As highly sensitive people, we may experience many positive aspects of the trait, but we can also be more reactive and vulnerable to stress and anxiety.
There are many varieties of stress, fatigue, worry, trauma, unhealthy self-regard and other anxiety-related experiences that can impact our lives and creative expression.
Taking steps for self-care is important for anyone, but especially when you are highly sensitive.
Below are a variety of perspectives and resources from psychologists, coaches and authors that can help you regain healthy levels of energy and deal better with stress, anxiety and other health challenges.
See resources for help throughout this article.
Heidi Hanna on using HeartMath for emotional and physical recharging
Heidi Hanna identifies herself as a highly sensitive person, and presented a Stress Mastery Webinar in January 2018 on “stress sensitivity, anxiety and how to train for better resilience.”
In the hour-long webinar she covered many topics, including how she uses HeartMath biofeedback devices and programs.
The video above is a brief excerpt.
She is “founder and Chief Energy Officer of Synergy, a consulting company providing brain-based health and performance programs for organizations, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress, and a frequent lecturer at Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona.” [From her website.]
Dr. Hanna is author of the books:
HeartMath “products, tools and techniques are based on over 25 years of scientific research conducted at the HeartMath Institute on the psychophysiology of stress, emotions, and the interactions between the heart and brain.
“There are over 300 peer-reviewed or independent studies utilizing HeartMath techniques or technologies to achieve beneficial outcomes that have been published.”
From the ‘Science’ section of the HeartMath site.
One of the articles on the site:
“Worry tries to convince the mind that it has some value, but in reality it has never solved anything. To disrupt the worry habit you need to not only interrupt it, you need to replace it with something productive to establish a pattern change.”
Empaths – Adrenal Fatigue, Insomnia and Exhaustion
In an article for Elephant Journal, Alex Myles cautions:
“Empaths can experience a sudden onset of chronic fatigue due to a significant crash in energy levels.
“This can be caused by having a variety of emotional responsibilities, and also because we profusely leak our energy when we do not remain present, consciously aware, grounded, and balanced.
“Empaths often feel particularly drained when we have spent too much time in the company of other people, and these interactions can cause us to develop emotional exhaustion.
“Empaths need a great deal of alone time to retreat and recharge their internal batteries.
“Our thoughts, emotions, and feelings can all play havoc on our internal system, causing devastating consequences that can debilitate us.
“If we have regular periods of solitude, we are able to process our emotions and feelings during the day.
“We will then not become so exhausted, as we will frequently let go of any negativity that might play on our minds and weigh us down.”
Read more in her article How being an Empath can lead to Adrenal Fatigue, Insomnia & Exhaustion.
Alex Myles is author of the book An Empath: The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Energy, Emotions & Relationships.
Creative, sensitive people more susceptible to anxiety and stress
Some anxieties – like an overbearing level of perfectionism – can interfere with our creative inspiration and expression, and be crippling in other areas of life.
Why would high ability and highly sensitive creative people be more susceptible to anxiety and stress?
Paula Prober, M.S., M.Ed., is a licensed counselor who works with adults to “heal unresolved issues from childhood and specializes in counseling and consulting with gifted adults, youth, and families.”
In an article (on her site) The More You Know, The More You Worry, she writes:
“Perhaps you thought that if you were smart, you wouldn’t be a worrier. If you were smart, you’d know all of the answers.
“You wouldn’t have to be anxious because you could think your way out of any problem.
“But, in fact, you may worry constantly. You worry when you’re sleeping. When you’re hiking. When you’re cooking. When you’re driving. When you’re not worrying.
“So what’s with that? Let me explain.
“Your very active rainforest mind is able to dream up so many things to worry about.
“Less complex minds may worry less because there isn’t as much thinking.
“With you, there’s lots of thinking.
“And if you’re highly creative? Watch out. Even more worries.”
Prober offers multiple suggestions under the amusing heading:
“What, then, can be done, when a lobotomy isn’t an option?”
Among them is: “Read the research from the Heartmath Institute and see if you might want to try one of their devices to improve what they call your ‘heart rate variability’ and reduce your stress.”
See information and testimonials about this technology in my article
HeartMath Tools for Emotional Balance.
One of my related videos:
Feel crazy sometimes? Maybe you’re just a Highly Sensitive Person.
This video is based on the article Are You Crazy, or Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? Are you much more sensitive to energy than friends or other people? Do you have mood swings and feelings of overwhelm that don’t seem to have an explanation? Is it hard to be around too many people, or in places where there’s a lot of stimulation? You may not be “crazy.” You may be among the 15 to 20% of people – and animals – who have a highly sensitive nervous system.
Morning rituals to ease stress
Psychotherapist Julie Bjelland is an instructor for brain training courses, and specializes in working with anxiety and the Highly Sensitive Person.
She has a number of articles on her site with suggestions on how to lower your anxiety as an HSP. Here is part of one:
“There are several practices that we know work for our HSP brains. Many of us often jump out of bed and race into our day, beginning the first moments of our day in a state of higher stress and anxiety.
“Using what we know about the brain, we can begin to take steps to reduce anxiety and stress that can carry with us throughout the day.
“What I have observed in my work with HSPs, in therapy, in my HSP course, and coaching HSPs globally, is that we all experience such similar ways of “being”.
“In my last HSP course, many HSPs discovered that they could see very clear patterns associated with what reduced their daily stress and what heightened it.
“One of the first conversations that arose in our course was morning rituals.
“HSP course participants started recognizing that on the days they woke up and felt rushed, their entire day felt harder and more stressful.
“On the days, they gave themselves more time in the morning, to move at a slower pace, they noticed immediate lowering of their entire days stress levels.”
Read more in her article Consciously Reducing Anxiety and Stress for HSPs… A Series… Step 1.
“I highly recommend that highly sensitive people read Julie Bjelland’s book, “Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person”. This thorough and well-researched book contains many techniques to help transform the HSP’s life.
“Even if the student implements only a portion of the many practical and innovative methods that are presented in the book for calming the sensitive nervous system, the HSP will live a happier, more tranquil and productive life.”- Ted Zeff, Ph.D., author of books including The Power of Sensitivity.
The photo above is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) in Lost in Translation.
Johansson has commented, “I think I was born with a great awareness of my surroundings and an awareness of other people. I know when I really connect with somebody… Sometimes that awareness is good, and sometimes I wish I wasn’t so sensitive.”
From my article Sensitive to others but staying safe.
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Practices for Release from Fear, Panic, and Worry
Neurosculpting Practice: Self-Select The Positive
Lisa Limburger: “There’s a universal question that I think affects all of us and it’s this idea that we’re all striving to feel good enough.
“I know I’m striving to feel good enough in my life more often than I’d like to admit and I think the sad thing is that we all are good enough already, just as we are.
“But this is not an easy pill to swallow. As someone committed to self-improvement and self-development, I’m in a constant state of learning and maybe like you we’re all looking to be better at something – a better mom, better musician, more educated, more stylish, faster, leaner, bigger, better – our best self…
“There’s really nothing wrong with betterment, but it’s a double edged sword…”
Neurosculpting for Anxiety
Brain-Changing Practices for Release from Fear, Panic, and Worry
“Lisa Wimberger presents a proven method for addressing anxiety at its neurological roots.”
“We experience persistent fear and worry when our natural coping mechanisms for stress get overloaded,” Lisa teaches. “The good news is we can use self-directed brain change to bring our nervous system back into balance.”
How to Sit with Painful Emotions
By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
“Feeling painful emotions, not surprisingly, can be painful. This is why so many of us don’t do it.
“Instead, we ignore our emotions, or dismiss them. We try to numb the pain with a glass of wine or three.
“We isolate ourselves. We cut or burn ourselves, or engage in other kinds of self-harm.
“Basically, we turn to anything that’ll help us get rid of our feelings.
“As humans, we do everything we can do to reduce our suffering and to avoid pain — emotional or physical.
“So it is difficult to accept the pain [of our emotions] and not try to do anything to fight it,” said Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, a psychotherapist in Sharon, Ontario, Canada.
“Some of us learn early on from our caregivers — that throwing tantrums or turning to substances or self-harm is the way to deal with painful emotions, she said.”
Book: Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life by Sheri Van Dijk MSW.
“Others may be highly sensitive. Highly sensitive individuals make up 20 to 30 percent of the population. They “experience things more intensely, and therefore have had more difficulties learning to manage emotions because they become so overwhelmed by them.”
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Being shy, sensitive or introverted
Many creative people are considered shy, sensitive or introverted, or identify themselves as one or all of these. They are not the same, but can overlap and interact.
One example: J.K. Rowling – who notes on her website that she first had the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 when she was traveling alone on a train:
“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…
“But I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain…”
From the page Resources for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People.
In an interview for The Guardian, she comments about being introverted and the stresses of fame and success. Even though we may never have the levels of those that Rowling does – very few people do – her perspectives may be of interest.
Interviewer Lauren Laverne: “I’m terrible at small talk.”
J.K. Rowling: “I don’t think I could be friends with someone who was good at small talk.”
Laverne continues: No spoilers, but as far as all the traditional metrics go, you’re f**king acing it.
LL: But once you’ve got the Légion d’honneur, how do you measure it?
JR: It’s really weird you’re asking me that question, because four days ago I wrote the answer in the fourth Robert Galbraith book. [Galbraith is one of her pen names.]
“Because when you meet my detective in book four, he is reflecting on how success never feels the way you think it will be.
“Some people would assume that you’re sitting around feeling simply marvellous and shining your baubles.
“But I remember, a week after I got my American deal, which got me a lot of press, one of my very best girlfriends rang me and said, ‘I thought you’d sound so elated.’
“From the outside, I’m sure everything looked amazing.
“But in my flat, where I was still a single mum and I didn’t know who to call to do my hair, everything felt phenomenally overwhelming.
“For the first time in my life I could buy a house, which meant security for my daughter and me, but I now felt: ‘The next book can’t possibly live up to this.’
“So I managed to turn this amazing triumph into tragedy, in the space of about five days. …
J.K. Rowling on fame and anxiety
JR: “I remember the first time I stepped out of a car at a red carpet event – that wall of noise I found terrifying.
“I didn’t feel it as a warm shower of love. It’s not that I don’t feel incredibly warm to the individuals making that noise, because I do, but in toto it was very frightening.
“If you want to be an author, the odds are you’re a pretty introverted person, who doesn’t particularly want to worry about what they look like.
“And fame, in its modern incarnation, demands pretty much the reverse mindset.”
From JK Rowling meets Lauren Laverne: ‘Success never feels the way you think it will’ by JK Rowling and Lauren Laverne, The Guardian, 28 November 2015.
This image is from the book The Sensitive Self by Michael Eigen.
He writes in his article Sensitivity:
“Without sensitivity what would life be like? Sensitivity nurtures us, gives life color, expressiveness, charm…
“Sensitivity, feeling and thinking feed each other, are part of each other. Thinking and feeling are ways sensitivity unfolds or grows.”
It may help us feel better about being highly sensitive, and more empowered to deal with stress, to remember the values of the trait, such as being creative.
Author of multiple books on the trait, including The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron, PhD says “I know ALL HSPs are creative, by definition.
“Many have squashed their creativity because of their low self-esteem; many more had it squashed for them, before they could ever know about. But we all have it…”
From post Elaine Aron on the trait of high sensitivity.
In her article Growing Up Gifted Is Not Easy, Aron recalls searching for the term “sensitivity” in the social science literature, and finding that Linda Silverman [Director of the Gifted Development Center] “is convinced that all gifted children are highly sensitive.”
Dr. Aron says she doesn’t agree, noting that 15 to 20 % of us (and other animals) are highly sensitive, a much larger group than gifted people. Still, high sensitivity is a significant part of the life and psyche of high ability people – and creative people in general.
Aron also thinks “high sensitivity increases the impact of all emotionally tinged events, making childhood trauma particularly scarring.”
Read more in post Sensitive to Anxiety and Depression.
Stress at work and highly sensitive people
Here is an excerpt from an article on the BioElectric Shield site on this topic of stress in the workplace – especially for highly sensitive people:
“If you’re like a lot of us, a big part of the stress comes from dealing with differing personalities.
“We focus a lot on those special difficult people as the stressors, but the truth is the other person doesn’t have to be especially difficult or negative to cause you stress or anxiety; they simply have to be very different than your own.
“Here are some examples of personality differences that can cause stress.
“You love quiet – the person in the next cube/office listens to talk radio – or music you find irritating. You are super cheerful and laugh a lot – the guy nearest to you scowls every time you laugh.
“In meetings you get excited by the ideas being discussed and love to throw out ideas as they come to you – management wants you to present every idea in writing.
“For you this loses spontaneity and you benefit much more from instant feedback which gives you a better feel for if you even want to proceed further with the idea.
“Then, of course, there are the toxic people – they put you down, they say No to everything before even considering.
“They just seem to have a life filled with stress, negativity and trauma or they don’t take anything seriously, or they take everything too seriously….fill in the blanks, you know who they are…”
Sweatshop photo from article Coping With an Anxiety Disorder in the Workplace by Anne Ahira.
Photo of Google office, Zurich from article Giftedness in the work environment.
Another BioElectric Shield article notes:
“We have found that many HSP’s are also EMS’s, Electromagnetically Sensitive People, and both sensitivities combine to create a sense of overload and overwhelm both physically and emotionally.”
Read more in Are You or Your Child a Highly Sensitive Person?
“It can be easy to want to shut down, stop seeing, stop feeling, and stop sensing, especially when our sensitivities make us feel physically dis-eased.
“But, that is to merely exist, to just breathe in and out, and who really wants just that? Well, maybe during meditation, but not in day to day life.
“Life is for living abundantly and joyfully through our senses.”
From “7 Paths to Reducing Sensitivity And Overwhelm For HSPs” by Mari J. Dionne – a post on the excellent site Sensitive Evolution (previously HSP Health).
In one of our interviews, psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD commented that one form of sensitivity, psychic ability, “goes hand in hand with all exceptional ability.”
But she talks in another interview about the dark side of high energy sensitivity:
“An intuitive empath is someone who not only senses energy but also absorbs it from others and the environment. Their body takes on the angst of the world.
“Only as an adult did I realize that I’m an empath and I was absorbing the energy of crowds. Being compressed in crowds can zap your energy.”
[From article : Dr. Judith Orloff and Positive Energy, by Susan Meeker Lowrey.]
Dr. Orloff is “a board-certified psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA, who draws upon her own intuitive abilities to help her patients and workshop participants” (from bio on her site www.drjudithorloff.com).
See page for our audio and text interviews:
Judith Orloff, MD on Emotional Freedom
A page on her site with a PDF download: “Life Strategies for Sensitive People” – says:
“Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings.
“When they are around other people’s energy they tend to become emotional sponges. When they absorb the impact of stressful emotions, it can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.”
Her books include:
Essential Tools for Empaths: A Survival Guide for Sensitive People – Audio CD, Judith Orloff (Author, Narrator). Follow link to hear audio sample.
Supplements to relieve stress and anxiety
Andrew Weil, M.D., is “a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, a healing oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.”
In an article on relieving anxiety, he suggests a number of supplements:
“B vitamins and magnesium can be helpful in dealing with the symptoms of anxiety. …
“Passion flower derivatives are effective as mild tranquilizers. Both tinctures and extracts are calming without being sedative and are useful adjuncts to programs of stress reduction.”
See the page for a number of products: Anxiety Relief Supplements.
Many actors and other artists reportedly struggle with anxiety: Kim Basinger; Barbra Streisand; Alanis Morisette; Aretha Franklin; author John Steinbeck; Nicolas Cage; Naomi Judd; Carly Simon and many others.
Photo: actor Edie Falco – “Anxiety attacks have been in my family for years. We are sort of a high-strung bunch.”
But with the attacks now gone, she says, “I feel more in control of my life than I ever have.”
From article: Anxiety and acting – dealing with an ‘enemy of art’.
In her article 10 Simple Self Care Tips For Empaths and Highly Sensitive People for 2015, intuition expert Colette Baron-Reid provides suggestions, including:
1. Meditate on gratitude every day for min 20 mins. (this focus releases feel good hormones that counter balance the stress hormones that our bodies are addicted to)
2. Get enough sleep (if you’re tired it’s harder to set calm boundaries)
3. Manage media exposure (limit the news since you will feel like it’s all happening to you. If you have to immerse yourself in world events you should counter balance it by watching videos of cute cats and puppies, or other things that make you smile, laugh or be happy – yes I am perfectly serious)
4. Stay as local as you can. (when you start to feel overwhelmed deal only with your immediate surroundings. And ask “ Is this now, in front of me or am I tuned into something else?”
5. De-clutter your surroundings. (remove all chatty objects that remind you of unresolved emotional stories)
6. No Drama (curtail conversations with gossipy friends, people who dump on you, and do not do it yourself to others it will just make you feel worse and escalate the overwhelm)
10. Lighten up- Make sharing joy and laughter a daily practice. (laughter also reduces the stress hormones commonly associated with empathy overwhelm. Find the ridiculousness of life, share the cute and funny, heartwarming and silly. You will be so much better at managing your sensitivity).”
Colette Baron-Reid talked about empathy overload and how ‘people pleasing’ can block intuition in her presentation / conversation at The Tapping World Summit. She also talked about how to use Tapping to develop your intuition.
Read the first two chapters of The Tapping Solution book and download the Tapping for Stress Relief CD for FREE at The Tapping Solution site.
In her post The Sponge People (on Oprah.com) Martha Beck writes about taking in too much unhealthy energy from others:
“Virginia is a medical researcher who came to see me in a last-ditch attempt to deal with overwhelming negative emotions that tended to beset her at work.
“She liked her job, but when she interacted with certain colleagues, she was flooded with anxiety, sadness, indignation and other inexplicable feelings.
“Virginia was sure those reactions came from her own neuroses, but therapy hadn’t fixed the problem.
“After talking to her for half an hour, I thought I knew why.
“I don’t think you’re neurotic,” I told her. “I think you’re spongy.” I explained that some people put out a lot of emotional energy—her noxious coworkers, for example—and others pick up a lot of it, like Virginia.”
The title of her post comes from her name for people who who pick up on the high levels of emotional energy that some people put out, and Dr. Beck says, “I’ve seen so many people struggling with the effects of this mysterious phenomenon that I now take it for granted.
“Not everyone is spongy, but those who are can learn to protect themselves from inadvertently taking in other people’s stress.”
She lists in the article a number of strategies to “armor up.”
Also see list of Martha Beck books.
Writer Alice G. Walton comments:
“Highly sensitive people often seem to have a harder time bouncing back from stressors, which makes sense, since the impact of certain events tend to be magnified for them.
“But there’s good news for the highly sensitive among us: They also tend to be very good learners when it comes to coping strategies.
“So they may ultimately have a leg up with resilience, once they learn exactly how to deal with it.”
She quotes psychologist Ben Michaelis:
“Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) tend to be both more negatively impacted by stress, and yet, when they are given the right degree of support, in my experience, they can be extremely effective at mastering their anxiety and are actually unusually resilient.
“It just seems to take them a little longer to get comfortable with stressors.”
Quotes and photo from her Forbes article Recovering Resilience: 7 Methods For Becoming Mentally Stronger.
Recordings of past event are now available.
Presenters include Evian Gordon, Rick Hanson, Srinivasan Pillay, JJ Virgin, Judy Carter, Ken Druck, Ian Robertson, Herbert Benson, Robert Sapolsky, Bruce McEwen, Loriana Hernandez-Aldama, Susan Peirce-Thompson and many more.
Host Heidi Hanna is CEO and founder of SYNERGY, an integrative neuroscience partnership, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress, and a frequent lecturer at Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona.
More programs may be found on the page:
Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.