All my life, I’ve been highly sensitive, and this has certainly carried with it a number of challenges. As a teenager, I was unable to be around people who were eating, because I couldn’t stand the sounds they made, and have always been repulsed by the texture of certain fatty cuts of meat.
And instead of simply learning to understand why, I become extremely grumpy if I do not get time to myself everyday!
Throughout my journey, however, I have learned that being highly sensitive can also be a tremendous advantage. If we can learn to understand and manage our sensitivity, we can then cultivate our increased awareness and empathy.
These are just a few of the many lessons that can help sensitivity become a strength, rather than a hindrance.
1. We Should Learn To Understand Our Emotional Responses
According to the article 5 Great Lessons for Sensitive People from Power of Positivity, the strong emotional responses that highly sensitive people experience are due to empathy. We often feel what other people are feeling. Learning to manage this can require some awareness and practice.
In my own experience, I have learned to stop and examine my thoughts whenever I experience a strong emotion. If it is clear that the emotion is not coming from anything in my own mind, then I am able to see that it belongs to someone else.
Empathy without awareness can look very “selfish.” When we don’t realize that the emotions we are experiencing are not our own, we only focus on bringing relief to ourselves. When we are aware of the source of the emotional response, we not only bring greater relief to our own mind, but we are also able to better understand the people around us.
2. We Should Realize That Understanding The Response Does Not Mean We Should Act On It
Power of Positivity cautions against immediately trying to “help” other people or act on the emotional responses we experience. Sometimes it is in the other person’s best interest for us not to become involved.
When we experience the emotional response and understand where it is coming from, we then need to look at the situation logically in order to decide what to do next.
I have learned this lesson many times in my own life. When I am around people experiencing fear especially, I have a very difficult time not stepping in and trying to make that fear go away.
Through calming activities and understanding, I have had to learn to look at the situation in terms of what the other person needs, rather than my immediate need to stop the emotional response.
3. We Should Learn To Listen To Our Intuitions
This may seem like it is contradicting the last point, but it is not. According to Power of Positivity, logic and intuition are both necessary in evaluating a situation, and many people who are highly sensitive discount their intuition.
If we experience a “gut” feeling, especially as to whether we should trust someone else, it is important to listen to that. Because highly sensitive people are taking in so much from our environment, we are able to evaluate a situation on a subconscious level, which results in a stronger intuition.
I have found that as I have overcome fears and misunderstandings, my intuition has grown stronger. Sensitive people are often very sensitive to judgement and criticism that we receive from others, which our minds often take to be the absolute truth.
The fears and limiting beliefs that stem from these misunderstandings – and they definitely are misunderstandings – can often lead us to feel doubtful about situations when it is not necessary. As we sift through and eliminate these limiting beliefs and doubts, our intuitions will grow stronger.
4. We Need To Seek Out Stimulating Conversation
In Huffington Post’s How Highly Sensitive People Interact With the World Differently, Lindsey Holmes states that people who are highly sensitive tend to get bored in relationships if there is a lack of stimulating conversation. This is because we crave deeper, more meaningful connections and interactions with those around us.
Some of my best memories in my marriage are of long, drawn-out conversations while on the road, or even while sitting on our back porch. My husband and I will talk for hours about everything under the sun – politics, religion, the meaning of life.
These interactions have led to a deeper, more fulfilling connection between the two of us.
5. We Need to Schedule Some Alone Time
According to Holmes, people who are highly sensitive may become overwhelmed by busy, open offices or busy social activities. We may feel scrutinized by those around us, or we may become distracted by all of the sensory input around us.
Having time by ourselves each day will help us to focus better and decrease anxiety.
I live on a sailboat in a busy marina in the city and have very little privacy, so I have had to be creative in seeking out alone time. Sometimes, I wake up before everyone else and spend some time sitting on the dock, looking out over the water.
Other times, I find a quiet corner in Starbucks, where I can do my work uninterrupted. And alone.
6. We Should Not Avoid Conflict
Holmes states that people who are highly sensitive tend to avoid conflicts, because the emotions we experience during them are often overwhelming. However, the empathy that we experience can be a strong asset in problem-solving situations.
Experiencing the emotions of those around us can help us to better problem creatively, if we are able to stay calm.
Staying calm in conflicts has been key for me. It has also been important for me to realize that experiencing the other person’s emotions is not the same as experiencing their thoughts.
I still need to ask questions, rather than assuming that I know why the other person is feeling the way that they are.
7. We Need To Eat Well
She recommends plenty of raw foods and greens, but adds that the appropriate diet for one person may be different for another.
In my experience, I have found that eating whole foods, with a great deal of protein, has helped me to stay calm and to improve my own mental state. Drinking a great deal of water and limiting caffeine have also helped to decrease my anxiety.
8. We Should Seek Out Scents That Appeal To Our Senses
According to the article, essential oils and incense can help to create a calming environment for someone who is highly sensitive. Scents like lavender, bergamot, spearmint, and tea tree oil are most recommended.
I have found that I do not enjoy spending time in a home or room that does not smell good, and I often burn candles in order to create a pleasant aroma. And in vanilla, my favorite scent by far, I have found the most calming reaction.
In the winter, I will even boil a pot of water, vanilla, and cinnamon to achieve the scent to feel most calming and pleasant.
9. We Should Become Aware Of Our Stress Responses
In her article Highly Sensitive People: Desensitizing Your Fight or Flight Response: Creating a Sense of Safety in Your Life by Changing the Meaning of Your Experiences from Online Counseling, Ewa Schwarz states that when a highly sensitive person becomes overwhelmed, their fight-or-flight response is triggered.
This response is designed for short-term survival, and chronic fight-or-flight is harmful to the body and mind. Becoming aware of this stress response and learning to minimize it is key to decreasing this feeling of being overwhelmed.
Learning to calm my body and mind has been very important in my journey. I have used breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and even walking to calm my stress response, so that I am able to move forward and process the situation around me.
10. We Should Examine And Redefine The Things That Cause Us To Feel Overwhelmed
According to Schwarz, the fight-or-flight response is triggered when the mind goes into an emotional reaction after making connections between the current situation and past experiences. The mind is detecting a threat in the present moment, based on its understanding of the past.
Yet this is merely a perceived connection. In order to change our mind’s perception, we can go back to the initial assumption whenever our minds go into reaction.
Why are we seeing a connection? The connection is based on meaning that our mind has given the current situation. When we can redefine the situation and stop seeing this meaning, we can diffuse the triggering event.
This has been absolutely key in my journey. When I am emotionally triggered, I stop and examine the thoughts behind the emotion. I then ask myself a series of question to determine why I think what I do, so that I can find the underlying assumption and redefine it.
This has helped me to become overwhelmed much less frequently.
I’ve often thought of a highly sensitive mind as being like a wild horse. It’s amazingly powerful, but it will take some time to train that horse and gain its trust.
With a lot of patience and perseverance, it is possible to train that horse and take advantage of its amazing power and strength.
Featured photo credit: Jackson David via unsplash.com