Why Do Highly Sensitive People Hate Being Busy and Rushed?

We process things deeply, including time pressure.

Posted Sep 26, 2018

Source: M.Vich/Shutterstock

I’ve always hated rushing. As a kid, my parents and teachers were always telling me to “hurry up” or “get moving.” As an adult, I still tend to move slowly, whether it’s doing the dishes or getting out the door in the morning for work. Often this makes me the friend or colleague who shows up a few minutes late.

“You’re very deliberate about what you do,” my personal trainer recently told me, as I moved methodically through my weight-lifting set.

Just like I need a little extra time to do things, I also hate having too many things to do. For me, weekends are best when there’s plenty of time to wrap myself up in a blanket on the couch and relax, and I love coming home from work and having no evening plans. To me, a blank spot on my calendar isn’t boring — it’s bliss.

When there are too many tasks on my to-do list or too many obligations to attend, I become a ball of stress. No matter how much I tell myself that “it will be okay,” my body feels shaky, and my mind races — sometimes even well after the busyness is over. And if someone is hovering over me as I try to collect what I need to get out the door — or rushing me onward — it makes those feelings one hundred times worse.

I used to think there was something wrong with me, because I’m “slow” and prefer calm over lots of “fun.” Then I learned that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), and everything made sense. Highly sensitive people process stimulation deeply, and as a result, they’re more prone to stress and overwhelm. Time pressure is a form of stimulation, and HSPs are extra-sensitive to stimulation of all kinds.

No one likes feeling overly busy or rushed, but for HSPs, that feeling is magnified. Let’s explore why, plus five strategies for HSPs to cope with time pressure.

Why HSPs Hate Being Busy and Rushed

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, it’s common for HSPs to struggle with deadlines, time pressure, and busyness. Why? It has to do with our depth of processing.

Our depth of processing affects us in many ways, from causing us to not notice time passing, to overthinking things, to being overstimulated when there’s a lot going on.

In a recent blog post, Aron explains why it’s not unusual for HSPs to run late, even though we’re generally quite conscientious and thoughtful of others. The sensitive person’s depth of processing might cause him or her “to be thinking, maybe planning or imagining, and not noticing the time passing” — in other words, entering a rich state of concentration.

Our depth of processing may also make it harder for us to get out the door and get to appointments or scheduled events.

For example, let’s say you’re an HSP who’s leaving the house for a trip. As you’re packing and getting ready, your depth of processing kicks in. You start thinking about all the possible scenarios that might happen on your vacation (and all the things that could go wrong). Wait, I need my umbrella, because it might rain, you think. Hold on, these shoes won’t be comfortable for lots of walking — I need to change them. And on, and on.

And for HSPs, these little things make a big difference. For example, wearing a dress with a tight waistband or uncomfortable shoes can make all the difference for me between a good day and a bad or unproductive one! It’s no wonder that HSPs put a lot of energy into trying to predict or avoid what others might call “minor” inconveniences.

There’s an upside to this: HSPs are usually the ones who have exactly what anyone might need, from the Advil for a sudden headache to a snack at the airport. The downside: All that preparation takes time.

It’s a similar story when we have a lot to do. Our depth of processing makes us think deeply about each task, and we’d generally rather plod along carefully and conscientiously, making sure we don’t make mistakes, than rush through something. And when you can’t cross tasks off your to-do list fast enough, the stress compounds.

Finally, when we have a lot going on — whether it’s a family get-together, a work event, or hanging out with friends — we want to be prepared for those events, and we process them deeply, too. After an event, highly sensitive people tend to need plenty of time to “come down” and relax — again, processing every little thing that just happened to us — so it gets stressful when we have back-to-back obligations and no downtime.

For the HSP, the struggle against busyness is real indeed. Is it any surprise that sensitive people suffer from frequent exhaustion and emotional burnout?

How HSPs Can Cope With Time Pressure

1. Leave extra time.

When you have to get somewhere, leave extra time. More time than you think you’ll need. Ridiculous amounts of extra time! That way, when your depth of processing kicks in, and you suddenly start thinking about grabbing extra tissues or changing your clothes, you’ll have the time you need.

2. Make lists of what you need.

I have a master packing list that includes everything I need when I travel. It’s saved on my laptop, so I don’t have to recreate it every time I go on a trip. You can do this for other things, too, such as a list for what you need when you leave the house in the morning for work. This especially helps if you’re responsible for getting children out the door!

3. Remove extra stimulation.

If possible, pack your suitcase when other people aren’t around. Get ready for the networking event with the bathroom door closed. Find a quiet spot to tackle your to-do list. Doing things quietly and alone — whenever possible — removes some stimulation.

4. Give yourself permission to say no.

It’s okay to say no to social events or obligations when you’re already overloaded. When you say no, you’re saying yes to more energy for the things that really matter — and less stress!

5. Give yourself time warnings.

If you run late because you struggle to pull yourself out of your current task, keep an eye on the clock, and give yourself time warnings (much like you’d do for a child who needs to quit playing soon and pick up his or her toys). “20 minutes until I need to get ready to leave… 10 minutes…” and so on.

In a lot of ways, the busy modern world works against the HSP’s nature. While this can create tremendous problems for the sensitive person, it’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Aren’t we all trying to slow down and find a little more peace? Society could learn some lessons from thoughtful and deliberate HSPs.

This article was originally published on Highly Sensitive Refuge, my community and blog for highly sensitive people.