7 Habits Highly Sensitive People Need to Be Happy

A highly sensitive person forms a new habit

Forming new habits is easier than you may think. You just need to try something once… and then do it again… and again.

Well-being is something we all seek. The term “well-being” can be defined as the experience of happiness, health, and prosperity  — and encompasses good mental health and the ability to cope with stress.

In the busy modern world, health and happiness sometimes falls to the bottom of our to-do list, particularly for highly sensitive people (HSPs), who often put the needs of others before their own. Highly sensitive people are empathic individuals with finely tuned nervous systems that register subtleties and nuances in the world around them that other people might miss. This could be anything from picking up on when a friend of ours has a problem to noticing the beauty of a flower.

Good well-being is essential to happiness and is important for all of us, but especially for HSPs. Since we are prone to overwhelm and overstimulation, it’s essential that we incorporate certain habits into our life to help our sensitive souls calm down (and stay calm). 

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, states that a habit is “a routine or a behavior that is performed regularly — and, in many cases — automatically.” For me, developing habits was a pathway toward my goal: to improve my well-being as an HSP. Over the past few years, I’ve learned which habits help make me happy and allow me to thrive as an HSP. They not only help me in my day-to-day life, but also act as a buffer against challenging times.

7 Habits Highly Sensitive People Need to Be Happy

1. Prioritize rest: After all, HSPs need more sleep than others.

Our extroverted world pushes us toward being busy, which HSPs often struggle with, and sometimes that means sleep is a low priority. Good quality sleep is essential for everybody, but because HSP bodies experience accelerated senses and overstimulation, this means we may need more sleep than others.

If I sleep less than eight hours a night for more than two days, I feel ill — and small struggles cast larger shadows than they ordinarily would. Make sleep the number-one habit that you prioritize and you’ll feel the benefits in all other areas of your life, I promise.

2. Set and review boundaries: Are you putting others first too much, at the expense of your own needs?

In her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine A. Aron says “boundaries should be flexible, letting in what you want and keeping out what you don’t want.” Having a happy life means listening to, and honoring, your needs — and this is where it’s vital that HSPs establish boundaries.

HSPs are so highly tuned to the needs of others that their own needs can be crowded out. For instance, maybe your friend really needs someone to talk to about her recent breakup and you stay up late on the phone with her… even though you really need to sleep so you’re prepared for a job interview the next morning.  

In the case above, you can set a boundary by giving your friend 30 minutes of your time instead of letting the call go on for hours. (After all, you want to do well in your interview!) 

HSPs will find it useful to review their boundaries frequently. When I’m feeling irritated by the behavior of another person, I review my boundaries: Have they slipped? Do I need to strengthen them?

3. Environment scans: Is your current environment calm or stressful? 

How often have you been feeling out of sorts, but unable to pinpoint why? In cases like this, I’ve noticed an underlying unease is often linked to my physical environment. Have I been indoors too much this week? Have I spent a lot of time in busy offices, full of intrusive sounds? Could my bedroom be a bit tidier so it’s more like a soothing HSP sanctuary instead? 

HSPs are very aware of subtleties and changes in the environment around them. And, as a result, their sense of happiness can be diminished by challenging, overstimulating environments. As much as possible, make sure your environment is welcoming and makes you feel safe.

4. Daily alone time: Rest and relaxation help reset the HSP soul.

If you spend too much time in go-go-go mode, it isn’t good for your super sensitive HSP nervous system. If it isn’t given the cue to relax, it’ll stay overstimulated. After a day at work — around other people and a lot of stimuli — I need unstructured down time: space to process and decompress from the day’s information and events.

How we choose to spend our alone time is individual to us. I like to read a few pages of my latest book before bed, but you might take a bath, listen to soothing music, or just sit in your backyard and listen to the crickets. Having dedicated time for yourself daily is vital for happiness as an HSP and an important one to make a habit.

5. Reset with movement: Practice yoga or dance to get your body moving and mind calm.

Of all of the habits I’ve built over the past five years, making time to be present in my body has brought the biggest benefits. I feel grounded when I shift from my overactive, highly stimulated mind and connect with my body. I put on music and concentrate on gentle movement, like dancing or yoga. For you, it may be jogging or meditation.

The parasympathetic nervous system is the body’s response to rest and digestion when the body is relaxed. Finding an activity that activates this response — and that combines mindful movement with your breath — will help you to increase your day-to-day happiness levels. 

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6. Stay hydrated: It’s easy to bring along a water bottle.

A simple habit, but a good one, is to stay hydrated. We’ve all read about how important this is; otherwise, lack of hydration places stress on the body. And since our HSP bodies are hyper-alert to changes, we’ll feel the effects double-time!

I always carry non-caffeinated drinks with me, favoring water and herbal teas to coffee. (Plus, coffee is a stimulant… and I want to be less stimulated, not more!) Even being slightly dehydrated can trigger migraines for me, too, so I make sure to monitor my fluid intake daily. If you’re experiencing headaches, it may be due to lack of water. But there’s only one way to find out…!

7. Begin a journaling practice: This is a simple, and effective, way to chart your progress (and emotional well-being).

I use my journal to track my habits — especially when I’m working toward a new goal — but you can use journaling in many ways to help your well-being. You can also use journaling to help make sense of your emotions. Then, when you look back several weeks, or months, you can see what events influenced your moods, and so on. Some therapists have their clients do this, too, to see what kind of patterns arise.

Luckily, there are all types of journaling methods out there, from longform writing in a diary or notebook to Bullet Journaling, a more abbreviated form of journaling. Since HSPs tend to be creative, many can also benefit from writing three pages in their journal every day, too, a practice known as Morning Pages. Created by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, it’s a way to develop creatively and nurture the habit of being a writer. I’ve been writing Morning Pages for months, and you don’t even have to be a creative writer to feel the benefit. Simply grab a notebook and write about whatever comes to mind! 

Start With One New Habit… Then Add Another… and Another

Developing some healthy habits, like the ones above, can make a huge difference when it comes to your well-being. Maintaining them is crucial, in order to keep your mood afloat and even-keeled as an HSP. Because we’re more affected by everyday changes and subtleties around us, while it’s a wonderful trait, it can be exhausting.

For me personally, after a few weeks of not exercising or sleeping as much as I should, I notice I feel more overwhelmed and have more anxiety.

Perhaps seven habits are too many for you right now. That’s okay. Start with one, then gradually add another, and so on. Once you add more healthy habits to your life and begin to notice positive changes (because you will!), you’ll be glad you took that first step to prioritizing your joy and happiness.

Fellow HSPs, what healthy habits do you do regularly to help calm your overstimulated senses?

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