Highly sensitive people are some of the nicest people in the world — to everyone else. But be kind to yourself, too, especially during challenging times.
When my father got sick, he had many hospital stays in rooms with other elderly sick men. Just walking into his room overwhelmed me — the sights, the sounds, the smells.
“You have to help Daddy in the bathroom,” I’d say to my brother. “I can’t do it.”
“Oh, why, ‘cause you’re an HSP? HSP. HSP!” he’d taunt.
“Yes, because I’m an HSP, and aren’t you glad you’re not?!” I’d reply.
It’s not easy being me. Like other highly sensitive people (HSPs), I get overstimulated easily. Things that may not affect a non-HSP impact me greatly, from the fluorescent lighting in the hospital to the way I feel others’ pain and emotions as though they’re my own. So, what’s an HSP to do?
Consult Dr. Elaine Aron. She’s the one who coined the phrase “highly sensitive person” and has written various books, too, including The Highly Sensitive Person. And when she returned my email with a phone call, I couldn’t believe it. I’d been feeling completely overwhelmed with my father’s illness and caring for him, and I truly didn’t know how I’d survive. She told me to: Meditate. And do yoga.
That’s it? I said. That’s about all you can do, she replied. Although I appreciated her advice, I disagreed. There had to be more I could do. And over the years, here are eight other things I tried.
8 Ways for HSPs to Get Through a Challenging Time
1. Exercise thought control
Exercising thought control is a lot like meditating, but less guru-needing. HSPs can get through something tough, but we also tend to keep those events alive long after they’re over. Don’t. Once it’s over, “let it go” (you may sing here if it helps!). We can’t control what thoughts go through our minds, but we can push them out.
To do so, I actually put my hand to my forehead, grab the offending thought, and throw it out the window. Usually, I have to do it more than once, but believe it or not, it works. “Be gone, you nasty thought,” you could say… or a simple “Get outta here” might suffice.
Keep grabbing and throwing until another thought intrudes, then do the same to that one. Eventually, your mind will get clear so that you can picture your happy place. Then you can stay there for a while until you feel better, calm and at peace.
2. Get creative to mask unwanted smells
To deal with the hospital smells — we HSPs often suffer from chemical sensitivity — I rubbed perfumed lotion under my nose. I chewed gum. If we’d had masks back then, I’d have worn one… or two.
With my own perfumed, minty breath the only thing I’d smell, it worked nicely. Or you can leave the room when you have to: go get coffee, go outside for air, give yourself breaks. You’re not being selfish — you’re doing what you need to do to help, both the other person and yourself.
3. Cry… but with purpose
I know it sounds like what we HSPs do naturally anyway, but try crying with purpose. After all, crying gives you the release you need when overwhelmed due to caring for someone. Get into your car, or go outside for a break, and sob. Get it out. (It helps for when you have to go back in for another round with your loved one.) You may also scream. Do you.
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4. Explain what it’s like to be an HSP
No one really understands you, do they? My family certainly doesn’t. But they need to know what it’s like to be a highly sensitive person. It’s no different than saying, “I can’t see that without my glasses.” You can’t do some things because you can’t. You’re not like them. Things don’t bother them like they bother you. Their brains don’t fire up like yours does (yes, there’s science behind your sensitivities — the highly sensitive brain is wired differently).
In any case, you’ve got to get them to understand you to the point where they say, “Sarah can’t do this, someone else will have to,” just like they say, “Uncle Bob can’t do it, he has a bad back.” Tell them that being an HSP is your superpower and if they don’t smell the horrible thing you smell, then they just oughta listen to you because you’re right.
5. Just say “no”
Saying “no” is where boundaries come into play, which are difficult for HSPs — we’re such people-pleasers that it’s hard to refuse others. But just like Uncle Bob can’t help because of his bad back, sometimes you can’t help because you’re an HSP. Do what you can up to the point that you can’t.
If you cannot go to the hospital every day, have someone switch places with you and then offer to make potato salad instead. Help in the ways you can and leave the rest to someone else. It’s okay, you’ve done your best. Which brings me to…
6. Be kind to yourself
Highly sensitive people are some of the nicest people in the world — to everyone else. We feel their pain, but how about our own pain?
Being overly sensitive is tough. The world, it seems, conspires against us by throwing all sorts of horrors our way — cigarette smoke, a clanging bell, a sick parent… the list goes on. It’s all too much for us and we have to forgive ourselves for not being Superman. Though, to be fair, he was overly sensitive to kryptonite, which probably wouldn’t hurt you at all, right? So there.
So when the going gets tough, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. You can do this by doing something grounding, like meditation or yoga as Dr. Aron suggested. Or you can practice self-care in other ways, such as soaking in a fragrant, bubbly bath, or listening to a favorite CD while reading a great book. Even making time for some alone time to recharge is a way to be kind to yourself.
7. Hire help
You don’t have to, and mostly likely can’t, do everything yourself. If you don’t have help, get it. See what insurance can cover and it’s amazing how many free services there are out there, too, once you start looking. Perhaps you even let your loved one pay (my dad covered my bills while I quit work to care for him). Don’t go through what might be the worst event of your life alone. Ask for the help you need. Look into at-home nursing or hospice care (your loved one’s insurance might pay for it) and other services.
8. Remember that you will get through it
My father’s illness, and eventual passing, did a number on me, no doubt. But that was nearly 10 years ago and I’m still standing. And I can tell you that as the days went by — and the things I needed to do got harder — I got stronger. Grit your teeth and “man up” as my dad used to say. (Or “woman up” — but you get the idea.)
Tough? Yes. Impossible? No.
Love is stronger than your sensitivities, it really is. Use the love you have to help your loved one get through what’s actually harder on them than you. Then go home and cry, grieve, and fall apart, watch a funny movie, and release yourself from the sadness. It’s not wrong to be okay sometimes during something terrible. It’s essential.
Do whatever you have to do to get by, and feel no guilt about it. HSPs do the best we can. It’s all anyone should ask of us.
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You might like:
- How to Actually Set Better Boundaries as an HSP
- The Secret Benefits of Crying, Grieving, and Falling Apart, According to a Therapist
- These 8 Things Bring Peace to Highly Sensitive People
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