Have you ever experienced any of these things?
- You’re at a friend’s birthday party. The idea of walking up to a group of people you don’t know, and there are quite a few, is terrifying. It feels like all eyes are on you and that everyone thinks you’re as weird and awkward as you feel.
- The start of a new job is right around the corner and you’ve been losing sleep with endless thoughts about all the things that could possibly go wrong.
- The holiday season is coming up, and the idea of being around those particular family folks that stir up the drama gives you holiday dread instead of cheer.
- At your work job, there are a number of toxic people you must regularly and agonizingly interact with.
- The news of the world immobilizes you, and it seems that everything’s only getting worse.
You are among a unique group of people!
Highly Sensitive People (HSP) vs. Non-Highly Sensitive People (Non-HSP)
As HSP, we are in a minority (approximately 1 in 5 of the world’s population) that experiences the world in quite a different way than other folks do. Our brains are literally wired in a manner that picks up minute nuances- non-verbal behaviors, facial expressions, voice tone, etc. around us, and then deep processes it all. This can cause over-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and is often extremely overwhelming.
Have you ever been confronted by someone and had no idea what to say to defend yourself, but hours later thought of the perfect words you could have said? No, you are not a doormat! Confrontations are especially hard for HSPs because of the extra time it takes for us to process criticism. We also feel a deep need to take care of the needs of others, often before our own, and it hurts for someone to find fault with us. Our well of empathy runs particularly deep, which is actually a strong, positive quality, but we beat ourselves up for not being enough for other people.
Another thing we must realize is we have more sensory sensitivities to subtle stimuli in the environment than other folks. You may have sensitivities around particular sorts of food, are irritated by types of clothes like polyester or nylon, the sound of loud music, or fluorescent lighting for example.
Many of us go through life without even understanding that we have the HSP trait and that we, therefore, need to nurture our souls a little differently than those who don’t have it. What we have done instead is vigorously dive into the deep end of life without a life preserver, only to suffer one panic attack after another and feel like we’re one step away from completely “losing our minds”!
This may feel like we were dealt a bad hand. Actually, when nurtured correctly, these traits can become, and remain, our strengths. Even our superpowers!
Here are some ways to better care for yourself and alleviate some of that unnecessary stress..
Watch the Self-Talk and Self-Sabotaging Thoughts
- Am I relentlessly ruminating about the things in my life I woulda, coulda, shoulda but didn’t?
- Am I needlessly catastrophizing possible outcomes to scenarios?
- Am I continuously worrying that things will turn out all one way or another (black and white thinking, with no gray area)?
- Am I doing the “what ifs” (e.g what if they don’t like me?, what if I can’t hold on to this job, etc).
I challenge you to check in with your self-talk and imagine holding a big red stop sign in front of your face and firmly saying “STOP!” when you notice yourself doing this. Of course, it is easier said than done and takes practice, but what a potentially huge anxiety buster!
Create Healthy Boundaries
As highly sensitive people, we often place the needs of others before our own. This trait, of course, can be a good and bad thing.
We naturally feel at home being of service to others (many of us are even in the service or helping fields).
However, when we don’t create an appropriate balance between caring for others and ourselves..
- we end up burning out at work.
- we isolate ourselves from friends and loved ones.
- we commit to activities we don’t really enjoy.
A good way to create balance is to cultivate an understanding of your needs, and start to better trust your intuition. It’s also important to learn how to assertively say no to anything that doesn’t, in your heart, feel right for you.
Take Some “Me” Time
You need a vacation! Well, maybe not to the warm sands of a tropical beach (though that can be awesome too). But how about some downtime in a quiet place where you can let go of the stresses of the day? As highly sensitive people it is essential that we have time alone to decompress. I’ve often suggested to clients to create a “sacred space” in their home environment, even if it can only be a corner of a room, where they can spend some time meditating, looking through a window at the trees outside, or creating artwork. This is essential to recharge our energy, which often gets depleted more rapidly than for the Non-HSP.
Keep a Journal
Not only can getting into the practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings improve your quality of life, but you can also do and even create special exercises to monitor all your emotions. I suggest searching online for the many various ways to journal and making a practice of doing the one(s) that really speak to you.
Make Time for a Little Physical Activity
If you’re like me, the idea of one of those extreme boot camp workouts is not only daunting, but it’s a downright turnoff. Most of us need to find creative ways to lovingly move our bodies, whether through dance, yoga, Pilates, or even getting out for a walk or bike ride. The key is to find an enjoyable way to get in some cardio or other types of exercise. So, get some movement in your life. Plus, it’s a great stress-reliever!
Mindfulness may just be the most important piece of self-care of all. It’s the practice of focusing our awareness on the present moment to better recognize and regulate our emotions. It helps us to feel less “crazy” or out of control. Some of the mindfulness techniques I value and use in my life are listening to guided relaxation meditations from podcasts or that are on other social media platforms, exercises where I focus on my five senses (naming out loud the things I can see, hear, taste, touch and smell around me), and diaphragmatic breathing (I call it the deep belly breath!). Again, another great place to find a mindfulness practice that works for you is online. I especially love checking out YouTube videos.
In summary, you may be an HSP if..
- you find that you tend to process information deeply and slowly.
- you feel overwhelmed in large groups of people, especially for extended periods of time.
- you have a very strong, sharp sense of empathy.
- you are especially sensitive to stimuli in your environment.
Some of the unique challenges to being an HSP are..
- deep-processing to the point of over-thinking decisions.
- becoming over-aroused in settings, which leads to high anxiety and/or panic attacks.
- always placing the needs of others before self.
- having specific irritabilities to stimuli in the environment.
Some of the special ways to care for yourself as an HSP are..
- watching the way you speak to yourself.
- creating healthy boundaries.
- taking “me” time.
- keeping a journal.
- practicing mindfulness.
I would love to see some of the ways you take care of yourself as an HSP, and invite you to describe them in the comments.
If there are special struggles unique to HSPs you’d like for me to speak to in another blog, please share that in the comments!