It took me a while to understand that my anxiety, both general and social, go hand in hand with how sensitive I am. In fact, according to an article from Psychology Today, “Because highly sensitive people absorb so much stimulation from their environment, we are more susceptible to these feelings of anxiety. A recent study showed that people with a more sensitive ‘startle’ reflex, that is, highly sensitive people, are more susceptible to anxiety disorders because we have different genes than others, making it harder for us to deal with emotional arousal” (Ward, 2012). I would also argue that depressive disorders come in the wake of high sensitivity. Here’s the kicker that I am only just now coming to terms with: it’s okay to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). It’s also okay to be an anxious or depressed person, as long as that anxiety and depression does not control your life. Genetics often play a part in mental health disorders – I can no more deny my anxiety and depression than I can deny my hair or eye color. It’s part of who I am.
“It’s okay if you are an intense person with deep feelings. You think and feel everything with your heart and that’s so rare nowadays. Just because the world always mocks a sensitive soul, you don’t have to feel left out and alone. The truth is that them not understanding you doesn’t make you any less amazing than you are. Always be proud of wearing your heart on your sleeve.” – Madiha
I would take being highly sensitive over calloused and unfeeling any day. How true, though, that the world doesn’t seem to know what to do with those of us who experience higher than normal doses of emotions and the corresponding mental illnesses. There are plenty of times during which I become so overwhelmed by my emotional response to something that I have to either talk about it or risk being consumed by it. I have found out the hard way that I can only talk about these things with certain people. The majority of people will 1) look at me like I’m crazy, and/or 2) tell me that I worry too much and need to get a grip on reality. I urge you to not hold those feeling inside, which can lead to the slippery slope of letting them control you. Believe me…I know! You just need to know who you can talk to and who will listen with respect and empathy.
I write a lot about self-discovery and loving who you are because that is the roller coaster journey I am currently on. My entire life I have tried to be someone I’m not. Or at the very least, I have tried to hide who I really am because I never felt good about the glimpses I saw of my real self. This culture often views highly sensitive people as weak – feeling so much is never a good thing, right? Wrong! I am learning that denying that part of me is what can lead to heightened anxiety and deeper depression. By developing the ability to feel, and then let those feelings go, I hope to loosen any power that mental illness has over me. I am not my anxiety or my depression; rather, I am someone who feels so deeply that the energy created by those feelings needs somewhere to go. I know that I will never be rid of my anxiety or depression, but I do know that there are healthier channels for that energy.
I am currently reading Stephen King’s 2014 novel Mr. Mercedes. In that book, he references a quote from Woody Allen: “80 percent of success is showing up.” I had to pause the audiobook and really stop and think about that quote. Far too many times in my life I have not “shown up” because I am afraid of what I might feel or experience as a result. I worry that stepping out of my comfort zone will cause me to feel too much. I worry that I will fail, which will kick off a whole new set of emotions and anxieties. The anticipation of what might happen to me emotionally has stopped me time and time again. Part of my current journey is getting a grasp on the concept that, even if I do fail, the fact that I tried – that I showed up – is all that really matters. And if I do have a highly emotional reaction, it’s okay. The important thing is recognizing that it may happen and that I shouldn’t let it control me or stop me from pursuing my dreams. People may call me crazy, but that’s okay!
“Take being called crazy as a compliment. It means you’ve found the courage to be yourself when so many others have not.” – Unknown
One major stumbling block for me is worrying what other people will think of me. I often try to remind myself that people are far too self-absorbed to really care what I do, why I do it, or how I go about doing it. That may sound harsh, but I believe it’s true. For example, if I wear the same shoes to work two days in a row, are people really going to notice? Of course not…they’re too busy worrying that people will notice that they too are wearing the same shoes two days in a row. My point is this: you do you. As long as you try, it doesn’t matter what others think. If someone else wants to judge you for your approach, that’s on them. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or other people, go for it! You don’t need the world’s approval or permission to be yourself.
The last thing I want to bring up is the fact that you aren’t alone. Dr. Elaine Aron, a leader in the research and development of the concept of being a highly sensitive person, states that 15-20% of people are highly sensitive (2019). She goes on to explain that “in cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told ‘don’t be so sensitive’ so that they feel abnormal” (Aron, 2019). Don’t let people make you feel like you are the only one who has anxiety or depression as a result of how deeply you feel everything around you. You have an ally in me. I see you.
“Some of the most comforting words in the universe are ‘me too.’ That moment when you find out that your struggle is also someone else’s struggle, that you’re not alone, and that others have been down the same road.” – Unknown
Aron, E. (2019). The Highly Sensitive Person. Retrieved from https://hsperson.com
Ward, D. (2012). Coping with Anxiety as an HSP. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-and-sensitivity/201210/coping-anxiety-hsp