The world will always be unsettled. One of the best ways to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in a highly unsettled world is to change the way YOU think of the High Sensitivity trait. By thinking of the trait differently, you’ll interact more effectively in the world. And maybe even feel empowered along the way.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person means that your nervous system is innately wired to attune to subtleties.
You’re creative, empathic, inquisitive, and a deep thinker. That’s just how you are. Your eyes are brown, blue, or whatever color, and your nervous system is wired for high sensitivity. That is you.
And you are among the 15 percent of the population born with the High Sensitivity trait.
Learning what being a Highly Sensitive Person means will help you make the most of the trait. And see it as the gift it is.
There are four general categories that comprise High Sensitivity:
- Depth of processing – Whenever you take in information, you really TAKE IT ALL IN. And not just what is on the surface. Nuance and details are on your radar. Feelings, thought, observations, sights, sounds, opinions…..
- Over arousal – As an HSP you take in tons of information, feel what others are feeling, and have senses that are very responsive. So of course you’ re prone to feel overstimulated more quickly and intensely. There is just so darn much to think, feel, do, especially because you’re also linking past, present, and future to the moment. And the practical with the philosophical.
- Empathy – due to more mirror neurons, you easily feel what other people are feeling. You have a deep understanding of people and their emotions.
- Sensory sensitivity – your senses are calibrated in a way that what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch feels ‘extra’. Your senses are extra alive.
The four core features are interrelated.
What makes managing as a Highly Sensitive Person so challenging is the second feature on the list – over arousal. What might feel like a little thing (e.g. crowds, a hectic schedule, loud music) to others can feel like a lot to you.
Makes sense! Especially if you consider how the other three categories naturally promote a sense of over stimulation.
In other words, you take in, analyze, consider, and process a lot. So much more than could be captured by a list. What you take in includes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As well as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Memories, speculations, present moment experiences. All of it. And more.
And, we know that nearly all human traits have advantages and disadvantages, depending on circumstances. High sensitivity included.
Why not optimize your trait? Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King did, and their contributions enhanced meaning in life for us all.
Here are the top five ways to manage as a Highly Sensitive Person in an unsettled world include:
1. Set boundaries
Because of your capacity for empathy, you are inclined to agree to requests. You avoid disappointing or hurting another person, even at your own expense.
You prefer to do what is requested rather than risk the possibility of a conflict. Hence, setting boundaries may not feel ‘right’.
Here’s a tip: When setting boundaries, practice being more direct. Instead of beating around the bush, be clear and to the point. For example, let’s say your friend suggests a movie and asks if you’re interested in seeing that movie. Your inclination may be to go along with his decision, even if you don’t want to see that movie. So rather than saying “I’m not sure I want to see that movie”, you could say “I would prefer to say this movie”.
2. Include daily down time to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person
Your built-in radar is constantly processing a ton of input. That is exhausting! To prevent burn-out, you need a reprieve. So take time each day to replenish your energy. Maybe it’s spending time in nature. Or quiet time with low lighting and a comfy chair. Or just having a few minutes alone and without any demands on you. Do each day what you need to do to recharge your batteries. Even if it is only for a few minutes.
The High Sensitivity trait is real. So are your needs for downtime. Build in breaks during your day will make taking care of yourself easier to do.
3. As a Highly Sensitive Person, please manage your environment AND have a “ME” place
Your environment has a much bigger impact on you as a Highly Sensitive Person than is the case for people without the trait. In fact, Highly Sensitive people are both more likely to become physically ill and to develop depression, and/or anxiety in stressful environments. The fancy term for this is differential susceptibility.
The good news is you also do even better in calm environments than people without the trait.
Your priority in your home and work environments is to reduce overstimulation to the extent possible.
What does a calm environment look like for you? Maybe it is whatever area is most free of clutter? Or wherever your dog happens to be? Or maybe just in your bedroom, alone.
What does a special refuge look like to you?
It could be a designated area in your home or yard, with some of your favorite things. (Hopefully no social media.)
You may think of some exotic getaway when you think of a peaceful place to recharge. Actually, having a reprieve that you can access in your everyday life is more important. Maybe it is the living room recliner. Or a quiet spot near the window overlooking the backyard.
So guess what: Nothing fancy is needed to create an HSP sanctuary of your very own.
4. Get enough sleep
Everyone needs sleep. But Highly Sensitive People more than just ‘need’ sleep to restore mind and body. It is as important as breathing!
Because you feel deeply and absorb so much, your nervous system is primed to feel frazzled and overstimulated. Which then leads to emotional and physical exhaustion.
High quality sleep is the best way to restore and reset your nervous system. It is an essential ingredient to replenish.
Tips to get a good night’s sleep include having a bedtime routine, prioritizing your bedtime, and minimizing screen time and other forms of stimulation at least an hour before bed.
5. Get outside each day to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person
Highly Sensitive People have a sense of connection with nature that defies words.
Walking through a green space can actually facilitate a meditative state – for anyone. This is especially helpful to you as a Highly Sensitive Person because it offsets the inevitable stimulation you feel. AND spending time strolling through green space can facilitate creativity. Which you as an HSP have a lot of.
But the superpower is a superpower only if you think of it that way.
And only then can you deliberately leverage your High Sensitivity as a foundation to launch from.
And it is sooooo easy to instead deem high sensitivity as anything but a source of thriving. Especially because you have probably heard at least a million times that you are “too sensitive” and “need to lighten up.”
You don’t need to do anything. Just be you.
I am a psychologist in the Boston area dedicated to helping people, HSP’s especially, feel empowered to live their best life. Through all the ups and downs that life offers, HSPs have special gifts to make the world a better place for us all. Please contact me with any questions.