How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety When You’re Highly Sensitive

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, anxiety, trauma, unhealthy self-regard and other experiences that can impact our lives and creative expression. Below are a variety of perspectives from psychologists, coaches and authors that can help regain healthy levels of energy with less stress and anxiety.

The Sensitive Self

The 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.

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Stress at work

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.

Google office in Zurich“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…”

From article: Stress with Co-Workers May be more than just about personalities.

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, 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?

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Don’t just shut down and shut off

“We absorb everything. And, what’s really disturbing is that most of us don’t know we are Highly Sensitive People and that not everyone shares our abilities.

“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 HSP Health Blog.

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Judith Orloff

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

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On her site she has a PDF download: “Life Strategies for Sensitive People” – the page 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.”

The download is “based on Dr Orloff’s bestselling books, The Ecstasy of Surrender, Emotional Freedom & Positive Energy.”

Positive Energy & Emotional Freedom Package:
6 products for energy & healing from Dr. Judith Orloff’s books Positive Energy & Emotional Freedom – a downloadable discount package.

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Surrender to the Power of Intuition Online Course
Surrender to the Power of Intuition Online Course
by Judith Orloff, MD

Three-Lesson Live Online Course from Hay House.

“Would you like to be more in touch with your intuition?

Are you pushing too hard and feel stuck in your career or relationships?

Are you living in a constant state of Fear, Worry, or Burn-out that keeps you from hearing your Intuition?

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Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie

Creative intellect and anxiety

Anxiety relief author Charles Linden writes:

“Over the last 12 years, through working with over 130,000 high anxiety sufferers, we have been able to collect data regarding character traits, genetics and environmental factors which has enabled us to characterize the typical profile of a person who has a predisposition to high anxiety conditions.

“Typically, these people share a character trait, which can only be predetermined by genetics, which, from the moment they are born, predisposes them to the creation of conditions of the emotions, such as anxiety disorders.

“Our data shows us that anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.”

He further explains:

“This may not be experienced as academic prowess, moreover as a distinct range of both physical and mental attributes effecting creativity, emotional sensitivity and clarity, eccentricity, creative energy and drive which, whilst sometimes misguided, provides the tenacity to move forward, sometimes in the face of extreme adversity.”

From his article Creative intellect as a marker for genetic predisposition to high anxiety conditions.

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.”]

Learn more about his programs for anxiety relief at
The Linden Method.

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10-simple-self-care-tips

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 in February and early March. She also talked about how to use Tapping to develop your intuition.

The live portion of the Summit is over, but recordings are available.

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.

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sponge-people-omag-beck

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.

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man-in-office-Forbes-alice-walton

Bouncing back

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.

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More help may be found on these pages:

Books, Products and Programs for Highly Sensitive People.

Programs for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People.

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Originally posted 2006-05-20 16:58:30.

4 comments

  1. I’m just putting this out there…maybe someone would take on the task of looking at genetics. If you took all INFJ’s (empaths and sensitives) which is only 1% of the population according to Myers Briggs testing, and looked to see what genes we have in common, perhaps MBA and Phd psychology schools could form thesis’ on discovery of this gift/curse. I’ve had my genome mapped at 23andme and would be happy to participate.

What do you think of this topic?