The HSP World Podcast Ep. 37: How Can You Tell What Your Anxiety Level Is?

Hi and welcome to the HSP World podcast, a place and space for Highly Sensitives. With each episode, we have a conversation about an interesting HSP-related topic. We’re holding space with you because HSPs only makeup 15 to 20% of the population. So most of the time HSPs are surrounded by non-HSPs and HSP only convos are a bit different than non-HSP convos. We feel it’s important for HSPs to hear the difference. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you.

Now we’ve been on a break but we’re getting back to our bi-monthly podcast schedule. So thank you for your patience and support. I’m one of your co-hosts Rayne and as you may or may not know I’m an HSP HSS introvert and I’m happy to introduce you to our two new co-hosts, Tonya and Britta.

Tonya is an HSP introvert. Hey, Tonya.

Tonya: Hello, thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

Rayne: Really happy to have you. And Britta is an HSP extrovert and mother. Hi Britta.

Britta: Hi, ladies. So excited to be here with you.

Rayne: Awesome. Now, we chose this topic today because HSPs have a highly tuned nervous system. So oftentimes when we’re overstimulated, our anxiety levels go up. So today, we wanted to talk about how can you tell what your anxiety level is? So I guess we’ll just jump into it. Britta do you want to, do you want to start and tell us how can you tell when, when your anxiety levels are going up?

Britta: Um, well, I guess I can tell by by a couple of different things. And it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s like this build up inside of my body. And sometimes in the beginning, I don’t even really notice what’s going on. Um, that I just get, like, restless. It starts most of the times with being restless or getting headaches more often. Or if it goes, if it goes, if it gets worse, I get palpitations or I can’t sleep at night or and these are all like the signs before the actual anxiety sets in and breaks through for me and real panic attacks.

Rayne: Will you actually get, you’ll get a panic attack?

Britta: Yeah, if I if it gets to that level, I really get a serious panic attack. So like, the hyperventilation and everything and the cold sweats feeling of your hands going all sweaty, but you’re cold and feeling this tingly kind of feeling inside in your limbs and in your body, or the feeling that you’re going to pass out. That’s that’s the whole extreme. That’s at the extreme of the spectrum. But there’s a whole journey that builds up to that point for me, in my experience.

Rayne: Okay, okay. Wow. Okay. How about, um, how about you, Tonya?

Tonya: For me the physical signs are loss of appetite right away. As soon as I start to feel stressed, I cannot eat anything. I keep-physically, I keep all of my stress in my digestive system. And so that’s how I know right away. That’s usually when I’m going through something that’s a little bit more extreme, like a personal loss or, you know, something that I consider highly stressful on that level. Otherwise, I would say I experience and I say, I don’t say I have anxiety, I say I, I experience anxiousness or I’m having an anxious moment. Right?

And that’s, that’s the way I separate that for myself and that’s something that I’ve learned through my yoga practice. But emotionally and and mentally I have anxiousness through confusion or an inability to concentrate on things. I’m kind of bouncing around from different ideas, and I feel kind of lost and confused and don’t know what to do, where to go next. And so that’s how I experience it emotionally. Also, depending on the situation, I can get quite snappy. So I’m very, very reactive, as opposed to responding to a situation.

So if I’m feeling anxious about something. And my husband is the person that I’m around the most right? So I’ll kind of get snappy with him. And then his reaction to that, he’s a very calm, patient person, and so he’ll call me out on it. And then I’ll kind of flip the switch for me to say, ‘Oh, what is what is causing, what is causing me to react this way?’ And so by that way, I can kind of take a pause and start to reflect and understand the root of what’s causing me to have this reaction.

Rayne: Nice. That’s really nice you have that that relationship that, that your husband can basically not take it personally, but say hey, something’s going on with you, you need to check you.

Tonya: Yes. And that, that’s his, that’s his personality. So I’m very, I’m very fortunate that that I was drawn to a partner like that. And that had a lot to do with my my personal history as well, how I grew up and everything kind of gravitating towards somebody who was the opposite of how I grew up. And so he has a very calming presence. And yes, I feel very, very fortunate.

Rayne: Wow, that’s awesome. I’d have to say, for me, I was thinking about this when I’m feeling anxious or having anxious, an anxious moments, sweating, sweating. I’ll sweat more, I’ll notice that under under my arms, I’ll start sweating more. I’ll, I’ll start breathing rapidly and shallow. So just automatically, I’ll just start breathing like, yeah, breathing rapidly and shallow. Same as you Britta, with the feeling restless, feeling restless, or tense.

That one’s a little bit trickier for me, though, because of the HSS, the high sensation seeking. So I have to differentiate whether this is I’m bored. And this is part of the HSS or I’m feeling anxious, and this is, you know, part of the feeling anxious piece, right? So I’ll have trouble sleeping too. It’ll mostly be, I’ll just wake up, you know, just, I’ll wake up out of a sleep and it’ll be seem like for no reason. I won’t have to go to the washroom or anything I’ll just wake up kind of thing.

Tonya: And then you have trouble going back to sleep?

Rayne: No, actually, I won’t have trouble going back to sleep at all. It’s just the waking up for no reason kind of thing. So because normally I’ll just sleep all the way through. No problem. That’s that. So that’s a sign for me that I’m feeling anxious about something is if I’m waking up during the night.

Britta: I recognize that. Yeah, waking up, you can go back to sleep quite quickly. But still you wake up several times during the night.

Rayne: Yeah. Yeah. And just and, and then of course, that can make me feel snappy, you know, because it’s like, then I wake up when I wake up, I don’t feel… I feel tired. Like, I don’t feel like I had a really good night’s sleep that night. And it’s probably because I was coming in and out of the different REM, REM states kind of thing. Whereas if, if it’s… if I’m not waking up, it’s, it’s a good solid, you know, nice amount of…

Britta: I’m also wondering do you dream? I noticed now that we’re talking about is that I, I have very vivid dreams when I feel more tense when I’m more anxious.

Rayne: Do you?

Britta: Yeah.

Rayne: Yeah, you have more dreams. What about, what about you, Tonya?

Tonya: I always have vivid dreams. Almost almost always. I don’t necessarily know I never really thought about tying it to having anxious episodes. But I almost always have vivid dreams. I feel like it’s whether or not how, how well I remember them the next day? But yeah, I can I can almost always remember some sort, some part of my dream and we dream every night, right? It’s just a matter of how much we remember. And so maybe that has to do with kind of what like you were saying Rayne for you Britta, the um, kind of what level your your sleep is at. Right? So maybe if you’re feeling more anxious you’re, you’re not sleeping as heavily. And so you’re remembering your dreams as opposed to having a deeper sleep where you may not remember.

Rayne: Yeah, for me, um, I don’t know, I just I dream vividly. And I dream a lot. And I always remember them. Whether I’m having, whether I’m having, you know, I can’t. I’m not really sure that… um, yeah, maybe, yeah actually, you know what, Britta, I think you might have-be on to something there. Maybe I do dream more when I’m when I’m feeling more anxious. Yeah, I think that might, for me, there might be a tie-in to that. Yeah, interesting.

And the other thing I can do is, if I’m feeling anxious is worrying or thinking the same thoughts over and over. So it’s like circular, so I’ll be like, oh, you know, I have to remember to pick up whatever, you know, might be grapefruits or something. And then I’ll and then I’ll think in my mind, yeah, you need to write that down on your list so you don’t forget to get it. Yeah. Okay. And then five minutes later, did you write that down on the list?

So it just kind of goes, goes around. But you know, it’s interesting because, it it’s interesting that you were talking about this Britta when you were saying how yours goes on a continuum, and that if it gets too, if your anxiety levels go on for too long, and get too intense, it can turn into a panic attack for you, right?

And that was interesting to me. Because if my anxiety levels is high, then I’m kind of doing all of the ones I mentioned. And that’s when I can tell ‘Oh, okay, your anxiety levels are, they’re really high right now.’ Because I’m noticing okay, I’m sweating and breathing shallow, I’m feeling restless or tense, I’m having trouble sleeping. So that’s when I’m like, okay, you know, I know, my anxiety level has gotten quite high. And I’m going to have to do something if if all of those things. And then if my anxiety level is like medium, then I’m just doing some of them, you know, and if it’s low, then it’s either none of them or maybe one of them to a very small degree. So I don’t know if you guys have noticed that for you have you-you know, because it’s, it’s the symptoms, but it’s also the level, you know?

Britta: Tonya, if you want to say something?

Tonya: I used to have a lot of anxiety. So I used to call my, I used to tell him, I used to say I have anxiety, I have panic attacks, and all of that kind of stuff. It’s taken, I’ve been on a journey, right? Through my yoga practice, and also through my relationship with my husband, as well. So before the past ten years or so, I was always tense, always tense, always anxious, really, always on edge. And so I don’t know if I ever really left that space to where it would build up.

You know, I was just kind of always at that level, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so so to speak. You know, so now I’ve been able to kind of tailor my life to where I can-when I start to-I notice quite early, right? When I’m starting to feel anxious or overwhelmed. And it’s really a process of really identifying the stressful thoughts that cause the agitation for me, and really knowing when I’m in that space as soon as possible. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen because it absolutely still happens.

But now I recognize it earlier and I can ask myself, ‘Okay, what’s causing me to feel this way?’ Was it something, and especially this is a really big question for me, growing up with a lot of childhood trauma, is that-‘Am I feeling anxious about something that has just happened? Or am I being triggered by some sort of past hurt or experience that’s coming up that this is that I’m recognizing?’ Right?

So I drop a lot of stuff. For example, I’m very clumsy. And so, every time I used to drop something in the kitchen, I would get super anxious and upset and get angry with myself. So I thought I was just getting angry with myself because I was dropping, you know, that eggplant on the floor, right? But no, now I know that I’m triggered by something that happened when I was a kid where I used to get yelled at all the time for dropping things. So it’s really kind of knowing the difference between the two for me.

Rayne: Good for you, that you’re…

Tonya: And knowing that space. So, as I said, I’ve been on a journey. And especially, especially as an HSP. And not really knowing, right, as a kid, that just knowing that you’re sensitive, but not knowing that it’s something that other people experience. And so now, now, knowing that I’m not just an HSP, but that’s just part of who I am. And it’s part of how I respond to situations, having that knowledge as well has been really important, you know, to, the changes that I’ve made.

Rayne: That’s awesome. How about you, Britta?

Britta: Yeah, I feel, I feel a bit the same way. I feel like we’re all on this journey of becoming more aware of how being Highly Sensitive affects us and also affects our sense of angst, anxiety and anxiousness in general. And it has been a journey in learning how to deal with it. I think it will always be a part of me, and something that I will always have to keep in the back of my mind that I am more prone to stress levels and what stress does with my body and how I, how I react to it.

I recognize when, when Tonya was talking about becoming snappy, I see that too. Mostly towards my kids, when I’m like in my head and thinking about a lot of things then. And they come up to me and like ‘Mom, Mom, can I have this or that…’ and then I will react more snappy to them. And I realize that sometimes and it’s, it’s just awareness that okay, what’s going on within, within me, within my head that I’m acting towards my kids this way? Because I love my kids, why would I react to them this way.

And it’s this awareness that there really is is a big part of the journey, I feel that Tonya was talking about that, that you start with, like feeling anxiety, and then you in the beginning, you don’t know what’s happening. And you’re like, just going with it.

But as you grow, and as you get older, and you discover more about yourself, it becomes more and more clear where it’s coming from maybe and also how you can just cope with it. Which has made a huge difference, it will never completely go away. And I don’t think it will be-that’s not really realistic. But it’s it’s just a way of handling it that that makes a huge difference in my experience.

Tonya: And not being and not being afraid to, to look inward, right? And to see what’s causing it and to see within yourself, on a deeper level, the root of it, right? So yeah, and for me for a long time, for decades I didn’t want to look at it. I didn’t want to face all those things that happened to me as a kid. And so I was just reacting, reacting.

It was only until I was able to get to the point where I could start to really deal with all the stuff that happened growing up to say, ‘Okay, I’m, I’m yelling at my husband because-not because he, you know, didn’t do the laundry. I’m yelling at my husband because, you know, my mom yelled at me blah blah, blah.’ And so before long, you know, and it takes it takes a lot of work to be able to look at that stuff. So and it does come with, comes with age, and practice and all of that too. So for sure.

Rayne: Yeah, I can’t honestly I sort of feel like if-I don’t know, I feel like um, you know, same thing, the background, you know, my, I have the same background as you’re talking about Tonya. But I also feel like, you know, like, even in school and stuff like that things weren’t you know, it wasn’t… feelings weren’t brought up very much, like how people were feeling, how are you feeling? You know, like it wasn’t, you know, it was either, you know, you’re either happy or sad, it wasn’t, there wasn’t all these different, you know, the whole beautiful, amazing, you know, a wide continuum of feelings we have to choose from.

So it’s, um, I sort of feel like, you know, it’d be interesting if we moved more in that direction in terms of, you know, there is no good or bad feelings, the way you’re feeling is fine. Feelings are transient, they change, you know, if I’m feeling you know, and, and I think that’s, for me, that’s where it’s been, it’s been really good knowing that, you know, discovering I’ve got the Trait.

Discovering, okay, well, your nervous system is highly developed. That’s why so that makes sense. So you’re picking up on a lot more, which means you depending on what’s going on, you can be overstimulated, which will increase your anxiety, so that’s fine. So, so what does anxiety… then it was like, okay, so what does anxiety feel like for me? What are the different, you know, different ways I experience it? Because once I can recognize those things, you know, and not just kind of brush them off, because before, you know, before, you know, finding out I had the HSP Trait I thought if I was shallow breathing, I never thought about shallow breathing. I never even thought about it, I never even thought that it’s uh, you know, it’s like a stress response, basically, right?

Tonya: It is. 100% It is.

Rayne: Yeah, and so you know, or, or try having trouble sleeping or feeling tired or sweating or worrying, you know, you know, those kinds of things? Never or sometimes. Have you ever done this? Where you don’t realize you’re overstimulated, or you’re feeling anxiety, unless you’re talking to someone and then all of a sudden you just start zoning out and they’re talking away and you’re you’re really about 25% there, and you’re catching you’re catching what they’re saying, but you’re not really present. You know? You’re not really there.

Britta: I recognize that I’ve been yeah, guilty sometimes. Yeah, it just like it feels sometimes like it can take over, you know, it’s that your thoughts are taking over your headspace and there’s no room for anything else to focus on.

Rayne: Yeah.

Britta: Yeah.

Tonya: I think that’s part of it too, though, Rayne. I like what you were saying about feeling what you feel right? And in school and even at home, right? If you’re not, quote, happy, right? If you’re feeling sad, or you’re feeling angry, there’s something wrong with you. What’s wrong with you? Why are you feeling that way? You shouldn’t feel that way.

And so yeah, just being able to sit with whatever you’re feeling, I think can really, you know, reduce that anxiety because it’s almost like denying. I, I feel really angry about this, but I shouldn’t be feeling angry, or I shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. And so I feel like that also can, at least for me, can really increase any sort of anxiety overwhelm that I’m feeling about something. It’s like, no, it’s okay to feel upset. It’s okay to feel angry. And then once you can kind of sit with that, I feel like that’s a, that’s a huge game changer to know that yes, we are humans and especially as HSPs we run the whole spectrum of emotions and sometimes within five minutes or less.

Britta: That’s so true. I think allowing yourself to have those feelings not that you… I don’t, I don’t want to highlight that it’s not good to stay paralyzed by them or that you get to stay stuck in those feelings but just realizing that they they are there and they’re a part of you in that moment. There’s nothing wrong with that and I do recognize what you both are saying about having those experiences being a child and, and for me, for example, it was when I used to cry as a child. That was something that was like, no crying, stop crying. No, no crying aloud. Why are you crying? There’s no reason, right? Yeah. And I was like, and I know, I still do that sometimes when I feel like uh oh, I’m gonna cry. Oh, it’s coming. Oh, yeah. It just it just comes and I can’t, I can’t. I can’t keep it in and I don’t want to anymore anyway, so I’m a crier.

Tonya: Me too. Me too girl, we’ll cry together.

Britta: Oh, yeah. So it’s just my reaction. I can cry when I’m angry. I can, I can cry when I’m sad. I can. I can cry when I’m happy. I can cry when I’m anxious. It’s just the way I deal with my emotions.

Tonya: And crying is a stress reliever. Exactly. It is. It is specifically a stress reliever.

Britta: So yeah, exactly. So more of that.

Tonya: Yes. It makes other people uncomfortable, right? It makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But that’s also a part of embracing who we are. And especially as HSPs is that it’s okay, if you’re uncomfortable that I’m sensitive. Yeah, you can, you can be uncomfortable with it. But you need to respect it. You need to respect that this is how I am. And you don’t have to understand it, you can be uncomfortable.

Britta: You can join me if you want.

Tonya: Yeah, you can.And you know when I think sometimes, you know you want to!

Britta: Let’s just share a good cry.

Rayne: That’s actually a really good point. Yeah. Crying, crying as a as a symptom of feeling anxious or feeling anxiousness in the moment. Yeah, that’s a really, that’s a good one.

Is there any, are there any other things you guys can think of? Like, any other ways you can you can tell what your what your anxiety level is?

Tonya: The only thing I would say is that based on, like building on what Britta was saying before about having it hold us back, I think it’s also important for us to recognize that all anxiety isn’t a bad thing. Right? So we can be nervous before we have to give, you know, a speech in front of people or nervous before we’re going to start recording a podcast, or like before a first date or first day of school or something. But be able to recognize that sort of nervousness or anxiety-what I’ll call like the belly butterflies…

Britta: There isn’t even anxiety in that because I think people call that excitement. And now it’s like, yeah, it feels the same way. Or it can feel the same way.

Tonya: Yeah, I mean, I yeah, excitement for sure. I don’t, sometimes people don’t necessarily… I for me, I would say excitement is something that I’m excited about doing that I’m looking forward to as opposed to something I’m nervous about that I kind of feel like I have to do, where people might tie the word anxiety to that.

But yeah, I just wanted to make sure that we, that we talked about that not all nervousness or excitement or anxiety is bad. It’s just when it starts to interfere with our daily lives and relationships, especially right because really, our lives are made up of relationships. And when it holds us back, it holds us back from doing things that we care about, or new things that we want to try that that’s when we really need to start to look closer at the root of what it is and that it may not always be what we think it is.

Rayne: Yeah, yeah, I agree. I agree. Well, and it seems to be fairly common that HSPs get diagnosed by their doctors or whatever, with anxiety and depression. And it’s probably in times in the HSPs life that are highly stressful times because they’re going to the doctor, so this is what they’re getting.

So and so, you know, mental health is such a huge, huge part and parcel of something um, that it’s really beneficial to look after. For me as an HSP its just something that yeah, it’s a big deal. So and, and feeling anxious or having anxiety feeling those moments that can affect my mental health because I can feel like oh, you know what, like, you know, I’m feeling tired and I’m feeling snappy. I know my anxiety levels are high kind of thing, right? And it’s like, okay, so this is your mental health. This is important. This is something you need to, you need to address kind of thing, right where I think before I knew I had the HSP Trait I just looked, I mean, it was all non-HSPs around me, and it was so everybody’s just barreling along. You know? And not, not affected kind of thing. So…

Britta: Or so it seems because people are very good at covering up their true feelings.

Tonya: But are they? Right? Because those feelings end up coming out in unhealthy ways.

Rayne: Good point.Okay, thank you Tonya and Britta for sharing your experiences and thank you to our Highly Sensitive listeners for sharing your time and space today. Feel free to join us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. And if you’d like to have a conversation with us please email your topic to [email protected] and we’ll be in touch, and if you enjoy our podcast you can support us by making a donation at www.hsp.world.

Join us for our next podcast where we discuss “What are some strategies you use to decrease your anxiety?

Music credit: Journey Starts From One Step – Musik av Gvidon

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