The image of a woman jumping for joy on a beach, representing a Highly Sensitive Person thriving

How To Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person

Learning how to thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) makes a world of difference. And a difference in the world. Sounds cheesy but is true.

A Highly Sensitive Person scores high in Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), a genetic trait associated with perceiving things up to ten times more intensely than other people. Research suggests 15% or so of the population has SPS. The trait occurs equally among males and females.

High Sensitivity has 4 key components.

Keep these 4 dimensions in mind when thinking about how to thrive in a world that is not always supportive of a Highly Sensitive Person.

  • Depth of Processing: you think deeply and process deeply too.
  • Overarousal/Overstimulation: you can get dysregulated or overwhelmed easily (but this makes sense due to depth of processing).
  • Emotional Responsiveness/Empathy: you are prone to feeling highs and lows. Also, you are naturally caring and compassionate.
  • Sensitivity to Subtle Stimuli: you tend to notice details. You are also more likely to react to sensory stimuli such as a tag in your shirt, a dripping faucet in the other room, or an odor others don’t smell.

Being Highly Sensitive is not a disorder. Nor is it a euphemism for being thin-skinned, too sensitive, easily offended, or unable to take a joke.

That being said, HSPs may feel slighted more easily than people without the trait. However, HSPs also tend to be more easily delighted, appreciative, moved by nature, and motivated to help humanity.  

black and white photo of an angelic girl bending over to smell a flower

HSPs suffer more in unsupportive environments and do extremely well in supportive ones, especially in childhood. This is known as differential susceptibility.

Differential susceptibility suggests that the four pillars (“DOES”) of High Sensitivity can make a difficult childhood that much more difficult for HSPs than for peers without the trait. However, in an environment that is supportive, HSPs fare even better than peers without the trait.

Dr Elaine Aron, who literally wrote the book on Highly Sensitive People in the 1990s, believes HSPs thrive under the following five conditions:

  1. Knowing the trait is real
  2. Reframing the past with the new understanding of HS
  3. Using the reframed understanding to heal past wounds
  4. Developing a lifestyle aligned with the trait
  5. Meeting other HSPs

Being Highly Sensitive is not easy, even though in many ways is a gift.

Think of the benefits for HSPS who endorse the above five conditions: Intuition, empathy, creativity, perception, insight, and love of nature to name a few. Wow!

Thriving or not, HSPs use a lot of brain power in everyday life due to depth of processing.

More specifically, HSPs notice (e.g. see, hear, pick up on) subtle things other people don’t. We naturally make connections between past, present, and future. We integrate internal and external experiences. HSPs are naturally equipped to do all of this because of a part of the brain of an HSP that is particularly active, called the insula.

Certainly, processing information deeply and making connections from what we notice and sense is a great strength. The downside is that we become depleted more easily because of all of the demands  

Embrace your exquisite sensitivity to discover depth, meaning, and emotions that are unavailable to the 85% of people without the trait of High Sensitivity (HS).

As an HSP, how do you manage exhaustion before the point of having nothing left?

You must know yourself. Meaning be aware of your basic needs for hydration, nutrition, sleep, rest, being outdoors, and alone time to recalibrate your nervous system.

Take downtime each day. Find ways to incorporate quiet moments, daily.

A collection of pretty teacups to represent the necessity for self care

Engaging in self-care along the way helps a lot and is what I call a ‘non-negotiable’. Dr Aron takes a short nap everyday as a way to energize. She also walks daily and has a meditation practice each day.

Your forms of self care may look very different. What matters is that the ways you care for yourself replenish energy and help you feel at ease. Your self care is likely different than someone else’s. And that is just fine.

Self-care is the secret sauce. As in essential for a Highly Sensitive Person to thrive.

Finding ways to reduce the amount and intensity of information your brain naturally processes is also helpful (along with ways to replenish what’s depleted). But be sure the techniques feel right. They will be different from what other people are doing, and that is perfectly fine.

I am a MA clinical psychologist passionate about Highly Sensitive People discovering and embracing their gift of High Sensitivity, and helping them to thrive! If you know or even suspect you are an HSP, and would like to learn more about embracing your gift, you can contact me here.

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