Home Psychology How Being An Empath Can Lead To Adrenal Fatigue, Insomnia & Exhaustion

How Being An Empath Can Lead To Adrenal Fatigue, Insomnia & Exhaustion


Although we all have a natural capacity for empathy, which is the ability to understand, feel, and take on other people’s emotions, only 1 to 2 percent of the population experience high empathy. The people who can experience this kind of sensitivity are known as empaths.

Empaths can sense and absorb the emotions and energies of others and feel them as if they were their own. For example, if an empath is around someone who is joyful, they can get caught up in their joy and happiness. Or if they’re around someone who is sad or angry, they can find themselves feeling the same way in no time.

Feeling and absorbing other people’s energies and emotions and carrying others’ emotional burthen on their own shoulders can often cause empaths to feel anxiety.

Do Empaths Suffer From Anxiety?

It’s no wonder being an empath can cause anxiety considering the fact that these individuals feel and take on the energies and emotions of those around them besides feeling the emotions from within themselves.

That there’s a connection between empathy and anxiety has even been proved by science. Namely, one 2018 study which examined the connection between affective and cognitive empathy and different anxiety dimensions included 403 adolescents aged 12-17 who were admitted to a private psychiatric hospital for 6 years.

Participants were asked to complete three self-report questionnaires that assessed empathy, anxiety, and depression. The results of the assessments showed that affective empathy was positively associated with all the dimensions of anxiety. Researchers also suggested that anxious feelings and empathic arousals participants sense in other people may intensify anxiety symptoms already present in them. Researchers found the strongest relation between separation/panic and rejection/humiliation anxiety, and affective empathy (1).

One possible explanation for these results may be that feeling, and absorbing other people’s emotions often cause distress. For example, if an empath is unable to help a loved one who is under stress or feeling sad or anxious, they might feel guilty when they share their emotional pain or think about their struggles. Moreover, their guilt can cause them to worry that their loved one may be disappointed in them or even reject them. There’s a high chance that this perception can cause the empath to distance themselves from the loved one struggling with emotional pain or harm their relationship somehow.

In addition, the same study found that low cognitive empathy was associated with a higher risk of social anxiety. Namely, participants who had this type of empathy and high affective empathy were more likely to experience more severe social anxiety.

The explanation for this is that when you have high affective empathy and low cognitive empathy, you share emotions with others, but it’s difficult for you to understand what those emotions mean. As a result of this, you may have a hard time getting along with your peers and handling different social situations. It might appear easier to you to hang out with a small number of people you understand, whereas the idea of talking or hanging out with others might intensify your anxiety symptoms.

Another 2011 study also found that individuals that have high social anxiety can demonstrate increased empathic abilities (2).

Do Empaths Suffer From Depression?

Unfortunately, not all empaths know how to protect themselves from the stress and negative energy that exist around them. If an empath is under a lot of stress if they’re continually absorbing other people’s negative emotions and energies, and if they’re too exposed to others’ stress, they can begin feeling sad or even depressed.

Moreover, that there’s a connection between empathy and depression has been even backed by science.

One 2017 study has found that depressed individuals react more strongly to the distress and pain other people experience. The study investigated how low mood affected people’s perception of other people’s distress. For that purpose, participants were asked to listen to either sad or neutral music and then watch videos portraying people receiving non-painful or painful touch (with a needle) to the cheek. The results of the study showed that those participants who listened to sad music, i.e., were in a sad mood, considered the videos more distressing than those participants who were in a neutral mood (3).

The fact that the empathetic distress increased in participants who were in a sad mood can help us understand why depressed people withdraw when seeing others in pain, as this can make them feel even worse.

It’s also worth mentioning that low levels of empathy can also cause a person to feel depressed. For instance, if you have difficulty empathizing with other people and feel like you’re not adept at handling social interactions at all, this may cause you to avoid people often, which, in turn, can make you feel frustrated and alone. These feelings of loneliness can contribute to depression.

What Are Triggers For Empaths?

When an empath experiences an extremely sensitive or traumatic event, their mind can easily develop specific triggers that can cause them to become emotionally exhausted, anxious, or depressed and even develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some of the most common triggers that can cause empaths to experience emotional distress are the following:

  • Other people’s suffering and pain
  • Feeling extremely sensitive to noisy environments and other people
  • Feeling like someone that disappoints others when they can’t help them solve their problems
  • Being easily affected by negative experiences and emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and depression
  • Other people’s expectations and demands
  • Dealing with narcissists
  • Establishing boundaries or saying “no” to others
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Too much intimacy. Empaths can have trouble establishing close physical contact with others, which can make it more difficult for them to be in romantic relationships
  • Speaking up and resolving conflict
  • Being told to “get over their sensitivity,” can cause them to doubt themselves and feel that their emotions and reactions are too much

How Being An Empath Can Lead To Adrenal Fatigue, Insomnia, And Exhaustion

One of the characteristics of being an empath is that they feel emotions more deeply than most people do, no matter how sensitive and emotional we think we are. Often, being alone is more relaxing than being with someone for an empath.

The reason for that lies in the energy people transfer to empaths. All the negative emotions and thoughts transferred to an empath can drain their energy and be exhausting for them.

Not many people are aware that they’re transferring their negative and positive vibes to others. In the case of an empath, they receive every feeling and thought, bad or good.

Imagine an empath standing in a room full of people. The chances that someone is feeling down around them are high. The chances that the empath will feel the same feelings afterward are just as high.

Everyone has negative thoughts and emotions sometimes. Usually, we process those emotions and let go of them during the day. But, if we don’t do that, we experience mind hyperactivity during the night. You know those nights when you just can’t fall asleep no matter how tired you feel?

This feeling can be dreadful and tiring, and to get rid of it, we need to spend some time alone to recharge our batteries.

When our body is under stress, the adrenal glands release hormones to save us from the danger the brain thinks we are in. These hormones help us deal with the challenges we are facing.

Emotions and thoughts caused by past experiences can cause feelings of anxiety, uneasiness, fear, and even panic. These feelings make our brain think that we are under threat, so the brain activates in order to help us by sending signals for hormone production. This results in an increase in our energy levels.

If we have other sources of stress and anxiety at the moment, it only increases the hormone release and makes everything worse. 

When these adrenal glands are stimulated extensively, our energy levels increase, and we feel hyperactive, which causes us to have difficulty falling asleep at night. This can be harmful to the glands and cause them to burn out.

When the adrenal glands don’t function properly, this decreases our energy levels, and in an attempt to increase them, we consume food that contains high levels of refined sugar and salt. However, although these types of food give us energy instantly, they don’t work long-term. And then, we crave more food, and we end up feeling hungry and having low energy levels.

But why do we crave junk food when our energy levels are low? It turns out our body knows that we need sugar or salt. The problem is the type of sugar and salt we take.

But why do we crave junk food when our energy levels are low? It turns out our body knows that we need sugar or salt. The problem is the type of sugar and salt we take.

The refined sugar and salt that can be found in processed foods do not provide us with sufficient energy. Instead, natural sources of sugar and salt give us a lot of energy and replenish our adrenal glands.

Besides refined sugars and salts, coffee seems to be our savior when we want to stop feeling exhausted. The problem with coffee is that it can just worsen the situation by irritating our adrenal glands. This results in energy imbalance throughout the day. Instead of feeling energized, we end up feeling extra exhausted and not ready to face stressful situations because of the malfunction of our adrenal glands.

All of these problems can be solved with a positive attitude, an active lifestyle, and healthy food choices. Sleep is an important factor here because when we sleep, the production of hormones by our adrenal glands increases.

That’s why we feel refreshed and replenished in the morning. On the other hand, when our adrenal glands are exhausted, especially during stressful periods, one can wake up in the middle of the night or have difficulties falling asleep.

Fully repairing the adrenal glands can take some time. However, bear in mind that you can notice some changes immediately. Very soon, you will start to feel more energized and more positive. Your sleep will improve, and you will get more things done during the day as a result. Experts recommend having a nutritional diet and eating organic food.

Practicing meditation can help improve the function of our adrenal glands since it helps us stay calm and relaxed. Other activities that can have the same effect on our adrenal glands are spending time with our loved ones and doing enjoyable things, such as watching a favorite movie or riding a bicycle in nature. When we are happy, our body is also happy, and everything in it is balanced, including the adrenal glands.

However, one has to be careful about overdoing things, even when it comes to exercising and dieting. Overdoing it can cause stress, which can have a negative effect in the end.

Do Empaths Need More Sleep?

Since empaths can get easily overwhelmed and drained physically, emotionally, and mentally, which is why they often suffer from insomnia, they need more sleep than other people. Having healthy sleep habits, such as keeping a consistent sleep schedule, can help restore their minds and bodies and make them feel more energized and relaxed when they wake up in the morning. 

Sleeping for 8 or more hours a night can help reduce empaths’ sense of being overstimulated by everyday situations. To fall and stay asleep more easily, empaths are recommended to meditate for 5-10 minutes or listen to nature sounds or white noise before going to bed. 

How Do Empaths Stay Calm?

Due to the fact that besides feeling the emotions within themselves, empaths feel and take on the energies and emotions of others, often to an extreme, they can often become overwhelmed and feel physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.

The best way empaths can protect themselves from sensory overload and exhaustion is to spot the first signs when they begin taking on negative emotions or stress from other people. The more empaths can decrease sensory stimulation and focus on themselves, the more protected they’ll be. So, if you’re an empath, here are 8 ways you can calm yourself when experiencing distress.

1. Distance Yourself From What’s Disturbing You

The minute you begin feeling uncomfortable around a person, distance yourself from them. If you can’t do this, you can imagine putting up a shield of pink light that surrounds your body and protects you from anything stressful, negative, or toxic.

Similarly, if you start feeling uncomfortable or stressed out at the movies or in a restaurant, club, or doctor’s office, make sure you change seats. Don’t hesitate to say “no” to negative energy. Removing yourself from an overwhelming social situation is not disrespectful. Instead, it’s an act of self-care.

2. Ask Yourself, “Is The Emotion I’m Feeling Now Mine Or Someone Else’s?

One telltale sign that you’re feeling and taking on someone else’s energies or emotions is to identify if your mood suddenly begins to change or you begin experiencing some physical symptoms around that person. For instance, if you didn’t feel sad, angry, exhausted, or anxious before, most likely, he/she is the one that’s causing you discomfort.

If you try distancing yourself from that person and the discomfort subsides, this is a sure sign it’s not yours. However, bear in mind that sometimes the emotion may be yours and someone else’s. It’s easy to absorb the emotional pain of others that you haven’t managed to overcome in yourself.

3. Set Firm Boundaries

Just because you’re an empath and care about others, it doesn’t mean you need to let yourself experience distress or emotional pain whenever you’re around someone who is sad, angry, or anxious. To protect your physical and mental health, you need to set firm boundaries. For instance, if someone is draining or negative, limit the amount of time you spend with them or distance yourself from them altogether. 

Learn to say “no” more often. Declining invitations when you don’t feel like going anywhere or hanging out with others is okay. Learn to tell people things like, “I’m sorry, I can’t come now, I need to meditate and calm down,” “I can’t stand talking with negative people,” or “I can’t tolerate conflict.” Establishing firm boundaries that you’ll make sure no one pass will protect you from other people’s negativity and toxicity.

4. Reduce Physical Contact

Energy can be transferred through touch and the eyes. So, the moment you begin feeling stressed out, uncomfortable, or exhausted around someone, limit eye and/or physical contact. Avoid hugging or shaking hands with that person.

However, bear in mind that although hugging a close friend or family member when you’re under stress or feeling sad can benefit you, if you can notice that you’re absorbing their emotions or stress, make the hug short.

5. Breathe Slowly And Deeply

As soon as you notice you begin absorbing another person’s negative emotions or energy, focus on your breath. Start breathing slowly and deeply to remove the negative energy from your body.

While breathing deeply, you can also repeat the mantra, “Return to sender,” three times. Your breath will help transport the negative energy back to its sender.

6. Spend Time In Nature

Going for a walk in the nearest park, cycling, or lying in a meadow while listening to the birds singing and feeling how the gentle breeze caresses your skin can feel sublime. Spending time in nature will heal your body and help you remove any unwanted energy you might have absorbed.

7. Spend Less Time On Social Media

While it can be fun to check your news feed on your Facebook or Instagram profile and check how many likes the photo you’ve recently posted has gathered, know that being exposed to all kinds of information on social media can drain your energy, make you feel overwhelmed, and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

So, instead of letting your energy gets drained in the virtual world, practice meditation, exercise, spend more time in nature or participate in activities that don’t involve using social media.

8. Last But Not Least, Spend Some Time Alone

If you’ve absorbed someone’s negative emotions or energy, take some alone time to focus on yourself. Remove any distractions. Turn off the TV and your phone. Breathe slowly and deeply and focus on feeling only your energy. In this way, you’ll reconnect with yourself and your power.