If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), you might know what it’s like to live with some level of anxiety.
For me, my anxiety started when I was young and couldn’t make sense of my strong emotions. Everything overwhelmed me. With noise and kids everywhere, school was basically a nightmare full of overstimulation. I could only cope when things were calm and quiet (which, let’s be honest, it’s never that way in school). I just wanted to go home where I felt safe and comfortable.
The strangest things set me off. Little did I know, somewhere along the line, I developed the phobia called emetophobia (fear of vomiting) with my anxiety. I remember watching the movie Matilda in school and starting to panic during that scene where they make that kid eat all the cake. I was sure they were going to show him throwing up, and I couldn’t handle it.
I started freaking out and was too embarrassed to say why, so I made up something about not liking the movie. I mean, what little kid can understand and verbalize that they have a phobia or anxiety? I just thought I was insane, and I didn’t want anyone else to know.
Let’s explore why highly sensitive people might struggle with anxiety, plus I’ll share the No. 1 thing that has helped me.
Why Do Some Highly Sensitive People Have Anxiety?
Not all highly sensitive people have an anxiety disorder or phobia like me. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for HSPs to experience some level of anxiety in day-to-day life because we process things deeply, from sights to sounds to emotional cues.
For instance, watching that kid in Matilda eat that cake, the other students didn’t thoroughly internalize what he was doing (as silly as that sounds). Nor did their minds spin off visualizing all the possibilities of an overstuffed tummy.
As adults, all kinds of things can make us anxious, from a deadline at work or school to not knowing what’s going to happen in a given scenario. And when you’re a highly sensitive person who process and feels experiences deeply, it’s no wonder anxious thoughts arise.
What Relieves My Anxiety
Fast forward to now, at 28 years old, and I’ve definitely had my share of ups and downs with anxiety. I’ve had times of stress, full of anxiety and panic attacks, and times of calm and minimal anxiety. Lately, I have experienced little to no anxiety, and I believe there is one thing in particular that helps me release anxiety when it creeps back up. It isn’t meditation or self-care or even mindfulness, although I know all of those things can be helpful.
For me — and for many others around me, I’ve noticed — the key to relieving anxiety in the moment is helping others.
Think about that for a second.
Think about how you feel when you do something for someone out of the goodness of your heart. If you’re a highly sensitive person, you’re likely a caregiver who loves helping others. Whether you work in a caregiver career or simply love to take care of your significant other, family, friends and kids, notice how you feel when you are helping out.
This can be a fine line, though. You don’t want to become so selfless and focused on others that you forget to take care of yourself. You absolutely have to put yourself first to thrive as a highly sensitive person and meet your own needs. If you are constantly helping others, saying yes to everything and taking care of everyone but yourself, anxiety will still creep in.
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But when you’re taking good care of yourself and also focused on loving and caring for the people around you, anxious feelings tend to disappear. This is especially helpful in moments when you first start to notice you are feeling anxious.
I’ve noticed when I have enough time to take care of my own needs and spend the rest of my time caring for my friends and helping others, my anxiety is super minimal and even non-existent, even in stressful times.
Find Your ‘Why,’ Then Reach Out
The next time anxiety arises, take a moment to try to figure out why it is happening. I like to call this “finding your why.” Anxiety can arise from simple things, like being hungry or thirsty, stressed about a deadline, or worried about a loved one. It can also strike for seemingly no reason. If you’ve taken care of yourself by making sure you’re well fed, hydrated, slept well, exercised, etc., go to the next step.
Reach out to someone to help. Ask your significant other what you can do to help around the house or give them a surprise backrub. Work on a homemade gift for a friend. Ask someone to hang out. Text a friend who is going through a tough time. Volunteer. Get out of your head and help someone else.
I guarantee you will start to feel better shortly. Not only will you get the feel-good emotions of helping others, but your brain will also be distracted from your worries. Often this is enough to help you feel better quickly. You can also use helping others as a distraction to calm yourself down enough so you can remember to eat, take a nap, take your medication, meditate, or anything else that truly helps ease anxiety.
However, remember that constantly distracting your brain from anxiety won’t help in the long run. Try to frequently journal your anxiety and worries to see where it is stemming from and what you can do in your daily life to help heal it. If you suffer from frequent anxiety, you may want to talk to a mental health specialist and/or seek treatment and medication.