Have you ever felt so overwhelmed you could explode? Like your surrounding is noisy and chaotic and you struggle to focus? Are you bothered by environments that feel cold and sterile? That don’t feel comforting or inspiring to be in? Do you sense the tension in a room or feel deeply the suffering of another?
Chances are you might be highly sensitive.
As a highly sensitive person, you are more aware of your surrounding than others. And you process information deeply. While this can be beautiful in many ways – helping you be creative, insightful and empathetic – it can also be exhausting. The world around you can feel extremely heavy at times.
I initially stumbled across information on high sensitivity when trying to help my son.
He was quite a sensitive child – irritated easily by tags or loose threads in his shirt. And by the way sand felt on his feet when walking across a beach. He would point out the tiniest change in his surrounding. And was and still is extremely perceptive and attuned to the emotions of others.
It was through reading about high sensitivity that I realised that perhaps I’ve always been a little that way.
Growing up I always thought I was overly sensitive and moody. Friends would say something that seemed like nothing to them but would affect me deeply. I sensed the tension within our family and felt responsible for creating peace again. And sleepovers were a challenge – I’d toss and turn all night because I felt so out of my comfort zone. Even now, when my surrounding feels uncomfortable to be in it can really unsettle me.
While I don’t like labels so much, learning about what it means to be highly sensitive has actually helped me understand more about myself. And what I need to thrive.
Being highly sensitive is not a disorder of any kind. Apparently, 15 to 20 percent of the population are this way. And while at times life can be trying for a highly sensitive person, our sensitivity can be beautiful too.
Signs that you are a Highly Sensitive Person
You’re naturally good at helping others, but easily exhausted from taking on their feelings
You think deeply and have a rich inner world
Chaotic and unorganised environments overwhelm you
Busy schedules or time pressure rattle you
Clothing can bother you if it feels restrictive or texturally uncomfortable
Your home needs to feel calm and nurturing
You’re often labeled as shy or anxious and told to loosen up
You try to avoid conflict as it makes you feel really uncomfortable
You’re deeply moved by the arts and beauty
Physical violence and cruelty can really upset you
Doing meaningful work matters greatly
You need to withdraw often to reflect and recharge
There are other signs which you can learn more about over at highlysensitiverefuge.com
Stress and overwhelm are the not so joyful part of being highly sensitive. Unfortunately, when helping others as much as we do, we tend to neglect ourselves and it can result in feeling overstimulated.
Self-care is important for all of us, highly sensitive or not. To help others we need to first be strong mentally and physically within ourselves.
How to thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person
There are a number of things that we can do to nurture ourselves:
Learn about High Sensitivity. Being aware of what can overstimulate us and what is needed to help us feel grounded again is really beneficial for our wellbeing.
Create a home or work environment that feels calm and beautiful. Our physical environment can affect our state of mind. It’s important that it’s a place that feels calm, orderly and inspiring to be in.
Learn how to set healthy boundaries when others need your help. This one I’m still trying to navigate. It’s nice to be there for others, but when it begins to have a negative impact on our own mental and emotional health, then we need to establish healthy boundaries.
Set aside alone time to recharge. Carve out a little time each day - whether that’s getting up slightly earlier than your family to ease into the day, or stepping out for 15 minutes on your own to sit in nature. Prioritise that time so that you can be still and recharge.
Accept that you think deeply and try not to look at it as a negative. It can be frustrating as you are often always ‘on’ and thinking deeply about things. But it also sparks creativity and big-picture ideas.
Discover work which aligns with your values. Doing meaningful work matters to those who are Highly Sensitive. It helps to understand what your values are so that you can move towards work that aligns closely with them.
Simplify your daily tasks and have some structure. Creating a simple wardrobe, meal plan and daily routine can help keep life feeling a little calmer and prevent us from feeling overwhelmed. It also helps to create space between activities. So that we are not always rushing from one place to another.
Try not to absorb the anger of others. Especially challenging as a parent with a child who throws tantrums! Anger can be exhausting. It takes practise but reminding ourselves that it’s the other person’s feelings and not ours can provide the space needed to cope with their outburst. When we are calm ourselves we can then help them through what they are feeling without absorbing it.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person doesn’t need to feel like a burden. Or like we don’t fit easily into the world. As a society, we need strong and bold personalities who act without hesitation or being overly emotional, and it also needs the deep thinkers who notice subtleties and have an acute sensitivity to details.
It’s not uncommon for great art and beauty to be created by those who are highly sensitive. Or those who are in caring professions. Martin Luther King Jr., Mozart, Frida Kahlo, and Princess Diana are said to have exuded traits of a highly sensitive person.
As we grow and progress through life we all learn a little more about ourselves. And it’s this knowing ourselves and how each one of us thrives that can really help us live well. And make a positive contribution to the world around us.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”