Do you try to avoid busy places, noisy events, and large crowds of people because you tend to feel drained or stressed afterwards?
Have you ever walked into a room and instantly felt anxious or sick to your stomach, only to find out later that there was a heated argument between a group of people right before?
If so, then chances are you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
So…what is a HSP, you ask?
A Highly Sensitive Person is more sensitive to the subtle cues of other beings, spaces, and environments than the average human.
This means we are keenly aware of our surroundings and feel deeply. We are hypersensitive to all types of stimuli, whether it be internal or external, including noises, scents, emotions, chaotic environments, and large crowds of people.
Our sensory processing is more refined than that of the average person, and research studies estimate that we make up 15-20% of the world’s population.
Because we are constantly picking up more subtle information from all around us, we can easily become overwhelmed and overstimulated, thereby directly impacting our health and wellbeing.
Here are some of the top health challenges that many HSPs seem to experience:
- Sensitivities and intolerances. HSPs tend to have a lot of sensitivities to food, chemicals, and environmental triggers. Although the reactions are less severe than true allergies, they can still greatly affect us and decrease our quality of life. Lactose and gluten are common food intolerances. Sensitivities to food might show up as digestive discomfort, feeling tired after eating, or headaches, just to name a few. Reactions show up differently for each person.
- Anxiety. HSPs have overactive processing going on in their brains. We have a tendency to get stuck in repetitive negative thoughts, worrying, and “OMG, what if?!” patterns. Or anxiety might just stem from the constant overstimulation we experience day to day.
- Depression. Because of our empathetic nature, and therefore are so easily affected by those around us, we may even pick up on other people’s negative emotions and (unknowingly) absorb them as if they are our own. And hey, let’s face it: there can be a lot of sadness and distress out in the world at any given moment. We can easily go into sensory overload mode because we’re inundated with so much information which only adds to our stress load. Because we make up only a fraction of society, we might feel like an outsider and that others don’t “get us,” causing us to feel alone and unsupported.
- Addictions. This continual state of overwhelm can lead us to addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, and unhealthy behaviors in general. It may be that we’re just trying to block or drown out our sensitivities. (Yes, I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of using alcohol to “tone down the noise,” so to speak, so that I don’t have to be soooooo overly aware of every goddamn minute detail around me at all times, gahhhhh!)
But what at first may look like an inconvenience or weakness may actually be one of our biggest strengths. Although our first inclination may be to bundle up and hide from the chaotic and noisy world, there is great power in acknowledging our sensitivity and even embracing it. Cultivating an optimal lifestyle that wholly supports us is vital to thriving as a HSP and enhancing wellbeing.
As a Highly Sensitive Person myself, here are my recommendations for other HSPs on how to deal with these health challenges:
1. Be mindful of your diet.
Although this should go for everyone, eating a clean, plant-based diet that’s full of fresh, whole foods incorporating all the colors of the rainbow comes highly recommended. Because HSPs may experience a higher amount of food sensitivities and allergies than the general populace, it is incredibly important to monitor your body and how you feel after eating.
Ask yourself: are there any patterns that you notice during or after consuming certain foods?
Exercising some mindfulness to check-in with your body regularly can help to identify possible foods that may not be offering you true nourishment. For example, a person may notice they have a stuffy nose after eating dairy products, or that they feel fatigued after eating a gluten-containing meal. Keeping a food journal to keep track of what you’ve consumed and how you feel afterwards can be incredibly helpful. Try eliminating any reactive foods from your diet and observe how you feel. This can be a game changer!
Avoiding harsh stimulants and depressants comes highly recommended, so reduce or eliminate the caffeine and alcohol.
As an HSP, you may notice that your sensitive system reacts to synthetic chemicals, such as the ones found in perfume, personal care and cleaning products. Take a look around your home. Are there items that could be replaced with natural alternatives? Pay close attention to anything you put on your body daily, such as lotion, soap, shampoo, and makeup.
I actually discovered that when I took all the harsh chemicals out of my home, my sense of smell somehow became more enhanced and I breathed more easily (yay to less stuffy noses)! I was also amazed at how the natural cleaning products did just as good of a job as the conventional (and toxic) ones…without leaving me feeling lightheaded.
Because HSPs are overstimulated easily and prone to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression, taking time daily for restorative healing practices is a must. This could be self-care time to reflect, pray, meditate, write, or just consciously take some deep breaths.
Bonus points if you do any of this while out in nature, which is of course incredibly rejuvenating to everyone, but especially soothing to our sensitive system. Forest bathing, anyone?
4. Add in some conscious movement.
When it comes to physical activity, be sure to include holistic movement practices like qigong, tai chi, yoga, and nature walks in your exercise routine. This will help balance your sensitive system and promote overall wellbeing. These practices are great for calming the sympathetic nervous system, which tends to be overactivated in HSPs, causing us to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight.
Indulge in gentle, relaxing movements to help switch off this chronic stress response.
5. Ensure your social circle energizes and lifts you up.
As they say, you are the composition of the top five people you spend the most time with, so make ‘em count! Because you are so deeply affected by energy as an HSP, this is HUGE. Although we have no control over what family we were born into or who our coworkers/bosses and neighbors are, you still always have the opportunity to make conscious decisions about your friends, partners, and how much time you spend with them.
If you are constantly feeling drained after hanging out with a certain someone, it might be time to reevaluate that relationship and whether or not it is serving you to be around them. You may decide to come up with a plan to limit the overall time spent with them each week, only connect with them for special occasions, or just in particular environments that are most comfortable to you (ex. One-on-one tea date in a quiet, charming coffee shop vs. being dragged by a pushy friend to a loud concert where you won’t know anyone else and dislike the music).
Our sensitivity is our strength. We should celebrate this ability to pick up the minutiae that most people miss throughout the course of a day, the hidden intricacies we unearth in the environments we observe, and the heightened awareness of feelings or micro-expressions of those around us that we perceive. These amplified intuitive, sensory, and empathic faculties are priceless gifts.
Creating a conscious lifestyle that promotes health and wellbeing on a holistic level is not just recommended for highly sensitive persons, it’s a powerful and necessary tool to manage—and even prevent—the common health challenges we typically face.
So are YOU a HSP? Do you relate to any of these challenges or recommendations? Feel free to leave a comment below!