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Depression and the Highly Sensitive Person

Reading time | 4 mins

Have you ever noticed that you are more affected by people’s energy, mood, or emotions than others seem to be? Do different environments change how you feel or increase your stress levels the instant you walk into them? Can you sense what someone else is feeling or thinking without talking to them? If so, you may be a highly sensitive person (HSP) or an empath.

Just about everyone has some level of empathy that allows them to feel or relate to someone else’s pain, struggle, or situation. An empath is generally someone who can put themselves into another person’s shoes and feel what they feel, as if they were experiencing the same thing.

Being emotionally open in this way can be a gift, but it also has its drawbacks. As an empath, I am very attuned to other people’s needs and can connect with them easily. I can gauge the energy of a room before entering it. I am perceptive to when someone isn’t being honest or upfront with me. I’m grateful to have these skills, but the downside is that I also feel everything all of the time. Whether it is my own emotional turmoil or someone else’s, a lot is going on often inside of my head.

Being an empath who is also living with depression can be quite overwhelming. While I’m grateful for my abilities of perception, being an empath is like having my feelings — all of them — dialed up to a thousand every day. Sometimes other people’s emotions can get jumbled up with my own if I’m not careful about separating the two. Learning how to create boundaries is important, and helps me find balance in managing my depression and my heightened sense of empathy.

Setting healthy boundaries

It doesn’t take much to get me upset, so I have to monitor the information that I take in. For example, I can’t watch anything violent happening to people or animals without it bothering me for days. I literally feel the pain of what that person or animal endured, and it will throw me even deeper into a depressive episode. Watching the news is something I rarely do because it’s mostly unpleasant and leaves me feeling drained.

My family has a big effect on how much or how deeply I feel things. I feel their pain, discomfort, sadness, anxieties, joys, excitements, and worries with the same intensity as if they were my own. I can sense if my husband is tired or stressed hours before he gets home from work. He has a difficult job as a sergeant in the police department, so that happens often. My daughter is also an empath, and we find ourselves having the same experiences all of the time. I could wake up in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack not knowing that the same thing is happening to her in the other room. We ride the same tidal waves of emotions almost daily.

My tips for managing depression as an empath

When I began to recognize that what I was experiencing was a heightened sense of empathy, it finally made sense to me why I was always called “sensitive.” It’s not that I am fragile, but rather I was given the gift to connect with the world on another level.

What I’ve also realized is that being an HSP or an empath can make everything seem bigger, louder, and scarier. For those of us battling depression and the negative feelings and thought patterns associated with it, all of that external noise and those heightened emotions can make it even more challenging.

It’s a process and I’m figuring it all out, but over the years I found these methods very helpful when trying to sort out which emotions are mine during a depressive episode.

Journaling

The act of writing helps me release any negative emotions and work through what is really bothering me at the moment. When I write things down, I can often pinpoint the root of the issue and identify if an event triggered something, or whether I am picking up on someone else’s emotions.

Brain games

If I begin to feel overwhelmed by energy around me or the “noise” in my head is getting too loud, I do crossword puzzles. Focusing on these word puzzles helps to center myself and quiet the chatter surrounding me.

Talk it out

Having a conversation with a close friend when things get to be overwhelming helps to put things back into perspective. Being on the receiving end of unsolicited emotions and energy can be draining, and it feels good to decompress and explain it to someone who understands.

Creature comforts

Spending quality time with my “fur babies” always helps me relax. Whether it’s going for a walk or snuggling together on the couch, the companionship and unconditional love I get from my dogs offers a sense of security when things get to be a bit too much.

The takeaway

In my journey to manage my mental health I’ve found that, in addition to working closely with my doctor and following my treatment plan, it’s important to develop healthy boundaries and coping skills. Finding ways to reflect and better understand how depression affects me as an empath has helped me to decipher what’s internal versus external — what I’m actually feeling and what I’m just picking up from others around me.

 For more information on how to manage Depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

Article Sources:

DEPR-US-NP-00065 2019