Highly Sensitive Refuge
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6 Ways HSPs Can Take Control of Their Environment in Difficult Times

HSPs are often overstimulated by their environments, and this is magnified during difficult times. But here’s how to better control it.

When faced with a painful life situation — a job loss, financial hardship, a sick family member — you don’t want to add to the anguish. Instead, you want to identify solutions to reduce anything overstimulating that is in your immediate environment — especially if you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP).

You were already sensitive before these circumstances, and the intensity of life right now has likely heightened your sensitivity — and anxiety —  to greater levels

As highly sensitive souls, we are easily stimulated and feel intensely — and it will take a lot of emotional and physical energy, and resilience, to handle a tough experience. So, to cope, we’ll need to start figuring out what needs to change in our everyday lives. Our neurological system cannot be compromised further by being exposed to even more stimuli and adding to an already precarious emotional state. 

The following are six methods I’ve used to minimize disruption in my daily life during difficult times. After all, our environment is important to HSPs — so the more we can adjust it, the better off we’ll be. Hopefully, some of them will work for you, too.

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6 Ways HSPs Can Take Control of Their Environment in Difficult Times

1. Adjust your work environment accordingly — or switch jobs altogether.  

There is so much that may go wrong at work that it might exacerbate your existing difficult circumstances. These might include being undervalued for your work, being pressured (and HSPs don’t do well with time anxiety!), difficult coworkers, noisy settings, not enough breaks or off-time, more expectations than you can handle, and/or unacceptable work hours and conditions. See? A lot of stress — amidst the stress you’re already going through.    

One major solution to any of the concerns outlined above is to explore how to change your existing work circumstances — or look for a job with a more conducive environment to your mental health. There are various job alternatives for HSPs, and the surge in remote work these days can definitely be in your favor. If your job is causing too much unnecessary stress, it may be time to reevaluate things.

Plus, noise-canceling headphones (to tune things out or to listen to some calming music to help you focus and work) can only help so much — they cannot address all your workplace difficulties.                                                             

An example that comes to mind is when I was working full-time in an office while caring for my terminally ill mother in the meantime. I performed well-managing job distractors, although it was not always easy. I shared a small office with one other person — who preferred to have their one-hour lunch breaks in our office. She would close our door and speak on the phone in another language the entire time while I worked. This was beyond irritating…

As highly sensitive people, we are often excellent listeners, empathic, and peace-makers — we want to make sure everyone is happy (often to a fault, since we’re known to be people-pleasers). Instead of confronting my coworker, I would just leave the office (even though I had work to do). Eventually, a supervisor became involved and my coworker started taking her lunch break outside the office. Which brings me to my next point — boundaries.

2. Create boundaries with those who may increase your stressors.

Just like we need to enact boundaries at work — which is not always easy for HSPs — we also need to enact them where we live. Whether it’s a neighbor’s dogs barking all day, endless construction, noisy kids, others parking in front of your house, loud music, parties, and so on, there are a lot of environmental factors that can increase our stress and anxiety.                                                                                                               

When a neighbor had construction going on after-hours, for instance, and I was overwhelmed with caregiving responsibilities, I had to confront them. They weren’t happy, but they were disrupting my life — plus, not following the city rules. So try to do all you can to make your living environment more calm. 

3. Accept that not everyone will “get” what you’re going through — and they won’t change.

Some people, even after you state your case (like the loud construction) will not see things your way. Although this may be hard for you to accept, you must, for not everyone will “get” it. Instead, they may prefer to argue with you, or talk you into why late-night construction is okay. 

But it’s often no use trying to reason with the unreasonable — you’ll have to just let it go and not engage with them. Otherwise, it will further eat at your mental health, which won’t do you any good.    

So this is where you just have to do your best — setting boundaries — or invest in some good noise-canceling headphones.                                                                                                                                             

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4. Regardless of what is going on in your life, disconnect and make time for alone time.

It’s no secret that HSPs need alone time — this is so we can decompress after all the overstimulation we deal with on a constant basis. And this is especially important if you are dealing with a stressful situation, too, such as an illness, caregiving responsibilities, loss, or other traumatic event that has caused significant upheaval to your life and mental state.

Your nervous system has had enough — you’re overloaded, and you’re constantly recharging. So commit to silent time and disappear. Whether it’s closing your bedroom door while listening to relaxation music (while holed up in your HSP sanctuary), napping, taking a walk and getting out in nature, or just sitting still and deep breathing, there are endless ways to do so.

Stop thinking, analyzing, worrying, and overthinking (what we HSPs are very good at!) — and simply disconnect for a while in order to reclaim your peace and sanity. Then, you’ll return to your life with a clear perspective and an “I can do it, no matter how difficult it is” attitude. 

Since it is all too easy to become overwhelmed, making this “me-time” is imperative for your mental health.

5. Practice decision-making — making little decisions will help prepare you for making bigger ones.

Sometimes, highly sensitive people struggle to make decisions — but it’s a part of life. Like it or not, you will have to make decisions. At times, others can help you do so — but many you will probably have to make on your own. Think about your work environment again — in my situation, I could have made the decision to leave the office while my coworker talked on the phone (which I did). I also could have consulted a supervisor to get involved (which I also did). Point being, decisions can greatly impact our mental health — so it’s important to make them.

Trust me, I know all too well that it is difficult to think clearly when you are overwhelmed — the pressure can cause you to panic and you may second-guess your decisions and go back and forth until you feel helpless. Plus, you fear making a “bad” decision. 

So, first, consider how soon you need to make the decision at hand. Depending on the time available, conduct research, contact individuals who have made similar decisions, write down your alternatives (and potential results for each), and make a confident decision. There is no other way to do it — and it will do no good to panic if it is the “right” or “wrong” decision. Just give yourself time and work with all the information you have to make the most educated decision (at the time).

Again, you can think of my work example. It was not possible for me to keep working — and stay focused — with my coworker talking all the while. So I made the best decision at the time, in order to make my environment more peaceful and conducive to working.

6. Declutter your home — it’ll give you more room to breathe and relax. 

HSPs require space and structure, as the sight of clutter can cause tension. We all need to clean and get rid of old belongings — or those we haven’t used in a long time (and likely won’t). So perform a thorough inspection of your entire home, breaking it down week by week. 

I did this for three years, one space at a time, and I felt much better when I didn’t have as many things in my house. I don’t need to be a collector, to have stuff in every corner of my house, to feel like I’m in a maze while going through it. I don’t need an abundance of clothing or shoes (that will just take up extra storage space). This also saves you money. Can you donate or sell some of your excess items? I did. It will clear your head and make room for you to feel more at peace and relaxed throughout the day. 

My fellow highly sensitive souls, how do you manage your environment during stressful times? I’d love to hear below!

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