Is it Anxiety or Overload?

July 04, 2019

Working with many patients who present with the High Sensitivity Person Trait, I come across many individuals who think they have anxiety. So, how does someone know if anxiety is the actual problem or not? What does the High Sensitivity Trait have to do with this?

First, let me describe the High Sensitivity Trait so we have a frame of reference. One fifth of all humans have this trait. The trait endows these individuals with five characteristics. The first two characteristics are that they are very perceptive and have high sensorial acuity, which results in sensing and “getting” more out of what is happening in the environment. This also results in more body awareness.

High Sensitivity Individuals also have a capacity for deep processing thoughts and perceptions. The fourth trait is that they have more intense emotions than the average individual, including both negative and positive emotions. They are very observant and process situations figuring out the many possible outcomes.

High sensitivity individuals tend to have a limit to their tolerance for highly stimulating environments. They are not necessarily shy but sometimes they need to take a step back in crowded places, or rowdy parties, due to getting overloaded with stimulation and their capacity to empathize and “get” others. They sense danger before others, because they have a keen sense of how things turn out. Occasionally, they get overwhelmed or overloaded if they don’t take a break from stimuli.

Many High Sensitivity people misunderstand their feelings of being overwhelmed by stimulation, with having anxiety. So… what is the difference?

Anxiety is generally a fear-related response. The individual becomes afraid that something might happen, and responds to the situation with fear, avoidance or changes in their behaviour. Symptoms include frequent worry, feelings of restlessness, and physical symptoms, such as changes in heart rate, sweating, and tension.

Most individuals do not like to feel overwhelmed, and most individuals do not like feeling fear, either from a real situation or from an imagined projection. It is possible that a High Sensitivity individual might be anxious of becoming overwhelmed, but in general, this is not the case. For individuals with the High Sensitivity trait, taking a break from the stimulus allows them to go back to baseline and feel tranquil again. This is a simple process.

The good news is that as soon as High Sensitivity individuals do not feel overwhelmed by the specific stimulus any more, they can go back to the situation and continue having fun or doing whatever they were doing.

On the other hand, treatment for anxiety takes more effort than just going into a room and having some quiet time. For people that suffer from anxiety, going back to the environment that caused the fear response is more complicated, because of a fear loop.

The good news is that there are many different ways to address the discomfort a person with anxiety feels, including psychotherapy, counselling, herbs, diet, exercise, and other means. I hope this helps address these two different concerns.

If you think you may be needing some help distinguishing between these two different situations, both Lauren and I offer free Meet and Greet appointments where we can discuss options for solving your concerns positively.

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

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