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How to Cope with Being a Highly Sensitive Person

by Harinder Ghatora

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

Someone who feels everything deeply.

Someone who is naturally attuned to the feelings of others.

Someone who needs a lot of time alone to unwind and recharge.

As a child, perhaps you were described as ‘timid’, ‘shy’, ‘soft’ or ‘emotional’ by your teachers and caregivers.

Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells and crowds can be difficult to tolerate.

You startle easily.

In chaotic, complex or tense situations you feel stressed or simply shut down.

When you have a lot to do in a short space of time or there’s a lot going on around you, you feel tense.

And you go out of your way to avoid violent films and TV shows.

If any of these statements are resonating with you, then you may be a highly sensitive person (HSP).

Many of the people I work with are. But sometimes they don’t know it, or, if they do, they struggle to manage their sensitivity.

Being sensitive can be a mixed blessing. HSPs are gifted with high levels of creativity, empathy and intuition. They have insights that other people miss. Poets, writers, artists, therapists and healers often have this trait.

But the downside is that they are also more prone to overwhelm and anxiety. Many suffer from depression and low self-esteem.

The reason for this is that sensitive people have a heightened receptivity to stimulation. HSPs are neurologically wired differently to the rest of the population. Their nervous systems are much more sensitive to the subtleties in their environment than those of their non-sensitive counterparts.

Because they are highly attuned to the energy of people and places, they pick up on others’ emotions, often unconsciously.

Consequently, they become overstimulated. The fight or flight response, which is usually triggered when a person feels threatened or in danger, is activated more easily in sensitive people than in non-sensitive people causing a range of uncomfortable physical sensations, such as an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles and clammy hands. This can lead to an inability to think straight and feelings of distress, clumsiness, confusion and being out of control.

And so, either consciously or unconsciously, HSPs have a heightened perception of threat in many day-to-day situations that others take in their stride, e.g. being in a busy shopping centre, large family gatherings or a noisy office.

Right now, many of you who identify as highly sensitive may be struggling more than usual owing to the climate of fear, uncertainty and turmoil generated by the global health crisis, which is affecting sensitives at an unconscious level. The lockdown may have provided you with the ideal opportunity to avoid the world altogether.

The good news is that you can learn to manage your sensitivity. With self-awareness and a little effort, you can build strategies for self-protection and self-care into your daily routine.

Being a HSP myself, here are my suggestions for how to best take care of your needs.

1. Become aware of and work around your triggers

Pay attention to the people, places, activities and situations that cause you discomfort. As HSPs we’re all different, and so are our levels of tolerance to different kinds of stimuli. Knowing what you can and cannot stomach will help you make choices that are right for you.

Bear in mind that although your preference may be to avoid or minimise your trigger activities/situations, this isn’t always the most beneficial option. Instead, it’s worth considering how you can work around the issues. For example, if you have to travel to work by public transport and find the rush hour noise and overcrowding too unsettling, you could choose to travel earlier in the morning or later in the evening. You could also wear earplugs or listen to calming music through headphones while you’re on the tube or train.

2. Establish strong but flexible boundaries

You may find that being around certain people, places or situations drains your energy and makes you feel worn out. At the same time, you may struggle to set clear boundaries, especially in close relationships where you tend to get overinvolved.

It’s important to establish flexible boundaries that allow you to let in what you want and keep out what you don’t want. This can take some practice, but it’s crucial to managing your energy and looking after your well-being. Take a look at my blog How to Establish and Maintain Healthy Boundaries for more help with this.

3. Avoid multitasking with too many tasks

Trying to do too many things at once is not only a recipe for overwhelm but also makes you less productive. Ideally, focus on doing just one thing at a time, giving it your whole attention. If that’s not possible because of the demands on your time, e.g. you have to cook dinner while watching the children, then limit the multitasking to as few tasks as possible and do it for a short time only.

4. Create a morning and bedtime routine

Instead of plunging head first into your day, give yourself same space in the morning to check in with yourself, ground and centre, even if it’s just for ten minutes. This could be through yoga, meditation, journalling or reading. For more ideas, have a read of my blog Is Your Morning Routine Making or Breaking Your Day?

Keep bedtime calm too. Shut down all electronic devices at least an hour before bed and engage in calming activities, such as taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or gentle stretching.

5. Get plenty of rest

When you’ve had an especially busy day, been with lots of people or in a stimulating environment, allow yourself some quiet time, in solitude, to process your experiences, thoughts and feelings.

Be sure to take time out for rest frequently, including periodic breaks from your routine and responsibilities.

6. Practise rigorous self-care

As a highly sensitive person you are probably more susceptible to exhausting your energy levels if you do not eat on time, stay hydrated, get sufficient sleep or work reasonable hours. This can make it difficult for you to function properly. It’s important to listen to your body and ensure you get good nutrition, sleep and exercise.

7. Start a meditation practice

Meditation allows us to transcend the deep rut of our ordinary thinking and connect with the true essence of our being, which is pure consciousness. Sensitive people can be prone to overthinking, and many find that meditation is an effective way of quietening the mind as well as relieving anxiety and stress.

Download my free Breath Awareness Meditation here and/or join my popular meditation course. You can find all the details here.

8. Clear and protect your energy field daily

We are energetic beings. Our energy fields are constantly interacting with the energy fields of the people around us. I give my clients a protection script they can use daily to clear their personal energy field of any negative energies they may have absorbed and place a bubble of protection around themselves, their loved ones and their homes.

You can also do this through your intention, prayer, or simply by requesting protection from whomever you feel connected with spiritually speaking.

9. Spend time in nature

Walking in a wood or forest, by a lake or in any open green space has an especially restorative effect on people who are highly sensitive because it helps to ground their energy. Being grounded means that you are present in your body and connected with the earth. When you are grounded, you feel balanced and calm; conversely, when you are ungrounded, you feel out of sorts and can be thrown off balance very quickly.

Sensitives tend to have trouble staying present in their bodies and experience anxiety and fatigue as a result. Other helpful grounding activities include sports, yoga, dance and gardening.

It may not always seem like it, but your sensitivity is a gift. Appreciate it and nurture it.

Recognise the special, positive qualities it has blessed you with: a caring, empathic and compassionate nature, loyalty, conscientiousness, passion, insight, a deep appreciation of the arts, and an awareness of or openness to the spiritual dimension of life.

These qualities enrich your life and give it depth.

Jasmeine Moonsong, writer and spiritual counsellor, says,

“Being a sensitive person is a gift that is widely misunderstood. It is a gift to sense everything in this beautiful world on a much deeper level; as such we are gifts ourselves returning that loving positive energy back into the world.”

I wholeheartedly agree with her.

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