Coping With Anxiety and Depression as an HSP

A highly sensitive person with anxiety

As an HSP, I knew my anxiety was an issue when constant fear and worry stopped me from doing things I enjoyed.

Living with a mental health condition is challenging for anyone, but being a highly sensitive person (HSP) poses unique challenges and considerations. Many HSPs become overwhelmed and anxious at times due to the overstimulation we experience on a daily basis. However, when it gets to a certain point, the anxiety crosses the line to a disorder. 

For me, I knew my anxiety was the latter when constant fear and worry stopped me from doing things I enjoyed, like going to my weekly new mother’s group after my daughter was born. If I did push myself to go out, I couldn’t enjoy what I was doing because I was on the brink of panic about germs or car accidents or insert-calamity-here. 

Seeking Out Help for Anxiety and Depression as an HSP

A friend recommended her therapist to me, and almost five years later, I continue to have regular sessions with her, as well as see a psychiatrist. In working with a good therapist, and by using various mental health tools, I figured out how to soothe my anxiety and depression when the going gets tough.

So if you find your anxiety and depression getting the best of you, consider these tips for living your best life, which are a combination of things I learned in therapy and also day-to-day practice.   

6 Ways to Cope With Anxiety and Depression as an HSP

1. Watch or listen to something soothing, like your favorite TV show or podcast.

Watching TV is an enjoyable way to relax for many people, HSPs included. But HSPs need to make sure to balance the kind of media they consume. If, like me, you’re a sensitive person who also struggles with anxiety and depression, you may be even more greatly affected by what you see and hear. 

When you watch a show or movie, you may be unexpectedly exposed to something triggering, and that can really throw off your mood. Many podcasts and television shows provide trigger warnings, and these are important to listen  to so you can avoid topics that may be too much for your sensitive soul.

For me, watching the news poses a significant threat. My drive to understand the state of the world and my empathy for those affected by current events makes me want to consume the news, but my anxiety and depression can worsen if I only consume news that paints the world in a dark light. We may feel it is important for us to understand what is really happening, but there is a perspective that the news media takes — and a lot of it is not positive.   

At my very first appointment after the COVID-19 pandemic started, my psychiatrist gave me some advice I continue to live by: “The only news you need right now is news that will change your current course of action.” Planning to travel? Absolutely do your research. You are trying to decide if it’s safe to send your kids to school? Yes, you will need to watch the local news. But if you’re on your journey and don’t need any other information, there’s no need to listen to four hours of MSNBC (or what have you) in your earbuds. Instead, focus on changing what you can — and accepting what you cannot. 

2. Use social media… to connect to friends and family when you need extra support.

It may seem like social media would be invaluable in this time of distancing from friends and family. However, there are certainly benefits to reaching out to others in whatever form that takes — especially when you are not feeling your absolute best. If you tend to talk with your buds on messenger, though, that’s a different story! Reaching out to friends, however you do it, is essential for staying balanced. 

This can be in little ways, such as sharing your new hairstyle with friends on Facebook or going ahead and looking up inspiration for your closet renovation on Pinterest. But make sure your social media network reflects actual friendships and don’t engage if you worry and get anxious about likes or comments, or if you find yourself scrolling past upsetting content. 

When it comes to scrolling for hours on your favorite social media outlet, the positive just doesn’t outweigh the negative. According to a study published in Applied Psychological Health & Wellbeing, “As expected, results indicated that a higher level of social media use was associated with worse mental health.” It’s that simple, folks. And as HSPs, we’re more likely to be affected by disturbing images and stories. Think about it like this: If you ate bags and bags of junk food every day for weeks and months, likely you’d feel pretty darn bad and run down. Social media (and Cheetos) are fine in moderation, but take note of how they make you think, and act accordingly. 

3. Maintain a strong support network — and be honest with them about how you’re feeling.    

HSPs need their friends. “But you just told me to limit my social media consumption. So how am I supposed to keep my network going?” 

I hear you! But liking your best friend’s post on “the Gram” is just not the same as a phone call or Zoom. After all, highly sensitive people really appreciate deep, meaningful conversations

So if you’re feeling down or anxious (or both, or both plus more), don’t try to mask it. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to anyway! Many HSPs wear their hearts on their sleeves, which can be socially scary sometimes. 

My advice? Assemble a team you trust — and tell them the truth, too, about how you’re doing. Talking to people outside of your current situation can offer a fresh perspective that can really help you reframe what’s going on in your life. When I first was diagnosed with anxiety, I tended to only confide in my husband or sister about problems I was having, even though a lot of the problems involved my interactions with them! But after a while, I started confiding in others, too, like my close friends and especially my therapist. If you don’t feel like you have a friend you’re comfortable going to, online communities offer an anonymous way to connect with others. If nothing else, you’ll walk away knowing you can be your honest-to-goodness emotional HSP self, and your friends and loved ones will still want to be in your life. They can take it, I promise. 

As an HSP, I get “talking to people fatigue” pretty darn fast, even when the people in question are medical providers — and you might, too. In the past, I have also canceled appointments because I knew the meeting would bring up a difficult conversation I didn’t feel prepared to face. But don’t let your anxiety about talking about fear (or sadness about talking about depression) stop you. Without fail, I have felt better when I kept my appointments and check-ins with friends, even if the conversations were hard. To make sure we don’t let too long go without seeing each other, my closest friend and I set a policy: we always end our hang session by getting the next one on our calendars. 

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4. Keep your “resiliency reserve” in mind.

HSPs have the ability to perceive and process information quite well, which a gift. Still, when high sensitivity to external stimuli impacts anxiety or depression, it is extremely important to monitor the input, and the toll it takes on your mental health.  

I think of emotional energy like currency: you only have so much, and when you have spent it, it’s gone. If you know you will be facing something likely to send your emotions into overdrive — and let’s face it, for us HSPs that can be a whole lot of things — give yourself a little extra love. That could mean reducing your expectations that particular day (maybe the dishes can wait until tomorrow), taking a break for deep breathing or meditation, or even just having a cup of tea. 

5. Practice self-care, self-care, and then more self-care.

Set yourself up for success by keeping up with the basics: bathing, eating, sleeping, and drinking water. It sounds simple, but as anyone who has tried to improve their self-care routine can tell you, it is anything but simple — especially when anxiety and/or depression get in the way.

Help you help yourself by “piggybacking” new habits onto ones you already have. For example, if you always forget to eat breakfast, try putting a protein bar next to the coffee pot in the morning. You already know you’ll remember to make coffee, so let that routine help support your new practice! The more you do little things like this, the more they will add up and help you restore balance in your day-to-day life.

6. Put joy on your calendar as you would any other appointment.

Even if it’s something as simple as visiting a shop you haven’t been to in a while, putting something purely for pleasure on your calendar sends a message to yourself: No matter what other work needs to get done, I will take this hour for myself a week from now to do this enjoyable thing. 

I know I get a little boost of joy every time I see “Call with Grace” on my calendar because it’s a reminder that no matter what is going on today or tomorrow, I have something to look forward to that “fills my cup”! In other words, it’s something that will help me feel fulfilled, and then I can better help others who may need my support. 

Mental health disorders are challenging for anyone, but as with anything that life throws your way, you can find peace and resilience. Knowing yourself, sensitivity and all, will allow you to learn how to care for yourself — which is most important of all.

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