It’s like the chicken or the egg situation. Which came first? The empathy or the anxiety? Is one borne out of the other? Or are they destined to co-exist naturally? If you’re an empath who also suffers from anxiety, it’s likely the two have been waging war on your psyche for residence center-stage since as far back as you can remember, and navigating tragedy, whether it be personal or public, is a chore, to say the least.
On the one hand, as an empath, you can’t help but feel it all. You feel the despair, the gut-wrenching sadness, the fear. You literally take on the energy of those around you. It weighs you down. It’s as if you can almost sense your physical being straining against the current, your body willing itself to move through molasses.
As a sufferer of anxiety, you also have trouble stopping the constant stream of “What if?” What if that were my family or me? My kids? Then come the barrage of scenarios, playing out in your mind on a loop. You or your loved ones, set in some unfamiliar circumstance, going about your day. The only similarity is in each instance, no matter how distinct they are, you or they wind up the victim of some terrible fate. It plagues your thoughts all day. It prevents you from sleeping at night. You constantly imagine the worst because the worst is possible — probable even. I mean, it’s happened to others, so why not you?
On the other hand, you have to find a way to function. To continue pursuing your daily responsibilities and goals. So you try to push these feelings and thoughts to the back of your mind. You try to forget that the real-life horror show has or is happening. You disconnect yourself from reality as much as possible so you can get through one more day, one more hour, one more second with your sanity intact. Medication helps.
You feel guilty about this. It’s as if you don’t care. Except you do. You care deeply. Too deeply. So then you begin to worry that your forced detachment makes you a terrible person. That it means you are deserving of whatever plight you fear may come your way.
You are in a constant battle between your natural tendency to internalize it all and your need to separate yourself from it in order to survive.
When tragedy strikes for the anxiety-ridden empath, it is more than a headline in the news. It is an ocean in which one must struggle not to drown while also maintaining some semblance of humanity. And it can wreak havoc on one’s mental health.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, take heart. You are not alone. I am still learning how to traverse this emotional wreckage myself, but I can offer a few tips for making the journey a bit more manageable.
First and most importantly, remind yourself that it’s OK to both feel all the things and to then push those things to the side. Allow yourself some time to come to terms with your emotions, but don’t allow them to consume you. Don’t feel guilty for packing those emotions up once you’ve had a chance to confront them. Doing so does not make you a horrible person. It makes you human. And if you can’t bear to be near people who are able to wear their hearts on their sleeves openly, or if you can’t bring yourself to join them because you know doing so will crush you, saving those moments for private reflection is OK. Do not fear coming off as heartless or cold. You are anything but, and others’ opinions of how you handle tragedy don’t matter. Not when it comes to your own emotional well-being and mental health.
Next, find an outlet for these emotions. Talking to others is difficult for an empath because we are so conscious of not wanting to unload our baggage onto others or of not wanting to be a burden. But keeping it all bottled up inside is unhealthy, particularly if you also suffer from anxiety. So if you have a trusted confidante or therapist with whom you can share your feelings, do so. And if you don’t, find some other kind of release. Write about it. Sing about it. Draw about it. Meditate about it. Take a walk in nature about it and recenter your soul. Do SOMETHING. Doing nothing is not an option.
Finally, understand that what you have been given — the ability to understand and feel the pain of others — is a gift, even though it often feels like a curse. The world needs people who can imagine walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. So put your gift to good use. Donate to organizations seeking to help those who are hurting. Sign petitions aimed at exacting change. Volunteer for causes that will help heal your soul and assuage your intrustive thoughts, even if those causes are unrelated to the trigger. Doing good for others, and in turn yourself, is never a bad thing, no matter how disconnected from the tragedy at hand they may seem.
Compartmentalizing tragedy when you’re an empath with anxiety is no easy feat. But doing so is necessary for survival. And doing so will help you get back up on your feet so you are able to do right, both by yourself and those around you.
Solidarity, friends. Trust me when I say I know how you feel. Because I feel it, too.