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Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person

Ever heard of a Highly Sensitive Person? Wondering about yourself or someone you love?

Let’s start with the basics:  Dr. Elaine N. Aron wrote a book, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You” in 1997 and it became a national bestseller. (I highly recommend this book to folks even wondering if they should read it!)

In the book, Dr. Aron (an HSP herself) outlines who the Highly Sensitive Person is and explains that HPS’s make up 15-20% of the population. In short, HSP qualities can include:

  • Being easily overwhelmed by stimuli
  • Being affected by other people’s moods
  • Being easily startled
  • Needing to withdraw during busy times to a private, quiet place
  • Getting nervous or shaky if someone is observing you or competing with you

If you’re at all interested in taking a quick quiz to see if you have HSP features, go for it!

Meantime, here are some things you may need in order to avoid the frazzles.


This can include a new job, a move, a new relationship or even a new paint color on the walls. Instead of beating up on yourself for being so stressed about something “that’s so small and stupid,” remind yourself that this is part of wonderful You, to feel thrown by stuff. Give yourself time to adjust, and remember that you always will adjust, because you always HAVE adjusted.


Of all things, bright/fluorescent lighting can really do a number on the brain of an HSP, as can coarse/rough fabrics on the skin. Keep this in mind. You may need to swap out bulbs at home, or add soft lighting at work and keep the overheads off. Higher thread-count sheets and soft fabrics for clothing could also change your life.


I’m keeping this intentionally vague as I am not a Registered Dietitian (but I know some fabulous ones!), but basically, our bodies and brains need regular, consistent nourishment. Skipping meals, eating way too much of the foods that don’t make us actually feel good, can all lead to body-brain-burnout.


There is no “you MUST get this much sleep,” contrary to popular opinion. Everyone is different. BUT. Sleep is critical, as we have learned in the past couple of decades. It affects everything, including mood, metabolism and cognition. Practicing good sleep hygiene and making sure your schedule INCLUDES a chunk of time devoted to sleep is possibly one of the most important things you can do for yourself.


You are likely not someone who relishes conflict. In fact, you may be someone who avoids it, which can lead to other trouble, as you’re likely to get yourself into too many situations you don’t want to be in. That said, there are a million awesome resources for learning how to communicate effectively and without conflict. Take the time to study up and practice, and you’ll find yourself a calmer Jedi in no time.


We live in a social media world, where “friends” means something different than what it meant 20 years ago. This is not all bad, natch, but it can present some shadow sides. Such as, we need physical contact/presence for our health. (There’s a reason solitary confinement is considered torture.) Have people in your life who will hug you, who you can hug back. Not a hugger? Consider a pet for furry or feathery companionship. Studies show that physical contact and pet love can positively affect our bodies and our brains. Couple with that the ability for said people/pets to be able to really see you – more on that next.


See #6, then consider the following questions about the people you feel are your “support people:”

  • Do they make time for you?
  • Do they listen — really listen — when you have something important to share?
  • Do they truly have your best interest at heart?
  • Do they know who you are, at your core?

If not, you may want to consider cultivating more relationships with people who have the capacity to really hold space for you. No one has to be the bad guy here — everyone gives 100%, and everyone’s 100% looks different.


Folks who fall under the umbrella of HSP will likely be sensitive to things like caffeine, alcohol and other drugs, legal or illegal, prescribed or not. Be mindful of what you are putting into your body and ask yourself honestly if it is in your best interest to do so. A little likely goes a long way for you. For instance, would you be better off sticking to one coffee a day and eliminating the soda? Are you smoking weed more often than you probably need to in order to enjoy life? Are you using the wine at night to medicate the anxiety, or to enjoy with your meal? The only person who knows the honest answers to these questions is you, so challenge yourself and ask.


If you run Highly Sensitive, you’re likely to get really anxious and maybe end up crying about stuff like a super messy house, a laundry list of errands that only gets longer by the day, and a hangnail you keep putting a Band-Aid over. Take care of yourself by taking care of these things. The only way to do that is to give yourself time. So take it.


It’s super important for you to pay attention to how much time you’re getting BY YOURSELF and/or where things are QUIET. Because if you think of your nerves like a gas tank that burns fuel when you’re with other people (the higher-maintenance people, the more fuel you’ll burn) and when you’re in loud atmospheres… well, you get the idea. The only way to re-fill the gas tank is with quiet and alone time, my friend.

Last but not least, never forget that the world needs Highly Sensitive People. You have superpowers! Historical figures believed to be HSPs include Abraham Lincoln, Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Goodall. So in case you were feeling less-than, you are actually in excellent company.

July 21, 2016