These 10 Micro-transitions can Trigger Anxiety for Highly Sensitive People

by | Oct 9, 2022 | Holidays/Holy Days/Seasons, HSP | 28 comments

Highly sensitive people feel every moment of life: the joys, the sorrows, the in-between times, the beginnings, the endings, the far-off music in the distance, the emotional temperature in a room. 

This is a gift, but it’s often experienced as a burden because we’re told from an early age that we’re “too sensitive, we think too much, we’re too emotional.” So we learn to stuff away big feelings. 
What goes unnamed often festers into shame. This is why it’s critically important to slow down and name the common yet overlooked times when highly sensitive people are attuned to the currents of loss and change that inform our lives, like the following:
  • Waking up
  • Late afternoon as the light is changing
  • Evening
  • Sunday night
  • Seasonal transitions: summer into autumn; autumn into winter; end of spring
  • The end of a gathering
  • The end of a holiday
  • Letting go of an item, like a car
  • The last fruit of a season
  • Birthdays


All of the above micro-transitions often include a feeling of sorrow or longing or emptiness. Again, these emotions aren’t “bad”, but they’re often experienced as such because HSPs don’t learn early in life how to tend to their big and small feelings. 

The result is that instead of feeling the core feelings – the grief, longing, emptiness, joy, excitement, fullness – those feelings are squashed down and re-emerge as anxiety. Emotions don’t evaporate because they’re shamed. They simply change form. 

This is why so many of my clients talk about feeling anxious as a party is ending or a season is ending. They talk about their anxiety at the end of the day (the topic of episode 3 of the Gathering Gold podcast) or when they wake up in the morning (also a podcast episode topic). 

But when you soften into the anxiety and meet it with curiosity and compassion what you’ll find at the center is grief. And when you move toward the grief with a hug and a cup of tea, what you’ll discover next is joy.

So here we are in autumn, the season of loss, longing, and nostalgia. What can autumn teach us about grief and loss?

Autumn brings into high relief the fleeting nature of life. The beauty is so beautiful and it stings because we know it only lasts for a few weeks.

Here in Colorado, Autumn is an especially short season where, for just a brief period of time, the natural world is lit in golds and greens and pinks and reds and oranges. It takes my breath away daily, sometimes hourly. It nourishes me just as much as it hurts.

Are goodness and loss always interwoven? For the highly sensitive person, I believe they are. It’s like looking at a photo of your child when they were young and feeling like you’re going to burst because they are no longer that precious age that they once were, and there is no going back. We try to capture it, now more than ever. We photograph and video incessantly hoping against hope that we can stop or at least stall time. But we know we can’t, and another part of us doesn’t want to because each age carries its own delicious beauty and sweetness. It’s as if the part of our hearts that fights against time wants to simultaneously stop it and see what’s coming next.

When I look on these photos taken sixteen years ago to the day, I’m filled with equal parts longing, grief, pride, and gratitude. I see the tenderness in my mothering; how closely I stayed to Everest’s two-year old, endlessly curious and adventurous self. I couldn’t know then the man that he would become – that sixteen years later I would be celebrating him on a beach in Florida as we toured college campuses. The tears that fill my eyes are wordless and nameless, encapsulating his lifetime and the gift of being his mother and more than we’re ever meant to capture in images or words.

So much depends upon

Autumn and its

fleeting

fragile

breathless

painful

song about

the passage of time.

Autumn reminds us how beautiful time can be. And also that there is beauty in loss. Autumn teaches us that while the leaves are dying the trunks hold steadfast and simply slow down for their season of rest.

There are lessons here, too: we can allow parts of ourselves and stages of life to be shed, to be tossed into autumn’s golden light, when we trust that the core of who we are and the center of our relationships is solid and good and unchanging.

For there is something that sustains, that seems to outlast time. Some call it the soul. Some call it the Self. I call it love: the through-line, the unbreakable ribbon, the one song that weaves through each phase and stage of our lives.

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28 Comments

  1. This moved me so deeply! I’ve always felt the change in seasons and any transition in life so keenly that it threatens to overwhelm me. Whenever I have mentioned the feeling about seasons to anyone, they just shrug it off. I’m so glad you put a voice to my innermost self. I know autumn is many people’s favorite season, but for me it is the worst. Knowing that the frigid and bleak snows of winter are coming. That’s a main reason I moved to Florida – to escape winter. And yet, I feel in here too, just not as severely.
    I’m working on implementing a self-love practice, but it is immensely difficult when thoughts and emotions bombard me with such frequency that it can be difficult to get up in the morning. I guess I’m just not sure how to ride these waves, and know what is a true thought/emotion and what isn’t.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your reflections, Erin. If you haven’t read my book, The Wisdom of Anxiety, I think it will help you articulate your experience and learn effective tools to help you navigate the challenges and joys of being a highly sensitive person. ❤️

      Reply
  2. Hi Sheryl, thank you so much for this post. Ever since I could remember I felt a sense of terror when the sun would begin to set, would become ill at family gatherings or before a school day, had severe separation anxiety… as an adult, the anxiety has morphed with bigger life changes, but the undercurrent is still the same.

    I have been taking your 30 day anxiety course, listening to Gathering Gold, and reading your blog posts for the past month. I am truly grateful for your teachings. They have been invaluable to my own book of life. Just in the past few weeks I have witnessed real changes in how I navigate transitions and the highly sensitive realm. Thank you, from my soul, for seeing us, validating us, and shedding light onto both the struggles and the joys.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Danielle. I’m so glad that my work and words have been helpful and that you’re seeing real changes now regarding how you navigate transitions. ❤️❤️❤️

      Reply
  3. This post is one of the most helpful things I’ve ever read. I feel like I understand myself and my life so much better now. These micro-transitions have all affected me in my life, much more so when I was a child and didn’t have words to express how not okay I felt. The transition of summer to autumn is always the most difficult season for me, for many reasons, but I can reframe it now, and instead of thinking it’s fear, dread, or even panic, I can dig down to the bottom to understand that it’s actually just grief. Now I can hold and honor the grief, and be gently with my inner child, show her that she will be okay, and she always has been.

    Reply
    • How beautiful that you’ve been able to connect to the underlying grief and hold it closely, as you would a child. This is the healing path ❤️.

      Reply
  4. Sheryl, this is so beautiful. I read your previous blog post about the car, too. Oh my, you are an ongoing gift of honesty and vulnerability. Normalizing what for some of us is normal, too, but usually looked down on. The one that jumps out for me right now is the shorter days and longer nights. In the last few years, I have noticed as the night starts coming sooner each day, I feel it as an approaching, temporary tomb time.

    There is good for sure, longer nights make observing the universe much easier, and I get my telescope out more often in the Fall (though maybe not this year). The garden patio lights will help this year, and I will get my tea and candles ready to create coziness. The Fall is gorgeous here, and I try to revel in it as much as possible, but underneath there’s dread. My most nourishing and soul-connecting times are connected to the earth, water, trees, and sun. Soon, I won’t be able to sit in my garden as the cold and rain (random ice and snow) will make it miserable, and walks will be short and bundled. Sometimes weeks go by with no direct sunlight here, and occasionally we get freezing fog that can go on oppressively for weeks as well (making me feel like I am in a Steven King movie begging to get out).

    I work very hard to find value in the rhythm of nature, and I know it’s there, but the ache is coming, and I will need to adjust to the winter tomb. However, this year, informed by Valarie Kaur’s beautiful work in her book, See No Stranger, I will think I will reframe it as a womb, not a tomb. 🙂 That will help, and it will still be hard. I hope I can find more and more ways to find the gifts in the darkness, for they are certainly there. Thank you so much for writing this.

    (On another note, Oct 3rd went very well, and it turned out to be even more important than we all knew, kind of like yikes. I am grateful for the incredible support I had in so many ways and surprised I could write this at all. Sending a huge hug, dear Sheryl.)

    Reply
    • These are such poetically wise and beautiful reflections, Lori (as always). First off, I’m so happy to hear about the surgery’s success. I was thinking about you on the 3rd and sending prayers. Secondly, you’re naming the dread of winter that so many people feel. I have felt it, too, for many years, and while it’s still there, it has been tempered, I think, by bringing the dread of the dark and cold and ice into the light.

      Recording the Gathering Gold episode on Winter’s Paradox helped both Victoria and I process the subterranean experience around winter, and now it has changed in some wonderful, beautiful way. There are such gifts in darkness, and I think part of our fear of it is connected to the patriarchal maligning of the feminine, which has always been associated with darkness. When we reclaim and celebrate darkness, we reclaim the feminine as well.

      Reply
  5. Sheryl, how I wish I could have read your blogs and listened to your podcasts when I was a much younger version of myself! It has taken me decades of work to unravel my anxiety and know that as an empath and highly sensitive person what I am feeling is valid and real for me . I checked off every single trigger on your list:) And you are so very right… what we feel so deeply can be full of grief, longing, and loneliness and yet, so exquisitely joyful and expansive.
    Thank you, for sharing your work and yourself with the world.

    Reply
    • I feel exactly the same way. Ohhh the many things I could have avoided. The broken relationships, the roads not taken. I only learned this a couple of years ago – I had no idea that the way I was wired- actually had a name and that there were others like me. It’s so gratifying and reassuring to see how HSP has made its way into mainstream discussions. I hope to contribute to this as well. It would be nice to save younger people from such pain and wasted time. I must check out her podcast too! (Especially the topic of the car… omg I spent a year deciding on a new car and then literally left my old one parked for another year- just so I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to it. Then it was stolen haha)

      Reply
  6. This is so beautiful, thank you Sheryl. 🙂 I cried at the “so much depends upon Autumn” poem. It captures so much, and the referenced poem also always reminds me of Sharon Creech’s “Love That Dog” because it also references that poem and was a very emotional book for me as a young child, years before I had a dog – even moreso now that I’ve had a dog who was so wise and happy and such a dear friend who passed away shortly after I graduated from college. Anyway, your reflections are poignant and help rise to the surface the grief and depth and joy I feel in this period. And I felt an opening when you said, “next is joy.” 🥰

    Reply
    • Thank you, Jamie, and I’ll have to find that book! Victoria and I are planning on doing a podcast episode soon based on the referenced poem. It’s one of my favorites… 🥰

      Reply
      • Thank you for your welcoming response, Sheryl. 🥰 I hope you enjoy it if you find it. 🤗 Love, Jamie

        Reply
  7. Yes yes yes to this! I so often hear people say how Autumn is their favorite season and all I see is death and dying. And a lead-in to cold winter that is physically painful to me. I have found something that has helped with these transitions. I allow myself to grieve a little then I look for the opportunity and gift in the change. For example winter means I have less yard work and more time to do other things I enjoy. Letting go of a car and it’s happy associated memories means I get to start over and make new ones.

    It has taken a long time to get here but it does help!!

    Reply
    • I love that, Marianne. We spoke of something similar in the Gathering Gold episode called Winter’s Paradox and it has helped me reframe this time as well.

      Reply
  8. Thanks for this. I always find the Sunday night transition quite anxiety-inducing. The biggest one for me though is the transitions from August to September, which in the UK is the dividing line between summer and autumn. It is also when the school term starts. It’s been a while since I was at school, but I still carry that anxiety inmy bones, and usually have periods of quite intense anxiety in September.

    Reply
    • Yes, that’s a very common time for anxiety to spike, Joshua. You’re not alone. I wrote about September Anxiety in The Wisdom of Anxiety and also talked about it in the Gathering Gold episode on School Anxiety.

      Reply
  9. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write, describe, and add color to the essence of my world. A world that I am still trying to make sense of 45 years later. I love to experience EVERYTHING that is sweet and delicious in life even if it’s not dessert. The issue that comes with that is, unless I bake or buy the dessert, I simply have to enjoy it as arrives. That constant reminder that I’m neither in control of my circumstances or how I was created.

    I truly believe my Abba Father allowed me to experience incessant change from college to parenthood just so there would at least be movement. Progress is up to me and yet without the ability to name big emotions, I tend to feel discouraged and defeated.

    I’m so glad this article was the leaf the butterfly sailed in on today! Joy has come.

    Reply
  10. Hi Sheryl –

    What would be your recommendation when a communication style causes anxiety? My husband jokes a lot, and I don’t mean “why did the turtle cross the road” jokes. He jokes when were talking about something serious, he jokes when I’m asking for help, and it causes me a lot of anxiety. I know my husband and I love him, I know he is not being malicious but it doesn’t change the fact that it frustrates me. I feel like the things I say are second to his joke or just don’t matter. We had a long conversation about it last night, he was feeling a little defeated like he can’t say anything right and upset with himself that I’m feeling hurt. I made it clear that I love him and that we can work on this together and I believe we can make it through. But I’m worried. I’m worried I’m asking too much, I’m worried I’m not regulating my feelings enough when it comes to his jokes. I feel like some of this is inside me but I keep going back and forth. I did say that he can joke all he wants, I just need follow up. Example, me: “hey can you help me with this”, husband: “no… Just kidding, of course”. Follow up, so I know my request was at least heard.

    Reply
    • Hi Briana,
      I’m 54 and have been married for 32 years. I’m menopausal, and my husband’s joviality – sometimes misplaced – is annoying me intensely, among other things!
      I don’t know the solution, but I hear you!

      Reply
  11. Dear Sheryl, I am a relatively new follower of yours and a participant in your BFFA course. I have never heard anyone describe that late afternoon transition. Since I was an adolescent, I have experienced a marked sadness each day as the sun begins to wane. I always thought it was tied to some old occurrence or memory but could never figure out what. Reading your post, and identifying with so many of the other micro-transitions you list, I realize that I am simply highly sensitive. Knowing that this is not an intrinsic brokenness but rather a trait shared by many is such a relief. Thank you for your powerful work.

    Reply
    • Oh, yes, it’s such a common time for anxiety to rise, Sarah. I’m so glad you’re here and on the course, and I trust that as you continue along the pathways of this work you’ll know even more deeply that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you and everything right with you!

      Reply
  12. *sigh*

    Heart.

    Thank you, I needed to read this today.

    Reply
  13. Thank you so much, Sheryl. I’m feeling these micro changes even more intensely than ever due to midlife xx

    Reply
  14. I’m glad to know that it’s not just me who feels emotional from the angle of light during the day. Like the feeling when you get when you look at an Edward Hopper painting.

    Reply
  15. Thank you Sheryl, this is the first time somebody put into words what I couldn’t describe myself until now. This is exactly whats happening every season except for winter to spring, every sundayevening, every morning. It always makes me feel like i am weird compared to everyone else. Its also something i can show to the closest people around me so they can understand too while I am working on it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I will definitely search for your podcast and read your book.

    Reply

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