photo by kakisky
Source: photo by kakisky

One of the most significant characteristics of high sensitivity is increased absorption of information. While researchers are not sure how this works, highly sensitive people (HSP) tend to pick up the colours, textures, sounds, smells and energy around them more than other people. It can feel like walking through life without clothes on, or even without skin, because you feel everything so intensely, from a warm breeze to the anxiety in your colleagues. As modern life becomes faster and more hectic, filled with more demands on our time and more technology to steal our attention, it is easy for HSPs to become overwhelmed.

When your brain is overwhelmed it is something like a saturated sponge—it just cannot absorb anymore and it starts leaking. It’s difficult to explain to people who are not so sensitive that these feelings and sensations are real. It’s even harder to explain that your threshold for saturation is much lower than average. It doesn’t take much to overwhelm an HSP. Many well-intentioned folks will advise you to "just calm down," "relax," "don’t take it so personally." Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

It can feel strange and sometimes embarrassing even to the sensitive person when we find ourselves on the brink of tears or breaking out in a sweat while everyone around us is cool and calm. What’s important for HSPs to recognize, however, is that our physiological reactions are not a choice and they are not caused by a lack of will power or lack of strength. We don’t feel stressed because we are cry babies or making a fuss over nothing or because we don’t know what to do. We feel stressed because our sensitive nervous systems are saturated. When life continues to dump more information and stimulation on us, we not only feel way out of our comfort zone, but we feel frazzled, stressed and our response is often to panic, have a temper tantrum or run away, just as a child would when they feel overwhelmed.

While we can’t avoid the stresses of modern life completely, we can take steps to try to prevent the saturation of our systems and soothe our stressed out senses when we do become overwhelmed. Although it can often feel like a disability, your sensitivity is a precious trait that allows you to enjoy life to the full, being aware of the beauty all around you and able to feel the full intensity of the positive feelings of love, friendship, community and joy in the smallest of things. And as something precious, we need to protect our sensitivity, nurture it and care for it with gentleness. In this way, your sensitivity is like a child. It needs looking after and it needs cherishing. It can be demanding at times, but when we see our sensitivity as a child and ourselves as the parent, we can help ourselves live a life that meets all of our needs.

  • Take breaks. If you work in a busy, noisy or stressful environment, your sensitivity will quickly feel overwhelmed and become tearful and/or irritable. Take your sensitive self for regular breaks during the day and go somewhere quiet, whether it’s a quick walk outside or the office washroom for a moment of peace. Even running your hands under cool water can help.
  • Stay organized. Just as children flourish in a regular routine, your sensitivity will cope better when you have a plan. Leave plenty of time to get to events so you’re not stressed by rushing or searching for parking. If you have a big meeting at work, try to schedule some easy tasks you can do alone afterwards so you’re not overwhelmed. Many companies now offer flex time so talk to your employer about working at home a couple of days a week. Your sensitivity needs lots of quiet time away from the hectic pace of the working day. 
  • Eat snacks. Just like a child, your sensitivity needs time for milk and cookies. Rushing around, being around people and feeling overwhelmed takes a lot of energy and HSPs can quickly feel exhausted. Keep your strength up by eating regular, healthy snacks and meals.
  • Get plenty of rest. While we cannot always take a nap during the day, we need to make downtime a priority. Looking after your sensitive self means ensuring it gets enough rest. Take naps when you can and be sure to get enough sleep at night. Absorbing information all day is like a child learning new things. It’s stimulating but it’s tiring so get those p.j.s on early, take time for quiet activities like reading and remember that you don’t have to accept every invitation.
  • Listen. Knowing what children need often requires listening to them as well as listneing to your own gut instincts. You need to listen to your sensitivity as well. Notice when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, cranky or emotional. It usually means your sensitivity is overwhelmed and needs some quiet time. For many HSPs, spending time in nature is the most soothing.

While being a highly sensitive person can feel like extra responsibility, taking care of your sensivity as you would a child will allow your sensitive side to relax, feel safe, and flourish while you can develop pride in knowing that you have created a confident, creative and self-reliant sensitive person.

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