Her second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019. Paula blogs at Your Rainforest Mind, a blog in support of the excessively curious, creative, smart, and sensitive.