“Don’t be so sensitive!”
Oh, the number of times I have heard those words. Along with names like vampire, cry-baby, and sketch. The reality of the situation is, I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
I hate bright light, and can most often be found with all of the curtains drawn in my dark living room. If a motorcycle drives by my house, I will be the one who slaps hers hands over her ears (toddler-style) until it’s gone. If
I happen to think too long about how much I utterly love and adore my children I will be brought to tears, no matter where I am. (This has happened at work, to my horror) Speaking of horror… I absolutely refuse to watch any sort of horror movie, or anything that is supposed to be scary. It is not fun for me. It makes me world a scary friggen place, and I will be riddled with anxiety for weeks afterward. Listening to music is a highly emotional thing for me, and it has a very real effect on my emotional state. Love songs bring me to tears, but fast, upbeat pop/hip-hop gives me energy and motivation.
Yes, some people like to poke fun at me for my odd little quirks, but I usually am pretty good about letting them. My boyfriend will laugh when his ridiculously loud cell phone rings and I jump a mile in the air. every. single. time. My kids think I am “so silly” for always lounging in dark rooms. But the fact is: I really like being me.
I am also not alone here. 15-20% of our population are genetically predisposed to higher levels of mental, emotional and physical sensitivity. People like me will be able to understand that:
- I’m aware of subtleties and nuances in different environments. e.g. a tap dripping, bright light, change in temperature, etc.
- I’m easily overwhelmed by the senses. Loud noises, strong smells, tastes and light affect me negatively. e.g. busy freeways and strong perfumes.
- I need to withdraw from busy days and take a break, or a nap, by myself.
- I become spooked and startled easily.
- I prefer to avoid violent/scary TV shows and movies.
- I find it hard to adapt to changes in my life.
- I tend to ruminate and process information deeply.
- I’m empathic. I’m aware of the way people feel around me, and when any slight change occurs in them.
- Emotional environments tend to affect me deeply.
- I’m very introverted.
- I’m profoundly moved by nature, the arts or music.
- I tend to be more philosophically and spiritually orientated.
- I feel unusually strong emotions.
- I prefer to not be observed when fulfilling tasks. It unsettles me.
- I tend to avoid situations that are too intense, crowded, or chaotic.
- I process the world at a very deep level.
- I have a rich, and often intense, internal life.
However, being able to understand HSP and being able to cope with your own highly sensitive nature are two very different things. It took me a very long time to come to terms with who I am. For many years I shut down emotionally, because I felt everything so deeply that it made me feel crazy! For people who may still be in that sort of a headspace I have a few tips.
1) Get enough sleep
This one is huge for me! I naturally need more sleep than other people (8-10 hours per night, optimally) but even people who only require 7-8 need to make sure that they get those hours because sleep and emotional health are deeply interconnected. Even short-term, partial sleep loss can negatively affect mood, outlook, and the quality of our most important relationships: If you’re sleep deprived, you’re more vulnerable to crankiness, irritability, and challenges coping with stress.
2) Eat healthy foods regularly throughout the day
Hunger can be disruptive to an HSP’s mood or concentration. Keep your edgy nerves happy by maintaining a steady blood sugar level through regular healthy well-balanced meals and snacks. I have a really poor appetite, so I ahve also found that drinking a TON of water helps to keep me hydrated as well as satiate me.
3) Drown out the noise
HSPs are highly sensitive to noise, especially the kind we can’t control. Many HSPs choose noise-cancelling headphones to cancel out the noisy intrusive world. Personally, I choose to listen to music instead. It allows me to block out the “bad noise” with “better noise”. In the end, it is up to you and your personal preference to decide which way works best for you.
4) Plan in decompression time
HSPs don’t do well spending too much time in noisy, crowded or high pressure environments. If you know you’re going to spend a few hours in a challenging environment, you should know that you’re likely to be frazzled after and will need to decompress somewhere quiet and relaxing, on your own if possible. I work in a very large – very busy – Fortune 50 corporate office. This means, when I come home from work I want to do nothing – with no one. I need space and quite, in order to regain my equilibrium.
5) Have at least one quiet room or space to retreat to in your home
If you live with others, create a quiet safe place you can retreat to when you need to get away from people and noise. In my case, this space is the living room when I am alone, or my bedroom when everyone is around. For mothers like me, this can trigger feelings of guilt. However, giving yourself space puts you in a better emotional state, which in turn makes you a better mother.
6) Give yourself quiet time
I mentioned above that I work at a large corporate office. This means that after 7am I am ON for 9-10 hours straight. In order to cope with this I wake up at 5am. This gives me an hour and 30 minutes every morning to enjoy the quiet before I start my day. With the rest of the house still asleep I am able to soak up the quiet.
7) Keep the lights down low
I loathe bright lights. It hurts my eyes, and my head. I find it completely overwhelming. As such, minimizing light stimulation goes a long way. I leave the curtains closed in my living room so I always have one room that is completely dark. I also always keep a pair of sunglasses in my purse. (I have even been known to wear them when I am sitting at my desk at work.)
9) Cut corners
To avoid crowds and the associated noise and stimulation, I’ve learned to cut corners. All of my bills are automated so that I never have to take a trip to the bank. I also have a grocery store app so that I can just pick up my groceries after work, rather than suffer through the intense light and overcrowded aisles of the store.
10) Surround yourself with nature
Since we HSPs are so sensitive and deeply affected by our surroundings, envelop yourself with the calm of nature whenever possible. I spend as much time as I can walking in nature, enjoying the quiet and its naturally healing and calming beauty. Sometimes this means being out in a park, but other times it is just me in my backyard – reading under a tree!
Being a HSP is not an easy thing… it can feel like a curse some days! But, with practice, you will learn that it is actually a blessing is disguise 🙂