by Andrea Blundell
Are you a highly sensitive person, or “HSP”? That is finding what is going on in the world hard to take?
HSP in the face of Covid-19?
Most people are managing with a level of stress and anxiety at the moment, worried about their health, losing their jobs, and their families.
But if you are sensitive, you might also find yourself:
Why is regular advice not working for me?
If you are self-identified as ‘HSP’, then the sort of advice going around 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 a pandemic?
So what alternate things do we need to consider as a sensitive person in a pandemic?
1. Accept this as the self-care challenge of a lifetime.
Yes, regular self-care matters for us all at this time. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends, “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’.
There is no better time to remember that that it is okay to put yourself first and that you don’t actually owe anyone anything.
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.
Everyone else is posting their Instagram lives, sharing their intimate lockdown details, or seeming to be just fine with what is going on. Meanwhile you are feeling waves of grief and a need to hide.
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.
3. Take time out.
What if you are stuck in lockdown with family or a roommate?
Let others know in advance you will be taking time outs, and that it’s not personal (nothing ruins a time out for a HSP than worrying that they have upset others by doing so).
Consider a ‘do not disturb’ sign for you door like a hotel, so people know when you need space. “Normals” can do their best to understand but sometimes need a reminder.
4. Don’t over-communicate.
At this time you’ll be receiving more 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.
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 lockdown, 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, on old people staring at an empty bread shelf. 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 are worried about the homeless and how they are coping, find a charity taking action and donate what you can. If you are worried about animals neglected as their owners go to hospital, offer to foster if this happens to someone you know.
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.
Highly sensitive person (HSP) – how you became one 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 the pandemic? We have you covered with a range of internet therapists to suit any budget.
Want to share your experience of surviving a pandemic as a sensitive person? Post below.
Andrea Blundell is the editor and lead writer of the site. She is, despite best effort, a sensitive type.