Growing up, I was a very sensitive child. One of my earliest memories is of freaking out after seeing a particularly bad story on the news. I don’t remember what the story was about, but I do remember running into my bedroom, plugging my ears, and making up a song about how "everything will be all right." I sang it as loudly as I could to cover the noise of the TV, until my mom came in, shocked to find me in such a ramped-up state.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), and then things finally made sense. Highly sensitive people process information deeply, and as a result, experience the world a little differently than others. Images of violence or stories of heartbreak can be excruciating to them. Sudden loud noises, bright lights, and busy schedules have the power to rattle HSPs profoundly.
Today, I'm a writer who studies introversion and high sensitivity. I've found that HSPs need somewhat different things in life to be happy than non-HSPs. Here are 14 of those things. Keep in mind that every highly sensitive person is an individual, so each will need slightly different things to thrive.
1. A slower, simpler pace of life.
Because they process information deeply, HSPs may move a little slower than others. They may need more time to do certain tasks, like getting out of the house in the morning. They may take a little longer to make decisions, such as which item to buy at the grocery store, because they are taking in not just the mountain of choices, but also nutrition information, price, and how they feel about chicken noodle soup. Suddenly, their mind flashes to chickens being cooped up in tiny cages then slaughtered... and they must take a few beats to ponder if they can live with this reality on their dinner plate. All of this takes time.
2. Time to wind down after a busy day.
Like introverts, HSPs can’t go-go-go for too long. Their extra-sensitive nervous systems absorb mounds of information and process it to the umpteenth degree. As a result, they may get easily overwhelmed and worn out after a busy day. Time to relax lowers their stimulation level and restores their sanity.
3. A calm, quiet space to retreat to.
Preferably this is paired with #2. This space, ideally, would have low lighting, little noise, a beautiful aesthetic, and the HSP’s favorite tools to relax (a book, music, a comfy pillow, etc.).
4. Permission to get emotional and have a good cry.
Not only are HSPs extra sensitive to environmental stimulation, they’re also sensitive emotionally. According to Dr. Elaine Aaron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, sensitive people tend to cry more easily than others. “Sensitive people can’t help but express what they’re feeling,” she told the Huffington Post. “They show their anger, they show their happiness. Appreciating that is really important.”
5. Time to adjust to change.
Transitions can be tough for anybody, but for highly sensitive people, they can quickly snowball into a bundle of stress and overwhelm. Even positive changes, like starting a new relationship or moving into a dream home, can be overstimulating and require an extra-long period of adjustment.
6. Close, meaningful relationships.
HSPs crave deep connections with others. In fact, according to Aron, they may get bored or restless in relationships that lack meaningful interaction. However, this doesn’t mean they’re prone to relationship hopping. Rather, they may actually work harder to strike up a meaningful conversation with their partner and create intimacy.
This also means HSPs tend to be selective about the people they let into their lives. A surface-level, give-and-take relationship will simply not cut it. An HSP wants to dive deep into your soul and connect with you in a profound way. Let them.
7. A gentle, healthy way of managing conflict.
Sensitive or not, fighting with a loved one is the worst, but sensitive people tend to feel extra anxious when conflict arises. Often an internal battle takes place. The HSP may have strong feelings about something, but keep it to themselves, because they don’t want to make the other person mad. Dealing with an angry person can be wildly overstimulating.
Plus, we hate hurting other people because we know from personal experience just how much that sucks. HSPs tend to have high levels of empathy, and this is just one of the ways our caring for others shows up.
Unfortunately, this means sensitive people often hide their needs and just “go along to get along.” They need a healthy way of dealing with disagreement that doesn’t involve yelling or drama.
8. A good night’s sleep.
A lack of sleep is enough to make anyone cranky, sloppy, and unproductive. But a lack of sleep for an HSP can make life almost unbearable. Getting enough sleep helps soothe HSPs' ramped-up senses and allows them to process their emotions. How much sleep a sensitive person gets can literally make or break their day.
9. Healthy meals, spaced regularly throughout the day.
According to Aron, hunger can really mess with a sensitive person’s mood or concentration. HSPs practically define what it means to be "hangry."
10. Caffeine-free and nonalcoholic options.
Surprise, surprise: Some HSPs (but not all) are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and alcohol.
11. An outlet for their creative side.
Many highly sensitive people have a strong need to create. They channel their poignant observations, insights, and emotions into art, poetry, music, and more. Deborah Ward, the author of Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness, writes, “Sensitivity can be overwhelming, but it is also like having extra RAM on my personal hard drive… Creativity is the pressure valve for all that accumulated emotional and sensory data.”
12. A strong sense of purpose.
Some people seem to drift through life without direction or purpose. For HSPs, this is unthinkable. Rather, they think deeply about the big things in life. Who are they, why are they here, and what were they put on this planet to do? Whether it’s writing a novel, traveling the world, or leading the way for a cause they believe in, sensitive people crave meaning.
13. Loved ones who understand and respect their sensitive nature.
Because most people are not highly sensitive, they simply don’t understand what it's like to get very stressed out by, say, a startling noise, a busy weekend, or a violent scene in a movie. Not everyone will “get” it, and that’s okay. But what an HSP needs is at least a few people who truly understand their sensitivity—preferably the people closest to them. Someone who not only gets it, but helps protect them from overstimulation: “Yes, it’s perfectly okay that we leave the party now. I can see all over your face that you’re overstimulated.” And, someone who sees all the wonderful gifts that come with this rare trait.
14. Natural surroundings and beauty.
HSP or not, our environment affects us. But for HSPs, the response is even more profound. For them, the way things look really matters. Cluttered, chaotic, or just plain ugly environments may unsettle them. Beauty is a balm that rejuvenates and soothes.
This post originally appeared on Highly Sensitive Refuge, my community and blog for HSPs.
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