Coping with Increased Sensitivity
As someone who most definitely qualifies as a Highly Sensitive person (HSP), I explore what it means to be super sensitive, and uncover the benefits and potential pitfalls of having such a trait.
Life for a sensitive can be challenging as you feel so much more than the average person, and often carry deep compassion for all of humanity. Many struggle to make sense of a world that can appear so harsh and insensitive, one in which we don’t seem to belong. If you’re someone who struggles with your hyper sensitivity and views it more as a hindrance I suggest tips to help you traverse through life in high definition as seamless as possible, and to reap the the rewards of what I’ve come to appreciate as a true gift.
Sensitivity is a genetic trait that some are born with, but is also something that develops alongside spiritual awakening. I’m not referring to sensitivity in the sense of being easily offended and taking things personally, that type of hypersensitivity usually originates from a place of insecurity, from the wounded ego. I’m talking about having a greater awareness of the subtleties and nuances in ones environment, and to the world that exists beyond the physical.
Are you someone who:
- Reflects deeply on things, more than the average person?
- Finds yourself worrying about how other people feel?
- Is highly emotive, often wearing your heart on your sleeve?
- Feels the suffering of others acutely, and cares deeply about everything?
- Is impacted by the moods and energies of others, unable to filter out other people’s emotions very well?
- Is easily overwhelmed by stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, crowded spaces, and violence on TV and as a consequence prefers quieter, less chaotic environments?
- Needs plenty of quiet and alone time to feel balanced?
- Feels overloaded by a hectic schedule and feels drained by too many activities at once?
- Is extremely perceptive and aware of subtle realms of existence, and likely to have intuitive and psychic abilities?
- Tends to be more philosophically and spiritually orientated?
- Has a rich and complex inner life, and tends to turn inwards for introspection?
- Is profoundly moved by nature, animals, the arts and / or music?
- Can appear shy and introverted?
If so you may have a personality trait called ‘Highly Sensitive Person‘ (HSP).
Being a HSP is a genetic characteristic whereby one processes sensory input more deeply than others, which makes them keenly attuned to the world around them. The trait was first researched by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., in the early 1990s – and is relatively common, with as many as one in five people possessing it. Aron, also developed a self-test (which you can take here) to help you determine if you are highly sensitive.
PROS OF BEING A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON (HSP):
There are many positive qualities to being a HSP, including the tendency to be more empathetic, thoughtful, creative, conscientious, attentive, loyal, intuitive and deeply appreciative of the arts.
CONS OF BEING A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON (HSP):
On the flip side, HSPs tend to be more emotionally reactive so can take hurtful comments to heart, and have a sensitive nervous system. They’re also easily overstimulated and get overwhelmed by strong smells, coarse fabrics, bright lights or loud noises. As they feel things deeper, they are affected by the moods of others, so being around an angry person can be an upsetting experience. Consequently, they require frequent respites of peace and quiet to maintain their equilibrium (and sanity, I would personally add).
Despite its commonality, the condition still remains largely misunderstood and undiagnosed in society, and is often mistaken as a weakness or flaw. It brings great relief to learn that being highly sensitive isn’t a disorder, ailment, weakness or flaw; it’s simply an innate trait. It also helps knowing that you’re not alone in feeling this way.
During my childhood, the phrase ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ simply didn’t apply to me. I never understood why the hurtful words of school bullies would simply deflect off my friends, yet embed deeply into my heart, leaving deep emotional scars. Had the condition been recognised, I may have got the help I needed to develop inner resilience to prevent far reaching effects of bullying.
Being so different can leave you feeling like an odd-ball, socially ostracised and quite isolated as your way of viewing the world contrasts vastly to everyone around you. Being super aware of the energies of others, we can sometimes feel the judgements, impatience and frustrations of others about us and our ‘wacky’ ways. This can leave us feeling quite alone and misunderstood.
Understanding the characteristics of a highly sensitive person has helped me to better understand and accept myself. In understanding my needs, I’ve learned to adapt my lifestyle accordingly. For example, I now understand why violence on TV and in movies makes me deeply uncomfortable, so I now make a point of avoiding them, including the News and newspapers, which are bursting at the seams with violence and negativity.
It also explains why strong smells such as artificial air fresheners, candles and perfume overwhelm me and can cause nausea and headaches. I now use only naturally scented, organic fragrances and products in my home but it can be challenging in social situations where you have no control. My Mum now kindly removes all her glade plug-ins before my visit, which has made a big difference to my comfort levels.
Spirituality and Sensitivity go hand in hand
The more I opened up spiritually, the more sensitive I became. Conscious evolution automatically raises vibration and frequency, so as we raise our individual vibrations, anything of lower vibration is no longer in harmony with our bodies. As a result, you experience a kind of cleansing of all non-compatible energies on all levels of being;- physical, emotional and mental. We begin to let go of incongruent, negative situations, habits, behaviours and even people, which gradually fall away of their own accord.
For me, chaotic environments such as shopping malls and supermarkets became intensely overwhelming. I would feel their dense vibrations and sense the muffled sounds and feelings of others pounding through my head. I’ve since learned to close down my psychic senses and to shop instead at smaller, local shops and markets as much as possible.
The same went for my old leisure pursuits. One time of day I was out every night of the week hanging out at loud overcrowded bars and gigs, then partying my weekend away staying up all night, drinking myself into oblivion, before sobering up with a greasy kebab. The more sensitive I became, the pursuits I once enjoyed became less and less appealing until I no longer derived any enjoyment from them at all. Alcohol began to affect me more, with severe hangovers lasting days! Instead it felt like an assault on the senses as the bombardment of over-stimulation left me frazzled, stressed out and depleted. It was a confusing time as my tastes, habits and behaviours began to change, much to the dismay of friends and family who must have been equally confused by my rapid transformation!
I was being drawn instead towards quieter, more peaceful environments and to live a healthier, simpler lifestyle free from toxicity. Before long city dwelling became unbearable as the constant bombardment of noise, light and air pollution of densely populated areas, along with electromagnetic smog from Wifi and electrical equipment left me feeling drained and off-balance. I longed for fresh, country air and a quiet nights sleep so a move to the countryside became a priority.
My tolerance to food became increasingly refined as no longer could my system handle chemically laden processed foods. My body would physically purge itself of anything of a low vibration, so it wasn’t long before meat was off the menu, and instead I craved natural whole foods uncontaminated by artificial additives. Becoming a vegetarian was never something I tried to force, it happened naturally and effortlessly, and before I knew it, dairy began to affect me physically too. I had always had been slightly lactose intolerant, but I now began getting heavily nauseous, to the point of being up all night throwing up after consuming a creamy dish! The same went for my once loved diet-foods and drinks laden with artificial sweeteners. Aspartame in particular tasted physically repulsive to my refining tastebuds, which makes sense since it’s been found to be, by far, the most dangerous substance on the market that is added to foods.
My body’s reactions made it clear to me that it could no longer tolerate toxicity on any level – so out went all artificial, chemical laden household items, beauty products and scents. Gradually over time I began replacing them with all-natural alternatives with delicate fresh aromas, which are a delight to the senses.
8 Survival strategies for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
1. Count your Blessings
Sure, it’s challenging when you’re easily bothered by things that simply bounce off others. But remember that being highly sensitive carries a multitude of positive characteristics including the ability to intuit what’s going on in situations. Feeling so deeply is like having an internal GPS system, offering you guidance and direction on the best course of action. It helps you discern the best relationships, jobs and situations to have in your life. Additionally, you’re likely to be more empathetic, feel more concern for others, make an excellent listener and a loyal friend. This can really enhance your quality of relationships..
2. Take Time Out
Downtime is essential for a Highly Sensitive Person. Taking regular time out for solitude and rest is imperative for your wellbeing. Schedule in days to relax, rewind and do calming activities such as read a book, visit an art gallery, do some yoga, get a massage or walk in nature. Spending time alone also creates the space needed to release emotion, energy and stress and allows the nervous system to recharge.
3. Plan in Decompression Time
HSPs don’t do well with an overly packed schedule or too much time in noisy, crowded or high pressure environments. If you know you’re going to spend a few hours in a challenging environment – such as a noisy bar, crowded mall, or parade – know that you’re likely to be frazzled after and will need to decompress somewhere quiet and relaxing, on your own if possible.
4. Surround yourself with Beauty and Nature
Since HSPs are deeply affected by their surroundings, enveloping yourself with beauty and tranquility as much as possible will equate to a soothing balm on the senses. Whenever possible I enjoy a countryside walk to bathe in natures beauty, visit an art gallery, or attend a uplifting concert. It’s also important to create a sanctuary at home, even if it’s just a corner in a room. Having a place where you can go to restore balance, let go, and be at peace will help maintain your equilibrium. I chose to decorate my home in a way that’s soothing to my senses, pleasing to the eye and with minimal clutter. People who visit generally comment on its tranquil vibe!
5. Work around Triggers
Identify what triggers you so that you can plan ahead and adapt your lifestyle accordingly. If you’re triggered by loud noise yet love to travel for example, bring an i-pod with soothing music, noise-canceling headphones or earplugs for silence. If strong smells upset you, try carrying a hanky anointed with essential oils for you to to sniff to override the unpleasant smell. For me visiting family was always taxing since the artificial air freshener plug-ins they use brought on immediate headache and nausea. The solution was an open, honest chat with my Mum, which has resulted in her now removing them before I visit.
Regular meditation is my saviour. I meditate daily, even on the train to and from work, to help quieten my mind, centre me into my heart space and into the present moment. It feels like having a cleansing shower, washing away the days stresses and accumulated energies. During the stillness we’re able to tap into the wisdom that lies within, which can bring much needed relief.
7. Protection and Shielding
Unless you live in a remote jungle treehouse then interacting with the everyday world is a necessity. Visiting places that strain us are often unavoidable so practising energy techniques to shield yourself from dense energies will help minimise their impact. I travel into London to work several days a week, so before I go I visualise placing a protective shield of white light around me, encasing me in a bubble. Remember to visualise roots descending from your feet or make a grounding cord so you don’t float away!
8. Compassionate Service
Why not try channeling your compassionate nature and concern for social justice into service work aimed at making the world a better place. You’re the first to be outraged by injustice so make a natural emotional leader, and advocate for meaningful causes. You would excel in any caring, charity, humanitarian, environmental, healing, or activism arena. Be cautious however of forming emotional attachment to upsetting causes, so practice boundaries and shielding. Although I’m passionate about Animal Rights for example, I know I would find it too emotionally draining to bear witness first hand to animal suffering. Instead I do what I can from the sidelines and avoid looking at images of animal suffering.
We are all unique individuals so no two person’s experiences will ever be the same, what affects me is likely to differ for you. I share my experiences in the hope that they give you comfort and relief in knowing you are not alone. Also that they help mirror your own journey in making peace with your differences and by using the survival strategies, you may find acceptance with being a HSP in an overly-stimulating world. Above all, I hope you learn to enjoy the multitude of blessings your sensitivity brings.