Survival Guide for A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
16 tips on navigating through your superpower of being a Highly Sensitive Person
It normally starts with “Mrs. Yvette what is wrong with me?” or “I think I’m overthinking this _____________ (fill in the blank)?” or “I feel so overwhelmed/anxious about ________ (fill in the blank).” We then begin the journey and adventure of unpacking the feelings and thoughts which typically reveals the trait of sensitivity known as the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
What is a Highly Sensitive Person you may be wondering? Well, when you begin to unpack it, you’ll learn to both love this side of you and see it as a strength. Now remember as with anything else it comes on a continuum in which people experience and do the dance of sensitivity differently. Meaning that you may have some but not all traits and with the traits you have they may not be at a high level. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t sensitive it just means sensitivity presents itself differently with you and that’s fine as everyone is unique. So back to the question of what is a HSP. I like how Dr. Elaine Aron describes it in her book The Highly Sensitive Child, she states:
“Highly sensitive individuals are those born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting, as compared to those who notice less and act quickly and impulsively. As a result, sensitive people, both children and adults, tend to be empathic, smart, intuitive, creative, careful, and conscientious. They are also more easily overwhelmed by “high volume” or large quantities of input arriving at once. They try to avoid this, and thus seem to be shy or timid or “party poopers.” When they cannot avoid overstimulation, they seem “easily upset” and “too sensitive”……Mainly, their brains process information more thoroughly. This processing is not just in the brain, however, since highly sensitive people, children or adults, have faster reflexes (a reaction usually from the spinal cord); are more affected by pain, medications and stimulants; and have more reactive immune systems and more allergies. In a sense, their body is designed to detect and understand more precisely whatever comes in.”
She goes on to explain on her website at https://hsperson.com:
Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population–too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you.
It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it in over 100 species (and probably there are many more) from fruit flies, birds, and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others’. To learn more about this, see Research.
You are more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.
You are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.
This trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called “shy.” But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extroverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.
Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told “don’t be so sensitive” so that they feel abnormal.
So, now that you have some background on the trait, let me give you a tool for navigating this part of you, called the “HSP Survival Guide”. The HSP Survival Guide is a list that my HSP clients have enjoyed throughout my years of practicing. (As a side note, this guide is information that I have collected through my endless hours of research. Unfortunately, because I dove into it all with my wild passion, I forgot to take notes of where I was collecting all my amazing information from. As there are a myriad of professionals that have done incalculable hours of research regarding the topic of sensitivity and have brought much needed clarity and insight to the temperament. However, I have included at the end, possible sources)
HSP SURVIVAL GUIDE
Be aware that you experience life through a extra-sensitive nervous system: You have a hyper responsive amygdala which means: Everything is amplified and experienced in high definition. You have more receptors to feel things so you are more sensitive to emotions and all sorts of sensory input
Let go of the idea that you should be able to live as the “average” person lives: You become more quickly and easily: overstimulated, overwhelmed and frazzled.
Honor your need to rest and recharge: You need time to decompress and recharge, you will need to adopt the practices of: relaxing, unwinding and mediation. Make sure to do something that actually fills your tank. You will also need to build plenty of down time into your schedule, remembering that out in the world your brain is working overtime by processing sensory input and soaking up others moods.
Spend your time and energy wisely: Filter you time through a funnel that has you processing: “Is this essential, meaningful or fun?”
Start the day right: It's especially important to have a calm start to your day. Put yourself to bed on time so you can wake up before the kids/husband/etc, have a cup of coffee/tea by yourself and do whatever you do to ready yourself for the day in peace.
Set boundaries and clearly communicate them: It’s not necessary that others understand you - they may or may not - only that they respect your needs.
Embrace routine: Smooth routines means fewer decisions, which tax your mental energy. Consistent routines in the morning and night time also means more order, predictability, and a time to catch your breath and place yourself in the day, which also seems to work best for HSP's. Make checklists, streamline everyday tasks, put a daily schedule in place.
Don’t let fear hold you back: Do not overdo things but don’t play it too safe. Stretch yourself periodically in order that you can get comfortable in the uncomfortable.
Surround yourself with people who uplift you and limit contact with those who drain your energy: Those of us who are sensitive and porous and are around negative people can find that they can actually make us sick. Choose company wisely!
Immerse yourself in positive at every opportunity: Repeat positive affirmations, pray, read, listen to music, look at the brighter side or search for the silver lining, enjoy nature.
Make time for other activities that calm your nervous system and build your energy: Yoga, prayer, walking in nature, physical activity, art, journaling.
Give yourself plenty of time and space to get things done: Concentration can be challenging. You can easily get your knickers in a twist and your brains in a scramble. Quiet and solitude is needed for most to perform at their best with a task.
Rein in your perfectionist tendencies: Good is good enough. Perfectionism can become a time drain that will also drain most of your energy.
Create a sanctuary: Make your home/living space a serene and beautiful place to retreat. Clutter will scramble your brain and drain your energy. Keep your living space zen like. A great book you may want to check out is called: The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
Get enough sleep: Because your nervous system is so active it needs time to recharge. Keep a healthy sleep wake schedule. Sleep in total quiet and darkness. Create a night time routine.
Eat for success: You are especially sensitive to the stimulating and sedating effects of foods and to hunger. How you eat can either balance you or send you reeling.
The Highly Sensitive Person, How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine Aron, Ph.D
The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, Ph.D
The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, by Elaine Aron, Ph. D
The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide by Ted Zeff Ph.D.
Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World through Their Eyes, by James Williams and Elaine N Aron
The Highly Sensitive Person by Kelly O: https://highlysensitiveperson.net/hsppodcast/
The HSP Podcast with Julie Bjelland: https://www.juliebjelland.com/podcast
The Gentle Rebel Podcast: https://www.andymort.com/category/podcast/
Unapologetically Sensitive: https://unapologeticallysensitive.com/unapologetically-sensitive/
Yvette E. McDonald is the owner and counselor at Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for individuals helping them discover the person they were always meant to be, as they become the best version of self in their roles and relationships in the Port Saint Lucie and Martin County area. As a HSP myself I'm passionate about helping individuals write a new chapter in their journey of life. If you're in the Saint Lucie or Martin County Area and life isn't quite what you expected it to be at this point in your journey, please give me a call at 772-361-8448 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.