If you have been hearing things like “you’re too sensitive”, “you need to get some thick skin”, “why do you take everything so personally” since childhood, there is a good chance that you are a highly sensitive individual or an HSP. The good thing about being an HSP – studies have found that HSPs have increased brain activity in the regions of action planning and attention.
Often, highly sensitive persons are termed as being “too sensitive” or “people who think too much” – which is where the negative associations begin and develop into a lifelong feeling of inadequacy. You’re constantly being told how to feel, what to feel, and how much to feel – sometimes all at once. This can be unsettling for any individual, particularly HSPs because of how deeply they feel everything.
Oftentimes, what is also unsettling is the fact that an HSP is not always aware that they are indeed a highly sensitive person, and because of this unawareness, they begin questioning why others can’t feel the way they feel and why they, in turn, feel so deeply about things that might seem mundane to your average Joe.
Being a highly sensitive person has its own set of strengths and challenges. Because of how deeply these individuals are able to feel and relate to others, forming emotional bonds is comparatively easier for them. In fact, highly sensitive persons are more like to become successful leaders because of their increased brain activity.
A Nervous System that is on Overdrive
The most common issue faced by all HSPs is that their nervous system is usually on overdrive by default. It is because of this that you often feel overwhelmed and emotional – which can get very tiring and stressful.
Julie Bjelland, a psychotherapist, compared the nervous system with a big bucket and stated that the more full the bucket was the more your brain has to process. She further added that the majority of the population might ‘dump’ 3 cups of information to the bucket at a time, but an HSP might have 100 cups dumped into that bucket.
What this means is that the nervous system and our brain get so occupied in processing this information that they forget about the body’s other needs, particularly health. An HSP might get sicker more often and for longer durations because of this.
A simple way around this is to process and drain what’s in the bucket, according to Julie.
How to Overcome Challenges
First things first, we need to understand that this is not a disorder, but rather a personality trait that affects about 20% of the general population. According to psychologists Dr Aron, who first coined the term, highly sensitive individuals are high in personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS.
Her theory went on to explain that those with a high SPS will display a heightened emotional reactivity to both internal and external stimuli like pain, hunger, noise, and light.
With that out of the way, we can now get to how you can overcome certain challenges if you are an HSP.
- Some alone time
The most important thing for an HSP is to spend some “me time”. This downtime is necessary to help maintain balance in the nervous system and give you time off to process everything that is going on. Some recommend up to 2 hours a day, but there is no one-solution-fits-all.
This alone time is necessary to destress and compose yourself, which keeps your mind and body healthy. It is also necessary to not compare your self-care with others’ because of how differently you process information.
- Find an Outlet
Suppressing your feelings is not an option for your mental well-being. Simply telling yourself “get over it” and “stop worrying so much” never works, and you probably already know this. It’s almost as if holding a float board underwater – eventually causing a big splash once you let go.
It is essential to find an outlet for your feelings. One good way to go about this is to find a short span of time where you do nothing else but pour out your concerns, also called “worry time”.
- Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness techniques go a long way in maintaining balance and self-composure. These techniques also help in regulating emotions by strengthening the nervous system.
A very good mindfulness technique that has often helped me is 54321 (5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste) which triggers all the five senses.
- Recognising and acknowledging your feelings
Accepting your hypersensitivity goes a long way in making you feel a lot more confident about yourself and your feelings. This step is very important because you need to understand that this is normal and not a disorder.
It also helps when you are able to recognise your feelings before they trigger negative self-talk, or what we psychologists call cognitive distortions. Some common cognitive distortions include jumping to conclusions “They never replied to me because they hate me” and all-or-nothing thinking (“I have to be perfect otherwise I am a failure”).