Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person looking boldly into the distance

2020 Is a Trainwreck of a Year — And It’s the Year of the Highly Sensitive Person

We HSPs are living proof that, yes, you can live with all the feelings bombarding you and still thrive.

Let’s be real. This whole 2020 situation has been difficult as hell for everyone. Much less for us highly sensitive people (HSPs), as we process emotions more deeply than non-HSPs and are affected by external stimuli — like the magnitude of a pandemic, for instance — more, too.

When people ask how things are going, my go to is “All right.” On Instagram, my quarantine life has been idyllic, and I live in a lovely neighborhood with lovely roommates and my lovely boyfriend. 

But looks can be deceiving. 

The pandemic on top of the racial injustice on top of that smoking crater of an election have made my typically low-grade anxiety shoot through the roof. I’m constantly on edge. Like phoenixes, will we ever rise from the ashes?

What used to be an apartment oasis has become cluttered. We’ve been cooking up fun meals in the kitchen, but it’s also constantly a mess. Everyone working from home means alone time is nonexistent. Emergency sirens go off more than usual (or am I imagining it?), and my stress levels are haywire before I’ve even started the day. 

I step outside for air and harmless actions from strangers are triggering. Being hyper aware of my surroundings is now the curse that makes simple grocery store runs or walks downright exhausting. That handle they touched, that sneeze, that person that is definitely not six feet away from you — we HSPs catch it all. 

As I’ve reflected to my roommates: the stress is less about potentially getting sick as it is general frustration and anxiety about the world’s actions, or lack thereof, in desolate times. It’s depressing, to say the least. 

Not to mention the constant onslaught of stressful headlines that have been beyond deafening. We want to know what’s going on, but reading one news story leads to the next, and doomscrolling breeds even more anxiety.

If you’re not an HSP and want to get into our heads, imagine the negative impact today’s news stories have on you and multiply it by a hundred. We HSPs are mentally and emotionally flooded — it’s impossible to convey how draining it is for us to feel and take in on a constant basis since we’re wired to feel others’ feelings, too.

But … amidst it all, I have good news. I’ve landed on this revelation to share: HSPs are not only going to make it through the apocalyptic sci-fi movie that is 2020, but we have important leadership roles to play among ourselves, others, and society. 

In essence, we were made for this moment. Here’s why:

This Moment? It’s Teaching You How to Lead Yourself

My inner monologue has been off the hook during this time. I’ve had terrible days. And precisely because of that, it’s been ground zero in learning how to tame my HSP tendencies.

Whereas before I might turn to social commitments or external stimuli (hello, extroverted HSPs!) to purposely “flood” out the non-desirable, now I’m just stuck at home. Some of us may have mastery over overthinking or anxiety due to past experiences, but for many of us, this is the first time we’ve had to face them head-on with no distractions or anywhere to run. I mean, how many of us have been in a global pandemic before? What are the “right” and “wrong” ways to act?

As I tell my boyfriend, though: Don’t pity my sadness or anger or whatever it may be; let me stay in it, think deeply about it — HSPs tend to love doing this — and engage in conversation about it later. The more we learn and understand how our own complex emotions work, the deeper we get in understanding human behavior. Believe me, few people are comfortable in these spaces.

As they say, being an HSP is a gift: it’s like having hidden abilities. Once you learn to use your sensitivity to your advantage, you unlock superpowers. Think of this as your training ground. Whatever comes next is going to be nothing compared to this. And with these newfound skills — breathing, meditation, channeling energy into healthy channels — you’re going to be unstoppable.

Because…

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You’re Learning How to Lead Others, Too

We HSPs are living proof that, yes, you can live with all the feelings bombarding you 24/7 and still survive. Actually, scratch that — thrive. This year, the world’s been dealt a harsher hand than usual, but I’d like to point out that most HSPs have probably had more time than non-HSPs to learn how to deal and function while drowning in emotions. 

Let me repeat that: It’s possible to feel and to function. It’s what we’ve been doing our entire lives. 

For non-sensitive people, the idea of feeling someone else’s emotions may seem somewhat absurd. “Can’t you just work on stop letting these affect you?” a well-intentioned friend once asked. Well, no. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

However, now that the times are atypical, our feelings aren’t so wild anymore. I’ve noticed typically less emotional people in my networks are also a bit down. The difference is they haven’t felt like this before and don’t know why or how to deal. So if feeling others’ emotions used to be too much for me, I now appreciate that I had years of training doing so. 

To be extremely clear: As an HSP, it is not your responsibility to take care of anyone else. But in today’s high-strung, high-stakes, less-connected world, our ability to connect and simply understand others can be a real strength. 

While some people may be having these “deep conversations” for the first time (on grief, loss, injustice, whatever they’re dealing with), we’re actually quite comfortable because we’ve been having them this whole time. 

An easy step is to reach out to someone in your life who you sense could use a listening ear. Even if the headlines are brand new, that simple act is familiar territory. You’ve been down this path before and you know there’s purpose in helping your friends and family members who could use support.

And then, the next thing you know…

You’re Learning How to Lead Society

One of the emerging bright spots during this time is hearing government and business leaders returning to empathy. (Some of them, anyway.) Empathy doesn’t usually share the stage with policy or progress. In fact, it’s often seen as the antithesis of such. 

These are different times though. Society is uniquely positioned during this time to accept leaders that are more outwardly caring than usual. 

This is good for HSPs, as our leadership style is sometimes drowned out in the sheer loudness of it all. This is a chance for us to use our unique voices to cut through the BS, to lead with understanding and empathy. What a novel idea. Plus, highly sensitive people are said to make the best leaders due to understanding others’ emotions so well, so there’s that.

Moreover, whatever position we find in ourselves with our families, communities, and companies, it’s up to us to bring in this perspective. As the world builds itself back up, if something was built crudely before, now’s the opportunity to step up and pitch in on how to make it better. 

Let’s use our high sensitivity skills for good: HSPs can and will be the voices that lead the rebuild in education, politics, innovation, you name it.

It may get worse before it gets better, but any worthwhile changes start with an impetus. If the pendulum has swung us this far into the dark, imagine the potential once we swing toward the light. 

Phoenixes are reborn from ashes. We, too, are completely capable of leading others out of this firestorm, and I have confidence we will, especially as we use our HSP traits and skills as armor.

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