Can you imagine how overwhelming a simple shopping trip would be to someone who is overstimulated by sounds, smells, and other environmental conditions? The bright lights, the crowds of people talking to one another and into their cell phones (and yelling at their kids and fighting with their spouses), the sounds of shopping carts being wheeled around and items being thrown into them, along with the beeping from the cash registers and the overhead music would be enough to drive you mad. Maybe you can imagine this all too well because you’re one of the lucky 15-20% of the population that is highly sensitive. If you want to confirm that you or someone you love is an HSP (highly sensitive person), check out this quiz.
Being highly sensitive does not refer to emotional sensitivity, and it doesn’t mean that your feelings are easily hurt. It merely means that you are more sensitive to environmental stimuli than others. HSPs are also sensitive to the moods of others and tend to act like a sponge – sucking up all of the angst, agitation, sadness, or anger in a room. This is, as you can imagine, utterly exhausting. That’s the one word that probably best defines what it’s like to be an HSP: exhausting. Things that other people aren’t even aware of are draining for HSPs: strong smells, the sound of loud typing, the television being on in the background, the buzz from fluorescent lights…all of these are things that HSPs are continually processing.
This is why time alone to decompress is so imperative for these individuals. They must be alone and preferably in silence to build up the energy necessary to go back into the world. And it is vital that they do go back into the world because their unique attributes are very much needed. Because they are so tuned in to others’ feelings, they are especially good at comforting others and knowing just what someone needs to feel better and they are also unusually conscientious and excellent problem solvers.
HSPs are critical of themselves and often believe it when others call them “weird” or “antisocial.” In fact, about 30% of HSPs are extroverts and love to be with other people, but have to pace themselves to not burnout from all of that togetherness. If your co-worker puts in headphones when concentrating on an important project, or your spouse requests that you turn the television off for a bit, or your child suffers a massive meltdown after a very stimulating day – try to understand that it might just be how they are wired and that it doesn’t mean that something within them needs to be “fixed”. So if you care about them, you’ll turn off the violent movie when they enter the room, keep the house or workplace as uncluttered as possible, and encourage them to get adequate rest, physical activity, and healthful food. In return, they will listen to you more intently than anyone else does, will do their best to keep you happy and comfortable, and will provide creative solutions for whatever problem you’re facing.