For a long time, I assumed something was wrong with me. I’d be with friends in a crowded place with loud noises, and they’d seem fine, but I felt like jumping out of my skin. Or I’d be talking with someone and would be able to know how they were feeling within minutes, without them having to tell me. I never really talked about this with anyone, and I just assumed I was “weird” and didn’t share my experiences for fear of being judged.
Until I learned that there was a term for people like me. I’m a highly sensitive person, meaning I’m extra sensitive to my environment, from pain to caffeine to crowds to other people’s feelings. Some people can drink a pot of coffee and feel a slight boost, while I drink half a cup and can’t sleep for 24 hours. Loud noises and crowds can make me feel anxious, and what my radar picks up about the people around me is on point. My sense of empathy is very, very deep, and I can intuitively know what people need in a particular situation. In short, I’m wonderful to have at your bedside.
About 15 to 20 percent of the population in the United States is highly sensitive—so I finally realized that I am not alone in my sensitive quirks. This fact made me feel a huge sense of relief. For so many years, I thought of my sensitivity as a weakness and as something to hide. Once I realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, I started to embrace who I am and look at my sensitivity as a gift.
The most important breakthrough for me was learning how to handle myself in a variety of situations and stop judging myself for being different. While I might not love loud places, I also have a deep sense of compassion and empathy, and I get to feel emotions more deeply. There’s nothing about me that needs to be fixed, and I can embrace my high sensitivity as a strength. Developing strategies to cope has helped me immensely, so I hope these help you too.
1. Plan out your week and schedule in some down time
Highly sensitive people need time alone to recharge. It’s important to not overcrowd your schedule and to create a realistic to-do list for each day while allowing yourself time to unwind and refresh yourself too. This one’s a biggie and will keep overwhelming feelings away.
2. Take breaks throughout your day
Step away from whatever you’re doing for even a five-minute break. Since highly sensitive people become more stimulated by sights, sounds, and smells around them, it’s important to give yourself time to help you stay grounded and to allow your system a little bit of rest from all the stimuli.
3. Eat between meals
One of the worst parts of being a highly sensitive person is getting “hangry” – angry when you’re hungry. Don’t feel like you have to stick to three traditional meals per day. Eat smaller meals and allow for snacking between meals. Bring snacks, like nuts, raisins or a granola bar with you so you always have something to tide you over.
4. Be mindful of what you watch
Highly sensitive people are more likely to be affected by violence in the media. I stopped watching scary movies years ago because they’re too much for me. I choose to watch and read things that are positive, like memoirs of inspirational figures and self-help books, along with comedy shows and uplifting documentaries. And I’m sensitive to the shows I watch, the news I follow, and the books I read. No violence for me, please. Sometimes, it seems that it can be unavoidable. When I stumble upon a graphic image in my newsfeed, I adjust my Facebook settings to help avoid content like this in the future and scroll quickly past the post. I can’t control what pops up throughout my day, but I can control my choice to consume it.
5. Find an outlet for your emotions
One of the best tools for a highly sensitive person is finding a way to process emotions through a regular activity you enjoy. Find a creative outlet that works for you, like writing, painting, knitting, papier-mâché—whatever you enjoy! Or maybe exercise is your thing. Strap on your gym shoes and get moving! One important thing to note is that being highly sensitive means you’re super empathetic. The best outlet for this can be to help others in need. Find an organization that speaks to you and use your compassion in a way that serves others.