As a highly sensitive person, I have a different definition of fun — and relaxing.
I used to be convinced that there was something wrong with me, because I couldn’t enjoy the same activities that others took so much pleasure in — things that were relaxing for them, but stressed me out. I was convinced that I was boring because I chose to stay home, or I was a buzzkill because I left events early. It wasn’t until I learned what it means to be a highly sensitive person (HSP) that I realized nothing was wrong with me — I’m normal, just different.
Highly sensitive people are the roughly 1 in 4 individuals who process their environment very deeply. That means we notice things others miss, tend to be physically and emotionally sensitive, and can get overstimulated in situations that others find comfortable. It was eye-opening to realize there is nothing wrong with me: as an HSP, I simply have different needs and it is incredible how my life has shifted since I have accepted this.
One important realization that I’ve had to make is that activities that others may find relaxing are actually quite detrimental to me, and that I need to find other activities to suit my needs and to allow me to relax.
Here are a few of those “normal” activities that I find to be too much — and nine actually relaxing activities that HSPs can do instead.
These “Relaxing” Activities Really Aren’t — At Least for HSPs
Certain Types of Shows and Series
I love to immerse myself into a movie or binge watch a good television show, but sometimes I can actually feel my blood pressure rising while watching TV. I especially have a hard time with sitcoms, where actors often feel the need to be extremely over the top in order to be funny. My husband knows there are certain sitcoms he can’t watch around me because they immediately push me over my threshold (I’m looking at you, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with Charlie Day’s penchant for shouting every line). I also have to be extremely cognizant of how much violence there is in anything I watch because this affects me much more than others, something that is quite common for highly sensitive people.
Drinking to Get Buzzed
Oh don’t get me wrong, I love a cold beer with my pizza or a glass or two of wine with… well, anything (what situation does wine not suit?!), but then I pretty well max out. Not because I’m a lightweight, but because I just don’t enjoy the feeling of being drunk. Some HSP’s use alcohol to numb themselves and the exhaustion that comes with being constantly stimulated while others (like myself) are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. If I do end up overindulging, the next day I find that I wake up already exhausted and overstimulated and anything the day throws at me ends up being just too much.
Scrolling Social Media
Although the negative effects of social media are not unique to HSP’s, it is easier for HSP’s to become overwhelmed while spending time on social media. Social media is rife with conflict and negativity and it is incredibly easy to absorb others’ emotions, which is something that most HSP’s are extra sensitive to. Social media is also highly stimulating and never-ending, further complicating life for those of us who process things more deeply. For me personally, if I find that I have spent too much time on social media, I notice that I’m more easily overwhelmed and much more prone to being in a bad mood.
Fast-Paced, High-Sensory-Bombardment Video Games
Since a highly sensitive person’s brain never stops and processes every single stimulus, there is a limit to the amount of excessive noise, bright colours and flashing lights that I can tolerate. If my brain is already full and my nerves are already frayed, all this sensory stimulation can set me over the edge pretty quickly.
Are there HSPs who love video games? Definitely. But we have to be a lot more aware of the amount of stimulation we’re getting from gaming, preferably before we hit our limit. (Of course, there are some relaxing video games where this isn’t such a big factor.)
So what can you do instead? Well…
9 Relaxing Activities that Work for Highly Sensitive People
Of course, HSPs need to unwind too. Instead of participating in these overstimulating, draining, sometimes exhausting activities, I love to instead bask in the simplicity of the following:
1. Long, quiet, candlelit baths
These are quite literally the definition of pure bliss! The bright lights are dimmed, all noise is blocked out, there are no uncomfortable clothes to contend with and I’ve of course chosen a soothing bubble bath with a relaxing scent. Sometimes I like to read and sometimes I like to just be. I also turn my phone off so I am completely unreachable. If you’re short on time, “dark showers” are also helpful and involve similar things; dimmed lights, silence and relaxing scents.
2. Just sitting — yes, sitting — with my eyes closed.
Written out it sounds a little lame but these are some of my happiest moments. I love to get comfy and warm somewhere quiet and just close my eyes and process my thoughts without external stimuli competing for my attention. And yes, sometimes these moments turn into naps, so if you have a time constraint, make sure you set an alarm!
On that note, naps and sleep in general are key as an HSP. It is absolutely exhausting to notice and process all the minute details that the majority of society is impervious to. There is no shame in requiring more sleep than our less sensitive counterparts. This fact took me a long time to accept, but since I have, I’ve become more productive, more motivated and get sick significantly less often. If you’re not convinced (or feel guilty for “indulging”), check out this article by Julie Bjelland, queen of HSP’s!
4. Long walks (on the beach or otherwise!)
Isn’t it funny how your thoughts just seem to untangle themselves as your legs move and the miles pass by? I very rarely listen to music on my walks; as an HSP my mind keeps me quite occupied. It’s nice to have an opportunity to truly “think” my thoughts rather than barely noticing them as they blaze through my head, surrounded by hundreds of other stimuli to compete with them.
I’m by no means an extreme yogi and I’m fairly certain I’m doing half the positions completely incorrectly, but I’m okay with that! Yoga offers multiple benefits for just about anyone, but for HSP’s, the opportunity to participate in a relaxing activity in an environment with less noise and stimulation can be particularly helpful. I’ve especially found the focus on breathing techniques to be invaluable, both during the yoga routine and in my everyday life.
6. My tidy routines
I’ve created specific routines for myself that I find great comfort in. For example, before bed, I make a cup of tea that I take upstairs with me to enjoy while I read in bed. While the water boils and the tea steeps, I wash leftover dishes, tidy a section of the house or just complete one of those quick, lingering chores that I never seem to have time to get to. Because the physical environment affects HSP’s so strongly, it is important for me to keep my home as calm and soothing as I can. As a bonus, because I’ve purposely kept these activities within a short timespan (ten minutes for my tea and tidy routine!), I can usually psych myself to complete the routine, no matter how tired I am and I always feel calmer after.
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7. Writing — for yourself or others
We’ve all heard of the benefits of journaling but I also enjoy writing and researching blog posts, writing nonfiction or even writing letters. Although my mom and I talk everyday via Messenger, we’ve started to write actual letters to each other. Since we’ve already filled each other in on the important (and mundane) matters from our day on Messenger, our letters consist of us asking the other person a couple of questions that the person then answers and sends back with additional questions. It’s alot of fun to get to know my mom in this way and I know I’ll treasure these letters forever.
8. Playing piano (or any instrument you love!)
It took me awhile to get to this point where playing music wasn’t a stressful chore (flashbacks to childhood piano lessons, anyone?), but now that I’m able to play what I want, when I want (and stop when I want), I find this to be a great emotional release and very relaxing.
9. Puzzle Games
Although fast-paced video games can be incredibly overwhelming, calm puzzle games can be a wonderful destressor. I especially like 2048, Quell and card games like Spider Solitaire. These games allow me to place things into some semblance of order even when my thoughts or my life are jumbled and very much out of order.
Although it can be difficult for our less sensitive friends and family members to understand, it is so important for highly sensitive people to recognize that our bodies and minds relax in different ways and to unapologetically stand up for our needs. It may take some trial and error to discover and identify the activities that are truly relaxing for us, but once we find them, they can truly be life changing.
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