Supporting Yourself as a Highly Sensitive Person – Emilie Ford

Highly Sensitive Person. Sounds like a bad thing, right? In our society today, just the word “sensitive” typically makes someone think “weak” or “easily broken”…Yet the truth about highly sensitive people (HSPs) is the exact opposite.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist, researcher, and author of the bestselling book, The Highly Sensitive Person, around 15-20% of the population has the highly sensitive trait (also referred to as sensory processing sensitivity). These individuals who are highly sensitive have a gift. That’s right…being highly sensitive is a GIFT, not a defect or a disorder. HSPs typically feel emotions (all emotions) intensely, pick up on small cues and subtleties in their environment, take more time to process information or to make a decision, have a very strong intuition, and can be overwhelmed by too many people or too many sounds. It is very easy for an HSP in today’s world to develop the core belief that they are “different” or there must be something “wrong” with them…but that belief is based on false information!

As an HSP myself, the day I learned of this sensory processing sensitivity trait, my life changed…But as most of us know, change is really difficult! Needless to say, supporting and advocating for yourself as an HSP is extremely important. Notice how I am avoiding the term “self-care”? Yup, that’s on purpose…I like to think of it as self-support. Many HSPs have gone much of their lives feeling unheard and misunderstood, so I feel it’s important to emphasize the fact that we can support ourselves.

Here are just a few ways that may help you support yourself as an HSP:

Sleep!

HSPs tend to tire more quickly and need more sleep than non-HSPs. Once I learned to just allow myself to sleep when I needed to without the guilt and shame of “not being productive”, I felt more prepared to face the world and do what I enjoy (along with all that other stuff that isn’t so enjoyable).

Make adjustments to your environment.

Because HSPs tend to become overwhelmed easily by sensory overload, become aware of what you can change about your environment and change it! Ask your partner/child/roommate to turn the volume down on the TV and invest in some noise cancelling headphones or a white noise machine. Turn off that bright, overhead light and use a soft lamp instead. Light some smell good candles. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Take a hot shower or bath. Open a window and let the breeze in. Snuggle with your pet. *One thing to note here is that HSPs, just like everyone, prefer different environments depending on their mood, the time of day, etc. Sometimes I want to blast my music, dance like goofball, and sing my heart out, while other times I want to snuggle under a weighted blanket with my pup and just the sound of white noise. Sometimes I want to be around people; sometimes I need to be alone. Start to listen to what your body is telling you and make it happen!

Make time to enjoy art.

Whatever form of art is your favorite, incorporate it into your daily life! HSPs tend to be deeply moved and energized by art, either producing it or taking it in. Whether that is listening to music, reading a book, writing, painting, dancing, or whatever floats your boat, making time to immerse yourself in creativity helps recharge your senses and your soul.

BOUNDARIES!

Ah yes, there’s that dreaded word. Many HSPs have an extremely difficult time setting boundaries with others partly due to our ability to tune into others’ needs…we don’t want to disappoint someone or not be able to give our loved ones our time when they ask. But it is SO IMPORTANT (and okay!) to know your limits and support yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed and shut down…Which just leads to those thoughts of inadequacy or feelings of shame…Bleh.
Be direct with others. Remember that others are typically not going to respond to the subtle cues you may be giving off in the same way that you respond to the subtle cues of others…You may have to just straight up say, “I’m not feeling up to doing that right now”, and that is totally fine!
Set limits to communication with others. HSPs may become depleted quickly when interacting with others, so if you need to leave a social gathering early…do it! It may also be helpful to commit to placing your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode for a couple of hours each day to give yourself that time to recharge.

Remember that your highly sensitive trait is a GIFT! When you can support yourself more sufficiently by accepting this part of yourself, the benefits of being an HSP start to shine. You have the ability to deeply connect with others, your intuition is usually spot on, your sense of compassion is heightened, you appreciate beauty in the world where others don’t necessarily see it, and you are able to authentically feel and express all of your emotions. You can live life in high definition and learn to go along for the ride with all of its twists, turns, and truly chaotic beauty.

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