Hi, my name is Gabrielle. I’m a writer for Pscyh2Go and a highly sensitive person. As a way of educating and empowering myself about my sensory and emotional sensitivity, I’ve spent a lot of time learning and eventually writing about what it means to be a highly sensitive person– or an “HSP.” In one of my earlier Psych2Go articles, “7 Things Highly Sensitive People Can Relate To,” I used Dr. Elaine N. Aron’s explanation to define high sensitivity: a highly sensitive individual “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.” Dr. Elaine N. Aron is a clinical psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You.
The title of Dr. Aron’s book inspired me to compile my own list of tips and tricks for living my best life with heightened sensitivity, so here are 6 ways to thrive as a highly sensitive person.
1. Ask Why– And Accept That There May Not Be An Answer
When feeling overwhelmed, asking yourself to dig to the root of the problem is likely the last thing on your mind. However, finding the source of your distress can save a lot of time and trouble in the long run, so it may be worth considering. Sometimes the solution will be a simple fix, but (as if being a highly sensitive person weren’t complicated enough already) other times there may not be a solution at all. Stimuli and stress can add up in strange ways, and people just get overwhelmed every now and then. Even though finding the solution to the problem can help, it’s not the end of the world if there’s no answer to find.
2. Be Kind To Yourself
Even when you can’t quite figure out what’s on your mind, the best thing you can do is to approach your emotions with kindness and patience; the last thing you need is to add to your own stress. It’s ok not to understand why you feel the way you do as long as you continue to do what’s best for your own well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t push it! If you learn to be your own safe space, you’ll never have to go far to find a source of comfort in the chaos of the world.
3. Take Your Time
A lot of highly sensitive individuals struggle with transitions, especially when in any kind of a rush. It can be overstimulating and disorienting to enter a new space or even just to have a shift in thoughts, but taking your time with transitions can help with the enormousness of the circumstance. If you’re not ready for something, that’s ok! Try to get creative and ease into the new situation in any way you can.
4. Find Comforting Stimuli To Keep Nearby
One strategy for calming an overwhelmed mind is to distract it with a positive stimulus, just as young children find comfort in familiar objects such as a stuffed animal, pacifier, or even a parent. What one considers as a “positive” stimulus is different for every person, but I personally have found rough, scratchy textures to be the most distracting while certain thin and breathable fabrics are most calming for me to touch. I try to buy clothes with these types of fabrics and I carry an unpolished amethyst in my bag so I can feel the rough texture when I need to calm my mind; little tricks like this can make more difference than one may realize.
5. Keep Lists of Dos and Don’ts
It’s easy to draw a blank in the midst of sensory overload, so it can be helpful to have a written list of dos and don’ts to follow when you’re feeling overwhelmed. By having this list handy, you’ll be able to take action immediately–or even preemptively–without having to sort through the tangle of thoughts; all you have to do is look at the list or hand it to someone else. Write down everything that helps or triggers you so you can keep an eye out for patterns and know what to avoid in the future.
6. Be Picky About Who You Spend Time With
Anyone who is highly sensitive knows that flexibility is key to handling any overwhelming situation. Plans can change or fall apart in a matter of seconds, and it sure doesn’t make it any easier when those plans involve other people. Some may not understand what it means to be highly sensitive and may unknowingly make the situation worse. Remember to prioritize your own needs and speak up for yourself if you feel unsafe or need a hand. A true friend will be more than willing to help, listen, or even just wait until you feel ready to resume your day.