It was only a few years ago when I learned about the term highly sensitive person (HSP) and it drastically changed my life.
I can recall so many moments throughout my life where I thought, “why am I this way?”
Why did I feel like I was the only one who was exhausted after a group activity and needed to rest before moving on to the next thing?
Why did I feel like I was the only one bothered by that strong smell or loud music?
Why did nobody else see the look those two people gave each other in the café?
I always just chalked it up to being introverted, being observant, being sensitive. It wasn’t until I learned that there was a name for all this, that it was a real trait and others could relate to what I was feeling, that I was a highly sensitive person! Knowing this not only helped me feel heard and validated, but reassured me that I wasn’t making it all up, it wasn’t in my head! It was a huge sigh of relief, finally so many things in my life have started to make sense. I am not only able to better understand myself, but I now have the proper tools to take care of myself throughout the day.
What does it mean to be a highly sensitive person?
As highly sensitive people, we are extremely perceptive and in tune with our surroundings. Because we are so aware of everything going on, we also tire more quickly—leaving us feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed. While being a highly sensitive person does mean we feel emotions very strongly, have a rich inner world, and are extremely perceptive, it also has to do with all of our senses. Strong smells, crowded spaces, loud noises, bright lights, itchy clothing, among many others, overwhelm our senses and leave us feeling drained.
Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. coined the term “highly sensitive person” in 1996 and is a HSP herself! She wrote a book called “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” She touches on the research that has been done since she coined the term, and dives deeper into subjects such as our childhood and adolescence, relationships, medication, healing, and other topics relating to being an HSP. She says, “the biggest cost to us of being highly sensitive, however, is that our nervous systems can become overloaded. Everyone has a limit as to how much information or stimulation can be taken in before one becomes overloaded, overstimulated, over aroused, overwhelmed, and just over! We simply reach that point sooner than others. Fortunately, as soon as we get some downtime we recover nicely.”
Does this relate to you? Do you think you may have this trait? Take this self test to get a better idea of whether you may be a HSP.
So how do we not only survive, but thrive in a world that is constantly overwhelming us?
1. Plan breaks throughout the day.
As HSP’s, we tire more quickly and because of this, going from task to task without a moment of rest is overwhelming for us. We need to be more purposeful with our breaks. Try not to let it get to the point where you are so mentally, emotionally, and physically drained that you just need to rest. It’s not if we will feel exhausted, it’s when. So, try to be more proactive in scheduling times to rest.
Even if it’s just 5-10 minutes to lay down and close your eyes in a quiet room or in your car. Giving ourselves space to just exist without any kind of stimulation throughout the day is extremely important as an HSP.
2. Journal more.
Because we are so overwhelmed with everything, sometimes that can include our thoughts too. We can have so much going on in our minds that our thoughts overwhelm us, this can also include having many tasks to do and not knowing where to start first. Writing can give us more clarity with our thoughts. Treat your journal like your safe space, you can write down anything you want, take it off your mind and onto paper, that way you can revisit it whenever you’d like. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even make sense, remember, it’s not for anyone else, only you.
3. Find creative solutions that work for you.
Remember, what may work for me might not work for you and vice versa. I may be more sensitive to something that doesn’t bother you, and you may be sensitive to something I don’t even notice. Figure out what triggers you and learn to find ways to work around it.
For example, I am extremely sensitive to being hungry, and I’ve learned to never leave the house without a snack. Luckily this problem had a pretty simple solution, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Do what you can, work with what you have. If you have a busy commute on public transportation and are sensitive to the noise, an idea would be to bring noise cancelling headphones and play music that calms you. If you are sensitive to certain smells, maybe you can pick out a scent that you enjoy and carry it with you as an essential oil, that way you can smell it when you’re feeling overwhelmed. There will be a lot of trial and error, but overtime you will find solutions that work for you and your triggers.
4. Don’t forget about your gifts.
While it can be frustrating and difficult to be a HSP in an overwhelming world that is not particularly kind to sensitive people, it’s not all negative. There are so many great qualities that HSP have and it’s important to remember this! We are more aware of all the beautiful subtleties that others may not even notice and they greatly impact our emotions, leaving us feeling joyous and at peace. Sometimes with everything going on, we can forget that we have these special qualities! Try to remind yourself of all the gifts that come with being a HSP. If you’re feeling stuck and need to be reminded of your qualities, take a look at this blog!
5. Learn to advocate for yourself.
When we live in a world that is in many ways, too overwhelming for us, we have to find ways to work with it. Many times, this means we have to speak up for ourselves and advocate for what we need.
Even something as simple as, “hey, I can’t watch scary movies, is it okay if we watch something else?” or, “I need to get a snack, is it okay if I step out for a few minutes?” For some, this isn’t a big deal, but for others, it can be really difficult to ask for what we need, no matter how small of an ask it may seem. If you’re like me and this doesn’t come naturally for you, try to take it one day at a time.
Advocating for ourselves is a skill, the more we practice it the better we will become at asking for what we need.
Find what works for you.
This is what I have found to work for me, but that is bound to change as I grow and learn more about myself and my triggers. Maybe there will be some tips I keep for life, and some that won’t serve me anymore next week. I encourage you to lean into this change, accept all the trial and error, and most importantly embrace the process! Just like everyone, there will be good days and bad, there will be energizing days and draining ones. What matters most is showing up for ourselves and knowing we are deserving of proper self care that is tailored to our needs.
This is easier said than done and unfortunately, the world can’t change for us. It will continue to be overwhelming and at times, unbearable. That doesn’t mean we have to stay in our comfort zones and not experience everything we want! It means that we need to put in the work to understand ourselves and our triggers so that we can find solutions that support us, and day by day we will learn to live in this overwhelming world and thrive!
So, to my fellow highly sensitive people, what are some ways you will take care of yourself today?
Written by Tal Hadar, Acacia Santa Cruz Outreach Coordinator.