14 keys to thriving as a Highly Sensitive Person

I promised you this guide back when I posted my article about Highly Sensitive people.

If you missed it, you might want to scoot back and check it out first – there’s a mini quiz you can do to help determine whether you ‘re one of the 15-20% of the population that is highly sensitive.

This trait brings with it some challenges but also many blessings. The purpose of this guide is to help you to manage the former so you can focus on enjoying the latter.

1. Be aware that you experience life through an extra-sensitive nervous system

What all HSPs have in common is a hyper-responsive amygdala – the part of the brain that governs both fear and pleasure. This means that for the HSP, everything is amplified; experienced in high definition. “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10,” explains the psychiatrist Judith Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom. You have more receptors to perceive things so you are more sensitive to emotions and all forms of sensory input. Just being aware of this can be powerful in helping you reframe the challenges that come up in your life, as well as any from your past that are still troubling you. With this awareness in mind…

2. Let go of the idea that you should be able to live as the “average” person lives

You become more quickly and easily overstimulated, and then overwhelmed and frazzled, than most people so you need to do things differently. Some people can be out among crowds all day long, only to party the night away surrounded by more crowds and noise. For you, that would be unbearable.

3. Honour your need for quiet time alone

When you’re out in the world your brain works overtime processing sensory input and soaking up others’ moods, so you need time to decompress and recharge. After a hectic day all you want is to relax and unwind, so build plenty of downtime into your schedule.

4. Spend your time and energy wisely

This can be very simple when you put everything you’re considering doing through the following filter: “Is this essential, meaningful or fun?” If it isn’t at least one of those things, don’t do it.

5. Set boundaries and clearly communicate them

It’s not necessary that others understand you – they may or may not – only that they respect your needs.

6. But don’t let fear hold you back

As an HSP, you don’t want to overdo things. But don’t fall into the trap of playing it too safe and settling for less than you’re capable of. So next time your instinct is to say no to something, ask whether this is because it’s not in line with what you want; or whether it is, but you’re resistant to taking the necessary action. In order to get what we want in life, we all need to regularly pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and do things we don’t want to do. In Elaine Aron’s book – The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You – there’s a section on getting this balance right, with a mini quiz entitled “Are you out too much? In too much?”

7. Surround yourself with people who uplift you and limit contact with those who drain your energy

The more negative people and influences you let into your life, the more of your energy you’ll expend simply trying to stay on an even keel. And as the author Wayne Dyer has warned, when those of us who are sensitive and “porous” are around negative people, they can actually make us sick. So choose your company wisely.

8. Immerse yourself in positive at every opportunity

Read inspirational books, listen to uplifting CDs, watch motivating movies, and repeat positive affirmations.

9. Make time, too, for other activities that calm your nervous system and build your energy

Some suggestions: meditation, yoga, walking (preferably in a natural environment), dancing, any other form of physical activity you enjoy.

10. Give yourself plenty of time and space to get things done

Concentration can be challenging when you’re an HSP. We very easily get our knickers in a twist and our brains in a scramble when we are toiling under time pressure, or without the quiet and solitude we need.

11. Rein in your perfectionist tendencies

By nature you are thorough, highly conscientious and super attentive to detail. This is fantastic for your employer and/or clients but not always for you – when taken to extremes, it can become a time drain that also drains most of your energy. If this applies in your case, try this new mantra on for size: “Good is good enough”.

12. Create a sanctuary

Make your home a serene and beautiful place to retreat to. Clutter will scramble your brain and drain your energy, so keep your living space zen-like.

13. Get enough sleep

Some people can get by on four hours a night, but not you. Because your nervous system is so active during the day, it needs to recharge at night with the total rest only sleep affords. Help yourself by stopping work and other stimulating activities before dinner, eating dinner early, and aiming to be in bed by 10pm most nights. In order to ensure the deepest slumber, do what you need to to ensure you’re sleeping in total quiet and darkness.

14. Eat for success

As an HSP, you are especially sensitive to the stimulating and sedating effects of foods, and to hunger. How you eat can either balance you or send you reeling. For the low-down on what to eat and what not to eat, go here.

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16 Comments

  • I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything you write. You are wise, informed and sincere. Your articles on HSPS are most helpful to me … thank you.

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  • ..wow that’s what i’ve learned to do put myself first even when others don’t like it and to get my quiet and peace…this is great to know there are others like me.

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  • I’ve always been extremely sensitive, it was a whole lot worse when I suffered with severe PMS for many years. That was resolved with a total hysterectomy….well the huge cloud was lifted!
    I am on long term sick as I can’t cope with a full time job. I wonder if HSP is recognised as a condition that is acceptable to be on the sick? I seriously, over the years have tried to behave in a normal way…..but can’t seem to succeed! I can accept the way I am now, but can the DWP? Such a relief to know I’m not alone! Thankyou! 🙂

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    • I found out I’m HSP last year by accident. My jobs hardly worked out. I have a family now and my husband is visually impaired. I don’t think I could handle a full-time job. I can handle part-time jobs. I now tutor one night a week and I’m a substitute teacher aide or one on one. Don’t give up. We all have talents and gifts! Hang in there. I used to have depression, anxiety and fears. I’m much better. You can only be the best “you” you can be.

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  • You say to get to bed by 10 but what if you’re a night owl? What if your most productive time seems to be after midnight? What if you cannot seem to fall asleep before 3?

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    • Very good question. There’s some evidence that bed by 10 is best for our health. But of course our health is affected by everything we do, including how happy and fulfilled – or otherwise – we are in our lives.

      If your productive time in the wee small hours feels great both at the time, and when you get up the next day, yay! But what you wrote suggests insomnia may be an issue, in which case it might be better to make it your mission to be productive earlier in the day, and get to bed earlier too.

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    • Hi. I’m a night owl too. However if you start going to bed early you might find you will establish a habit. You should try to wind down at least an hour before bed. Do you keep a journal? Write things reflections of the day down. Remember computer or phone or even TV may be too stimulating. My health enthusiast told me to drink a whole bottle of water before I go to bed and one as I’m waking up. It seems to work. Diet can be an issue too. I also have herbal pills I take when needed containing melatonin ‚Äì MidNite ‚Äì these work fast!! I also found looking at sensory videos accompanied with music tie me as well. Good luck.

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  • Good tips and reminders. I’m wondering if I still need to cut back. When the rest of the world is moving at breakneck speed and sound, I am content cocooning, making a nice meal, and listening to relaxing music. Embrace your sensitivity!

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  • I have been struggling with moving from where I live because I feel so hurt all the time by the people in my home town. After reading this I know it isn’t just my disorders I have been diagnosed with. I am highly sensitive so no matter where I live… I need to just do what I can handle and surround myself with people that will be respectful.

    Over the last 5 years it seems I am always overwhelmed. Sports seem to be a huge challenge for me on arriving on time and handling the comments during the sports. Seems when I was younger I could handle the trash talk and now it breaks me down. To the point it is always on my mind for days what they said even in a joking matter.

    I have been debating why I struggle so much. I have always enjoyed them and looked forward to the day of, but when it becomes time to get ready I seem to debate going. Which ultimately makes me frantic when I do try to get ready and leave the house. I have fun while there but it takes all the power I have inside me to actually go and put myself in that situation over and over now.

    Before I was sensitive in almost every area but sports I was okay in. Then I randomly became sensitive in my sports and it has always been my escape to relax from being over sensitive and it makes me feel lost that I don’t have that now. Reading this helped me a lot so thank you. I understand myself a little better now.

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