Personal: Anxiety & HSP - My struggles

A rather personal post today. But it is about something that has been and still is affecting me on a day-to-day basis: Anxiety. Not just anxiety, I am also a highly sensitive person (HSP), which means I struggle with feeling overwhelmed. These two things are often mixed up, but for me personally I feel they go hand in hand. Due to being highly sensitive I tend to make myself anxious, which results in panic attacks and feeling disappointed in myself. Being highly sensitive isn't really a 'diagnosis' as such and you cannot really cure it, either. Of course there are strategies and techniques to try and make life easier, but if, like me, you have a real-life job and face real-life challenges and people daily; it is pretty much inevitable to have moments of anxiety.

I find it really hard to explain how anxiety and being highly sensitive affect me. But I will try. I would describe myself as an introvert, but not to the point that I would say I don't enjoy the company of people - I absolutely do and I definitely have extroverted traits. I love a good conversation and I do not enjoy being alone all the time. I also very oddly see myself as a leader in group situations - I like to take initiative and I like taking matters into my own hands.

On the other hand, I do prefer social interactions in either smaller groups of people I know or in an environment I am familar with. If I have to interact with many people I don't know for a long time, it drains me. I detest smalltalk. I choose a day in bed over a birthday party of an acquaintance. Generally, it is difficult for me to have people move from the status of acquaintances to friends.

Being an HSP, I do not cope well with having people being demanding at me non-stop. I hate busy environments that I am not in charge of and any critique made on anything I do I take personally. This is probably my biggest problem. Rationally, I want to be critiqued because I know it helps to improve and I do strive for improvement - but I cannot help myself but overthink and overinterpret. I always assume everything is aimed at me as an individual and I feel disappointed in myself for not living up to people's standards. I get nervous and often want to cry on the spot. This is a character trait about myself I really hate. If I can't step out of the situation this if often where anxiety takes over.

On Thursday something like this happened to me. Like I said - I have a real job, I do real stuff and I work with real people. I was asked to come on a busy business trip to help promote something to people. Many, many people.
I didn't say yes to this right away because my instinct knew that this was going to be something I wouldn't be comfortable with. But I also knew that it is part of life and having a job to have to do things you don't want to particulary do. I somehow managed to negotiate a task for myself I felt okay with (photography) and I agreed to come. I mean. I do photography all the time. I am good at this. I can do this, surely?....

From then on, everything went downhill. 

As predicted, I was uncomfortable in the situation anyways. I was with a lot of people on very limited space and there wasn't a way of me getting away. 24/7 of being with people. I am a pretty private person. I like my own space. Sharing a room is quite difficult for me.

But I could manage until I was suddenly given a bunch of tasks I did not agree to take over prior (Including approaching strangers, initiating interesting conversations etc). But being flexible is part of adult life, too. Things got busier and I had to talk to a lot of people. A lot of people. I am talking hundreds here. Questioning me. Taking photos of me. And it was loud, so very loud. Every few minutes I was critizised for what I was doing. Not in a mean way. In a constructive way. It was very reasonable because I really wasn't very good at those new task I was given - they included smalltalk and being very social.

As the day went on a I felt more and more drained and also developed a fever. I do believe the body shows physical signs when you are mentally stressed...

One thing led to the other. I got to a point where I couldn't handle it anymore. I had been talking to people for over ten hours and I was very anxious already. My head was pounding from the loud (terrible) music, it was hot, the air was full of smoke.. people were drinking and being loud and obnoxious.
Then someone made a mean comment towards me. I think anyone else would have just brushed it off because it came from soneone really irrelevant, but it hit me right in the chest and that's where my business trip pretty much started to end.

I went into a full-blown panic attack right there and then. I managed to get away before everyone saw me but I could not calm myself down for half an hour. I rebooked my flight and went home early. I told my boss that I was feeling ill. Which was very true, but the main reason for my premature return was feeling like a failure and being certain that I just couldn't do this. I just couldn't. I am not made for this.

It is probably good I tried, anyway. At least that is what I am telling myself.. But it really brought me down. I haven't had a major incident like this in a while, probably over 10 months.

I also have no idea what happens next. Things like this will come up all the time. Can I just decline joining for events like this in the future? Am I going to lose my job because of my anxiety? At this point I don't know. Because they didn't do anything wrong, really. Everyone else was fine. The things asked were all fine. I just wasn't fine. Because I take everything to heart. I stress myself out. I overobsess about other people's opinions about me. I see things in people's expressions and gestures that probably aren't there.

Now I am back home. I feel a lot better. At the same time deeply disappointed and fearful of what I will have to face Monday.

Would I change myself if I could? I don't think so. As much as I do think it is a burden, I also see it as a gift. Feeling so intensely has advantages, too, even if they're outweighed by social inconveniences.

Have you had any experiences with anxiety or HSP? Do let me know.

- Jen.


  1. I suffer from anxiety, but this is the first time I've heard of HSP - it definitely does make a lot of sense.

    I'd say that I can relate to you a lot in the fact that I can and do find myself getting very anxious in social situations, when worrying about things and so on. Yet I will usually end up being the leader in team situations (the biggest example of this would be that I've been appointed as manager of my own band at the moment) so I'll end up leading practices and doing all the discussions with promoters whilst feeling completely comfortable.

    I'm really sorry to hear about your business trip, it must have been really difficult; especially being away from the people you're probably calmest around.
    When I'm with my band mates, I'm probably one of the loudest and most outspoken people in the group - but as soon as we are introduced to someone new, or we come into contact with an acquaintance or somebody outside our 'bubble' it gets really hard for me to communicate or even think rationally. It's even worse when I have to speak to people or go somewhere alone, or if our vocalist isn't there - she's probably my 'anchor' and one of the people I feel least anxious around. Without her or the others there, I'll often find myself in a blur and a state of panic much how you described - sounds and the images around me will kind of all fuse together and it'll just make everything really scary; sometimes I even find it hard to understand or take in what people are saying.

    It makes me really happy that you've decided to talk about issues such as this online (not happy that they've happened to you of course): it's quite reassuring to have somebody to relate to. I hardly ever see anxiety taken seriously online - so it's great to see that there's somebody out there willing to share their story :)

  2. Dear Jen - liebe Jennifer :-)

    As I read your post about high sensitivity some kind of feeling comfortable was getting stronger and stronger - even though your post is about anxiety - but not because I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) as well...

    I will resolve this riddle immediately - after reading your post I clicked on your "About" page and read that you are German :-))) Then I really had to grin because in 4-5 sentences some "German slang" came through which I could not identify properly... Nun - dann dir auch herzlich Willkommen in der Welt der Hochsensiblen - a warm welcome to the world of High Sensitivity :-)

    You do not know how often I asked myself whether all things I am doing are the right things I do - because: always when running into overstimulation and you don't know being highly sensitive you are immediately - or most of the people - doubting on yourself and driving down a downward spiral...

    Even knowing being an HSP makes it sometimes hard to love yourself - today is such a day where I just lay on my couch and trying not to blame on myself. I had so much to do this week and I did all things well - but breaks for HSP are more necessary than for everybody else.

    Dear Jen - I am so glad that more and more highly sensitive people are coming out of their snail shell (haha, was für ein lustiges Wort) and being what they are: wonderful, honest, conscientious and empathic persons. This is so wonderful - but for some times also very exhausting - because we often absorb everything around us. Boon and bane at one time...

    Anyway - here my little 24/7-story:
    Last year I moved to a new flat and I invited all my friends on one day to me. As I am an extrovert HSP and loving people and conversations I have quite a lot of friends, colleagues, relatives, ... At the very end more than 70 people visited me on that day. How an HSP can manage that? The good thing was that I knew at this point in time that I am highly sensitive and I had the following strategy to come through the day healthily:
    Every hour - independently whether I have to go to the toilet or not - I went into my bathroom, shut the door and be for 5 silent minutes in this little nice bathroom. Concentrating on my own self and breathing deep in and out. It was so relieving being alone when so many people are around you.
    And what I should say? The day went well and every time I went out of the bathroom I was fresh in mind again... This was so cool because HSPs still doubt on being HSP from time to time - this is so weird, but that's how it is :-) And so - from day to day - from week to week - I feel that live is getting better for me because I am more aware to my real needs. BUT: this doesn't hinder you from overstimulation in further stages :-( As for me today...

    Anyway I have learned not to condemn myself for that - I have such a body which absorbs a lot of stimuli from outside and so I also need more downtime. Tasks and other things have to be shifted - as a consequence for my own needs and protection.

    Enough writing for today - if you like to visit me in my living room - I invite you to my own blog:

    For non-German speakers I even have a post written for translation (not perfect, but the contents should be clear ;-) ):

    Ganz liebe Grüße nach London aus der Heidelberger Gegend,

  3. Hope everything will be fine Jen.
    I truly understand everything you mentioned above, as I suffer from social anxiety. It's awful that some people see it as some sort of "nonsense".
    All the best and thank you for sharing such a personal issue. It's so brave of you. You really inspire me and you are my hero. All the best, Jen.

  4. there is a really interesting (german) website about the topic "angst"

    I saw it today and then i read your article. There are many more people out there that struggle with panic attacks as well. Maybe it helpd you to know about their experients.


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