Imagine being so sensitive that you can hardly function. Certain smells make you panic. You suffer while brushing your teeth because the mint fragrance makes you nauseous. You can’t hang your clothes out to dry because if it’s a little humid and the clothes smell a bit musty — even a tiny bit — you won’t be able to wear them.
What if you can’t go out in public because the combination of noise, smell, and movement send you into a panic attack? What if you can’t handle lighting that is too bright, or even go out on a sunny day without getting a headache?
What if you were so empathic that you absorbed every single feeling of the people around you and you cycled through the gambit of emotions all the time?
What if you often had to hide in a dark, cool, quiet room, without anything that would stimulate you? What if you were so introverted that you had no friends in real life?
What if, on top of everything else, you worried over every single little detail of your life? If your daughter or son went outside to play, you’re on high alert. Every stranger or car passing is a pedophile or child murderer. What if your mind was never quiet and your thoughts were in a constant state of worry and overthinking?
What if, when you tried to describe everything you go through daily, you fail every time to capture how awful and painful it is to be you every single day?
That’s my life, and if you found yourself nodding your head at any time, you may also be highly sensitive and anxious.
It starts with anxiety
I’ve always been an anxious person. I remember as a child worrying and analyzing every little moment of my life. It got so bad that it affected my digestion, and I was often sick to my stomach. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a terrible thing.
My parents were concerned, and even took me to the doctor, but the pills he prescribed for anxiety made me a zombie, and I stopped taking them.
At work, anxiety made me the most zealous employee, but less able to handle situations of stress and strain. My early days in fast food were torture because of the fast pace and the need to always be near a whole lot of people.
As I got older, my sensitivities and anxiety only got worse. It got to a point where the only way I could function in daily life was if I got high as a kite. Before most people knew the benefits of cannabis for anxiety, I knew that it helped me function and appear to others as a “normal” person.
Now, at 50, I don’t rely on crutches, only the medication prescribed by a doctor and sheer force of will. I struggle so much to do what I have to do in a given day, that by the time night rolls around, I’m so tired that I don’t even need an aid to calm me before I sleep. Sleep is one thing I have no trouble with.
The only benefit of being an overthinker is I have a never-ending fountain of fodder for the stories I write. I am in idea mode at all times, and in some ways, my brain is always writing.
Sometimes I get blocked, but not because I have no ideas. Sometimes I get too stimulated and can’t calm myself enough to sit in front of my laptop and focus enough to type out the words coming out of my head.
Sometimes, I get blocked for a week or more at a time.
How to figure out if you are highly sensitive
If you suspect you’re highly sensitive, the best suggestion is to head over to “The Highly Sensitive Person” website and take the test. Here are some of the signs that you are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP):
- Do your senses get overwhelmed easily from strong smells, bright lights, rough fabrics, and loud noises?
- Do you get stressed when you are under pressure or a deadline?
- Do other people’s moods affect you?
- Do you have to withdraw from stimuli — often to a dark, cool, quiet place to calm down?
- Are you known to be sensitive or shy? What were you like as a child?
- Do you have to arrange your life so that you can avoid situations where you get too stimulated?
On a positive note, you may also appreciate very fine smells and tastes like dark chocolate or wine. You may also have a rich and robust inner life. I would say, if you are a creative, you most likely do.
I completed the test again, and this was my result:
Not the highest possible score, but high enough. Remember, this is not a diagnosis tool. If you think you are a HSP or have anxiety, you need to see a doctor. There is a danger in trying to diagnose yourself, and even greater danger in trying to fix the whole problem on your own.
But, there are some things you can do to make life more comfortable for yourself.
Embrace the calm
Again, I’m not a doctor, but I can share what has worked for me.
- Be simple — make everything about your life as simple as possible. Don’t put yourself in situations, if you can, where you will get stressed and overstimulated.
- Be calm — if you do get overstressed, go to a dark, quiet, and cool place for a short time. Breathe evenly and think positive thoughts. This one works for me more than anything else.
- Avoid — try to stay away from things that will over-stimulate, like violent and chaotic movies. If you have to go to places where it’s loud, and there are a lot of people, try to go in the least busy part of the day. And, if you are feeling stressed, try not to push too hard.
I realize that many of you have jobs, families, and responsibilities, and I do too. The best advice I can give is to try the best that you can to make life as stress-free as possible.
Don’t take my word for it; try some things yourself. You will figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Being highly sensitive and anxious is not the end of the world. There are many of us out there who deal with this every day and still manage to be productive and happy. It’s possible to have a fulfilling life even if you do suffer at times.
Find out what works for you and make a schedule that will allow you to stay away from situations where you will get overstimulated.
You can do this!