To be an empath means you easily adapt to the feelings and emotions of those around you: family, friends, colleagues and even a stranger. It can be a beautiful trait, but as I’ve learned, it comes with its caveats too.
Until I started therapy for my work stress and panic attacks, I never considered myself an empath. In fact, I never really gave the word a second thought. But after a couple sessions with my therapist and trying to get to the bottom of why I’d suffered my third panic attack in one month, she asked, “Has anyone ever told you you’re an empath? Or have you ever considered you’re an empathetic person?”.
No, was the answer.
Once we worked through different scenarios and personality traits, I soon understood why she had that judgement of me. I’m a bloody empath! It finally clicked. It doesn’t sound revolutionary to come to this conclusion, I’m aware, but for me it answered a lot of questions I had about myself, my anxiety and all the struggles that came with that.
I like knowing I can be a shoulder to cry on, be the one someone trusts to confide in, and be that one person someone feels themselves relaxed around. But navigating being the empath who others go to when they need help whilst trying to help yourself at the same time, is conflicting.
Until I realised I really am an empath, I never understood just how much of other people’s emotions and stress I take on. My third panic attack stemmed from work and the worry of colleagues around me possibly being made redundant – colleagues I don’t have a close relationship with, some of whom I’d never met in person or spoken to at all. I personally wasn’t at risk, but I had been in that position two years prior which sparked my first ever panic attack. So, I finally understood why the redundancy news had been a trigger for me; I was feeling their emotions and worries for them, even when it didn’t personally affect me.
That’s an example of how you can easily take on other’s feelings and stress without even speaking with them, but there have been many times where my anxiety has heightened after speaking directly with friends and family about their own worries.
Whether it’s their work stress, financial worries, or general life rants, I can often feel exhausted afterwards. On top of that, my physical anxiety symptoms come on strong: heavy chest, throat closing up, heart racing and feeling tense. I then find myself having to focus on breathing techniques, meditation and yoga to help eliminate some of that unwanted stress, all for the sake of letting someone else get something off their chest so you can help them.
For some time, I felt like I had to continue suffering mentally for the sake of letting those I’m close to have me to share their worries with and rant to. Despite knowing it was doing my mental health no good; and if anything was making me worse every time I felt I’d progressed; I continued to let them.
But then it was explained to me that detaching yourself would help not only them, but protect your own mental health too. As an empath, the idea of “detaching” myself from friends or family when they possibly felt the need to call me to share their worries, felt harsh. I couldn’t bring myself to allow that – what if they really needed me? What if they thought I was being rude or believed I didn’t care? Despite this, I tried it. I had reached a point with my mental health where I’d come so far and didn’t want anything to set me back, so for the first time I was thinking only of myself and no one else.
Looking back, did this help?
I noticed those who’d normally call me to vent, no longer did this as often. Or when they did, it wasn’t as negative as previous times and almost like they’d helped themselves during my period of “absence” or being “reserved”. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, or don’t want to help. You can still make others aware you’re there for them, but just not get as involved mentally. Afterall, what use would you be to others who need you, if you yourself are not mentally capable of taking on their pain?
Are you an empath? Have you ever found yourself struggling with mental health because of this?