by Andrea M. Darcy
Are you a highly sensitive person, or “HSP”? That is finding what is going on in your life or in the world hard to take at the moment? Whether it’s a community event that has led to mass grief, or a world event like war or a pandemic, HSP’s can be hit harder than others.
Being HSP when world events are challenging
Many people manage difficult world events like war and pandemics with a higher level of stress and anxiety.
But if you are sensitive, you might also find yourself:
Why is regular advice about stress not working for me?
If you are self-identified as ‘HSP’, then the sort of advice going around for stress like, ‘connect with others’, and ‘be realistic’ might not help you so much.
You might feel frustrated talking with those around you as they don’t understand how upset you feel. And for you, advice to be ‘realistic’ and ‘stay calm’ can seem a way of diminishing the very real suffering of others.
What DOES help a sensitive person in tough times?
So what alternate things do we need to consider as a sensitive person when there are challenging world events or life changes happening?
1. See it as a self-care challenge.
Yes, regular self-care matters for us all during tough times. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that during challenging world events we, “Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.”
But as a sensitive person, self-care can mean more than such basics. We are talking not always putting yourself last and being a constant ‘helper’.
Overcoming the need to help everyone and anyone, and actually setting boundaries instead of just saying you will?
It means you will have energy to help those who actually matter to you.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others.
In times of group suffering others might seem to be doing well compared to you.
The gremlins in your head might start, saying that you aren’t cut out for this, you can’t cope, you are ‘too weird‘, or ‘what is wrong with you‘. Remember, these are just thoughts. You are different, that’s all. You just have to find your own, unique way forward, and find people you are like, your ‘tribe’.
3. Take time out.
Let others know in advance you will be taking time outs due to stress, and that it’s not personal (nothing ruins a time out for a HSP than worrying that they have upset others by doing so). If living with roommates or family, consider a ‘time out’ sign for your door. Sometimes ‘normies’ need reminding.
4. Don’t over-communicate.
During times of difficult world events or mass grief, you’ll be receiving more emails, texts, and DMs than usual. You need to take time-outs from this, too.
As a sensitive person you’ll feel that people ‘need’ you. True as this might be, you need you, too. Instantly responding to everyone will leave you burnt out.
And do not feel you have to respond to everyone who contacts you, such as exes from the past who weren’t kind, or toxic friends who always took but gave nothing in return.
Ask yourself the following:
- Do I really need to respond now?
- Can this actually wait?
- Is this a person who is going to energise or deplete me?
- Do I really owe this person a response at all?
- What would be a better use of my time?
- Is this an energy exchange? Or will I give and not receive?
5. Connect with things other than people.
Other people need human connection to feel okay in troubled times. For many HSPs, connection can lead to overwhelm instead.
But what they do feel ‘energised’ by is connection of another form. This might be animals, nature, creativity, or a ‘higher source‘ like God or the ‘Universe’.
Use whatever it takes to give you the connection that actually fills you up. Dance, paint, draw, sing, pray, meditate, chill out with your pet and talk to them as much as you want. If you need nature but are in a city, clean your houseplants’ leaves one by one, or listen to birdsong tracks. Whatever works.
If you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to create or meditate”? Remember that we need to have energy to give it. See time connecting to your personal ‘source’ as important right now as anything you are doing for your physical health. Remember, mental health and physical health are connected.
6. And yes, watch out for media binges.
Other people binge on headlines to be ‘in the know’. Sensitive people binge on the sad stories. The videos of pets whose owners are in hospital, of old people with no friends. This doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help you help others.
Also watch out for sad music at this time. It’s like quicksand for a HSP. Just don’t.
7. Replace worry by action.
Worry as a sensitive person leads to feelings of extreme despondency and helplessness.
Try to identify each major worry. Write it down. And then try to find one action, no matter how small, that can help.
If you really can’t find any action, then use tools that help you feel less helpless. Mindfulness, praying, visualising the world in a better place, they are all valid.
How you became a highly sensitive person (HSP) and why it matters
The term ‘highly sensitive person’, is a term coined by American psychologist Elaine Aron, in her series of successful books on ‘HSP’ people.
While Aron believes that some of are ‘born’ sensitive, based on one animal study?
Psychology would rather suggest that while some of us can be born with a propensity to be sensitive, that capacity would develop (or not) due to environments and experiences.
Things can leave you a sensitive person include childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). This encompasses neglect, poor parenting, and all kinds of child abuse particularly sexual abuse.
Why does this matter? If you just tell yourself you are ‘born this way’ you trap yourself in a box you can’t budge from. All of the above issues are not traps. They are things you can work on. Change is possible.
Can therapy help me stop being so sensitive?
It can definitely help you cope far better. Working with a counsellor or psychotherapist can help, for example, with things like:
Really need support to get through tough times? We have you covered with a range of internet therapists to suit any budget.
Andrea M. Darcy is the editor and lead writer of the site as well as a therapy consultant and coach. She is, despite best effort, a sensitive type.