03 Oct Self Care For The Highly Sensitive Person
Psychotherapist, researcher, and author Elaine Aron coined the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in the mid 90’s and her ongoing work in the field has been changing the lives of sensitive people (and those in relationships with them) ever since.
1 in 5 of us have the high sensitivity trait (you can do the quick self-test here): that’s 20% of all people who are uniquely different in very real ways from the other 80%. Research has identified similar findings within the animal world too.
HSP’s are unique: we’re different in good ways… and in ways that are potentially problematic.
Healthy, happy lives and relationships is something we all aspire to and deserve, but the reality is this can be harder for HSP’s than for our non-HSP counterparts.
As a psychotherapist and HSP, I know from personal and clinical experience how HSP’s can create lives and relationships that truly thrive… IF we understand our trait and how to nurture it safely.
Both HSP’s and non-HSP’s need to know about this trait: ignorance about it too often leads to personal and relational dysfunction and distress. Learning to live an HSP-friendly life is crucial for mitigating the downsides and allowing the many benefits of our trait to shine.
Elaine’s video “A Talk On High Sensitivity: Life”, provides a checklist of “must-do’s” for HSP’s. It’s a recipe for self care and a perfect place to start exploring how HSP’s create lives (and relationships) that thrive.
The list below is a quick summary – a simple checklist of quotes and take-out points. Alternatively, watch Elaine’s 15 minute youtube video here.
1. Understand it’s real.
“It’s ultimately up to each HSP to understand and appreciate our HSP trait”.
After all, we’re living amongst the other 80% who aren’t HSP: they don’t know about the trait, nor are they likely to notice the differences between themselves and their HSP partners, friends, children, colleagues, and others.
2. Change your lifestyle.
“If you haven’t done it, get going, because you’re going to have to do it. You’re different, and that means you just can’t live the same as other people. You have to keep the stress level down… and you have to make use of your trait and not be operating against it”
Down time – Take time each day to be alone and quiet. Do the housework, go for a walk… so long as you’re switching off and having a break from the incoming stimulation of information, people, devices. Down time allows your brain to process all the information that been absorbed and is crucial for preventing overload and overwhelm.
Sleep – Optimal sleep is important for everyone, but for HSP’s it’s critical. Unfortunately, it’s common for HSP’s to become stuck in a cycle of poor sleep, where the more overstimulated we become, the less we can sleep, and the less we can sleep, the more overstimulated we become. Stay in bed for 8 hours, and if you can’t sleep, just close your eyes and rest.
Regulation – Take breaks before you’re exhausted. Say “No” to things that you don’t have to do. Nobody knows but you if you’re tired or at your limit.
Eat regularly – Being hungry effects HSP’s more than other people and it’s crucial that we eat well.
Relationships – Its very important that the people who you share your life with understand your sensitivity: the positive things and the problems.
Take advantage of your assets – In the right environment, HSP’s flourish. Choose careers, workplaces, and social networks that suit you, and take steps to leave ones that don’t.
3. Reframe past events and perceived failings in your life
“Look at past events that really hit your self esteem and work at a new understanding of your perceived failures as things that were influenced by your HSP trait. It takes time but it’s important to do because it will change the whole way you look at yourself”.
4. Heal wounds of a troubled childhood
“If you’ve had a troubled childhood, you’ll need to work on healing those wounds”.
5. Spend time with your tribe – Connect with other HSP’s
Such value in being with others who understand our trait and ourself…
6. Connect with your spiritual self – whatever that means for you.
Because HSP’s are deep thinkers, we need to nourish our interest and curiosity, and nurture our spiritual self.
Finally, I know personally how the high sensitivity trait can be both blessing and curse. However, the same can be said of most (possibly all?) human traits and personalities: HSP or non-HSP… we all must navigate the upsides and downsides of who we are. Ultimately, each of us must know (and follow) our own “operating manual” if we seek to create a healthy, happy, love-filled life.
If the above information helps you understand yourself (or someone you love) better, then my hope for you is that it’s a springboard for further reading, research, and growth. Not surprisingly, a really great therapist can be an important resource here, but it’s also work that each of us can also attend to on our own or with a trusted friend.
Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. She has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive for 25 years. Thanks to Elaine Aron for her work with the HSP trait, which has inspired the content of this article. Elaine’s website can be found here. Contact Pamela here.