Three Reasons Male Body Image Issues Aren’t Discussed As Frequently As Females’

a young black boy showing male body image issues do not start off at a young age

Bikini-prepping, Keto dieting, scales, tape measures, photo filters, celebrity icons, and constant self-evaluation in the company of a mirror. We may know it’s not healthy, yet somehow society has developed a collective “not-surprised” numbness to girls and body image issues. 

But what about guys? 

Why don’t we hear about male body image issues the way we hear about female body image issues?

In case you’re wondering, it’s certainly not because male body image issues don’t exist.

They most certainly do. And they are fraught with just as many internal and societal messages as those of their gender counterpart. 

It’s as if boys and men receive a memo that plays into the male stereotypes of strength, power, and ego.”Don’t mention any body insecurities. If you do, you’re weak. Just man the ‘f’ up. Puff up your chest and get over yourself.”

No wonder boys and men are far less inclined than females to openly discuss body image issues!

What is body image anyway?

Body image refers to a person’s relationship with his or her body. Everyone who has a body – men included – has a body image.

Body image includes thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors. 

Translation? Men, just like women, have thoughts about their bodies. And accompanying those thoughts are feelings, perceptions, and behaviors. (Why would we expect otherwise?)

Boys and men aren’t immune to body image issues simply by virtue of being male. Body image problems are not “just a girl thing.”

Social media, television/radio/print media, and Diet Culture affect boys and men, too.

Girls and women consume voluminous unrealistic images of female beauty. And there is no want for information written on the topic and its effects.

Much less air time, however, is given to how boys and men are affected by idealized male images of attractiveness. So the topic of male body image exists like an undercurrent with swelling energy seeking an outlet.

Images of the male cultural ideal abound, however quietly assuming and understood they may be. Six-pack abs, big pecs, bulging biceps, 0% body fat, and a thick head of hair aren’t realistic or feasible for the majority of boys/men. 

Whether the images portray uber-muscularity, a chiseled look, and/or the “tall, dark, and handsome” type, they don’t represent the vast majority of boys or men. 

By design, cultural ideals are unattainable for most people. That’s why they’re called ideals.

The images presented represent how guys should look according to cultural ideals (and marketing). 

The underlying implication is that this is also how they could look if they just tried hard enough through dieting, working out, and/or using ‘x’ products. 

(Some research suggests media messages about body ideals may not impact teenage boys as directly as teen girls, but these results are inconsistent.) 

The reluctance to acknowledge male body image issues creates a perception that males are immune to poor body image.

Male body image is an issue even for this man who is attractice by society standards

Let’s look at some numbers to establish that male body image problems are a real thing.

  • One in ten people with anorexia is male.
  • 17% of men are on extreme diets.
  • 3% of men binge eat.
  • 4% of men purge after eating.
  • 15% of gay males have an eating disorder.

According to large surveys, around 25% of male children/adolescents are concerned about not being ‘ripped’ (muscular and lean) enough. They want muscularity that is (more) toned and defined.

The three main categories of male body image issues include:

  • drive for muscularity
  • drive for thinness
  • body part-specific anxiety

Males tend to want to be more muscular and buff, leaner, and more defined. And/or they feel anxious about particular parts of their bodies. 

As with other psychological concepts, we have to take a step back and look at the role of culture.

None of us exists in a vacuum. In other words, Diet Culture is rampant for everyone, regardless of gender or age. It’s in the air we all breathe. It is the air we breathe.

Keep in mind that everyone’s relationship with their body begins as a love affair. Infants revel in their bodies. Toddlers do, too. 

For all genders, though, that trajectory is rarely linear. It goes up and down, depending on both internal and external circumstances. 

Male body image is no exception.

The male body-relationship tends to deteriorate during key developmental times, especially during ‘tween and adolescent years.

Another ‘especially’ is gender dysphoria.

If you’re male, talking negatively about your body is frowned upon.

You’re considered weak, ‘girly,’ pathetic, uncool.

(Although you would get points for talking about bulking up like Hulk.)

Reasons male body image issues aren’t discussed as often as females body image issues:

1. Stigma

It makes sense that boys and men would rather not admit body image issues because of the associated stigma.

They too are self-conscious about their bodies.

In fact, behaviors such as binge eating, purging, laxative abuse and fasting for weight loss are only slightly less common among males as they are among females.

Common and specific male body image anxieties include:

man representing male body image issue
  • Gynecomastia (“girl boobs”)
male body image issues with male comparing himself against a statue
  • Penile Dysphoria
boy with low muscle tone representing male body image issues
  • Low muscle tone
back of a seated bald man at a pond reflecting on his male body image issue of baldness
  • Balding
  • Height
  • Inadequate muscularity (not being ‘buff’ enough)

2. Concern with being seen as sensitive, flawed, or weak

Some men with body image issues worry that if they reveal their insecurities, people will ridicule them. In some cases, other kids (and/or adults) made fun of them in childhood.

A history of teasing about physical appearance is not uncommon. Even decades later, it can have a haunting effect. (“Shorty,” “Fatty,” “Titty Boy” are examples of nicknames that haunt.)

Men with high(er) body dissatisfaction are more likely to have high(er) levels of anxiety and depression –  another big reason male body image issues are a taboo topic. Stigma still exists, despite advances in mental health awareness.

Many males with body image issues cope by engaging in behaviors they think will improve their relationships with their bodies.

Diet Culture promises that if males (and females) engage in certain activities, they’ll look better, feel better, and be better human beings. (Empty promise alert.)

Here are some of the do-this-and-you-will-look-better methods:

  • over exercising
A man flexing his large muscles while admiring himself shows male body image issues risks
  • using steroids
male body image issues represented by a thin male's torso
  • fad dieting
male body image issues are real
A photo of a naken man with his hands covering his face, demonstrating male body image issues
  • Others avoid public events and social gatherings

It doesn’t matter their body type — skinny, thick, tall, short. Being male doesn’t protect from body image issues.

3. Gender role conflict

Males feel conflicted between improving body image and fearing others will regard them as less masculine if they talk about their body hang-ups. They want to appear cool and confident rather than risk any negative social impact of body image woes.

Cultural stereotypes hurt men, too.

Researchers have found that men with an increased drive for muscularity are even less likely to get help for body image issues. This in turn increases their risk of mental health problems.

To compensate for body image issues, some boys and men act out by dominating others physically, verbally, and/or emotionally.

Male body dissatisfaction is an important subject. And its consequences to physical and psychological health are real.

Body image help

If you’re male and have body image issues, seeking professional help is a good idea. 

If you have associated destructive behaviors such as crash dieting, binge eating, steroid use, or compulsive exercise, professional help becomes necessary. 

Male body image issues put boys and men at higher risk for lots of negative outcomes. Hiding behind male bravado makes seeking help harder and doesn’t benefit anyone.

Boys and men are less comfortable than girls and women talking about these issues. 

While body positivity among women has recently grown, male body positivity hasn’t received much attention.

Stigma around male body image issues and related mental health challenges often prevents boys and men from speaking honestly about their experiences and seeking treatment.

Boys and men have bodies, just like all other human beings. 

They also have feelings, including feelings about their bodies. 

Normalizing this fact will help all people, regardless of gender, feel more comfortable seeking support and living happily in their bodies.

Consider it your birthright. 

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, coach, and consultant in MA. Areas of expertise include body image, eating disorder recovery, and Highly Sensitive People. 

How Effective Are Anti-Anxiety and Depression Meds?

There’s a decision that millions of people have to make at a time when they have the greatest difficulty making decisions. The decision is more complicated than pondering how effective anti-anxiety and depression meds are.

When anxiety and/or depression begins to slowly, pervasively suffocate the “life out of life,” people have to choose. Do I continue down this path into the dark unknown by myself…or do I get help? And what if that help involves anti-anxiety and depression meds? Do I want to go that route?

Compared to even a few decades ago, discussion of mental health has begun to step out of the shadows into the light of day. Especially after the height of the Covid pandemic. And yet, understanding, acceptance, compassion, and treatment still have so far to go.

For as common as anxiety and depressive disorders are, their negative impact on every aspect of life is largely understated.

Anxiety disorders, for example, are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 40 million people over 18 years of age every year.

And major depressive disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for those between 15 and 44.3 years of age.

What should give you (and all of us) pause is the sheer magnitude of these forms of mental illness…and their impact.

For instance, depression and anxiety can cause memory loss if left untreated.

The person suffering with any form of anxiety or depressive disorder isn’t the only one who suffers. Everyone in theirr sphere suffers. Like the sufferer, they miss out on the full potential of life and relationships.

And the debilitating effects trickle all the way down to money. 

a red piggy bank with white polka dots representing the financial impact of ineffectiveness of meds for anxiety and depression

Every year, our economy loses billions of dollars to the disabilities of anxiety and depression. Missed work, unsatisfactory job performance, inability to stay employed, choice of employment. It’s all connected.

So how do you know when worry has turned into panic? Or performance jitters become an anxiety disorder? Or the blues that have fallen over your mood have become clinical depression?

How do you even start the process of considering anti-anxiety and depression meds?

Great questions!

First, look at your life:

  • Is your mood interfering with your normal functioning? 
  • Do you been feeling consistently down?
  • Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy?
  • Have your eating, weight, sleep, energy changed in the past two weeks without changing back to normal? 
  • Is your mood affecting your work and relationships?
  • Are you irritable? Obsessing? Having physical symptoms like increased heart rate or sweaty palms?

The diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD), for example, has strict diagnostic criteria

This is important, in part, because anxiety and depression are not diagnosable via a blood test (someday?) or biopsy. They rely on a person’s ability (and willingness) to make an honest assessment of their mental state based on specific, clinically provided criteria.

They also rely on the knowledge, experience, and intuition of psychiatric and psychological professionals to interpret and help clarify that assessment in order to proceed with treatment.

In these ways, anxiety and depression, like mental illness in general, are subjectively diagnosed.

What does all this have to do with the efficacy of anti-anxiety and depression meds?

A lot, actually.

First, it helps you know when it’s time to see your doctor about treatment for anxiety and depression. This appointment may include discussing anti-anxiety and depression meds.

Far too much mental illness remains undiagnosed, and therefore untreated. People tend to downplay their symptoms. Sometimes they don’t recognize their symptoms.

Second, it helps to distinguish the severity of the disorder and potential overlap with other disorders.

Case in point, anxiety and depression often occur together. Many of their symptoms overlap, and many of their treatment methods overlap.

Third, the severity of anxiety and depression is related to the effectiveness of anti-anxiety and depression meds.

Let’s take a quick look at history…

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that antidepressants made their official clinical introduction. 

The monoamine hypothesis laid the groundwork for the development of many antidepressant drugs in use today. 

Its premise is that the underlying cause of depressive disorders is a depletion of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the central nervous system. 

The gist? Keep these monoamines from being absorbed back into their transmitting neurons, and they could make it across neural synapses to waiting neurons. 

The pathway of these important mood-affecting neurotransmitters, therefore, would remain uninterrupted.

When it comes to anti-anxiety and depression meds, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are probably the most familiar. Names like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Paxil have become commonplace in everyday conversations.

Zoloft is the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication. It is the usual first-line medication for the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD because of its efficacy and safety.

And yet, even good news and positive results in medicine are not without controversy and conflicting research.

Anti-anxiety and depression meds are no exception.

How studies are conducted – and even by whom – can influence results.

Consider, for example, studies by pharmaceutical companies that have a vested interest in a drug. Or studies involving placebos that aren’t the sugar-pill format we normally think of for placebos.

By the time results are carefully converted to abstracts, then packaging, then advertising, and then passed to clinicians and patients, relevant information can become blurred.

Of course patients want to know if anti anxiety and antidepressant meds are safe. Are they going to work?

When dealing with a diagnosis as subjective as mood disorders, perceived effectiveness of meds can vary widely.

In general, research suggests the tricyclic antidepressants (SSRIs and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors [SNRIs]) are effective in relieving depression symptoms in about 20% of people.

It’s important to note that antidepressants are more effective for chronic, moderate, and severe depression.

They don’t help as much in cases of mild depression.

And this research doesn’t take into account the melancholic subtype of depressive disorder, which may have more symptoms and be more difficult to treat than other types of depression.

These first-line antidepressants are also used with similar effectiveness for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), although not all anti-anxiety meds are effective.

Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for another. 

If a baseline medication like Zoloft (sertraline) isn’t doing the job, a clinician will usually “move up the ladder.” 

A patient could end up taking a whole cocktail of meds to achieve desired results. All while attempting to offset specific side effects.

a pill container showing that the effectiveness of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications is still not understood

Does this medical-speak sound somewhat “unclear?” Yes?! Well, you’re onto something.

Science (including medicine) builds upon itself. What we “knew” 40 years ago may be a window to more relevant today.

The monoamine theory is a perfect example.

The belief that depression and anxiety are caused by deficiencies in transporting serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine has now come up against conflicting research.

But, for the person living under a dark cloud of depression and anxiety, emerging data may be of little comfort.

At least until a more effective solution is found.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, coach, and consultant in Massachusetts. Her areas of expertise include treatment of eating disorders, body image, and Highly Sensitive People.

What Parents Must Know About Social Media and Body Image Research

Helicopter parents, listen up! You may risk hearing, “I hate you!” followed by a slamming door as your teenager storms away. But this is an important credential to add to your (so your child thinks) overprotective parenting resumé. Social media and body image research are on screen-time overdrive for kids. And you ought to be aware of the messages those impressionable minds are seeking — and getting.

Being online

Pre-millennial adults may have difficulty remembering when the world went digital. 

“I vaguely remember libraries with physical books and card catalogs.”

“Computers were enormous, alien objects that competed for valuable decorating space in the house. And there was none of this ‘internet’ stuff.”

“Salespeople used to knock on doors to sell encyclopedias. If your family had the money to own a set, you could do research for your science fair project right at home. The information may have been 50 years old, but still….”

“Cameras used to use this stuff called film….”

A roll of film

“And pay phones…are there even any pay phones left?”

Payphones existed in the days before social media and online apps existed

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, moms did a weekly sneak-swipe of their teens’ rooms to check for dirty laundry and dirty magazines. 

They didn’t have to investigate “search histories” or worry about their kids’ alter-realities on social media. And body image research? WTH is that?

Today, however, parents have to be on top of their game. And their kids’ game.

Would you be surprised to learn that, according to a 2018 Pew study, 45% of 13-17-year-olds are online almost constantly?

Being on social media

And 97% use a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram.

Let that sink in for a minute. 

We are all so accustomed to being in constant engagement with the digital world that we are, at least as a society, practically numb to authentic person-to-person engagement. 

You know, the “IRL” kind of interaction. 

The eating-dinner-as-a-family-with-no-phones-or-TV kind of interaction.

The looking-up-from-your-phone-and-into-another-person’s-eyes kind of interaction.

The “I-want-to-meet-your-friends-and-know-where-you’re-going” kind of interaction.

So it may not even dawn on many parents that their kids’ well-being could be directly related to their time spent online.

But such is our (relatively) new reality. 

As you do the dance of holding-on-while-letting-go, it’s more important than ever that you pay attention to your child’s moods and self-concept.

It’s also critical that you keep at least a side-eye on his or her eating and exercise habits.

Between growing bodies, chaotic hormones, mood swings, and physically active lives, teens especially can make detection of eating disorders difficult.

But here’s a reality check that might – and should – frighten you:

Approximately 30 million people in the US have an eating disorder, and 95% of them are between the ages of 12 and 25.

Also, eating disorders have the highest rate of death of any mental illness.

Again, let that sink in for a minute.

“Mmyyy child? My cheerleader, church choir, straight-A, always respectful child? An eating disorder? Mmm noo, I don’t think so.”

So what does all this have to do with social media?

Everything, actually.

Here are several things that parents need to know about social media and body image research:

Research shows a correlation between negative body image and time spent on social media, especially when study participants were scrolling through appearance-related content (models, fitness trainers, etc.).

Social media is not necessarily detrimental to body image.

It can actually have positive effects, especially if the content is about inclusion, “ditching the make-up,” and “regular” people doing “regular” activities.

Social media, like other sites on the internet, can be a great resource for useful information.

A site or Facebook page for healthful recipes, for example, may seem harmless enough, especially if your teen has an interest in cooking.

But what happens when a teen who is shunned at school and teased online for being “chubby” finds social media ads for weight loss?

Suddenly an appreciation for healthful cooking and eating can become a cunning way to hide a developing eating disorder.

Another positive of social media is that it allows kids to create online identities and to build a sense of community without geographic barriers.

Social media platforms allow for creative expression – through words, photography, graphics, and even the choice of what external content to share.

Kids can join groups based on common interests and/or support.

And they can learn about people across multiple variables like race, religion, talent, interests…and physical appearance.

A negative of social media is that it allows kids to create online identities and to build a sense of community without geographic barriers.


Social media platforms allow for creative expression – through words, photography (often filtered through glamorizing photo apps), graphics, and even the choice of what external content to share.

See where I’m going with this?

The very qualities that are positives when used properly can become negatives and even dangers when they’re not.

Multiple studies have been done to determine relationships, if any, between social media use and mental health issues.

The results probably won’t surprise you, but they should give you pause.

From spending more than three hours on social media daily to using social media more than three times daily, the correlation and predictability are there.

It’s not just how much kids use social media, but how they use it.


Those who turn to social media and body image research for comparative reasons prove to be definitively less happy.

A teenager demonstrating how social media and body image interact


They’re also more prone to depression and anxiety.

Why?

Because they’re convinced that everyone else they see is happier – and prettier/skinnier/more buff and (fill in the blank) than they are.

Even the passive viewing of others’ posts and photos on social media can lead to lower body and life satisfaction.

People, especially kids, who participate in social media aren’t always prudent about what they share. And they can inadvertently open themselves up to the cruelty of those on social media who don’t have a self-filter.

Now apply that to personal photos posted for all the world to see.

Suddenly it’s not difficult to see how reactively a teen in the throes of a developing self-concept can end up with body image issues.

What’s the takeaway for parents when it comes to social media and body image research?

First, social media in and of itself is not a bad thing. Like everything else, it’s how/how much/why it’s used that determines its influence.

As a parent, you have more control than you may think.

First, take stock of how you use social media and what your body image is like. Social media can affect body image for people of all ages, parents included.

Limit your child’s use of cell phones and social media. Put boundaries around the time and setting of cell phones (not after a certain time at night, not during meals, etc.). 

Monitor your child’s accounts (and let him/her know you are doing so). 

Talk with your child about what is true, right, healthy, kind, appropriate. 

And always encourage the first part of social media: social(ize)…

…IRL!

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, coach, and consultant who specializes in helping people of all ages feel more comfortable in their bodies.

7 Body Image Affirmations EVERY HSP Needs To Explore

A black women from the chest up is smiling, as if uses body image affirmations to help with her self care.

You’re aware. Of darn near everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s outside of you or inside of you, it doesn’t get by you. And by golly, that goes for your body, too. Thanks to Diet Culture, feeling badly about your own body is more common than not. Add in the heightened awareness and depth of processing characteristic of Highly Sensitive People, and your body-awareness is probably off the charts. So we’re going to go all Hallmark and pull out the body image affirmations to shift your awareness to what truly matters. 

If you struggle with body image, you probably believe that the only way to feel better about your body is to change it. 

And changing it typically means depriving it so it becomes smaller, thinner, more toned….and therefore more desirable to others. 

It’s a formulaic process, really: Tiny-fying your body = success and happiness.It’s also bullshit.

Sorry not sorry for the language, but it is.

 All that nonsense is a big “fat” lie. 

Whether your body is a size zero or a size twenty-two, loving your body lies in changing your body image, not its appearance. 

What is body image?

Body image refers to the way you perceive your body and how you believe others perceive it. It includes thoughts, feelings, behaviors, perceptions, and a sense of connection with your own body.

Body image is a big chunk of your self-esteem and self-confidence.

Developing and sustaining a positive body image is essential for living a happier life. 

Relying less (or not at all) on unrealistic beauty standards opens the door to nurturing and respecting your body.

However, improving body image is tough, especially when you’ve been hating and criticizing your body for so long. 

(If it hurts to read the words “hating and criticizing your body,” good! We’re making progress.)

Feeling the urge to change your body’s appearance stems from dissatisfaction with the way it looks.

Changing that perception is tough. And it doesn’t happen passively.

What is the secret sauce to improving negative body image?

Three words: changing your thoughts.

If you wonder how “just thinking differently” can help, I get it. Using different words to improve your relationship with your body sounds ridiculous.

But words carry weight (no pun intended).

How does changing self-talk about body image help you approach body image differently?

Reading and reflecting upon body image affirmations has the potential to help you to feel more comfortable in your body.

No matter how ridiculous or Pollyannaish it sounds, healthy mantras can be life-changing— even at a neurological level.

If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, body image affirmations can be especially helpful because of the way they fit in with your neurological processing. (Not sure what a Highly Sensitive Person is? Read about it here.)

The only real, sustained way to feel better about your body is to change  your relationship to (and your thoughts about) your body. 

(And, as more people do just that, the sooner the societal ideal will become less scripted, less narrowly defined. Perhaps  it will even become inclusive!)

What matters most about improving your relationship with your body is what changes in your mind, not in your body. I’m talking about thoughts, reflections, and ideas as opposed to specific actions.

I used to think affirmations were just a cheesy attempt to inspire and uplight. There may be times that’s still true; but I’ve come to realize there is more to them than empty promises of rainbows and butterflies.

The words we say to ourselves really do matter.

Where thoughts go, energy flows. 

Shifting self-talk is about more than mere semantics.

Body image affirmations are helpful for anyone who struggles to love his or her body. But for an HSP? They’re a card-carrying essential. Here are a few power-packed body image affirmations to make you pause and see your physical self in a whole new light:

1. I’m grateful to have a body.

Because I have a body, I am able to feel, hear, see, smell, and taste. I can (fill in the blank).

I imagine her saying, “Yes I am happy to have a body! Very! How else could I chase my little brother? And I stayed up late last night and hung out with the grownups! We ate chocolate-covered strawberries. Thank you, Body. I was able to do all of that because of my body. And I love this dress because it is fancy and makes me feel like a princess.”

2. I can trust my body.

This Highly Sensitive woman feels free and comfortable as she enjoys time outside…in her body. She is not hiding any parts of her glorious body. The soft breeze, warm sun, and scent of the beach are possible for her to experience because she has a body.

A wonan who is an HSP female appearing to enjoy her body as the affirmation reminds her to do

“This bathing suit feels so comfortable, and I really like how relaxed I feel just enjoying the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze, and the laughter of my friend— especially because she is laughing at my jokes! Being carefree and funny comes naturally when I am not preoccupied with my weight.”

3. My body deserves respect.

With a big brimmed pink hat, she walks down the street with pride in and respect for herself.

With body-respect comes self-respect.

“When I smile at people, they usually smile back. They aren’t looking me up and down or evaluating my weight. If they are, so what? What they think of me is none of my business. Plus, I have so many other things to think about…or not to think about!”

4. My life’s purpose is about so much more than to shrink my body.

This Angie Weiland-Crosby quote is a reminder of the intricate, sensual ways your body takes in and experiences the world. But only if you allow it to do so.

a body image  affirmation especially for HSPs

“Living in the empty, stark jail cell of my own body of hate means I limit what I see, feel, hear, taste, and touch. I deserve more, and so does my body. I have the key to leave this prison, and I will unlock the door and escape back to my birthright of living life fully.” (Pun intended. Living life fully means you see through a different lens than you did when living life chronically hungrily.)

5. My body provides me infinite ways to experience life.

Sometimes we take for granted what brings us pleasure and opportunity. (Or we default to negative commentary about it.) 

The phrase “you don’t know what you have ‘till it’s gone” comes to mind. 

Why not delight in your one-and-only body in the here and now, while you can? 

Relating to your own body more as an instrument than as an ornament is like discovering a secret treasure in a place you have gone for years but have never really seen.

“I am tired of seeing, feeling, touching, hearing my world in colorlessness. I am not a robot. Turning on and up the colors of emotions, touch, sounds, and more means I am appreciating the beating of my heart, the pulsing of energy throughout my body, and the wonder of my senses. That is what it means to have a body. How closely my body matches an unrealistic objectified ideal is not the purpose of having a body. Being in it as I travel through each moment is the purpose.”

A woman's hand with sand sprinkling through it could represent a Highly Sensitive Person's body image affirmation of the tactile benefits of having a body

“Because I have a body, I am able to feel the softness of the sand as it flows through my fingers. I also get to wear purple nail polish that is so fun to look at my fingers and see!”

Being a Highly Sensitive Person has its perks, one of which is your natural ability to deeply feel the joys and beauty in the world. The way you take in the world through your senses is magical.

Unless they familiarize themselves with the beautiful things High Sensitivity offers, HSPs have a hard time understanding why they have the thoughts and feelings they have,  how to appreciate them and make healthier choices. 

6. What if you did not revolve your life around fitting into cultural beauty standards?

Whatever your body size and shape, being more comfortable in your body means changing your mindset, not so much your appearance. 

Your relationship with your body affects all aspects of life. Body image is central to self-esteem and self-confidence.

Worrying about what other people (whoever they are)  think about your body highlights their value system over your own. Do you really want to do that?

If your answer is no, or if you’re just curious about other options beyond living with “normative discontent,” try the following . And consider it to be an experiment.

What if you used body image “iffirmations” rather than body image affirmations?

Try the “what if” version of statements. 

This version of self-talk goes well beyond semantics, even beyond my delight of quirky word puns. 

Think of it as an experiment, just to see what happens.…

Take the statement, “I love my body.” 

Repeat it to yourself and notice what happens.

Maybe your recoil? Snicker? Giggle? Feel warmth spread throughout? 

There is no wrong way to feel.

Now ask yourself, “What if I (were to) love my body?” 

Notice the feelings and sensations that arise.

Even if you do not believe it, saying it to yourself can help you recognize improved body image as an intention, as something to be working toward.

By saying “what if,” you add space andenergy’ to the possibility of actual contentment in your body.

As an HSP, you’re especially aware of internal sensations, both those that feel good and others that don’t feel particularly good. 

You get to choose the input, and therefore the outcome.

7. I’m just missing out by refusing to eat cake, pasta, chips…or anything. Food is meant to be enjoyed. My body is meant to be a happy (or at least neutral) place!

However, improving body image is a tough journey, especially when you’ve been hating and criticizing yours for so long. (Thanks a lot, Diet Culture.) 

Feeling the urge to change your body’s appearance stems from dissatisfaction with the way it looks. 

You and I were not born dissatisfied with the way our bodies look. Diet Culture taught us dissatisfaction.

How to chip away at negative body image and start finding peace — and even joy — in your body? Notice what you are saying to yourself about your body. Gently shift the focus to the good that your body offers. Where thoughts go, energy flows.

So choose thoughts wisely. Be deliberate about using body image affirmations. 

And make them your own.

Diet Culture will know when it has overstayed its welcome.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist and coach specializing in body image, eating disorders, and Highly Sensitive People. For over two decades, she has worked with hundreds of men and women to help them find comfort and even joy in their own skin.

Ask The Psychologist: Can Depression And Anxiety Cause Memory Loss?

Mind and behavior

Psychology may be the scientific study of the mind and behavior, but not to the exclusion of the physical seat of the mind, the brain. The interplay between physical and non-physical is as central to research and treatment as it is to everyday life. Within the seemingly isolated topics of depression, anxiety, and memory loss, for example, an important question is taking on attention: Can Depression And Anxiety Cause Memory Loss?

The human brain is a frontier under constant exploration. It’s not unlike the infinite universe that boggles the non-astronomical mind. For every discovery made, a new galaxy opens. More questions. More theories. And more research.

A woman sitting on a red couch in front of a lit sign "Feelings", appearing to be someone who could benefit from tips to manage depression and anxiety flareups

Take depression, for example. While contemporary psychology may employ a wide array of therapies to treat it, depression has a startling history of far-reaching diagnoses and “treatments.”

In the second millenium B.C.E., “experts” treated depression, like most illnesses, as a spiritual condition – the result of demonic possession.

Through the ages, theories have evolved. And “treatments” have run an often frightening course – from witch hunts to bloodletting to frontal lobotomies. 

Today we tread with compassion and the backing of science in the quest for truth and treatment. Depression, like anxiety and other forms of mental illness, now has a voice and a spotlight for deeper understanding. Thank goodness.

One of the common complaints of those who suffer from depression and/or anxiety is memory loss, or cognitive impairment. 

Specifically, the working/short-term memory is affected. Words, names, directions, executive functioning, decision-making, locating and misplacing objects – the crazy-making stuff that adds insult to injury.

The long-term memory – remembering key events and people from your life, for example – remains intact.

What’s the connection here? How is it that suffering from low mood, disinterest, irritability, hopelessness, and other symptoms of depression can wreak havoc with basic mental tasks?

With regard to depression, we know for certain it’s linked to structural and chemical changes in the brain. And these changes can begin at the onset of depression and even continue after depressive symptoms have been resolved.

Specifically, the affected areas are the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. These areas are all involved in cognition and emotional processing, connected neurally via synapses and neurotransmitters. What affects one affects all.

In addition to the interconnection of these areas, there’s also overlap with the stress response systems.

In other words, your mood, cognition, and ability to handle stress are all firing off the same circuitry.

The way depression and anxiety cause memory loss has to do with stress.

A man demonstrating his stress and perhaps memory loss from anxiety and depression

The body’s stress response system is masterfully designed to engage during fight-or-flight situations. It triggers a cascade of changes that can be life-saving if you’re engaged in a staredown with a predator. 

But it can also be counterproductive if it overstays its welcome or gets triggered in situations that don’t warrant it. (In that regard, one might wonder if perhaps the stress response hasn’t caught up with human evolution.)

Those who suffer from chronic anxiety, with or without depression, know the constant worry and fear, also known as are trademarks of the condition. 

Everything is a perceived threat. A headache, a flat tire, something a loved one says (or doesn’t say), a message from Human Resources – it all triggers a stress response. And in flows the cortisol that, under acutely threatening situations, would sharpen the mind and give the body superhero powers.

But day in and day out? That kind of chronic stress response does more harm than good.

Add in the lack of sleep that usually accompanies anxiety, and “brainpower” spreads itself thin – or diminishes altogether.

What many people inexperienced with clinical depression don’t understand is the difference between situational sadness and chronic depression. 

Everyone experiences periods of sadness, irritability, anxiety, and grief. But people who live with clinical depression don’t bounce back as quickly.

And the longer one lives with depression, the more permanent the effects become.

From a purely physical standpoint, depression related memory loss can be attributed to depression’s three startling effects on the brain:

  • shrinkage (of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and thalamus)
  • inflammation
  • decreased oxygen supply

When you think about the physical effects of anxiety and depression, chances are they’re effects you can actually sense. You feel your hands sweating, your heart racing, your head hurting. And you see the change in your weight from the change in your eating habits.

You also feel the frustration of not being able to complete everyday tasks. You’re distracted, preoccupied, exhausted, disinterested.

But your brain shrinking? Being inflamed? Not getting enough oxygen?

This all starts to sound like the defining brain atrophy of Alzheimer’s.

And that raises even more questions and cause for research.

If depression and anxiety cause memory loss, how do we need to change the narrative around these disorders?

And around mental health in general?

How do science, medicine, psychiatry, and psychology improve on the detection, intervention, treatment, and management of depression and anxiety?

If depression and anxiety can cause memory loss, is the reverse equally true or at least plausible? Can memory loss cause depression and anxiety in an otherwise non-depressed person?

Can we medically stop or reverse the changes to the brain caused by depression and anxiety?

If medical and psychological intervention can keep sufferers flourishing despite anxiety and depression, can memory loss be mitigated? 

If depression, anxiety, and memory loss can co-occur symptomatically, can a “cure” for one hold the key to curing the others?

In the frontier of the human brain and mind, there will always be more questions than answers. 

But look how far we’ve come.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a MA based psychologist and coach, specializing in eating disorders, anxiety and depression, and body image. She especially enjoys working with Highly Sensitive People. 

The Highly Sensitive Person Lifestyle: Yup, It’s Real & Glorious

Section of a platter beautifully decorated with berries and leaves, demonstrating the Higly Sensitive Person lifestyle

Discussions of lifestyle usually center on net worth, material possessions, travel, and social life. The word conjures up thoughts of “life outside a person”: What do you have? Where do you go? What do you do for fun? What can you afford? Do you keep up with the Kardashians? But, for the Highly Sensitive Person, “lifestyle” is an expression of a unique, rich, vibrant inner life. It is carefully, thoughtfully chosen, as much out of necessity as out of preference.

For the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) who understands and embraces the unique trait of High Sensitivity (HS), life can be gloriously lived.

For the HSP who still lives in the dark with regard to the trait of High Sensitivity, life can be a constant struggle to fit in.

Who are these HSPs? And what is so special about them that they warrant a discussion of their own “lifestyle”? 

Highly Sensitive People come into the world that way. High sensitivity is an inborn trait, not something cultivated, practiced, or achieved.

If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. Even some HSPs are still unfamiliar with this special neurological make-up that wasn’t really discussed or researched until the 1990’s. 

Because HSPs process information deeply (their most defining characteristic), their formula for being happy in life doesn’t equate with that of the majority.

HSPs need somewhat different things in life than non-HSPs to be happy.

Making the most of the Highly Sensitive Person lifestyle depends, in large part, on keeping the inherent strengths of High Sensitivity at the helm. Only then can the many advantages of HS prevail.

The HSP who lives true to the special gifts — and needs — of HIgh Sensitivity can live a life rich with meaning, depth, and pleasure. 

In other words, an ideal Highly Sensitive Person lifestyle.

This is about congruence and the alignment of thoughts and feelings with the body’s HS experience.

The result of this congruence is an added dimension infused into each moment.

If you are an HSP, you probably have an instinctive awareness that what works best for the majority of people (non-HSPs) may not work so great for you.

And how could it? The High Sensitivity trait is present in only 15-20% of the population. The majority of people don’t operate on your frequency.

What is (and is not) High Sensitivity?

High Sensitivity is defined differently from the dictionary definition of “sensitive.”

It’s not a flaw, diagnosis, disorder, or curse. Nor does it mean you are “too sensitive,” a “crybaby,” or weak.

Unfortunately, HSPs and non-HSPs have been conditioned–at least in this culture–to view sensitivity as bad. 

HSPs are used to being told they are “too sensitive” and “need to toughen up,” as if being Highly Sensitive is a fault and not a “wiring” present from birth. 

Contrary to our cultural understanding of sensitivity, HS is associated with what has been referred to as “superpowers.”

What does that mean?

For starters, it means that, from the first moments of life, you’re aware of subtle messages both outside and inside yourself.

You’re sensitive to emotional stimuli (e.g. feelings, facial expressions, words, social cues of people around you) as well as physical stimuli (sounds, lights, textures, temperature, smells). 

You feel deeply and care profoundly.

But wait, there’s more!

Empathy, conscientiousness, creativity, attention to detail, perceptiveness, and an ability to pick up on nuances that others miss are just a few additional strengths.

When you understand what High Sensitivity is, you recognize that you, like all HSPs, are anything but weak.

Your strength is in the details. You have no “weak links” because you pick up on, process, and respond to…well…everything!

And the more your Highly Sensitive Person lifestyle aligns with your unique intrinsic preferences, the more your strength increases.

But superpowers come with responsibility. And the weight of that cape can sometimes feel heavy.

In fact, only 15-20% of the population has one to begin with. And that means a small slice of the world is navigating life very differently than most of the world. 

It’s imperative, therefore, that you know the kind of lifestyle that best suits you as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Having innate sensitivity bestows both advantages and disadvantages. Recognizing the pros and cons of the trait provides ample opportunity to create the perfect Highly Sensitive personal lifestyle for yourself.

A Highly Sensitive Person lifestyle should include space, both practically and metaphorically.

A woman is in a swing, suggesting she is taking time to recalibrate as part of her Highly Sensitive Person lifestyle.
  • (Cue the HSP theme song: Don’t Fence Me In.) HSPs need physical, mental, and emotional space. 
  • HSPs require an opportunity to reset their nervous systems after stimulating activities that deplete them.
  • After a particularly unfulfilling or shallow interaction, HSPs’ emotions feel drained. Taking space in the form of solo refuge and quiet surroundings helps. So does finding a different physical space in which to re-energize.
  • At the end of a long day, resorting to a quiet, dimly lit area in the home helps to reregulate the nervous system and provide more inner calm.
  • Having a quiet, safe, beautifully decorated space to retreat to is super important. Adding “soothing tools” (music, clay, adult coloring books, etc.) is an extra step toward helping you feel at ease. 
  • How space looks and feels matters. It can rejuvenate and soothe…or create unease and discomfort. Be intentional!
  • The most awesome space for HSPs is in nature.  Ocean, beach, woods, mountains, fields— all are examples of physical space that provides luscious inner mind space.
  • What kind of space has the opposite effect? Think of a crowded elevator. And all the crammed-in strangers are just leaving a hot yoga class on the 10th floor. For an HSP, that 10-floor ride might as well be a field trip to Hell.

HSPs also benefit from having enough time.

  • Rushing or nagging an HSP with time pressures will have a crippling effect, and everyone will lose. HSPs need time to transition between activities/days/schedules, time to respond in conversations, and time to arrive for appointments “on time” or early.
  • Time to adjust to changes is important to HSPs. Even positive changes, like starting a new relationship, can be overstimulating and thus require an additional period of adjustment.
  • The tendency to straddle the “Old Soul” and “Late Bloomer” line has to do with an existential sense of time. 
  • HSPs tend to be more aware than non-HSPs of mortality, and their depth of processing reflects that awareness.
  • Because of deep processing, HSPs may appear to move more slowly than non-HSPs. It is actually not about moving more slowly, but having more considerations, thoughts, and feelings to process. 
  • HSPs need more time to make decisions and complete activities because of all the data they process in their minds at once.

HSPs seek and need meaning in life.

  • Our culture tends to emphasize the external.
  • To go within ourselves and get in touch with ideas, feelings, and theories is super healing.
  • HSPs tend to be lovers of animals, whose souls feel kindred!
  • And being with someone who understands and/or values that practice is invigorating and adds even more meaning to our life.
  • HSPs crave deep connection with others. They may even get bored in relationships lacking meaningful interaction. HSPs may work harder to create intimacy with their partner.

“Sensitivity can be overwhelming, but it is also like having extra RAM on my personal hard drive…Creativity is the pressure valve for all that accumulated emotional and sensory data.”

–Deborah Ward

HSPs need replenishment.

  • HSPs don’t do well on a go-go-go schedule.
  • Time to relax lowers stimulation levels and restores balance.
  • Everyday sources of depletion include small talk, loud environments, crowded spaces
  • Key sources of replenishment include nature, quiet time, meaningful relationships, and rest.
  • HSPs need a restful night of 8 hours sleep to offset the day’s impact on their nervous system.

Being intentional about how and where you spend time and energy is central to creating an ideal lifestyle. Be deliberate about how you create your way of living life so that your strengths as an HSP are indeed superpowers.This includes making sure you provide yourself with time and space to attune to your internal self. 

A Chatham seal, representing a hypothetical lifestyle perk for the Highly Sensitive

HSPs crave and pursue meaning. Questions such as “who am I”? “Why am I here”? “Why was I put on this earth”? “How can I make a difference?” are common.

Being aware of how you spend and replenish time and energy, and what kind of lifestyle feels most fulfilling, makes a huge difference – to you, your community, and the world at large.

(By the way, plump, juicy berries with fresh mint leaves as garnish are the kinds of “little” things that make for a happier, more meaningful and beautiful dish – and life! Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest.) 

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist in the Boston area. Helping HSPs thrive and live their best lives is one of her greatest passions. 

P.S. The photos of the seals are from my annual HSP retreat on Cape Cod.

13 Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds For Anxiety And Depression

A woman and a service dog

You swear you can’t live without him. And he is faithfully sworn to your happiness. He doesn’t check a damn thing off your honey-do list, and you couldn’t care less. You’re happy to swap poop-scooping and fur on…well, everything…for the unconditional love and uncomplicated companionship. You may even have one of the best emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression and not know it. Lucky you!

We’ve all seen the memes –  and may even own the t-shirt by now: “I love dogs, (insert other interest), and maybe three people.” 

Slap a heart emoji on that one because oh, how we all understand and agree!

In fact, we understand and agree so much that the preference for dog company over human company rarely fazes us, even when we’re the competition!

Overview

Given the choice between a human and canine, plenty of people would choose to keep company with a dog. Any day. Paws down.

Dogs are, after all, less complicated to live with than most humans. 

They don’t weigh down your relationship with a bunch of emotional drama. And their presence can be a natural antidote to human-created stress. 

Toss in the cuteness, cuddliness, manipulative eyes, gratis entertainment, and gift of living in the moment, and the preference is understandable.

It’s no wonder humans have come to their senses, bringing their furry friends in from the doghouse and onto the furniture.

Beyond companionship and love, however, some dogs provide something extra. Something indispensable. Something potentially life-saving.

Depending on their owners’ needs, some dogs take on very specific service and support roles.

While any breed can get the part, some breeds are, in general, a more natural fit.

After distinguishing between service dogs and emotional support dogs, we’ll look at the best emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression. 

Are service dogs the same as emotional support dogs?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) — emotional support dogs (ESDs) included — are not the same as service animals. 

(For a beautiful story about service dogs and their human counterparts, check out “Pick of the Litter.”)

Service animals, most often dogs, have specific jobs to do. And they go through extensive behavior and task-specific training to meet the call.

They are responsible for helping their handlers, who may have mobility issues, medical alert needs, or a health condition such as diabetes, severe allergies, or multiple sclerosis.

Visual assistant service dogs (aka guide dogs), for example, have been helping people with blindness or sight impairment since 1929.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development requires special training for service dogs, but not for emotional support dogs. 

(Basic behavior and obedience training is a logical recommendation for any non-regulated, non-certified animal that serves its human in a supportive capacity. Heck, it’s just basic good sense for any dog.)

An ESD may not have the training or designated job of a service dog. But its value to its owner is equally impactful.

And the relationship between an ESD and its owner is one of deep connection and inter-reliance.. 

ESDs enhance quality of life in ways that are difficult to put into words. 

Dogs may be the most popular emotional support animal. But they don’t own the market on assuaging the effects of anxiety and depression.

Practically any domesticated animal can qualify to provide emotional support – cats, hedgehogs, teacup pigs, miniature horses, rabbits, hedgehogs, mice, even (yes) snakes. 

While any dog can be an ESD, some are consistently the best emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression.

What is the definition of an emotional support dog?

ESDs provide therapeutic benefits, including anxiety relief, companionship, and comfort. The intensely loving and devoted bond they have with their humans provides emotional stability their humans would otherwise struggle to maintain.

When suffering from anxiety, depression, and/or some other mental health issue, the support of an ESD can be invaluable.

There is no required training for ESDs. They are ‘prescribed’ by a licensed mental health provider as part of the process outlined here.

Even though all dogs can offer support, the best emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression have traits that make them well suited for the role. 

These breeds tend to be gentle, laid-back, and sociable. They’re also highly trainable and are all about pleasing their human friend/owner.

Let’s explore some of the specific ways ESDs help their human beneficiaries.

Here are 4 benefits of emotional support dogs for people with anxiety and depression:

1. Improved Sleep

ESDs can help you sleep by providing a sense of security to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. 

With anxiety or depression, sleep is often dysregulated. And sleep problems only worsen mental health symptoms.

2. Emotion Regulation

ESDs help their humans recognize and regulate feelings more effectively. 

Emotions are less likely to take over and overwhelm the human when the ESD senses a potential upset or intervenes during an upset.

3. Socialization

ESDs can help their humans make connections with other people, such as when taking a walk together or spending time in a dog park. 

Conversations tend to be easier when dogs are involved, especially when it comes to starting conversations.

4. Daily Routine

ESDs help people be more engaged in their own lives and have a sense of purpose. 

They give their humans a loving reason to wake up in the morning — “Feed me! Pet me! Walk me! Play with me!”

What size dog is best?

Any size dog can make a great ESD. After all, physical size has no bearing on the love, comfort, and support that pour out of a pure heart. 

But certain breeds have a predisposition to better temperament, trainability, and obedience.

There are pros and cons to having a small or large ESD.

Small ESDs are a great choice for people who live in cramped spaces such as apartments. 

They are also easier to travel with, in part because of airline and other transportation restrictions.

If you love having a perpetual lap dog, a small ESD will probably serve your needs better than, say, a Great Dane.

But then, doesn’t every dog think it’s a lap dog?

Certain traits, dispositions, and genetic tendencies will help you narrow down your options when choosing an emotional support dog breed.

Medium to large ESDs are an excellent choice for people who have more living space and maybe even a yard.

They may also be more of a deterrent to unwelcome attention (such as an intruder, bully, or thief) than a smaller dog.

Understanding your own personality, lifestyle, and needs is essential to creating this indissoluble match.

A larger, more energetic dog breed, for example, may inspire you — even out of necessity — to get back into exercise. 

Scenic hikes, jogging, kayaking, even dog-oriented activities like agility, dock-diving, and flyball. The physical engagement will mean a healthier body (for both of you), with the added benefit of endorphins for a healthier mind.

Key criteria to consider include temperament, energy level, and shedding. (But seriously, isn’t dog hair just a badge of honor?)

Here are 8 small emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression:

A chihuahua is one of the best emotional support dogs for anxiety and depression

1. Chihuahuas (long-haired or short-haired)

Pros:

  • WaWa’s are are kid-friendly.
  • With enough exercise and interaction, they calm down and adapt to a new setting.
  • They have a long life span (12-20 years).
  • They’re confident, loyal and outgoing.

Cons:

  • Chihuahuas can be nippy,  yappy, and feisty.
  • Both short- and long-hair Chihuahuas shed, usually in the spring and fall.
A poodle is a dog breed that provides emotional support for anxiety and depression

2. Poodles  Poodles come in 3 AKC sizes: Toy, Miniature, and Standard. 

There is also a medium-sized ‘tweener, the Moyen Poodle, for your sizing convenience.

Pros:

  • Poodles are super intelligent and trainable.
  • They respond well to learning new tricks.
  • They’re active.
  • And yea! they don’t shed.

Cons:

  • Even non-shedders need regular grooming. But then, don’t we all?
  • They need space to move around and expend energy.
A Cvlier King Charles Spaniel is one of the best eomtional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression

3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 

Also called the English Toy Spaniel, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has an interesting history..

Pros:

  • They have a sweet temperament.
  • They love to cuddle in your lap and snuggle on pillows. 
  • They’re gentle, friendly, and playful.
  • This breed is polite to people and gets along well with dogs and cats.
  • They are eager to please.
  • Their adorable ears and eyes provide positive vibes, especially if you’re sad.

Cons:

  • They shed heavily. (Your coats, couch, and sheets can attest to this!)
  • They may be timid.
  • As for their energy level, they love their walks and any chance to run, chase, and fetch.

4. Corgis

These low-riders were originally bred for farming and herding sheep.

Pros:

  • They’re intelligent, alert, and protective of their owner. (No wonder Her Majesty collects them like crowned jewels.)
  • They have a friendly, affectionate, and obedient temperament/personality.
  • They’re light hearted and especially helpful for people with anxiety.

Cons:

  • This breed requires a lot of exercise due to their innate herding instinct.
  • They shed heavily.
Pugs are among the best emotional support dogs for anxiety and depression

5. Pugs 

Pros:

  • Pugs have many human-like expressions, including surprise and happiness.
  • They’re versatile and get along well with children and seniors.
  • They adapt well to both urban and rural settings.
  • They’re affectionate.
  • Playful antics are a specialty.
  • Pugs have a lot of energy and enjoy running outside.
  • They tend to be curious about things and people.
  • Yea! for very little shedding!

Cons:

  • Training them is important so they know how to calm down.
  • Some people rule them out because of their facial features.
  • They can be mischievous.
Daschunds are among the best emotional support dog breed for anxiety and depression

6. Dachshunds

Dachshunds were bred to hunt animals that burrow, such as badgers and rabbits. Their short legs help them quickly hunt in narrow tunnels.

Pros:

  • “Weiner dogs” are highly trainable.
  • They’re affectionate, playful, and friendly.
  • Dachshunds are an excellent family companion.
  • They have a lot of stamina and energy.
  • Besides daily walks, they love playing outdoors with other dogs, digging holes in the yard, and hunting.

Cons:

  • Training your Dachshund in obedience before taking it to parks is especially important
  • They need to be brushed regularly and have their ears cleaned weekly.
  • Fungi, bacteria, and mites hide in their droopy ears.
  • They can be stubborn at first.
  • They hunt and dig holes, which can be problematic.
Yorkshire terriers are among the best emotional support dog breed for anxiety and depression

7. Yorkshire Terriers (“Yorkies”)

They’re small with enormous personalities!

Pros:

  • They’re small and portable.
  • They fit into small spaces easily and are good travel companions, especially on an airplane.
  • They are trainable and sensitive to dangers.
  • Their coat is long and silky, but doesn’t tend to shed.
  • Despite their small size, they love to chase, play, and pounce.
  • They’re considered curious, affectionate, and brave.

Cons:

  • They yap and bark at unfamiliar and suspicious sounds.
  • Their coat grows fast and requires regular trimming and constant brushing. 
  • They need to be walked and played with everyday.
  • Their small size may make them easy to accidentally step on.
Bichon frises are among the best emotional suppoor anxiety and depression

8. Bichon Frises

Pros:

  • Their fur is plushy and hypoallergenic – like a giant cotton ball!
  • Bichons tend to be easy-going and intelligent.
  • They’re alert to strangers and are great watchdogs.
  • They are curious, confident, and warm.
  • They love to stay by your side.
  • Bichons shed little and should be brushed two to three times a week.

Cons:

  • Their fur is all white. Just a heads-up to you mud puddles out there….
  • They resemble miniature poodles, which is a ‘con’ if you don’t like the poodle look.
  • They’re energetic and need daily exercise.

Often the same pros and cons are consistent across many breeds. And who/what determines the pros and cons in the first place is subjective. 

What are some of the best medium-large emotional support dog breeds?

9. Golden Retrievers

Pros:

  • This breed is known for its friendliness, kindness, and ability to bond well.
  • Golden retrievers are even-tempered and well-mannered.
  • Goldens like to retrieve things. For this reason, they also make fantastic service dogs.”Bring the phone! Bring my meds!” Goldie is all about “Your wish is my command.”
  • They’re very huggable! (I think loving Goldens is a criterion for being human. Just a hunch.)
  • This breed expects to be treated like a family member and not ignored. (And the issue would beee…?)

Cons:

10. Labrador Retriever

Pros:

  • The National Institute of Health identifies these dogs as particularly well-suited to contribute to happiness and reduce depression.
  • Labradors are among the best dog breeds for anxiety sufferers because they’re cheerful and even-tempered.
  • Labrador Retrievers are intelligent and easily trained, and they remain responsive and calm during training.
  • They love consistency.
  • They’re often used as guide dogs for the visually impaired because they easily pick up daily routines.
  • Labs love to please their owners.

Cons:

  • They have a lot of energy and require daily exercise.
  • Labs are highly food-motivated, so have dog treats easily accessible (for you to access, not them).
  • They love to kiss you – and usually sloppily!
  • They’re quite energetic.
Irish Wolfhounds are among the best emotional support dogs for anxiety and depression

11. Irish Wolfhounds

Pros:

  • Irish Wolfhounds are naturally protective and patient.
  • Their sensitivity allows them to attend to and improve their human’s mood.

Cons:

  • Their lifespan is short (6 years or so).
  • They weigh over 100 pounds.

12. Border Collies

Pros:

  • They’re smart (like, Mensa smart), fearless, and affectionate.
  • They’re devoted to their owners.
  • This breed is known to be intuitive to feelings.
  • They are one of the top champion breeds in canine competitions like agility.

Cons:

  • Their sensitivity to sound can make them appear nervous.
  • They have a high risk of eye issues and hip problems.
  • They’re sometimes not great with children. (But, if herding your children into their bedrooms at night is your goal, look no further.)

13. German Shephards

Pro’s:

  • They are super intelligent, strong, and agile.
  • They’re very protective and loyal.
  • They adapt easily to their environment.
  • They take their role as guard dog very seriously (can be a pro or con).

Con’s:

  • They have high stamina and require a lot of outdoor time.
  • They shed. A lot.

Another breed consideration? Rescued.

Adopt a dog that has been abandoned. 

Rescue dogs are often mixed breeds. They can be just as loving, compassionate, loyal, and trainable as any dog breed, often without some of the “intense” identifying traits of pure breeds

A rescue dog can be a good emotional support dog for anxiety and depression

Breeds to Avoid

Even though any dog breed can technically provide emotional support to a person, certain breeds are less likely to fit the role. 

Shar Peis are not a good dog breed for emotional support of people with anxiety and depression

For instance, Shar Peis may be loyal, but not cuddly or loving. 

a shibu imu is not a dog breed that is a good emotional support dog for anxiety and depression
An example of a dog breed that is not a good emotional support dog for anxiety and depression

Other breeds such as the Shiba Inu and Pekingese have independent personalities and tend not to offer affection.  

Emotional support dogs provide comfort and support

Emotional support dogs, unlike service dogs, are not required to perform any specific tasks for a disability. They’re meant for emotional stability and unconditional love. 

As highly affectionate animals, dogs fulfill the role of providing support and love incredibly well. 

Giving and receiving affection and having companionship are parts of what makes for a meaningful, fulfilling life.

If you have anxiety or depression, consider speaking with your licensed mental health provider about an ESD. The benefits are enormous.

Imagine improving your mood, decreasing anxiety, feeling better overall, sleeping well, feeling more confident and comfortable, and improving self-esteem.

Seriously. Think about how that would change the course of your life.

And to be part of an inseparable duo with your best friend? Life is looking up just thinking about it!. 

As the saying goes, “Imagine yourself to be the person your dog believes you are.”

Duncan, Dr. Daniels’ Maltese,
with his two siblings.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist and coach in MA, specializing in  Highly Sensitive People and people struggling with eating disorders or body image concerns.

3 Major Consequences Of Untreated Eating Disorders & The Delusion that Leads To Them

A girls face, laying on a watermelon that is among other melons She looks as if she may have an eating disorder and be suffering from the effects.

The very real consequences of eating disorders– especially if left untreated — wreak havoc with body, mind, and spirit.

Messages involving false promises bombard us. The essence of the messages is that dieting and exercise will let you live longer and be happier. For people with an eating disorder, the message is reconfigured and taken to an extreme.

Diet Culture shortens lives and definitely detracts from its quality. Ironic.

In some cases, eating disorders are life-threatening.

Oh, and contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren’t a phase, “white girl thing”, plea for attention, or about vanity. It bears repeating: They are illnesses with potentially serious consequences.

The media tends to glamorize eating disorders, featuring skinny white teens with anorexia as if they’re “poster people” for all eating disorders.

Anorexia — and any eating disorder — can happen to anyone. As in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. And, all genders and demographics are susceptible.

Eating disorders commonly present during adolescence. But, they can also emerge in childhood or adulthood. Certain risk factors in genetics, biology, psychology, and culture play a role in ‘the perfect storm’.

Ironically, anorexia, the eating disorder most often featured and glamorized, is the least common among eating disorders.

Bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Otherwise Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) are each far more common than anorexia.

All eating disorders are serious conditions that are unlikely to go away without proper treatment.

You might think that alerting people to the harmful consequences of eating disorders would motivate them to recover. It doesn’t. In fact, it can cause an eating disorder to become more entrenched.

Consider yourself forewarned: Educating a person with an eating disorder about possible consequences is unlikely to affect their behavior or thinking. Even though the consequences are real and the person suffering is knowledgable.

The other thing to keep in mind is that school-based education and prevention programs on eating disorders can backfire if not administered properly. Some research shows that attempts at prevention may be associated with increased rates of eating disorders.

There’s a general tendency, among teenagers especially, to think serious consequences only happen to other people, not to them.

They do not realize that some consequences of eating disorders are irreversible. (And fatal.)

Ahhh, the illusion of invincibility.

The personal fable, especially common for teenagers, is that nothing bad could, would, or will happen to them. Worrisome consequences only happen to others people.

And, the power of denial is another defense against acknowledging just how serious eating disorder symptoms are.

Denial is especially prominent in the case of anorexia nervosa. Denial of the symptoms, of having a disorder, and denial of just about anything related to anorexia.

Examples of denial take the form of: “I am just eating healthy.” Or “I don’t need to eat as much as other people do.” “I am not skinny/sick/(whatever) enough to need treatment.”

Eating disorders often start “innocently”.

I’ve yet to meet anyone with an eating disorder who set out to develop one. I’ve also not known anyone who has wholeheartedly agreed to treatment, at least initially.

Here’s a common scenerio as a parent:

Your teenager becomes a vegetarian. You think nothing of it.

After a few weeks she declares she’s vegan and gradually eats less variety. And becomes unusally interested in collecting recipes, watching Youtube cooking clips, and being by herself.

At her annual physical, her weight is lower than last year’s, although she is slightly taller. She dismisses your and the doctor’s concern by saying something about how much “healthier” she is eating now. She is convinced you are “overreacting and need to chill.”

The doctor may or may not be educated in the field of eating disorders. Don’t assume he or she is.

The response of an eating-disorder-savvy doctor will include recommendations for follow-up labs, vitals, and weight checks. As well as a referral to a Registered Dietician and to a psychotherapist – both of whom have a specialty in treating eating disorders.

A doctor who is not trained in eating disorder treatment is much more likely to mistake a patient’s denial as fact. The doctor may even compliment the patient on his weight loss “success”. (Cringeworthy!)

People of all ages with eating disorders often recall being told earlier in their life by their doctors that they need “to watch their weight”, “be healthier”, or “go on a diet”. Ouch.

Consequences of eating disorders can be divided into different groups, such as medical, psychological, and social.

Some consequences of eating disorders are short term, and some are long term. Some are reversible, and others are not. How dire the consequences are varies for each person.

The four main categories of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and OSFED. The ways they’re different is less important than recognizing they all share harmful consequences.

In the case of all eating disorders, distorted thinking and behaviors overtake every minute of daily life and hold the sufferer hostage. Life becomes exhausting in mind, body, and spirit.

Even those who seem “ok” or appear to enjoy having an eating disorder are not living a life of rainbows and butterfies. Juggling their eating disorder and relationships, work, health, mood, and other aspects of life is eventually impossible.

The exhausting way of life with an eating disorder can quickly break down even the strongest people.

Having an eating disorder becomes all consuming. So much time and energy are spent micromanaging food and exercise. and evaluating worth based on food choices and the number on the scale (aka the gravitational pull between you and the center of the earth!).

Sufferers create rules for themselves. The self imposed rules are often but not always specific to eating, weight, and exercise. The rules inevitably erode relationships, school, career, and other aspects of people’s lives.

The lists of consequences below are true of eating disorders in general. They are not exhaustive or applicable to everyone.

1. Medical consequences of eating disorders

Physical health complications from eating disorders are common. They happen because of the particular combination of restricting food, bingeing on food, and/or purging (compulsively exercising, chewing/spitting, inducing purging).

Early physical side effects of eating disorder behavior can include:

  • stomach cramps
  • dizziness
  • fainting spells
  • muscle weakness
  • sleep difficulties
  • cardiac abnormalities
  • tooth decay
  • gum damage
  • dehydration
  • electrolyte imbalance

Eating disorders affect every system in the body:

  • Nervous
  • Respiratory
  • Circulatory
  • Digestive
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Integumentary
  • Reproductive
  • Endocrine
  • Immune

Weight changes may or may not be noticeable at first. In some cases, weight changes may not even occur. But that doesn’t mean there’s no risk.

Over time, especially if left untreated, eating disorders damage organs, including the heart, kidneys, and liver. And the brain.

Just as each eating disorder involves slightly different behaviors, so does the impact. Despite differences, all eating disorder consequences are concerning and dangerous.

2. Psychological consequences of eating disorders

People with eating disorders have distorted thought patterns that keep negative thought loops in motion and self-esteem low. Already low self-esteem nosedives as harmful thoughts and behaviors play off each other.

A common consequence (and contributing factor for) of eating disorders is emotional dysregulation. People have difficulty controlling their emotions and behavior. They suffer from increased negative emotion-states, such as depression or anxiety. Hopelessness and a sense of worthlessness often occur and can lead to suicidality.

One of the functions of the eating disorder symptoms is to numb or distract from experiencing feelings head on. Without access to emotion, you become more of a robot than human.

3. Social consequences of eating disorders

Relationships suffer in the lives of people with eating disorders. Suffering occurs for people with eating disorders and their loved ones, friends, family, and even acquaintences. No one in their world is exempt from being negatively impacted.

The physical and mental health consequences cause huge worry and stress for loved ones.

Eating disorders are physical, psychological, and social disorders, and so are their consequences. The physical consequences occur alongside distorted thoughts and unhealhty behaviors. They make life difficult, whether due to extreme fatigue, dizziness, or secrecy. Socially, eating disorders negatively affect relationships of all types. And the relationship with yourself most of all.

Although eating disorder symptoms and consequences are serious, healing from one is fully possible and oh so glorious! Some of the consequences are reversible if treated in a timely manner.

The sooner, the better.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a licensed psychologist in MA, specializing in eating disorders, body image, and Highly Sensitive People. Her passion is helping people of all ages recover and live life with ease and joy. You can contact her here.

The Big 5 Early Signs Of An Eating Disorder And The Many Ways They Show Up. A Must-Read For Every Parent!

A photo of a girl with her hands covering her face, as she is laying down, representing signs of a eating disorder a parent should identify

Eating disorders are insidious. They hide behind social media, dating, fitness-conscious workouts, and bathroom doors. By the time parents catch on, the challenge of catching up can be overwhelming…and consequential. It’s therefore important – imperative, really – that all parents become educated about the early signs of an eating disorder. 

Indicators of eating disorders are often much easier to recognize in retrospect than in the present. Parents commonly look back and say things like, “if only I had realized ‘x’ when I first noticed ‘yz.’”

There are definitely more helpful and productive ways to channel your energy than lamenting all the “if onlys.” If you knew then what you know (or will know) now, you would have proceeded differently. 

Give yourself some grace. 

But educate – and continue educating – yourself and others in your sphere of influence. Grace and education today may very well save a life tomorrow.

One common challenge that parents lament is distinguishing between “normal teenage behavior” and eating disorder symptoms. Signs of an eating disorder in one child (e.g. weight loss) may not be the same in another child (e.g. weight loss due to undiagnosed Crohn’s Disease).

Another common challenge occurs when parents wonder why their child is showing signs of an eating disorder. Almost by default, they blame themselves. 

The real issue often boils down to guilt. “What did I do or not do to cause this?” 

Please hear me loud and clear: Your child’s eating disorder is not your fault. Eating disorders are caused by a combination of factors – biological, cultural, emotional, and social. And then the perfect storm results. You cannot single-handedly cause your child to develop an eating disorder.

To better understand your child’s path to an eating disorder, put yourself in her or his shoes.

Two girls in their early teens appearing to have a conflict and possibly demonstrating early warning signs of an eating disorder.

The scenario might go something like this:

You’re 14. You’re convinced that the only way to build your self-worth is to lose weight. So much happening around you is beyond your control. Your perfectionism has earned you a lot of praise, but it feels as if it’s never enough. You still feel crappy about yourself. 

Social media feeds tell you that the way to love your body and self is simple: Just lose weight, “be hot,” and you will get more “likes.” be more confident, and become really worthy of love. #guaranteed. 

It’s all about how you look and the number of likes you get. 

So you cut back on the amount you eat. You skip snacks and eat less at meals. You work out more. 

People tell you how awesome you look. Changes in your appearance make you feel like the work is worth all the effort. (Having trouble concentrating and feeling lightheaded when you stand up are secondary to the perks.)

You decide that each day you have to eat less than you did the day before. It’s all you can think of. The rule is non-negotiable.

You’re convinced that if you just lose “x” more pounds, then you will be happy. But you are never too thin to feel fat. And fat, you believe, you are.

Eventually the biological drive for fuel prevails. You eat something from your forbidden foods list. Or you eat more than the rule you made allows.

You decide to make up for what you have eaten by not eating for the rest of the day or by exercising even more. 

Maybe you even induce purging. 

You compulsively body-check. And jump on the scale a few times a day “just to see” your weight, making sure you have peed before you do. 

You suck in, pinch, and measure, always praying that you’re taking up less real estate today than you did yesterday.

Whatever the scale says determines how the rest of your day goes and how you feel about yourself.

The “restraint” is temporary. Eventually you eat. And then feel guilty. And then do it all again.

You’re now a hostage to eating disorder symptoms. You want – and simultaneously don’t want – to “be normal.” 

You want someone to intervene, but you don’t want someone to call you out. 

So, parents, what to do?

Step 1: Identify the Problem

There are early signs of an eating disorder that your child may be presenting. 

You may be aware that something doesn’t feel quite right about your child’s behavior, but you’re reluctant to make “too big a deal” out of your concerns. After all, maybe your tween/teen is “just acting like a teenager.” 

Or perhaps you think, “I don’t want to upset him by asking what he ate for lunch. He gets so defensive.”

Some signs of an eating disorder occur before the more obvious eating disorder symptoms. Others occur during the eating disorder. Still others intensify along with the eating disorder.

That’s a lot to tune into, let alone know how to respond to.

Below are what I call “The Big 5” – 5 classic, red-flag early warning signs of an eating disorder. 

After these 5 major signs, I will list categories and detailed examples of how they present. But these are the biggies that you, as parents, should always be on alert for.

1. Weight Changes

It’s normal and a sign of good health for human beings to gain weight into their 20’s.

If your child doesn’t gain weight – especially during early adolescence – s/he may be in the early stages of an eating disorder. 

Any weight loss, even unintentional, can trigger an eating disorder in at-risk children.

How your child responds to your or the doctor’s recommendation for weight gain may provide another sign of an eating disorder.

2. Anxiety/Depression

An increase in anxiety is common when developing and/or in the midst of an eating disorder. Anxiety can occur following weight loss or before any noticeable change in weight. 

Depression, too, can be a precursor and/or outcome of an eating disorder.

3. Unusual Food Behaviors 

People with eating disorders sometimes develop unusual behaviors around food. A few of the most common include: cutting food into tiny pieces, using a lot of hot sauce, and suddenly eliminating food for no valid reason. 

It’s common for an interest in veganism to mark the start of an eating disorder.

A sudden interest in cooking (but not eating) is another example of an eating disorder-related food behavior. It’s common for people who are inadequately nourished to develop an interest in all things food – including shopping, preparing, and cooking.

4. Obsessive Behaviors 

Eating disorders often take the form of a compulsion. If your child builds her day around exercise, she may have an exercise compulsion. This can be especially tough to determine if she is on an athletic team at school. 

One revealing clue is her anxiety level. Does she freak out if something keeps her from her exercise routine? Does she exercise when injured, sick, or encouraged not to? 

OCD is known to overlap with certain eating disorders. 

5. Changes in Activity and Interests

Eating disorders are often secretive and isolating. People with eating disorder symptoms have little interest in the activities they used to enjoy. They may isolate themselves from peers and family, showing a preference instead for staying in their rooms, alone.

If these 5 major early warning signs sound too broad for you to confidently put your finger on, let’s dive into specific examples that might be easier to catch.

Below are detailed, categorized lists of early warning signs of an eating disorder. Note that you may not be privy to many of these signs, as not all are behavioral, and those that are may present only in secrecy. 

Note also that many of these examples may fit under more than one of the Big 5. Compulsive behavior, for example, can show up in eating behavior, exercise, academics, and intrafamilial relationships.

By examining these signs in the context of unavoidable life components – eating, activity, health, thoughts, social life – you will have a heads-up on what to look for as your child goes through an “average” day.

Here are specific early warning signs, broken down into “lifestyle categories,” to be on alert for:

  • dieting – can be disguised as “healthy eating,” “lifestyle changes,” veganism, or a specific diet, such as Paleo
  • avoiding certain foods – foods often deemed ‘bad’ are sweets, snacks, and other foods that are “unhealthy”
  • refusing to eat in front of other people
  • sudden interest in “healthy,” “clean,” or “low-carb” diets
  • rigidity about how much to eat, when to eat, and what to eat
  • focusing on what other people eat, and deliberately eating less than everyone else
  • insistence on knowing calorie content of the food before eating it
  • sudden interest in cooking, watching food shows, reading recipes
  • frequent baking and giving away the baked goods
  • secretive eating
  • having rules around time of eating (e.g. avoiding food until noon and after 7 pm)
  • hostility if encouraged or “pressured” to eat something
  • self-criticism for eating or not exercising
  • fear of weight gain from a meal or type of food
  • using the bathroom or showering right after meals
  • cutting food into tiny pieces, mashing food, moving it around the plate to disguise the amount eaten. Maybe even hiding food in napkins or giving it to the dog on the downlow.
  • intense, compulsive exercise
  • refusal to cut back on exercise, even if injured or sick
  • insistence on using a fitness tracker, calorie tracker, and/or other similar device/app
  • sneaking exercise during the day or even in the middle of the night
  • downplaying the distance or duration of exercise
  • preference to stand and not sit
  • unusual routines, such as having to use the same plate
  • frequent daily weigh-ins on a scale
  • wearing oversized, baggy clothing
  • no longer growing as expected according to growth chart
  • weight loss at any time as a child or teen
  • dehydration
  • injuries from overexercise
  • sore throat if purging
  • gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, reflux
  • feeling cold
  • teeth damage
  • exhaustion
  • rapid, extreme, unexplained weight loss
  • denial of seriousness of symptoms
  • preoccupation with “flaws” of the body, body parts, or aspects of the body
  • constant need for reassurance about appearance
  • distorted beliefs about food, weight, exercise
  • inability to recognize distorted thinking
  • difficulty concentrating
  • belief of not being sick enough
  • disinterest in and withdrawal from friends, family, activities
  • unable to describe feelings
  • refusal to spend time with friends if eating is involved
  • low self-esteem
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • shame about eating
  • feeling stressed
  • fixation on weight, body size, and shape

Parents, here are some questions to ask yourselves:

Does your child/tween/teen:

  • seem to be losing or have lost control over how she eats?
  • make herself sick?
  • believe she’s fat, even when others don’t? Or believe she needs to lose weight in order to be happy?
  • seem to be controlled by negative food thoughts and low self-worth?
  • appear preoccupied with changing his body or weight?
  • make family meals difficult because of behavior or comments about food, eating, or body image?
  • isolate from family and friends?
  • have unexplained weight changes?

Step 2: Then what?

Recognizing that in fact your child is developing/has developed an eating disorder is difficult to admit and accept. 

You are not alone. Support for you and your child is just a call or click away.

For starters, you may want to contact your child’s pediatrician. Schedule an appointment for your child to have lab work done and vitals and weight taken. Find out about local resources. 

Recommendations may include eating disorder treatment programs, eating disorder specialists (e.g. registered dietitian, psychologist), and/or family treatment.

Finding treatment and support can be daunting. Connecting to resources that offer support is often identified as one of the most helpful things a parent can do. 

Reaching out like that helps the parent, the suffering child, and the entire family.

Here are some helpful resources:

  • National Eating Disorders Association – family resources
  • An international support organization for parents and caregivers – F.E.A.S.T.
  • Multi-service Eating Disorder Association – MEDA

Parents, your role in identifying early signs of an eating disorder is key. 

You also have a huge role to fulfill in recognizing when it’s time to seek help. 

Trust your gut. YOU are also central in your child’s recovery. 

Effective help is out there. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prospect of a successful recovery. 

Without proper diagnosis or treatment, prognosis nosedives. 

But, with proper treatment,  full recovery is absolutely possible.

a child who is happy becuase his parents identified early warning signs of an eating disorder and he reocvered

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. For more information, contact her here.

5 Things To Know About Dating A Highly Sensitive Person

A couple walking on the beach, one of whom is a Highly Sensitive Person, and the other is dating the Highly Sensitive Person.

Are you dating a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?* If you suspect so, there are things to know that will make or break your relationship. Having a sense of these features in advance (or even during) is helpful. But lacking familiarity with the trait of High Sensitivity (HS) could wipe out your chances of a second date.

Wondering if you are an HSP? Go here and take the short quiz. (Sometimes people discover they are an HSP later in life.)

High Sensitivity is real. It’s a temperament and is, for the most part, invisible. You can’t see it the way you can see eye color, for example. 

However, the trait of HS affects all aspects of life, both visible and invisible. Thoughts, feelings, behaviors, senses, work, recreation, relationships— all are touched and influenced by this powerful trait.

High Sensitivity is an inborn trait, just as being right- or left-handed is a built-in trait. About 15% of men and women have it. 

High Sensitivity is not a disorder, malfunction, or attempt to be dramatic.

You may be dating an HSP and not know it. In fact, there is a 36% chance you are, according to research by Dr. Elaine Aron. 

Aron coined the term “Highly Sensitive Person” in the 1990s. Her research suggests that about half of all HSPs are married to other HSPs. 

It’s also possible that you are an HSP and just don’t know it…yet.

Knowing signs of High Sensitivity will help you identify if you’re dating a Highly Sensitive Person. 

If one of you is an HSP, you’re unlikely to feel ambivalent about a second date. Either the date will go very well, or very poorly.

As Dr Aron says, relationships with an HSP tend to be “exceptionally successful… or quite unsuccessful.”

A photo of a man and woman's arms, on a table top, with one hand clasping the other person's and the other hand holding a coffee cup, representing something to know if you're dating a Highly Sensitive Person

If you’re dating a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re dating someone who

  • thinks and feels deeply 
  • is moved emotionally by what may seem like little things, whether positive or negative
  • becomes distressed by too much noise or chaos
  • is intuitive and conscientious
  • takes extra time to adapt to change

High Sensitivity is defined by 4 distinct features:

Depth of processing: HSPs are deep thinkers. They’re careful and are alert to subtleties

Over-arousal: HSPs are prone to anxiety and overwhelm due to deep processing.

Empathy: HSPs have a huge capacity for empathy; they feel emotion deeply.

Sensory specific sensitivity: HSPs tend to be sensitive to smells, bright lights, loud sounds, tastes, or tactile features.

Here’s another way to think about HSPs. Their motto is “look before you leap”. Being cautious, taking in information before taking action, and not rushing things are characteristic.

The non-HSP’s adage is “opportunity only knocks once.” Seizing the moment, taking initiative, and being adventurous are characteristics of most non-HSPs. 

Which approach works better depends on the context. 

In a relationship between an HSP and non-HSP, there is ample opportunity to find the sweet spot, somewhere in the middle.

By nature, HSPs are more likely to take risk into account before making any decisions about relationships, icluding the one with you. 

HSPs are going to pause and reflect before diving in. They do their own cost/benefit analysis, considering the risks (e.g. betrayal, loss) and the gains (e.g. love, partnership).

If you’re dating a Highly Sensitive Person, here are 5 important things you need to know:

1. HSPs do lots of reflecting, which may look like overthinking.

Your partner’s nervous system picks up on subtleties and nuance. And that means there’s a lot of processing in the form of thinking and feeling. (And a ton of unique insight, creativity, and empathy too.)

A “downside” of the deep reflection is that HSPs may be more impacted by your words or actions than someone without the trait would be. You may feel like the HSP you’re dating tends to take things “too personally”. (She is used to hearing that, unfortunately.)

This is due to HSPs’ depth of processing.

2. Because of all the feelings, thoughts, behaviors, perceptions, and nuance that HSPs process, overwhelm is more likely to happen.

The over-arousal part of the “DOES” accounts for why HSPs are prone to worry. They hit “overload” sooner than non-HSPs do. 

Over-arousal is probably the hardest feature of High Sensitivity.

Ideally, the HSP has created a lifestyle that serves her sensitivity. To do so requires that she knows about her trait and takes time to create a life that aligns with her make-up.

HSPs who know themselves and their traits well are typically aware of early signs of overwhelm. They have learned how to navigate those feelings and often need alone time. 

So, Mr. Non-HSP, this would be a not-so-great time to initiate sex (which is often arousing and stimulating) or start a heated discussion.

a highly sensitive woman you may date who is overwhelmed

3.Your HS partner has a natural depth of caring that defies words.

She wants nothing more than to support you. Empathy comes naturally to the HSP. 

She is also nurturing and romantic and may, to your astonishment, feel your feelings, even if you aren’t aware of having the feelings at the time.

HSPs are unlikely to intentionally hurt you. They have a way of making you feel more loved than you’ve ever felt.

4. Highly Sensitive People’s feelings can be more intense.

Relationships, regardless of their tenure, involve emotion.. 

For HSPs, who experience the world in a deeper, more intense way, however, emotion by itself isn’t enough. Meaningful relationships are the only real option.

This of course has both benefits and drawbacks. 

HSPs are able to be more deeply moved, touched, or affected than the average person. They are uber-sensitive to beautiful, heartwarming parts of romantic love.

The same happens with negative emotions. 

Emotional pain causes an HSP’s heightened nervous system to release a cascade of stress hormones. 

Highly Sensitive People tend to experience more threat in their partners’ flaws or behaviors. They also reflect more and worry about how things are going. 

All of that is the “extra” part of HSP wiring.

4. For HSPs especially, connection is the basis for a relationship.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? After all, connection is important for any relationship! 

That’s the key word – “relationship.” 

If you’re in the market for a hookup rather than a relationship, look elsewhere. HSPs value a bond of true connection that provides mutual understanding, warmth, and compassion.

On the other hand, HSPs are also prone to avoiding conflict and taking more time to build up to intimacy. 

Finding effective ways to connect and communicate smooths bumps in the road, just as in any relationship.

5. HSPs’ sensitivity is a (relationship) superpower.

HSPs are naturally romantic and nurturing. They tend to love deeply, but are also more impacted by conflict in the relationship. 

They have trouble just sweeping conflict under the rug and are more inclined to notice if there is an elephant in the room.

Perceptiveness is an HSP strength and helps to pre-empt potential rough spots.

Quick tips for Dating a Highly Sensitive Person

HSPs are unlikely to enjoy:

  • loud restaurants
  • busy arenas
  • cigarette smell
  • small talk
  • fluorescent lighting
  • dinner parties

HSPs bring to relationships a basic paradox: They fall hard into love, yet fear it more. 

They’re drawn to deep waters, filled with mystery and intrigue. 

However, they fear how to get out of the deep water and back to the safety of shore.

Dr Aron reminds HSPs that certain behaviors of a partner, like whistling, may be bothersome and tough to tolerate. It’s all part of the HSP/non-HSP package. You attune to your partner’s subtle needs and prefer he not whistle when you’re with each other. 

We’re all a mixed bag!

Thoughts on a non-HSP dating an HSP

You’re much more likely to meet an HSP on an Appalachian Mountain Club hike or an Earth Day clean-up than at a nightclub or rock concert.

As an HSP and non-HSP couple, you have what Dr. Aron calls “hybrid vigor”. 

The HSP attunes to the subtleties in a situation.

The non-HSP partner acts on that information. 

A couple of 2 HSPs as an example of things to know about dating an HSP

As a non-HSP with an HSP partner, you benefit from how observant she is to subtleties. She sees things you do not, be it in the environment or in someone’s facial expression. 

You have the opportunity to experience the magic of life vicariously through your partner, whose nuanced attunement provides excitement and new frontiers.

Because of her awareness and attunement, you may become more generally tuned in over time.

HSPs tend to live a healthy lifestyle. They know when they need to work out, sleep, eat, or take a break. You may be inspired to join her.

Dr. Aron’s research suggests that HSP/non-HSP couples are about as happy as HSP/HSP couples.

Regardless of the configuration, HSP or non-HSP, relationships bring meaning, depth, and joy to life. 

Dating a Highly Sensitive Person has the potential to open up a whole new world, filled with richness and dimension. 

*This article is written from the perspective of a cisgender female and heterosexual relationships.

Dr. Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA, specializes in helping Highly Sensitive People thrive. She has additional specialties in treating eating disorders and body image issues. Contact her here