Highly sensitive people can be more vulnerable to anxiety and depression
Being highly sensitive can have a number of values for us, but it probably increases our vulnerability to anxiety and depression, which for many people go together to some extent.
(See multiple links to supplements and other resource articles below.)
Elaine Aron, PhD thinks “high sensitivity increases the impact of all emotionally tinged events, making childhood trauma particularly scarring.”
[From the post Elaine Aron on High Sensitivity and the Undervalued Self – about her book of that title.]
That is a helpful concept, I think: that being highly sensitive increases the potency of any experiences with emotional elements.
I’m sure that has been the case for me, and I have had varying degrees of these mood challenges for most of my life.
Part of my motivation in researching and creating my series of sites is to better understand a variety of social and psychological issues that affect talent development and creativity – including how mental health challenges affect us and our capacity for living a fulfilling and creative life – and what we can do to help ourselves, including counseling if that is appropriate.
But a disclaimer: I am a writer and researcher, not a therapist – so nothing on my various sites is meant to replace professional health advice and treatment.
There are a number of well-known actors mentioned below: at least some of them consider themselves shy, introverted or highly sensitive (which are different, but may overlap).
Sensitive to anxiety
A news release about research at Penn State said studies indicated that “Anxiety sensitivity, or the fear of feeling anxious, may put people who are already above-average worriers at risk for depression.”
Andres Viana, a graduate student in psychology, explains, “Those with anxiety sensitivity are afraid of their anxiety because their interpretation is that something catastrophic is going to happen when their anxious sensations arise.”
For more details about this research, see the article Anxiety sensitivity may put people at risk for depression.
The impacts of anxiety
In her book The Highly Sensitive Child, Elaine Aron notes that some sensitive adolescents may drink and use drugs to try to overcome anxiety or depression through self-medication.
Also see my article Gifted, Talented, Addicted.
But even if anxiety doesn’t get so extreme we feel a need to self-medicate or get professional help, feeling anxious adds to our unease and general discomfort with situations and other people – and ourselves.
“I think I’ve spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that sort of implanted in me. Somehow I felt not worthy.”
That quote by Halle Berry about being abused as a child, indicates how much impact trauma can have, and how anxiety from that kind of life experience may help prevent developing a healthy self concept.
See more quotes by her, and a number of other actors, writers such as J.K. Rowling, other artists, and psychologists on the impact of traumatic experiences, including bullying, in my post Creative People and Trauma.
Dealing with anxiety, emotional pain
In her Spring 2010 newsletter, Jenna Forrest wrote about the Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT) – “For clearing emotional pain, traumatic flashbacks, anxiety triggers, and unwanted mental images in 2-3 minutes.”
Her site: Profound Healing For Sensitives.
I don’t know about TAT, but it sounds like EFT – see my post Counselor Rue Hass on using EFT to help highly sensitive people celebrate their positive qualities.
Also see my post Ten Tips For Relieving Anxiety.
I haven’t used either of those techniques, but have benefited from occasional use of the herbal preparation PureCalm, and the Holosync CD from Centerpointe Research, which I have used fairly often, and find very calming. I have also used St. John’s Wort – see list of resources at the bottom of this article.
EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is used by many therapists. Clinical psychologist Cheryl Arutt says it is one of the most powerful ways to reprocess trauma.
It is a technique I have experienced and benefited from, as I describe in my post Dealing with trauma and abuse to live a bigger, more creative life.
Article: Highly Sensitive and Living With Social Anxiety – How can being highly sensitive or an empath make some people more susceptible to social anxiety? Includes summaries of research, plus resources for help, such as Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT – now called The Tapping Solution.
There are many varieties of stress, anxiety, trauma, unhealthy self-regard and other experiences that can impact our lives and creative expression. This article has a variety of perspectives from psychologists, coaches and authors that can help regain healthy levels of energy with less stress and anxiety.
~ ~ ~
Changing our environment
Dr. Ted Zeff notes that “Looking for happiness and trying to obtain a feeling of self-worth only from outside stimuli can create anxiety and tension for the reflective, sensitive person…
“If you know that a certain environment creates anxiety, either try to change the unhealthy, over-stimulating situation or remove yourself from the source of tension.”
From his HSP Health post Changing Habits.
Also listen to our audio interview: Dr. Ted Zeff on how people can benefit from being highly sensitive.
Johnny Depp is considered by a number of writers and other people to be highly sensitive, as well as introverted – traits which often overlap for many of us, who may also experience shyness, a form of anxiety.
Sophia Dembling comments in her book “The Introvert’s Way” that “introverted movie stars like Julia Roberts tend to get famous when they’re in extrovert mode — acting, chatting it up on talk shows, making red-carpet appearances.
“Then, as soon as they can do so without risking their careers, movie star introverts retreat into a well-protected life, keeping tight control on who sees them when and how. Johnny Depp is a good example of this. When he’s not on-screen, he lives mostly out of the public eye.”
From my article Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.
Depp commented in an interview, “I’m able to express better the feelings of those who are a little outside. I don’t consider myself an outsider, but neither completely integrated in the society… Tim (Burton) and I share this kind of sensitivity, this way of understanding or not understanding the world.”
[From DOUBLE JOHNNY, by L. Messina, D la Repubblica delle Donne, 25th September 2001.]
Drinking to cope with feelings
Depp has talked about getting drunk to go to functions like press appearances, and perhaps to deal with his sensitivity: “I guess I was trying not to feel anything.”
He thinks drug use “has less to do with recreation and more to do with the fact that we need to escape from our brains. We need to escape from everyday life. It’s self-medication and that’s the problem.”
From my article Gifted, Talented, Addicted.
Another article notes that “a source close to the actor said of his drinking: ‘He couldn’t have just one.’ … In his fight against the abuse, Depp has avoided movie premiers and taken to traveling with a sober buddy. More recently, however, his struggle seems to have gotten the best of him: the filming of his latest Pirates of the Caribbean feature had to be halted so that he could pursue treatment.”
From article: Johnny Depp & the Signs of Alcohol-use Disorder, BLVD Treatment Centers.
In a Rolling Stone magazine interview in 2013, he said “I don’t have the physical need for the drug alcohol. It’s more my medication, my self-medication over the years just to calm the circus. Once the circus kicks in, the festivities in the brain, it can be ruthless.”
From Filming suspended! Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 put on hold while Johnny Depp undergoes treatment on injured hand By Amy Roberts For Daily Mail Australia 28 March 2015.
He has also talked about his anxieties and shyness.
~ ~ ~
Dr. Elaine Aron notes the trait of high sensitivity is found in 15 to 20% of the population, and just as many men as women. That means millions of us. But, she adds, “Men really have to struggle to hide their sensitivity or they are seen as not very manly.”
Another possible source of anxiety for sensitive men.
See related video with Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp and other sensitive men in post: Are we cry-babies?
Depp is one of many well-known people who have engaged in cutting or other forms of self-injury, to deal with overwhelming feelings.
~ ~ ~
Depression and mood challenges for creative people
Many people experience mood challenges like depression and anxiety together.
Some of the following artists may or may not be highly sensitive, but you might relate to them.
One example: A news article reported, “Along with 20 million people in the U.S., British actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson has dealt with depression.
“In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Thompson said she battled clinical depression in the past, with her career saving her from ‘going under.’
“Like other people living with clinical depression, Thompson said she felt sad and hopeless, and was unable to get out of bed at times.”
She said: “I think my first bout of that was when I was doing [the play] Me and My Girl, funnily enough.
“I really didn’t change my clothes or answer the phone, but went into the theatre every night and was cheerful and sang the Lambeth Walk. That’s what actors do. But I think that was my first bout with an actual clinical depression.”
Asked how she stayed sane, Thompson replied: “I don’t think I did stay sane, actually. It was tough. I think I probably should have sought professional help long before I actually did, for all sorts of reasons.”
From post: Emma Thompson and Depression.
Related article “15 Celebrities With Mental Health Disorders“ – includes a number of prominent people: Catherine Zeta Jones, Mel Gibson, John Nash, Craig Ferguson and others.
Another list: 20 Celebrities Who Battled Depression (Health.com site) includes Jon Hamm, Heath Ledger, Brooke Shields – and these artists:
Ashley Judd relates being “a hypervigilant child” to “always striving to be perfect” – another issue for personal development that affects many gifted adults. – From Hypervigilance and Highly Sensitive People.
Winona Ryder has said, “You go through spells where you feel that maybe you’re too sensitive for this world. I certainly felt that.” – See more in post: Winona Ryder, Heath Ledger and Other Creators On Being Highly Sensitive.
Gwyneth Paltrow is among the list of “Famous introverts” on the site of Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., M.F.T., an author, researcher, speaker, educator, psychotherapist and an authority on introversion. – See more in post: Marti Olsen Laney on Introversion Advantages.
~ ~ ~
In his article “Treat Depression and Anxiety With St. John’s Wort,” Mike Gerard noted “Depression and anxiety can come from physical causes as many HSPs know and also from situational causes.
“It can seem that we are grasping at straws when we talk about the causes of depression. It has been attributed to past abuse, medications, personal conflicts, a loss or death, genetics, substance abuse, major life change, a major illness, or other traumatic events. All of these reasons may be right.”
He goes on to write about St. John’s Wort – “The herbal remedy is made from its flowers and leaves. It contains hyperforin, hypericin and pseudohypericin, three components scientists believe relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“St. John’s Wort has also been used to help people suffering from panic attacks, wounds, headaches, sleep disorders, nerve pain, and mild depression.”
See more articles and resources on the excellent Sensitive Evolution site [former HSP Health].
Personal note – I have used St. John’s Wort [link to Amazon] for a number of years to support my mood health. Also see helpful customer reviews on Amazon.
Note – In this post I refer to “mood challenges” as opposed to “mood disorder” because, for one reason, creativity coach Eric Maisel notes “When we call something a ‘mental disease’ or a ‘mental disorder’ we imply a great deal about its origins, its treatment, its intractability, and its locus of control. The mental health industry has its reasons for calling life’s challenges ‘disorders’ but we have few good reasons to collude with them.”
– From my Creative Mind post Rethinking Depression and Creativity.
The book Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults affirms:
“Many of our brightest, most creative, most independent thinking children and adults are being incorrectly diagnosed as having behavioral, emotional, or mental disorders.
“They are then given medication and/or counseling to change their way of being so that they will be more acceptable within the school, the family, or the neighborhood, or so that they will be more content with themselves and their situation.”
Another article: Anxiety Relief Supplements.
Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.