I have struggled off and on throughout life with anxiety.
When the anxiety gets too high, I will tumble into depression. When the depression gets too low, it triggers anxiety.
I also score quite high (oh so high) on Dr. Elaine Aron’s self-test for high sensitivity (you can take her test here – it’s free).
So I am a highly anxious, highly sensitive person.
So far, it doesn’t sound like a win-win.
But where I have found great relief is in understanding that there are names and sets of symptoms that accompany each of these elements of “me.”
So when my anxiety begins to escalate, I can point to that and say – “I am feeling very anxious.”
When I open my internet browser and the first headline is something about animals in trouble (or people in trouble) and my world starts to grey and wobble around the edges, I can point to that and say – “I am feeling very sensitive.”
By being able to point to each state and give it a name, I can then head towards my toolkit for managing whatever-it-is and pick out something to try first, and next, and next, and so forth.
Perhaps the most useful tool of all, however, is simply knowing there is a difference.
As in, whereas in the past I might have just lumped it all – all those feelings, emotions, highs and lows, ups and downs – under “nonstop anxiety attack,” now I can start to separate out the nuances of my inner ebb and flow….to better follow and adjust to the life of me, so to speak.
I can understand that sometimes I am feeling genuinely and legitimately anxious because (whoops) I just looked a little too closely at my bank balance or love life (or lack thereof) or perhaps something unexpected triggered an anxious inner outburst.
So then I can breathe, let my shoulders drop back into their sockets, go give my also perpetually anxious parrot, Pearl, a belly kiss, and get back to the business of being me in this one single present moment.
And I can also understand that sometimes I am feeling genuinely and legitimately sensitive because I went wading off into life without remembering to zip up or simply with too much intensity and now I need me-time to regroup, plug in and recharge.
So then I can go tend to the needs of my inner sensitive, take a walk in nature or have a nap or a bath or a glass of wine in the good company of my precious trio of feathers and shells, enjoying solitary soothing pursuits until such time as the inner sensitivity overload warning light finally turns itself off.
Also, sometimes it really is both. It is totally possible – at least for me – to be feeling just highly sensitive, or just highly anxious, but it is also possible to feel both highly sensitive and highly anxious all at once.
Because I became aware of my anxiety many years before I even knew there was such a thing as a highly sensitive person, this has been nothing short of transformative as I’ve learned to manage each.
Just knowing there is a difference has helped me feel more empowered to realize I’m not just one big stark raving ball of endless anxiety. There is more to me than just a stress ball on legs.
That recognition not only improves my self-esteem, but quite literally salvages my self-respect.
With great respect and love,