Not a lot of people “get” sensitivity — which is why it’s important to do what works for you, not for them.
As a highly sensitive person (HSP), it is sometimes (read: often) difficult to explain what it is to other people. They may not understand why we need to have the volume at a certain level (quiet). Or why we always choose to turn on the dimmer light in the hallway (due to our light sensitivity) as they turn on a nearby bright light. Or why our eyes will well with tears at the slightest thing. Not a lot of people “get” sensitivity — and this can make us feel misunderstood or like there’s something “wrong” with us.
But there’s not.
Remember to be kind to yourself. There are many non-HSPs who are empathetic enough to understand our sensitivities — though not enough. Not everyone can easily grasp (or understand) our larger-than-life emotions.
So knowing how to live in a non-HSP world as a highly sensitive person can come in handy throughout an HSP’s lifetime. Here’s how.
6 Ways for Highly Sensitive People to Survive in a Non-HSP World
1. Know what triggers you, like uncomfortable situations.
First and foremost, you have to know your triggers — what sets you off and how to deal with it. For example, I always find myself feeling overwhelmed when I am among large groups of people, especially when I feel stuck there.
Once you know how you feel, you can identify how you’ll react toward certain situations. Similarly, this will help you say “no” to certain things if you know they’ll trigger you more so than other things. Yes, this is related to setting boundaries, which does not come easily to HSPs, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Or, perhaps you’ll find yourself in an everyday situation, but then deeply sad or upsetting topics come up and you feel that you need to get away — your sensitive brain cannot take it. Non-HSPs may not understand why such topics are off the table, but you can explain it to them later. After all, your mental health is important, and sometimes it is more important to remove yourself from such a situation rather than to suffer for the sake of societal expectations.
2. Explain your sensitivity to your friends, family, and colleagues.
They say “knowledge is power,” and this is true when it comes to explaining your high sensitivity to those around you. This will allow them to understand you better and, who knows, maybe they’ll realize they’re a highly sensitive person, too.
However, not everyone will understand — instead of seeing your sensitivity as an asset, they may just think you’re “too emotional” or “overly sensitive.” Only you can determine if their attitude toward you and your sensitivity will make you feel worse about yourself. If so, it may be time to cut them out of your life. That way, you can focus on surrounding yourself with people who truly get you — whether they’re fellow HSPs, non-HSPs, or a combination of both.
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3. Don’t repress your emotions — be your authentic self.
Oftentimes, you may be tempted to repress your emotions around non-HSPs — you may feel frustrated or ashamed that you’re more sensitive than others. You’re both in the same situation, yet you react more strongly than they do. What’s wrong with me, you may wonder. In short, nothing.
When you try to hide your feelings, it usually has serious ramifications, as overwhelm and emotional flooding may take place. In times like these, strategies can help — knowing what works for you and what doesn’t.
4. Get as much alone time as you need (which is an HSP necessity).
In order to ensure you get the alone time you need, you can schedule it — this way, it’ll help you prevent overwhelm from all the overstimulation you experience. You’ll know that for a definite period of time, you will be undisturbed and can choose to enjoy your solo time however you see fit — in silence, reading a book, taking a walk, and so on. And if you work or live in a noisy environment, getting this time to yourself is key. (Plus, I’d recommend ignoring your phone, too — the texts and emails can wait, trust me.)
5. Use noise-canceling headphones to your advantage.
If you live in a space where the atmosphere is distinctly toxic, loud, and headache-inducing, a good pair of noise-canceling headphones can work wonders. Whether you listen to white noise (via an app or YouTube channel), ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, wherein you listen to people doing very soothing things, like whispering or brushing their hair), or to nothing at all (the headphones are just a decoy to tune people out), relaxation is the name of the game. These will all help you block out everything else, the very things that can add overwhelm and overstimulation to your life.
6. Start a new hobby and do it regularly.
Should you need a break from the non-HSP-ness of the world, engaging in a new hobby will do the trick. You can explore various shows, podcasts, documentaries, videos, books, sports, types of dance/workouts, meditation and mindfulness, music, and so on, which will help distract you from the overwhelm of the world and give you a chance to recharge. And when the hobby becomes part of your routine — which HSPs love — you’ll be well on your way to feeling less overstimulated and more grounded.
At the End of the Day, Do What Makes You Happy
More than anything, connection to your identity and yourself — and to people who you love and who love you — are key to a happy life as a highly sensitive person. Even if you are not able to find such people around you in person, there are plenty of virtual options (such as this website, as well as the Highly Sensitive Refuge Facebook Group). Both have helped me feel less alone as a highly sensitive person, and I hope they do the same for you.
Unfortunately, the default in this world is for people to keep their emotions to themselves, not to “burden” others with them or appear to be “too sensitive.” However, as an HSP, it’s very possible for us to survive — and thrive — in this primarily non-HSP world. I’m proof.
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