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.
Many creative people are considered shy, sensitive or introverted, or identify themselves as one or all of these.
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.”
JK 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. …
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.
“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
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, 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?
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, Aug. 31, 2015 – 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.”
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?”
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’.
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Creative intellect and anxiety
Anxiety relief coach and 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, [but] 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.”
Photo above: Linden with one of his clients, Jemma Kidd – she had a successful career as a fashion model before “discovering a new calling as a make-up artist… she opened her own “Make-up School” in London, and a cosmetics line of the same name was launched…in the UK, America, Australia, Hong Kong, and Canada.”
Jemma comments about herself and her sister, supermodel Jodie Kidd:
“We suffered from crippling anxiety and panic attacks and probably half my friends do too. Jodie and I both used The Linden Method…The program was the answer we had been looking for.”
See more in the article:
The Linden Method – Using Behavioral Science for Anxiety
video from the article: Overcoming Panic: Marie West on Using The Linden Method
Learn more about his programs for anxiety relief at the site:
The Linden Method.
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.
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.
Anxiety Slayer “was created in 2009 by Shann Vander Leek and Ananga Sivyer. We were both blogging, coaching and teaching independently before we teamed up to present Anxiety Slayer with the intention of supporting anyone who’s life is over-shadowed by stress or anxiety.
“Together, we create supportive articles, podcasts and anxiety relief audio downloads.”
Anxiety Slayer offers a range of supportive of eBooks and audio programs including:
The Quick Anxiety Stopper
EFT Tapping for Anxiety Relief
Small Steps to BIG Change
The Anxiety Rescue Kit
Learn more at the site: Anxiety Slayer
More help may be found on these pages:
Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.