Hi, I’m Gabrielle. I’m a writer for Psych2go, a recent college graduate, and a mental health advocate. I’m also a highly sensitive person (HSP).
Since receiving my HSP diagnosis several years ago, I’ve learned a lot about how my senses affect my everyday experiences. Although it’s taken a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to make some routine changes that have helped me take control over my symptoms and lead a happier life. Of course, every HSP is different, so what works for me may not work for you. But don’t give up! There are a plethora of tools and skills that can relieve the overstimulation HSPs experience every day. Here are just a few of those ideas–– seven things highly sensitive people need to be happy.
1. A space of their own
For highly sensitive people, having a safe space that’s all their own can be a lifesaver. It can feel comforting to have control over a room, office, or house when the rest of the world feels chaotic and overwhelming. My best suggestion is to fill your space with things that bring you comfort or relief, such as blankets, stuffed animals, or houseplants. For people like me who are rather sensitive to light, having a light switch with dimming options has been incredibly helpful. The important thing is to create a space that makes you feel good, so that you’ll always know you have somewhere where you can let your guard down and just be you.
2. Personal boundaries
I did not learn how to enforce (or even create) personal boundaries until my twenties, so once I did learn it was easy to see the benefits that boundaries can bring to many areas of life. In relationships, I learned how difficult it can be to separate my emotions from the emotions of others, which is why I’ve often had a hard time saying no or prioritizing myself over others. This gave me the chance to focus on my own needs, which ultimately lets me rest up and recharge for the next stimulating event.
3. Plenty of sleep
Any healthcare professional will be quick to tell you how important it is to get a good night’s rest, but sleep may be an obstacle for highly sensitive people. According to research psychologist and author Elaine Aron, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are correlated with a poor night’s rest. Vice versa, a lack of restful sleep increases the levels of cortisol in the body, so the cycle can be hard to break. I definitely fall victim to sleep deprivation from time to time, but I’ve also found a few small tips and tricks to help me stay comfy throughout the night: white noise machines, eye masks, and weighted blankets, to name a few
4. Freedom to express emotions
For someone who deals with a high level of emotions, I value relationships where I don’t feel like I have to hide my feelings. This doesn’t always come naturally, but those deeper conversations often bring me closer to those I’m able to open up to. Aron notes, “The key to a successful relationship for an HSP is communicating what they want out of a relationship and finding a partner that understands their emotions are part of their nature.” This communication will look different for everyone, so remember to be considerate and patient if you’re still getting to know someone.
5. A mental toolbelt of coping skills
I’ve tried breathing exercises, coloring books, and dozens of other skills to help me calm down and stay present, but I quickly learned that there’s no “one size fits all” solution for overstimulation. Sometimes, I put on my headphones and retreat into a book, but other times I need to take advantage of grounding exercises I’ve learned from my therapist. Having a variety of skills at the ready makes me feel more confident that I can handle any situation, even if I get overwhelmed.
6. Patience when decision-making
As a highly sensitive person, I have a hard time making decisions (and I am not alone in this). Even small choices, like what to have for dinner, can leave me frozen in place. I never knew why I had such an intense reaction to decision-making, but Dr. Aron attributes this quality to an increased depth of processing, a strength that is common for HSPs. “We notice even quite subtle aspects of our world and a vast array of the possible consequences of a choice. All of this goes into our consideration of what may be going to happen and what we should do.” She suggests making pro-con lists and thinking through decisions, but cautions against taking others’ advice.
7. A healthy outlet
Highly sensitive people take in a lot, so they may need to let out a lot too. Physical activities such as dancing can release physical tension and express feeling through movement, but it can be harder to quiet the brain when you’re constantly taking in information, as HSPs do. Journaling has helped me notice and work through my feelings, while mindless crafts such as coloring let me focus on something that is both calming and in my control.
Are you an HSP? What has helped you live a fulfilled, happy life?
Aron, E. (2013, November 15). On Making Decisions. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://hsperson.com/on-making-decisions/
Aron, E. (2017). The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. London: Thorsons.
Holmes, L. (2017, December 07). How Highly Sensitive People Interact With The World Differently. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/highly-sensitive-person-behaviors_n_7543140