Highly Sensitive People (aka HSPs) feel the world deeply. They are born with a nervous system wired to be super attuned and responsive.
If you are a highly sensitive person, self-care is critical because everyday life can be draining. You need self-care to refuel so you can make best use of the unique gifts of being an HSP.
The trait isn’t super common, but it’s not an anomaly either. About 15 to 20 percent of the population is born with High Sensitivity, with an equal male to female ratio.
High sensitivity comes with advantages and disadvantages, benefits and bummers.
Feeling, thinking, and living with intensity adds depth and meaning. Kind of like living in a world of bright colors and beautiful sounds, delicious flavors and appealing textures.The natural capacity for affinity and soulful connection is interwoven into the trait.
Intensity can also lead to a sense of ‘too much-ness.’ And generate angst that something’s wrong with you. That you are ‘too much’ . But you’re not.
If there were such a thing as a ‘muchness continuum’, you would be just right. Because you are just right.
You’re uniquely you, and your perception of the world is what makes you so extraordinary.
Productivity, swift decision making, and a fast pace are highly valued and praised in modern-day. These aren’t the innate traits of highly sensitive people like you.
And thriving in an environment that isn’t necessarily nurturing doesn’t just automatically happen. But it can be learned, which is great because highly sensitive person self-care is critical to overall health and wellbeing.
Thriving as an HSP takes effort and psychological strength. And you’re up for the challenge, once you educate yourself on the trait.
You can create the kind of environment for yourself that is conducive to growth, as long as you understand the highly sensitive trait. Discovering how to accept, embrace, and enjoy the kind of person you are translates to having a rich, meaningful life.
Let’s use a flower analogy. Consider orchids. They require a supportive environment to grow and blossom. Air temperature, amount of sunlight and water, location, and other features of the environment have to be within a particular range for the flowers to blossom.
Orchids are sensitive to the care they receive and have an exceptional capacity to grow and blossom under favorable conditions. They wither in an environment that does not support their needs. Orchids are not the everyday kind of flower or plant sold in flower shops.
In the world of flowers, highly sensitive people would be orchids.
In contrast, consider dandelions. They grow in nearly any kind of environment. They proliferate regardless of the amount of water, sun, shade, or care they receive. Their roots are deep in the ground, so deep that even yanking at them has little effect.
Dandelions are hardy and easily endure variations in weather, soil, and temperature. They even grow through rocks and concrete! Dandelions are common and symbolically represent the 80 percent of people who are not HSPs.
Btw, the high sensitivity trait has been documented in over 100 species of animals including chimpanzees, deer, horses, birds, cats and dogs.
For humans, expression of the high sensitivity gene shows up in four areas. Within the four domains are features that can be enriching or overwhelming.
Knowing about the four categories can help you embrace being a highly sensitive person and understand why self-care is so necessary.
For a highly sensitive person, self-care takes more effort than it does for everyone else. Here is why:
- Depth of Processing. HSPs process things deeply. You reflect more often and intensely on the ways of the world, including your own internal workings, relationships, and decision making. You make connections in your mind that other people respond to by saying they never thought
- Overstimulation. HSPs’ senses respond intensely and easily. Certain smells, sounds, or textures are overwhelming to you – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in yucky ones.
Crowds, bright lights, and loud noises can also be overwhelming – usually in the negative sense of the word. They can activate your ‘fight or flight’ response. As a result, you’re likely among the first in certain environments to feel overstimulated. Excessive stimulation can be one of the hardest aspects of high sensitivity to manage. As long as you can access a calm or just calmer environment to recalibrate, you will regain your equilibrium.
- Empathy/Emotional responsiveness. HSPs feel deeply. So, you probably tend to worry, be sentimental, and may even be known as ‘intense.’ HSPs can easily worry about the health and welfare of those they believe to be less fortunate. We can become sentimental when we see a flower that reminds us of a loved one. And our emotions can exude from us, causing others to think we are intense.
- Sensory sensitivity. HSPs notice details and nuance. The moment-to-moment changes of a setting sun, a subtle shift in facial expression, or the sound of the wind as it picks up speed are all things you naturally notice. Your senses are highly attuned, and your experience of life is much richer than it is for many others.
For the highly sensitive person, self-care is absolutely essential.
The kind of self-care I am talking about goes beyond bubble baths and pedicures. Immersing yourself or your feet in warm, sudsy water may be lovely, but not what the doctor ordered. (Maybe it depends on if the doctor has the high sensitivity trait lol.)
The particular form of self-care is individual to you.
Here are some refreshing ideas for a highly sensitive person to consider:
Make time in your day to spend a few moments in solitude, in a quiet, calm space. This can be especially helpful on days you have experienced a loud event, conflict, or busy-ness that has left you feeling exhausted. Give yourself time and space to reset.
Getting enough restful sleep is critical for an HSP to recalibrate, replenish, and renew. If you have a difficult time getting the sleep you know you need, here is a helpful guide you may want to check out.
Let your natural creativity guide you toward other ways to practice self care. Make your own special go-to “coping container” or box. Decorate it in a way that makes you smile. Maybe incorporate decoupage, stickers, sparkles, or doodles.
To take it a step further, fill the container with sensory faves. Invite your favorite senses to the party! Hello cinnamon (smell), velvet (touch) swatch, Tibetan bells (sound), mint (taste), and favorite photo (sight). Awwww! If you are highly sensitive, reading the suggestions may automatically cause a smile and warm feeling inside.
Have fun creating your container and choosing the contents. Allow for whimsy and nostalgia. The collection provides relief when you are looking for a quick (or not) dose of comfort.
You can always change the contents of the collection at any time to keep it extra interesting. Or keep it the same if you prefer consistency and knowing what to expect.
Making sure you are well hydrated is another self-care must. The same goes for nourishment. Eating enough, including foods you enjoy, keeps your body satisfied and energized.
Stable blood sugar and hydration help HSPs put their best foot forward. Eat a snack in between meals to fend away irritability, brain fog, and feeling out of it. Have a snack with you so that fuel is there when you need it. Keep a water bottle handy for easy go-to sips of water.
Compassion toward living things comes naturally for HSPs. Self compassion is not as automatic. A tender relationship with yourself softens how you speak with and care for yourself.
Treat yourself as you would a friend or a beloved. Maybe even refer to yourself with a pet name, such as “Sweetheart” or an empowering image like “Rockstar”. Or even a silly or superhero name to add light heartedness.
In any given situation you may need ‘extra’. Extra time, space, or comfort, for example. Trust that what you need is valid. Because it is.
If you are a highly sensitive person, self-care is critical to thriving.
Familiarize yourself with the four areas that comprise the gift of being a highly sensitive person. Honor and appreciate what you know to be true about yourself. Be open to and curious about what helps you be you- with all your splendor, wonderful quirks, and ways of being in the world.
Doing so will help you to discover, affirm, and prioritize whatever your orchid needs to thrive.
I’m Dr. Elayne Daniels, a psychotherapist, and I specialize in working with highly sensitive people. To learn more about my work, visit HSP page. If you’re in the Canton, MA area and are interested in working with me, you can contact me here.