Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person smiling calmly because she knows how to manage her emotions

6 Ways to Manage Big Emotions as a Highly Sensitive Person

Every HSP has big emotions. Not every HSP knows what to do with them — and it holds them back from living their best life. 

It’s been quite the year for big, emotional topics looming large in our awareness. We’ve all probably experienced some form of struggle stemming from the train wreck that is 2020. Whether we find ourselves in an extended work from home scenario for the first time or whether social distancing keeps us separated from friends and family, it’s been a hell of an ordeal. And that doesn’t even begin to address any personal challenges we may be facing on an individual level.

As someone who is highly sensitive, high levels of intense emotional energy can take a toll if I’m not careful. Essentially, a highly sensitive person (HSP) is anyone born with the biological trait of being extra-attuned to their environment, physical stimuli and, yes, the emotions of others.

What It Means to Be an HSP 

Due to the trait, we HSPs experience life intensely through each of our senses. And that does mean all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. With these senses, we usually notice many subtleties in our surroundings that others don’t.

HSPs are also known for experiencing life on a very deep level internally. This can take up a lot of our energy, and we’re often quiet for this reason. It’s like our internal state has eight browser tabs open at all times: we can still operate, but tasks will take time to complete and there’s a lot going on under the surface. 

Sometimes, it can take us days to process an experience or explore a big, new idea since we tend to get mentally and emotionally flooded more than most. We’re also very conscientious and can easily sense the moods of others; although this can overwhelm us, it also makes us extremely committed and attuned as partners and friends. 

HSPs Experience Emotions — and Life — a Little Differently

With only about 20 percent of the population in possession of the HSP trait, we know and understand that the world is designed for the 80 percent majority, so we learn to navigate life in our own way. 

It’s not that we don’t want to be out in the world — far from it. After we go on our adventures to concerts, travel, or spend a lot of time socializing in unfamiliar spaces, we require extra downtime afterwards to regain our equilibrium. The need to be restored is simply what our biology demands. 

In fact, being an HSP has everything to do with how I perceive the world around me. If I wasn’t highly sensitive, I’m certain I would still be living undiagnosed with my recently-discovered Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease, because my symptoms were so subtle that even I almost missed them. 

I believe my HSP trait makes me more in tune with my body and self, as well as makes me a better sister, friend, partner, writer, and “fur mom.” Embracing my HSP nature and aligning it with how I live has made all the difference between running on empty and living a full life.

The following six elements help me live my best HSP life, especially when it comes to dealing with big, raw emotions (which HSPs have in abundance) in a healthy way. I practice each one daily to create the balanced sense of well-being I want in my life. 

6 Ways to Manage Emotions as a Highly Sensitive Person

1. Take time to listen — really listen — to your inner voice.

Staying tuned in and actually taking the time to listen to the still, small voice inside your head can be scary. HSPs feel their feelings in a big way, and even after years of practice, I still get scared to let myself feel them sometimes. It feels like if I let myself “go there,” I will be swallowed whole. 

But as I like to remind myself on a regular basis: I won’t die from a feeling. Paying attention to misplaced emotions, like anger at something that wouldn’t normally make me angry, is a good place to start, since processing my emotional backlog is a huge factor in my mental and emotional well-being.

2. Move every day: Remember that “emotion” is “energy in motion.”     

Exercise is an essential component to managing my emotions. 

If you think of the word “emotion” as “energy in motion,” it helps describe the concept of emotion as a real energy, and our physical bodies give emotion a vehicle through which to pass. When I first started practicing yoga regularly, I would frequently experience such an emotional release that I’d just burst into tears after a practice (another reason I work out at home). It was so cathartic (especially for my highly sensitive soul).

To get a good balance of activity, I now commit several days a week to weight training and walking around my neighborhood. 

Unfelt feelings, as energy, can get trapped and stagnate. Nothing can access those pent-up energies stored in the body like exercise can.

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3. Journal — daily — to help process your thoughts and feelings.

Journaling is a daily part of my life. I’ve kept a diary or journal since I was a kid, but only as an adult have I used it as a tool for mindset work — and only in recent months have I committed to a daily journaling practice.

On days I didn’t write, it was becoming more and more noticeable that my well-being suffered as a result. Now, my morning ritual after waking up is to make a cup of coffee and take it to my office, close the door, and open up my journal to a blank page to release everything on my mind. Since HSPs tend to be introspective, journaling is ideal for us, I think.

Research also shows that there are also many health benefits of journaling, including reducing stress and clarifying thoughts, and I’d agree. Recording my thoughts on paper helps me see — right in front of me — what’s going on inside, and then I can make informed decisions about how I want to move forward.

4. Nourish your body and soul, from paying attention to what you eat to how you spend your time.

Taking care of myself by attending to all my inputs — the things that influence my life and refer to anything I give my attention to — is huge. They include what I eat, read, listen to, watch, who I talk to, and how I spend my time. 

Being aware of my inputs and making sure they nourish me as an HSP helps me know that I’m using my energy wisely. If things start to feel “off,” usually one of my inputs has gone awry. 

Inputs that always help are nurturing foods that make me feel like I value myself, watching a show that gives me a good belly laugh (thanks, The Office), reading empowering books, listening to fascinating podcasts, and long, intimate talks with meaningful friends.

5. Make sure to set aside time to recharge.

I need time to recharge, preferably alone in the quiet. Over the years, I’ve discovered that my highly sensitive self has about a four-hour social battery for intense, unfamiliar experiences (parties, big family gatherings, outdoor adventures). When that battery runs out, it’s out. It has to be recharged to get back into working order.

My career is based on working from home. Plus, I don’t have kids, so a lot of solitude is built into my everyday life. This did not occur by happenstance, and I’m very lucky to have a partner in life that understands and supports my HSP nature. I enjoy doing things alone because it allows me to replenish my depleted energy. I’m no stranger to browsing bookstores, hanging out by the pool, reading, or exploring the local farmers’ market solo.

In fact, most HSPs thrive when they have time to recharge away from the hustle and bustle or lively groups of people. We then crave quiet and solitude, ideally in our very own HSP sanctuary, where we can control our environment (lighting, temperature, sound, smell, and so on).

6. Relate to others on an authentic level.

HSPs can get way up in our heads; to the casual observer, it may come across as distant or standoffish. I’ve been told more than once about my resting bitch face (sorry, it’s just my face). Often, we’re simply processing our inputs, but the perception that we’re snobby can make it difficult to reach out and relate to people — we just don’t want to burden you with our giant-ass feelings. 

But true connection with another person is incredibly important to almost every aspect there is about being human, especially for us highly sensitive folk. Our well-being, emotional health, and quality of life depend on it. 

It can be hard for me to put into words how difficult it sometimes is to make genuine connections with others. But eventually I get there, and it feels really good to relate to another person on an authentic level, which HSPs often crave.

For more well-being content like this, check out my website at KaceyHayes.com or follow me on Instagram at @kaceyhayeswrites.

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