Some anxiety disorders that may co-occur with the high sensitivity trait are:
1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder
2. Social Anxiety Disorder
3. Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia
4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
Most HSP’s are likely to indicate an higher level of anxiety and worry. The key
question is around the level of excessive worry and for how long it has lasted.
If the level of distress caused by the anxiety has lasted for more days than not
over 6 months and is impacting daily functions, relationships and work, and if
the distress is impacting sleep, concentration, irritability etc, then its possible
there may be an anxiety disorder alongside the high sensitivity trait.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD):
It is not uncommon for highly sensitive people to be fearful and nervous about social situations, perhaps even withdrawn or overly concerned about the opinions of others about them. However, social anxiety disorder describes a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations when open to scrutiny by others, that ultimately prevents a person from acting as freely as they would like to and renders them potentially powerless to overcome their fear in most situations often leading to significant avoidance. Further, there is distress about the social anxiety. The impairment in social anxiety inhibits social engagement to a greater extent than it would for an highly sensitive person. Put simply, the highly sensitive person may experience a mild form of the symptoms that may not impair their social function significantly.
Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia (PD):
Most HSP’s are likely to have experienced the physical symptoms of high anxiety (eg sweating, heavy breathing, shaky hands, nausea, dry mouth etc) or a full panic attack (eg anxiety symptoms with very laboured and fast breathing, muscles tensed up, tight chest, pounding heart, can’t speak, looks similar to a heart attack). These can occur due to emotional overwhelm and perceived intense stressors including fearfulness and terror. Panic Disorder occurs when there has been more than one panic attack and the person develops an intense fear of having more panic attacks. Agoraphobia occurs when active avoidance leads to an inhibiting fear of any space where something difficult or embarrassing may occur, such as a panic attack. This intense avoidance of overstimulation interferes with daily functioning, which extends well beyond the HSP’s experience of high anxiety and tendency to withdraw from or avoid highly over stimulating circumstances.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
An Highly Sensitive Person may be feeling distressed about persistent thoughts or worries, and they may even become a bit obsessive about them, or develop some compulsive behaviours to try and cope. However a person with OCD will develop very severe compulsive behaviours that have become irrational and move well past the original purpose and meaning of the behaviour. With OCD the obsession results in compulsive behaviours that interfere with regular daily functions.
Dr Elaine Aron has distinguished the difference between high sensitivity and anxiety disorders in a book she has written for Psychotherapists. This page offers a very brief comparison based on her distinctions to assist your understanding. Please note that this information is not intended to substitute professional medical treatment and is not adequate for a diagnosis of an Anxiety Disorder.