How to live in the world: tips for the anxious, the introverts, and other sensitive souls

There are a bunch of people over there and they’re going to make me do the  small talk, I just know it…

I am a person who gets easily overwhelmed by the world.

The snap of the shampoo bottle lid is too loud and startles me every time so I have to unscrew the lid which takes forever and spills shampoo everywhere.  Last Thanksgiving I read a book about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and my dismay almost ruined our entire holiday. We have dimmers in every room of our house because anything over 40 watts causes my heart to race. I was recently invited to a pretty cool event – I had to turn it down, mostly because there would be too many people there.

I’m what is known as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) which means that my nervous system processes sensory data more deeply than most other people. I’m also an introvert with an anxiety disorder.  It’s the ultimate awkward trifecta.

And I always thought it was just me who had six fewer layers of skin than everyone else.

But there are actually a bunch of us. We’re just not talking about it.

Being this way in the world has its challenges on the best of days, but in this age of constant exposure to the horrors of wars, terrorism and social injustice – it can be downright brutal. And to be completely honest, I’ve been struggling with this a lot lately. It’s hard to know how to operate in a world with so much suffering.

But I’ve learned a few things that help:

Protect yourself from the media

I’m not saying put your head in a hole and ignore the planet. I’m not even sure how one would do that these days. But you can limit your exposure. You can read articles and watch programs only when you are feeling prepared to deal with it all. And don’t fall down the rabbit hole and get hooked on marinating in the misery. Learn enough to be informed – then stop. The Skimm has revolutionized my life in this way. It lets me know what’s going on in the world in one email every morning. It’s framed in a fun but informative way, and reading it doesn’t make me want to crawl under my couch.

If you’re sad, feel sad

Really shitty things happen in the world. It’s super hard out there. So, feel sad. Don’t pile on extra angst that you shouldn’t be so sensitive and don’t worry that you’ll fall into a doom spiral and you’ll be sad forever. Just feel sad about the sad thing. Actually feel it. Don’t distract yourself and drink/shop/numb it away. Give the sadness your full attention in whatever way feels right.  You can just sit there and cry, or you can write, draw, yell, beat the hell out of a couch cushion. The funny thing about feelings is that if you don’t really deal with them – feel them all the way down to your bones – they never leave. They linger on your shoulders, ready to jump up and get in your face at any moment. We tend to be terrified of our less positive emotions – anger, sadness, loneliness, fear. But they are inevitable and just as much a part of the human experience as joy. They are all part of the package of being a person. Emotions come and go like waves, so we just need to learn how to surf so we don’t drown in them.

Then, bring your focus to the light

After you’ve really acknowledged the pain that comes with life, it tends to dissipate. So, feel the suffering and if you want to engage or donate or go to a rally – do it.  And then resist the urge to dwell endlessly in the tragedy.  Look for the the things that are still lovely. Because we want to be realistic here: life can absolutely be hard, but we also need to cultivate gratitude for the wonderful things. Enjoy the simple moments. Go for a walk with a friend. Volunteer for a cause you love. Cuddle on the couch.

“Think of all the beauty still around you and be happy.” – Anne Frank

This Living in the World thing is not for wimps, I’m still trying to figure it all out. But sometimes it’s just nice to know that this sensitive soul of mine is not alone. There are many of us who feel lost and gutted by the suffering in the world.

And we’ll cry together. But we’ll also get up the next day and bravely show up to love wholeheartedly, stand up for what’s right, and dance in the kitchen.

Because that’s how things get better.

*this post was inspired by a question from a reader. If you have something you would like me to write about, send me an email –


You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook or Twitter

You might also like:

39 Replies to “How to live in the world: tips for the anxious, the introverts, and other sensitive souls”

  1. Can’t decide if I’m genuinely “diagnosable” with any kind of HSP, or if I’ve just let myself become soft. That’s not to downplay anyone (like yourself) whose personality is genuinely HSP. I’m just saying that I don’t know if I am legitimately like that or if I just SOMETIMES worry about things so much that I BECOME highly sensitive.

  2. This is something I really needed to read, especially in these darker days, and it does help to know we’re not alone because it’s from that knowledge that comes strenght! (I hope this makes sense, I’m Italian).
    Thank you, Lisa, I can’t wait for your next book!

  3. Unplugging has really helped me. The news media emphasizes the bad, the cruel, the terror. The old “if it bleeds, it leads”, to the max. Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by people and what they do and say.

  4. Wow — this really hit home describing me. I have used some of your strategies myself. It may be a guy thing but sometimes I need to retreat into my cage. In social gatherings if I can put my back up against a wall it makes me feel a bit more secure. I also try to remind myself that I no longer need to prove anything and that being quiet is ok too. Also found the book: Quiet by Susan Cain quite helpful.

    1. I don’t think it’s a guy thing. I do the same, and I always have to have the seat facing the room – my husband calls it the gunslinger seat! Quiet was a life changing book for me, too.

  5. Lisa, your words are so timely and just what I needed today. Thank you for continuing to share your beautiful gift of writing. You inspire me.

  6. I use my favorite music as a coping mechanism. When really emotional songs come on, I let the feelings take over and the catharsis helps bring relief. I like latter-Beatles albums to cheer me up, and AKUS records to cry my eyes out. Intensely beautiful and heart-rending songs do the trick.

  7. I identify with this 100%!! I am definitely a HSP! I kind of like having a title, ha! I’ve been learning lots about ‘mindfulness’ and thanks to some CBT sessions I am trying to find more of a ‘balance’ with my anxiety and worries. Thanks again for all of your posts on this! 🙂

    1. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a title, isn’t it? Just so you know you are not the only one! So glad you are finding more balance.

  8. good article for everyone,  most people go through all the ups and downs.  so keep shinning, keep smiling, knowing you have good friends out there who know and love you.  you know the song Dionne Warwick sang it listen to it everyday.  xxxxxx

  9. Oh, thank you. I write often about how I’m a “porous” person which sounds similar to what you’re describing. I’ve chosen for years now not to read the news on a regular basis (I read twitter and whatever gets through that screen is enough for me) and it’s been a good choice. I’m glad to have found your writing. ox

  10. I’m definitely going to have to check out this Skimmer deal. I’ve had to block people from my facebook who feel like posting a political video/meme/gripe every 18 seconds and I’ve almost completely quit watching the news because it makes me almost instantly depressed (although I did see a great article today about the CA highway patrol on a pursuit of a Chihuahua. That one was great).
    I have to constantly remind myself there’s a ton of good in the world and I have so much to be grateful for. For me, I get easily flustered with change or big decisions. My husband was offered a job out of state, and I was offered one where we are now. This has been extremely stressful and can make me feel overwhelmed, but I have to remind myself to be grateful that job offers are coming in.
    Thanks for the post. I always enjoy reading them.

  11. It comes and goes, my despair with the way our society has become a complaint ridden social wasted land. so much interconnectivity yet were killing ourselves. I try not to stay there too long and reach out when I can. its nice out there… sometimes. Thanks

  12. Just what I needed. My Anxiety/panic/OCD disorder has been in full swing these past 6 months leaving me dreading the morning wake up. But I push myself everyday to get up and keep going for my family. xx

  13. I, too, am an introverted HSP with anxiety disorders. You inspire me, and I can’t wait to read your book!
    (P.S.- Matilda was always my favorite movie growing up. I never got sick of watching it!)

  14. It’s so nice to know I’m not alone! HSP UNITE!! …but quietly please… And no need for small talk 😊 Ha!

  15. I love this! I’ve been trying recently to allow myself to feel how I feel and not to get caught up in telling myself how I’m being silly or overreacting, it’s a much better way to live. I like how you say there’s room for both – to be sad and then to be positive. For some reason, I always thought I had to pick one!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s