Do you often feel overwhelmed or stressed? Do other people’s mood and emotions affect you? Do you often feel the need to withdraw and be alone on busy days? Did your parents and teacher call you shy or (too) sensitive? Do you lay awake at night often, processing the day? Do you often experience self-doubt and guilt? Then you might be a highly sensitive person (HSP). Contrary to what you might think, it is entirely possible to thrive as an HSP. Let me tell you how.
Highly sensitive people (or HSPs) process information in their environment more deeply, become overstimulated more easily, have higher empathy and experience more intense emotions. They are more sensitive to subtleties in their environment than others. Highly sensitive people feel and think more deeply than less sensitive persons.
It is estimated that 20% of human beings and 20% of over 100 other species have a highly sensitive nature. What you have to realize is that your brain works differently than 80% of all the other people in the world. And to thrive, you don’t have to change! You need to tune into what is most important to you. You have a unique gift. A superpower. It is important to understand your trait.
But how do you know if you’re highly sensitive? Most of us just know.
I didn’t just know. As a kid I was often told that I was too shy or too sensitive. I was overreacting, I shouldn’t worry so much, I should “get over it”, I was overthinking stuff way too much, etc. I always felt a bit odd, because this was who I am. I had no idea how to change how I was experiencing the world. It was at the age of 29 that I learned about high sensitivity and the person who coined this term, Dr. Elaine Aron. It was an eye-opener.
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re a highly sensitive person, the internet is teeming online self-tests to find out. Personally, I am a big fan of Julie Bjelland, a psychotherapist and sensitivity expert who developed a sensitivity quiz to find out how sensitive you are.
Now, I want to share with you some ways to thrive as a highly sensitive person.
First you need to understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you! The world might not be set up for sensitivity, but this doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. When you think there’s something wrong with you it will negatively impact your mood, your self-esteem and your overall well-being.
Being highly sensitive is not a disorder. It is an innate trait.
When you consider the fact that highly sensitive people process sensory data more deeply, it allows you to experience yourself and the world in a slightly different and unique way. We are able to read micro expressions and therefore pick up on social cues and we pick up on body language. We are able to read the language of energy. All this extra data gives us an intelligence and an advantage in how we engage with other people.
It is all about reframing your beliefs about your sensitivity. You can either see it as a burden or as an incredible super power!
I will share some more resources at the end of his page.
Self-compassion involves acting in a kind way towards ourselves when we are having a difficult time. Instead of avoiding your pain, you acknowledge that it is difficult right now and you explore how you can take care for yourself in this moment. Don’t be hard on yourself in the face of “shortcomings”, but practice kindness and understanding towards yourself.
We are humans and we all make mistakes!
Self-compassion also means that we treat ourselves with the same love and kindness as we would treat someone else we love. After all, the longest relationship that you will every have in your life, is the relationship with yourself. So be kind to yourself!
Connect and spend time with other HSPs
Although we make up 20% of the population, we’re still a minority. If you surround yourself with non-HSPs only, you might feel lonely, disconnected, different, misunderstood, sad and maybe even isolated. Spending time with other HSPs normalizes and validates your experiences as a highly sensitive person.
Social media is a great place to find other HSPs. On my Instagram I share a lot about being highly sensitive and many of my followers are HSPs. It’s a great place to start connecting to other HSPs.
I also started a community for HSPs, The Happy Sensitive Community.
In this community we, as (highly) sensitive people, come together to define what it means to be a thriving HSP today so we can each make empowered choices in our lives and careers, and make the world a better place.
HSPs need more time alone to rest and to refill their bucket or recharge their battery. HSPs love to give and help. They like to pour their energy and love into other people’s buckets. The thing is, your bucket will be empty at one point. And because HSPs use a lot of their energy for processing stimuli more deeply in a world that is built for non-HSPs, their bucket will be empty way quicker!
When you live together with other people make sure to have at least one room in your house to retreat to when you feel like you need to get away from people and noises.
Listen to your body. When it tells you to rest … REST! Pause and slow down.
Sleep is crucial for HSPs, so make sure it’s highly quality and your night-time sleep is long.
When we are sleep-deprived, we have increased levels of stress hormones. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. A well-rested HSP is a thriving HSP!
Highly sensitive people are givers and helpers. Dr. Judith Orlof describes HSPs and empaths as those who absorb the world’s joys and stresses like “emotional sponges.”
If you are the giving type, and you genuinely want to give, and help and do good for others and the world …. you absolutely must learn how to take care of yourself! You can’t keep pouring and pouring from your bucket into other people’s bucket, without refilling it. You are 100% responsible for filling your own bucket.
When your bucket is full, you’ll be able to show up better for yourself, others and the world, especially if you’re a highly sensitive person. You see … everyone benefits if you put yourself in first place!
If you need some ideas for practicing self-care check out this post.
Regularly check in with yourself
This is basically practicing self-care. Check in with yourself and give yourself what you need.
I think it is good for everyone to check in with themselves every once in a while, but for HSPs it is extra critical. Your nervous system is so finely tuned to everything happening around you that you need to take a step back regularly.
I try to ask myself these two questions every day, preferably when I am on the toilet (something I learned from Julie Bjelland):
- How am I doing? /or/ How am I feeling? (whichever fits the moment)
- What do I need?
Listen to what your body is telling you and give yourself what you need.
This is such a powerful tool!
HSPs process their experiences deeper and more slowly than the other 80%. Feeling overwhelmed may be coming from having a lot of experiences left unprocessed and built up in your subconscious. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your thoughts, emotions or life in general, it’s a healthy practice to journal everything on your mind.
Some of the benefits of journaling:
- It helps you clarify your thoughts and feelings; it helps you identify negative thoughts or limiting beliefs. This helps you to figure out what is holding you back from being your most awesome self.
- It reduces stress; writing about stressful experiences can help you manage them in a healthy way. It helps to release the intensity of certain feelings.
- You will get to know yourself better; what makes you happy? What doesn’t? Which people are good for you? And who’s not? What makes you feel confident? By writing about these topics you will gain more insight!
- Tracking your problems daily helps to identify your triggers and it helps you to become aware of them so you can deal with your triggers. It also allows us to see our problems with more clarity and a new perspective on things that are happening daily in our life.
- It heals; expressive writing is a route to healing. Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal, has seen improved immune function in participants of writing exercises. Stress often comes from emotional blockages, and overthinking hypotheticals. He explains, “When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable.” And in doing so, you free yourself from mentally being tangled in traumas.
- It sparks creativity!
- Journaling improves your communication skills.
- Writing about your goals helps to achieve those goals. Writing goals down signals to your brain “this is important.” Your reticular activating system (RAS) then flags relevant opportunities and tools to achieve that goal.
- It is fun! And we all can use as much fun in our lives as possible 😉
Healthy boundaries are important. With your personal boundaries you are establishing guidelines of how you want to be treated. It is an important part of your identity. It’s also a crucial aspect of mental health and well-being.
Healthy boundaries can improve the relationship with ourselves and with other people. And most of all, setting boundaries is a beautiful act of self-love. It is a great way to say to yourself that you are important, and to show others you matter.
I made a workbook that helps you to create and communicate healthy boundaries. It is a free workbook that I will send to you when you sign up for my Self-Love Letter.
Julie Bjelland wrote an wonderfull ebook: The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person, How to Harness Your Sensitivity into Strength in a Chaotic World. I recently bought it and I am reading it as we speak. I haven’t finished it yet, but I can already say that it is really a good read! You can find the ebook here.
Another website that I really like is The Highly Sensitive Person.
There are of course more ways to thrive as a HSP and I feel like this list isn’t finished yet. I might add a second part in the future. But this is a great place to start!
If you have any questions at all after reading this blog post, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can contact me through the contact form, or on Instagram.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links. If you buy something from Julie Bjelland’s website, I will receive a commission. I will only share affiliate links of people and companies that I really support.