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3 Ways to Protect Yourself As An Anxious Empath

The Mighty logo The Mighty 7/5/2021 Dr. Liz Matheis
a person wearing a suit and tie: photo of a woman with dark hair in a forest, her hair covering her face © The Mighty photo of a woman with dark hair in a forest, her hair covering her face

Anxiety is an incredibly pervasive feeling that impacts every part of our functioning. It impacts our decisions, our thoughts, our feelings, our assessments and, most importantly, our perception of ourselves. Anxious people are some of the most caring and thoughtful people who just want to do right by others. Anxious thoughts are mean. They lie. They tell us things about ourselves that just aren’t true, even when we make decisions that are based on the well-being of others before ourselves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety has peaked and has become overwhelmingly debilitating for people of all ages — small children, pre-teens, teens, young adults, adults and parents. Because most people who are anxious are also empaths — people who feel more empathy than the average person. In fact, empaths are aware of the feelings that are held by the people around you, whether they are friends, family or even strangers.

As a person who is anxious and highly in tune with the emotional states of the people around me, there is often the feeling that there are few emotional boundaries between you and the world. Leaving your home and entering into a store, a social gathering, a carnival or even school can feel incredibly overwhelming and draining.

Within the last 16 months, many of the tweens, teens and young adults that I’ve been working with have absorbed the anxiety and distress that we have been experiencing collectively due to the pandemic. Anxious empaths have not just been absorbing the emotional impact of those directly surrounding them, but also the large-scale anxiety that we as a world have been experiencing.

How Can I Protect Myself?

If you’ve established that you are an anxious empath and don’t want to feel drained all the time, try some of these strategies to protect your energy.


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1. Know thyself.

Until you make the connection that you are an anxious empath, there is a great deal of shame and guilt experienced, and the perception of oneself as weak, incapable or even fragile. Stop blaming yourself as you have a gift that you will learn how to direct in ways that serve you rather than drain you. Identify your triggers, such as a gathering of people greater than a certain number of people. You don’t necessarily need to avoid those situations, but know that they will be difficult and acknowledge that. Understand, acknowledge and respect that this is who you are and this is how you were wired before you even made your debut into this world. Release the pressure. There is nothing “wrong” with you.

2. Learn to differentiate.

I recall years ago that I entered into my son’s school in the evening for a parent-teacher association meeting and as soon as I took my seat, I could feel my heart pounding, my stomach churning and I was beginning to sweat. I couldn’t understand what was happening; my therapist had asked me to try this exercise whenever I recognized a sudden, higher level of anxiety:

Ask yourself:

Is this my anxiety or someone else’s anxiety? Do I feel anxious? Why do I feel anxious? It’s OK to feel anxious but is it yours?

Once I was able to take a minute to process what was happening with my body, I recognized that what I was feeling was not mine, but that I have a gift of picking up other people’s emotions even when they don’t speak them. This is what serves me as a therapist and a mom. It’s my superpower. It’s OK — good, actually. After processing all of these thoughts, I was able to recognize that there must have been somebody or some people who were feeling anxious but that it wasn’t mine. I was then able to take a few deep breaths and focus on the meeting rather than the floating emotions that didn’t belong to me.

3. Decompression time is a must.

Because you have the potential to hold on to so much energy and emotion that’s not yours, after you’ve been around people, understand that you will need time to decompress emotionally and physically. The emotional overwhelm can and will manifest as physical exhaustion, feelings of sadness, a heightened level of anxiety for an unknown reason, a headache, a stomachache, low motivation and a need to sleep.

If you know you are going to a wedding on Saturday night, for example, plan on Sunday being your Netflix day with snacks, a cozy blanket and your PJs. Once again, there is no shame in needing a day away from others in order to recalibrate your emotional gauge.      

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