What is the #1 most important thing to know about how to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person? That’s an easy one to answer!
To happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) you must first and foremost recognize you have the trait. Dr Elaine Aron, a pioneer in the HSP field, says that knowing you have the trait AND understanding it are absolutely essential to benefitting from it. Pure and simple.
No worries if you’re feeling overwhelmed about this whole HSP thing. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand what it means to be Highly Sensitive. And you will then discover your own joys.
The scientific name for High Sensitivity is sensory processing sensitivity. When you identify that you are in fact one of the 15-20% of people with the High Sensitivity trait, you have the ticket for optimal navigation. The ticket doesn’t mean your navigation will be easy. But it will provide for a richer, more meaningful life as a Highly Sensitive Person.
Sensory processing sensitivity is present at birth. You may as well learn to leverage the many benefits of the High Sensitivity trait. After all, like eye color, it’s part of who you are.
The four pillars of High Sensitivity include (aka what it means to live life as a Highly Sensitive Person):
Depth of Processing:
- You tend to spend time reflecting.
- And you take your time thinking through decisions.
- Naturally you take in a lot of information around you and within you – without effort or intent.
- You’re aware of subtlety and nuance that others simply are not.
- And have strong intuition.
- HSPs process everything MORE by relating and comparing present moment to past experiences and observations.
- And you contemplate all options carefully.
- You have more brain activation in a part of the brain called the insula.
- The insula is responsible for our awareness of what is going on inside and outside of us.
- You notice a lot in all situations.
- You’re aware of details others aren’t.
- You may feel people’s feelings, even when they don’t feel their own.
- Because of all the stimulation, you’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed.
- Because of all you notice, remember, hear, see, manage, and process, of course you’re more likely to feel overwhelm, and sooner.
- Your positive and negative emotional reactions are strong.
- You’re in tune with other people’s emotions.
- Empathy is purely natural for you.
- You may even feel people’s energy field.
- HSPs uniquely respond to pictures with a “positive valence” – especially if they had had a good childhood.
- “Vantage sensitivity” is the fancy phrase referring to HSPs’ tendency to benefit a disproportionate amount from positive conditions and interventions.
- More active mirror neurons explain why HSPs naturally read emotion and have automatic deep empathy.
Sensitivity to subtleties:
- Your senses are highly attuned because of how you process sensory information.
- The attunement is not due to “bionic” hearing or sight, but rather to the way you process input from your senses.
- Brain areas are very active when HSPs perceive things because of complex processing of sensory information.
What are 5 tips to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person?
1. Recognize you’re an HSP. Understand what being a Highly Sensitive Person means so you can enjoy life as a Highly Sensitive Person.
This is essential so you can reframe certain messages you’ve likely heard a million times. Messages such as being “too sensitive”, needing “to lighten up”, or having your feelings invalidated, downplayed, and dismissed in other ways.
You’re not too sensitive. You’re “just right” sensitive. And/or maybe the other person is not sensitive enough. Or even insensitive. Or how about “too insensitive”?
Total. Game. Changer.
2. Awareness of subtleties means you can access and enjoy simple pleasures in life as a Highly Sensitive Person.
For example, see all the gorgeous shades of lavender and pink in each Hydrangea? Beautiful! How about the differences in shape of all the blossoms? What you naturally see, people without the trait do not naturally see.
3. You can use your ability as a Highly Sensitive Person to tune into nonverbal cues strategically. Such as to assess someone’s trustworthiness.
While you don’t exactly have Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) like in the movies, you do have a sixth sense. You are aware of nonverbal cues and all kinds of subtleties. Trust your gut instincts.
4. Incorporate time to unwind after tasks, events, and times of day in your life as a Highly Sensitive Person. Consider downtime as an obligation to your nervous system.
Without sufficient time to recalibrate, your nervous system will be fried. And recalibration time can be as short as 1 minute, but preferably longer.
Downtime is kind of like lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser between courses of a fancy meal. It gives you a break from sensory stimulation, You can refresh in order to enjoy the next course. Just like your taste buds in the sorbet example!
For downtime ideas, you could pick from a hat. Write a bunch on pieces of paper and then close your eyes and pick one. You could choose from coloring in an adult coloring book, doing a word search, listening to a favorite song or track, taking a walk, or just going outside in nature and taking a few cleansing breaths.
5. Pace yourself. Avoid rushing! Savor life as a Highly Sensitive Person.
Tune into yourself to determine what you need. Make the time to give yourself whatever that is, to the extent possible.
Try to resist any pressure to go with the pace of a crowd. If you go at the crowd’s pace, you’ll quite possibly become overstimulated. Remember, you take in soooo much more than people who are not Highly Sensitive.
So now you know the number one most important thing about being an HSP is understanding the trait. And allowing the trait to serve you well. Because it will.
Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, consultant, and international coach in the Boston area whose passion is to help people celebrate their High Sensitivity…and shine their light!
To read more about High Sensitivity, check out some blogs here.