Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

red uk passport

You’d think it would be the first thing I’d check having booked a short break to Cairo (many, many years ago)… that my passport was in date.

Actually, it was only three days before we went that I realised that my passport had less than six months to expiry and I wouldn’t get a visa.

So I ended up with an emergency dash to Peterborough Passport Office, where I spent the whole day waiting in an endless queue for my new passport, followed by a motorbike courier taking the passport to the Egyptian Embassy in London the day after.

It was stressful, and I was a mess!

How is This Relevant to Self-Care for HSP?

I had been overwhelmed by all the things I had to do in order to be ready to go away, I was nervous about going to Egypt, somewhere I’d never been before and I shut down. HSP are well known for procrastination. Unfortunately, my procrastination meant that we almost didn’t get to go on holiday.

Self-care advice is all over social media at the moment; and in this often chaotic and overwhelming world, can be very useful.

Finding out that you might be HSP (Highly Sensitive Person- Am I One?) means that you might need to look at self-care a little differently to our non-HSP friends.

Self-Care, What Does That Actually Mean?

It is what it says on the tin! Anything that helps you care for yourself can be labelled self-care, but often the suggestions can be ‘quick fixes’, and miss the deeper meaning. I’m all for bubble baths and scented candles (who isn’t?!) but sometimes caring for yourself means making sure there’s enough fuel in your car, or booking yourself in for a dental appointment (or checking your passport). These things aren’t so ‘sexy’ but they are an essential part of making sure our needs are met.

Why is Self-Care Especially Important for HSP?

Hand holding a cardHighly Sensitive People use up huge amounts of energy by processing sensory input from the world around, so it’s easy for us to become overwhelmed. Add to that a caring and empathic nature, and HSPs can easily find themselves burnt out through social/family/work interactions.

If you’re an HSP who’s had time at home with family and friends over this holiday weekend, you’re probably feeling frazzled right now!

When I was a young child, my parents always made me ‘have a nap’ if we were going out that evening (I never did nap, but certainly had some ‘down-time’), because they knew how ratty and tearful I could get when I was overtired. The difficulty when we’re adults is that we have to recognise that for ourselves, and put things in place to support our needs, (so I’ll finish writing this after my nap).

What Does HSP Self-Care Look Like?

The first place to start is to become an expert on you, and how you function best. How many hours can you stand at a party before you feel like you want to escape? What constitutes a good nights sleep? When are the best times for you to eat so you don’t get ‘hangry’? Who feeds your soul and who saps your energy? How much silent/solo time do you need each day to function best (up to two hours a day is the recommendation)?

The list of questions could go on, but really, the key is to know what makes you function best; and then factor in your needs to your self-care planning (yes, planning can be fun!)

Planning HSP Self-Care

Routines are really useful for HSP, because they become automatic.  This means you don’t use up precious energy thinking about them every day.

Start with the basics. Food, sleep and rest, water, exercise.

Some examples might be…

  • Make a two week meal plan with a shopping list, that you repeat, so you know, “It’s Tuesday, so it’s paella”
  • Get a water bottle with a counter, so you can check that you’re drinking enough (use it to fill the kettle if you don’t just drink plain water)
  • Go to a weekly exercise class, or walk to your daily activities
  • Go to bed at the same time every night, after the same wind-down routine, and get up at the same time, even on the weekends.

Then add in routines for administration…

Some examples might be…

  • Have all your bills paid by direct debit on monthly basis
  • Use the ‘repeat’ function on your calender to remind youself of yearly healthcare appointments

And add in routines for social and leisure time…

  • Make a weekly date with a friend and laugh!
  • Spend some time in nature each week
  • Listen to music that makes your heart sing
  • Give yourself time before a busy social occasion to recharge your batteries before you start
  • And give yourself time after to decompress and wind down

What about Therapy for HSP?

Sometimes, we need extra help. Therapy is a valuable part of self-care (which is why therapists have therapy!)  It’s a space where you can safely explore all that’s going on in your life.  Then you can begin to put in place all the things that make your life feel better for you.

If this has resonated with you, why not get in touch and book a free initial appointment, either in my office in Benissa, or online?

Email helen@lazuli.es, phone or WhatsApp 654065721

To find out more about the research on HSP, and to take the HSP test click here.

Photo (Passport) by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo (Card) by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Photo (Purple socks) by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

5 Tips to Make Your HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) Life Easier

Recognising some of the indicators that you might be a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) can cause mixed feelings; it can be a relief to understand why you feel as you do, but you might also be worried about having a ‘label’. My first blog, “Highly Sensitive Person, Am I One?” gives further information on what might indicate that you are an HSP.

If you think you might be HSP, here are some ideas that might help to make life easier for you.

Group of hands1. Recognise Your Tribe

Knowing that around 20% of people share this trait can be a relief, because often HSP feel ‘different’ and ‘misunderstood’. It can be hard for non-HSP to know how to deal with your strong emotional reactions, and they may not understand why you need lots of time to rest and recuperate after a social occasion. (You can find out more on Relationships as an HSP here).

The 20% figure means that roughly one in five of the people around you, are experiencing the world in a similar way to you; you are not alone! This on its own can help! And HSP often make excellent friends; loyal, good listeners, empathic…

Basketball court2. Play to Your Strengths

At 1.59m I am realistically too short to be on a netball or basketball team, and expecting me to play would be setting me up for failure. Luckily, my netball teacher recognised this, and taught me to referee, which, it turned out, I was quite good at!

Being HSP is like that. There will be situations that you find exhausting and overwhelming, but there will be other situations that let your HSP gifts shine. As much as possible, create your life to suit your strengths.

The scientific term for HSP is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS), and that says it all; putting yourself into positions where you will be overloaded with sensory stimuli will take its toll on you. So it’s fine to go out to a concert for an evening; your heightened senses may well mean that you enjoy it more than your non-HSP friends, but expecting yourself to work in a similar situation for 40 hours a week, might well result in you feeling awful.

3. Rest is Not a Sin

We are constantly bombarded with ideas about what we ‘should’ be doing with our lives. Often, even our down time is caught up in this;

  • Go out with your friends!
  • Volunteer!
  • Read!
  • Live in a beautiful house!
  • Exercise!
  • Cook and eat healthily!
  • Sleep eight hours a night!

The pressure is on to ‘perform’, even for our rest and relaxation times. The key here is to understand that this is YOUR time, so YOU get to choose what to do with it. It’s absolutely OK to lounge around in your pjs for a day, whilst watching reruns of Friends (or whatever takes your fancy) if that’s what will help you to feel restored. Others might not understand or agree. They don’t have to! Rest means allowing your HSP mind to free-range (it’s highly unlikely to switch off), and there are no rights or wrongs about what you should or shouldn’t do. You are in charge!

4. Be Gentle With Your HSP Self

HSP are often kind, empathic and understanding of others, and judgemental, harsh and critical of themselves! You might have picked up messages through life that have made you think that you should be less sensitive, more robust, less affected by ‘things’. Sometimes those messages stay with us, and we use them on ourselves when we have trouble.

A tip here is to listen to yourself! Sometimes those messages flow through our minds without us even being aware of them. When you ‘tune in’ to yourself, you can catch those unhelpful thoughts, and reframe them. It can be useful to ask, “Would I say this to my best friend?” If the answer is no, then it’s probably not helpful to say it to yourself either. Catching these thoughts can be tricky, and take practice, but it is possible to change how you treat yourself over time.

Crowds standing by waterfall5. Fill Up Your HSP Senses

HSPs experience the world in glorious technicolour, and that can be overwhelming. It can also be amazing. An important factor here is choice. When I commuted on the London Tube, the crowds, noise, lack of air and smells were overpowering and uncomfortable, but I had no choice. In contrast, standing in a crowded cave under a waterfall, which was also cramped and deafening, was an incredible experience that I won’t ever forget. The first example had no choice, took place daily, and (seemingly) had no end, but the second was something I chose to do, once.

Using mindfulness can help you find those ‘waterfall’ moments. You can choose to notice beauty in nature, a friend’s laughter, your favourite music, the warmth of the water while you wash up. And choosing to fill up our senses with things that make us go, “Ahhhhhhh!” can help to overcome the times when our senses have no choice.

If You Want to Know More!

These are just a handful of ideas to add to your HSP toolbox. If you’d like to know more, or would like to schedule a free initial session, please get in touch here.

Waterfall photo by Collins Lesulie on Unsplash

Basketball photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Group of HSP women laughing

Highly Sensitive People, HSP, and Relationships

Group of HSP women laughing

My last blog here, talked about whether you are, or might be, a Highly Sensitive Person HSP. It’s sometimes hard enough to work out what we need on our own, but add in a relationship, and it becomes doubly hard. And we are all in relationships. Partners, family, colleagues, friends, even strangers we meet. So how can we manage these relationships without compromising our own needs?

Start with your HSP self

The first point is always to start with ourselves. We have to know ourselves; what we like/don’t like, our trigger points, our energy levels… Until we know about ourselves, we can’t explain to others, and we can’t put in boundaries to support our wellbeing.

Some HSP things to think about

Highly Sensitive People need to manage their energy use, so they don’t become ‘burnt out.’

Think about these questions, and maybe keep a note of your answers!

  • After a social gathering, how do you recharge your batteries?
  • What are your sleep patterns like, do you have good ‘sleep hygiene’?
  • How often do you spend time alone, resting and just ‘being’ you?
  • What would be your ideal Friday night/weekend?
  • What does your ideal holiday look like?
  • How do you manage food/nutrition?
  • When do you exercise/move your body?
  • Who do you most enjoy spending time with, and why?
  • Who do you least enjoy spending time with, and why?
  • How do you feel about conflict?

HSP and Conflict

The Gottman Institute has been researching relationships for decades, and has identified four behaviours that are present in troubled relationships. ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse’ are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling. Communication of our own feelings and understanding how the other feels, can often reduce the points of conflict. We don’t have to agree with the other’s point of view, but if we can, at least, understand why they think that way, we are a step closer to deepening communication.

HSP and Conflict

You might wonder why I’m telling you about this! The last question in the list above was “How do you feel about conflict?” Most Highly Sensitive People try to avoid conflict at all costs because we know that it will probably end up with us as a blubbering wreck (or is that just me?!) The problem is that avoiding conflict often means going with the other person’s point of view. Because we value harmony so highly, we try and keep the peace, and our needs get ignored.

When that happens over a long period of time, we can lose our identity, forget what our own needs even are, and resent the other for making us feel that way.

HSP and Empathy

Hands up if you cry at films/TV programmes! What about ‘feeling’ a piece of music rather than just listening to it? Do you listen to friends’ stories and feel like you are right there with them, with all the ups and downs?

This empathy can be a huge gift (as a psychotherapist, it is more valuable to me than anything I learnt from a book). But this empathy also takes up a huge amount of emotional energy. If this isn’t managed well, it can mean there’s none left for anything, or anyone else.

Relationships with Other HSPs

As with all things, there is both positive and negative in this sort of relationship. It may mean that you are each able to recognise and take account of the things the other is going through. And there’s something special about sharing a box a tissues over a weepy film. But it may also mean that you both have limited time and energy to expend on each other, and if you are both ‘running on empty’, that’s when the conflicts might arise.

Relationships with Non HSPs

This needs more work on our part, to communicate what it means to feel the way we do, and, if I’m honest, even if we do explain, a non HSP person may not really understand. Having said that, it can be useful for us to have someone who doesn’t process everything as deeply as we do. Freud has been attributed with saying, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” (If you’re interested, in my HSP way, I found this article discussing whether it was really said!)

That means sometimes, our non-HSP friends will prevent us from going down a rabbit hole, and save us from information overwhelm.

So What?!

So, these are some of the challenges you might face as an HSP in any sort of relationship. Here are some ideas that can help us to manage our precious resources.

  • You are in charge of what you do! You can say ‘NO’ to anything that feels too much, whether that’s a social engagement, a work ‘do’ or a weekend away with your family. I’m not suggesting you do nothing, as that has its own problems, but you are allowed to manage the energy and emotions you have, doing what you want to do.
  • You don’t need to justify yourself to anyone. If you go to a party and want to go home after an hour, that’s OK. You can tell people you’ve ‘had enough’, if you want to, but equally, it’s not really any of their business! In fact, if you are concerned that people might try and judge and/or shame you, it’s better not to say anything. A simple, “Thank you so much for the party, I’ve had fun, and I’m going now,” might be all that’s needed.
  • Other people might not agree with how you live your life. They don’t have to. At the end of the day, we only get one life. If you end up living your life to somebody else’s rules, then it’s not really your life. Sometimes it can hurt when people tell us what they think. Again, no justification is needed; “Thank you for being interested in my life,” will often stop someone in their tracks!
  • Because of the way your mind and body work, you may need more care in certain areas. Most HSPs struggle without the right amount of sleep. Some are grumpy when hungry or thirsty. You are unique, so find out what works for you, and try and build them into habits. If lying in a bath full of bubbles in silence for an hour is your ‘go to’ for recharging your batteries, do that, and plan it into your diary.
  • You can use tools to help you overcome sensory issues. If lots of noise overwhelms you, find a really good pair of headphones/ear plugs, and wear them. Temperature might be your thing; wear layers and pay attention to how you heat/cool your home. Bright lights can trouble some; use Polaroid lenses, or wear your sunglasses. Remember, you don’t have to justify any of these choices to anyone! If they make your life more comfortable, then that’s brilliant!

What if this isn’t enough?

Sometimes, we have been given messages about ourselves that are so strong we don’t even realise we hold them.  This can be particularly true of HSPs if they have been told they are ‘over-emotional’, ‘too sensitive’,  their whole lives.   A professional can help you unpick what’s going on for you, and support you in positive ways to change things that are no longer helpful.

If you’d like a free session, either online, or in Benissa (Map here), please don’t hesitate to get in touch here!

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

Highly Sensitive Person – Am I One?

Life as a Highly Sensitive Person means seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting everything in technicolour

Statistics show that around 1 in 5 is a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP for short), and so it’s possible that you are.  This blog looks at how you can find out.  My new Theme Thursdays will give more information about what it means to be HSP, and how you can live your best life as one.

What Does HSP Actually Mean?

Sensitivity gets a bad press. People usually think of sensitivity as a as a female trait, and label it unhelpfully with words like, “Snowflake” and “Weak.”   Elaine Aron, (Author of “The Highly Sensitive Person”), however, sees high sensitivity as a personality trait rather than a personality disorder.

Some definitions of “Sensitive” can be found here, and one of the examples really struck me…

Spiders are sensitive to the vibrations on their web”

The heightened sensitivity helps the spider to sense and catch its prey, it survives through doing so.

Even though HSPs are not likely to be catching prey in a web, they are highly attuned to what’s going on around them.  They notice the moods and emotions of others, they feel changes in the atmosphere and environment and process all of this deeply.

What Does Being A Highly sensitive Person Mean for Everyday Life?

Every human (and most animals), works best when their nervous system is running smoothly; not too stressed, but also not understimulated and bored.

HSP nervous systems are wired to produce a higher reaction to stimuli than people who aren’t HSP… most people will react to a car backfiring with a hardly a glance, but an HSP might jump out of their skin. And the reactions are usually greater for all the senses; loud noises, bright lights, a big crowd, strong smells, all of these might induce a stronger reaction from an HSP, than they would from someone who isn’t.

It doesn’t just stop there.  HSPs process information more deeply too, which means they reflect on everything that’s said in a discussion.  They analyse motives and reactions, and have brains that are active at a high level for much of the time, even in the middle of the night.   So if you want a late night philosophy discussion about the meaning of life, find yourself an HSP!

Being HSP Sounds Hard, Are There Any Good Bits?!

Yes! This in depth processing means that HSPs have a much more complex understanding of what’s happening in situations.  They pick up the subtle clues and nuances that others might miss, and this gives them insight and intuition.

Seeing the world in so much detail can also increase levels of creativity and innovation; so it’s no surprise that many artists, actors and creatives are HSP.

And actually, seeing the world in technicolour and surround sound can be amazing!

What About Overwhelm?

This is one of the more difficult things that HSPs have to deal with.  All this nervous system activity can be exhausting.   What might seem like a walk in the park for a non-HSP, might feel like wading through treacle if you are.

Take a night out at a concert.  Crowds of people.  High levels of noise.  Lots of social activity. Possibly unusual or strong smells (could be BO or perfume depending on the concert).  Then there’s travelling to the venue, differing levels of temperature, along with the excitement of seeing the concert itself. Whilst enjoyable, this also could overload an HSP’s system to the point that they can’t cope.

In future, I’ll be looking at ways that HSPs can manage their nervous systems to reduce overwhelm.

A Different Way of Looking at HSP

Instead of seeing being a Highly Sensitive Person as a curse, it can help to reframe this. Elena Herdieckerhoff talks about this in her Paris TED Talk, which you can see here.

If you’re interested in reading more about Elaine Aron’s work, click here.

My next blogs will look at “Tips To Make HSP Life Easier” and “Managing Relationships As An HSP”.

If you’d like to book a free initial appointment to talk about any of the issues above, please contact me here.