Are you An Anxious Empath?

Do you experience the emotions of others really intensely? Do you worry excessively? Does being socially exposed exhaust you? These are some of the characteristics that describe a specific personality profile with which many can identify. Find out more here.
Are you An Anxious Empath?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 31 March, 2024

Some positive virtues hide a dark side. They’re like poisoned gifts that you sometimes regret having received. High empathy or the ability to connect with others in a more intense and profound way is one of those double-edged swords. It turns you into a fabulous listener with a mind that’s skilled in understanding and feeling in your own heart the emotions of others.

Undoubtedly, this is a social advantage. Indeed, understanding the perspectives of others and feeling them as your own makes it easier to reach agreements, solve problems, and form more compassionate alliances. In fact, if 80 percent of the population possessed this emotional competence, it’s likely that the world would be a better place.

However, high empathy often occurs alongside anxiety. With these kinds of thoughts, comes the vicious circle of rumination. In this case, you don’t only put yourselves in others’ shoes but your desire to provide them with support means you involve yourself too much in their problems. This becomes difficult. In effect, you neglect yourself. It’s a problem that’s well worth examining.

People with high empathy tend to show a higher risk of suffering from anxiety disorders and also depression.

Illuminated heart to symbolize the anxious empath
Being more sensitive to the moods of others requires you to apply tools to protect yourself from emotional contagion.

Are you an anxious empath?

If you’re an anxious empath, you’ll exhibit high sensitivity to the emotions of others. However, this usually leads you to feel anxious. Research conducted by the University of Haifa (Israel) commented on this relationship in 2011. They found that individuals with social anxiety exhibited greater empathic and mentalizing skills.

In other words, these individuals demonstrated an exceptional profile in terms of sociocognitive skills. They could understand the mental and emotional state of others. Although this should be an advantage, sometimes it isn’t. This is because their sensitivity generally goes hand in hand with a higher level of worry and obsessive thoughts.

It’s like a two-way door. This intense emotional connection incapacitates the individual to establish a border between their own psycho-emotional state and those of others. It also increases their states of rumination, overanalysis, and emotional distress. If you exhibit the following characteristics, you may be an anxious empath.

The greater your empathy, the more difficult it is for you to turn off the worry button.

1. You exhibit empathy and high emotional sensitivity

If you’re highly sensitive, you exhibit high empathy as your main characteristic. One of your biggest challenges will be being able to handle emotional contagion. In other words, you fail to develop a healthy ecpathy that makes it easier for you to put yourself in other people’s shoes and return to your own without taking on their burdens. In effect, you retain their difficult emotions, those that don’t belong to you.

If you’re an anxious empath, you harbor, in your way of feeling, responding, and moving through the world, the kinds of characteristics that are typical of highly sensitive people (HSP).

2. You experience increased exhaustion and stress

If you’re an anxious empath, you’ll have an automatic and unconscious tendency to analyze everything. For example, you tend to think about everything that happens a hundred times a day, probably two hundred at night. You also analyze all your conversations with others.

Indeed, you frequently find yourself wondering if you should’ve said what you did. You wonder if you should’ve acted differently or how you can do better next time. Unsurprisingly, your interpersonal relationships become a source of permanent stress for you due to this excessive analysis after every interaction.

3. You worry about how others perceive you

If you’re an anxious empath, you almost constantly focus on your surroundings. You’re concerned about the judgments of others and the opinions of those around you. In fact, you worry about every word said to you, also those you imagine were said. Indeed, you’re highly concerned about how other people perceive you. This means you fall prey to obsessive worry.

One of your greatest needs is to give an image of closeness, integrity, and humility. However, this can cause you to spend an inordinate amount of time questioning whether you’re succeeding and whether the person you’ve spoken to will think highly enough of you.

4. You experience high-functioning social anxiety

High-functioning social anxiety outlines a pattern that you’ll identify with if you’re an anxious empath. Although you may perform well in social spheres, every scenario puts great pressure on you. You become exhausted and feel insecure and stressed. Moreover, when you return to the peace and tranquility of your home, you reanalyze everything that’s been done and said. Furthermore:

  • You tend to want to please others.
  • You don’t recognize your achievements. In fact, you undervalue yourself.
  • You’re afraid of changes, no matter how small.
  • You become physically and mentally exhausted after being with other people.
  • You don’t show that you feel uncomfortable in many social situations and others would never guess.
  • You’re terrified of being wrong, giving a bad impression, or showing any incompetence.
  • You appear calm and resolute but, inside, you doubt yourself.

5. You feel the need to be useful and helpful

If you’re an anxious empath, your self-image depends to a great extent on your efficiency in helping others, even if they haven’t requested your help. You have a natural and almost unconscious inclination to alleviate others’ worries, solve their problems, offer your support, and improve their well-being.

However, as you know, this isn’t always possible. That said, the feeling of not being capable of reducing the suffering of those around you not only makes you feel anxious but also undermines your self-esteem. These are really debilitating situations.

As an empath, it’s extremely easy to detect the emotions and suffering of those around you. If you’re an anxious empath, you feel the need to eliminate all the discomfort and unhappiness that exists around them.

Woman in online therapy working on her anxious empath trait
Anxious empaths can suffer from depressive disorders. In these cases, it’s important to seek specialized help.

What can you do if you’re an anxious empath?

Having read the above, do you think you’re an anxious empath? As a matter of fact, many of us exhibit these traits. What’s important is to possess adequate tools so that your high empathy becomes an advantage and not an obstacle. Controlling and regulating your anxiety and integrating basic emotional management strategies are key. Here are some useful strategies:

  • Set limits to avoid overloading yourself. Remember that you can’t reach everyone and your role isn’t to save others.
  • Develop good empathy. Balance your ability to connect and feel the emotions of others with the ability to protect yourself. Avoid taking on other people’s discomfort.
  • Accept your emotional sensitivity, but include self-care. You’re an empathetic and sensitive person, you can’t change that fact. However, you should practice looking after yourself and prioritizing your own needs.
  • Use the grounding technique. When thoughts and worries become overwhelming, be aware of what’s around you. Connect with what you’re seeing, smelling, and hearing right now. The goal is to release your mind from the vicious circle of worry.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for specialized help if you feel too overwhelmed. After all, anxiety can sometimes predispose you to another disorder. Try and maintain your high empathy as a virtue that you can use to your advantage, without it tarnishing your health and well-being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rivera Revuelta, J. G. (2004). Empatía y ecpatía. Psiquis25(6), 243-245.
  • Tibi-Elhanany, Y., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2011). Social cognition in social anxiety: first evidence for increased empathic abilities. The Israel journal of psychiatry and related sciences48(2), 98–106.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.