As I Grew Older, Did the World Get Louder — Or Did I Become More Sensitive?

An older highly sensitive woman smiles into the camera

I’ve come to realize that I’d always been sensitive — I just didn’t know how to identify it before. Now I know I’m an HSP. So what now?

It is my day off and I am alone in my bedroom, as my spouse got up much earlier. I am awake, but I linger in bed. This is my quiet time. My bedroom, my sanctuary. 

I notice the puff of air silently coming out of the humidifier on the sturdy carved wood trunk next to the bed. I feel the soft fullness of my down comforter, and the hint of heat from my electric blanket is quite soothing. 

The room is dim, but I can see the trees and the lovely sunlit marsh through the glass doors. I can faintly hear the gurgling of our fishpond and the conversation of two birds, too. I am reveling in my senses until…

…a chainsaw sounds and intensifies across the marsh.

…a lawn mower cruises through my front yard, courtesy of my next-door neighbor, who is riding it in circles as he cuts our grass in an act of kindness.

…the dishwasher sloshes nightmarishly since my husband turned it on before he went outside. (Thankfully, he shut the bedroom door, so the dishwasher sound is somewhat muffled. But still.)

These are certainly not uncommon sounds, especially in a suburban neighborhood on a spring Saturday. At least my home is in a cul-de-sac — no whooshing noise of traffic passing by, and few, if any, sirens.

Yet, as an “older” highly sensitive person (HSP) inundated with noise like I sometimes am, it may be because the familiar sounds you grew up with have changed. I learned that, to enjoy life as an HSP in the 21st century, it’s necessary to slow down and reevaluate the tools I use, as well as the tasks I undertake. In essence, as an HSP, my overly sensitive nature is at odds with the sounds of modern-day living, and here are five ways I’ve learned to manage.

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5 Ways to Manage as an ‘Older’ HSP in a Modern-Day World

1. Learn to adapt to the modern times, even if you’re nostalgic for the old ones.

I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I spent most of my time outside — not looking at an iPad or through the lens of a mobile phone, but through my own eyes using my visual senses. I looked up and found faces, objects, and creatures in the clouds overhead. In our small backyard, I sometimes would put my arms out to the sides and spin myself around, then lie flat on my back on the lawn and look up. Everything above me moved around. I inhabited those clouds, riding a magic carpet over the earth. And all this goes with my highly sensitive nature, taking in, and appreciating, all the detail around me.

I didn’t need an altered reality headset: I created my own altered reality, and it was fun.

Our grass got cut, but gas-powered lawn mowers didn’t seem to make as much noise back then. Maybe it was because we let the grass grow until it really needed cutting, just as we left the dandelions to be picked and the four-leaf clovers to be found. But now, I adapt.

I choose to enjoy the gentle whirring sound of my push mower. As I push it, the blades turn, cutting the grass quite well without the smell of gasoline fumes. 

When raking leaves, the only sound is the scraping of the metal rake against stone or pavement as I pull the leaves across it. Gardening is my muse.

Inside, I have a wooden hand drill with extra drill bits efficiently hidden in the handle. It was my grandfather’s. It works quite well to drill whatever is needed. When I am not at home, my husband can use all the power tools he likes.   

Though overstimulation from noise can be draining, I enjoy my special sensitivity. Immersing my hands in hot soapy water to wash dishes becomes a relaxing, sensory activity, and one I prefer to the noisy dishwasher.

2. Confront culture clash and adapt to it in your own way.

My sensitive nature did not change, but the culture did.

In the late ‘70s, I met my husband at a local record store where we both worked. I created large paintings of record album covers for display. He took an interest in punk rock bands and enjoyed large concerts. (I did not — too loud, too many people, too much sensory overload.)

But he insisted I attend a Ramones concert with him and tried to convince me that I would enjoy it. Reluctantly, I went to the concert with him. During the concert, people pressed in on all sides, lights flashed, and music blared. My husband engaged in the pushing, shoving, and mosh pit pandemonium. Meanwhile, I looked for a way out.

To this day, I cannot believe what I did. I climbed to the very top of the enormous speakers in the concert area, probably some twenty-five feet high (or more) and perched. Away from the mass of people and quite self-contained, I observed from afar. I stayed aloft those speakers in quite a perilous position throughout the entire concert. It was wonderful. (Well, as wonderful as I could make it anyway!)

3. Pick a partner who understands you and your sensitive ways.

I called it peaceful, yet my husband said our home was like a mausoleum. As I grew older, I continued to crave a quiet, softly lit home atmosphere. When my husband traveled for work, I found that, in his absence, I could enjoy my environment to the fullest. 

One time, when he returned to a silent and softly-lit home, he immediately turned the fluorescent lights on in every room to “liven up the place.” The TV had to be turned on full volume, in not one room, but three, so he could hear it as he passed from room-to-room, putting his things away. My fellow HSPs, can you imagine?

Poof! My peaceful, quiet environment evaporated. I learned then it would have been in my best interest to choose a partner that either understood my sensitive nature or could compromise without pushing my boundaries. Eventually, we figured it out — but say something sooner rather than later!

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4. Know yourself and all the benefits that come with your sensitivity.

As a child, and into adulthood, I was called “shy.” Yet, what more accurately describes me is that I am a quiet person. This attribute was not extinguished with age. While I prefer not to use labels, I understand that I am more sensitive than other people, an outgoing introvert who blossoms if planted in the right soil.

Nearly 30 percent of the population is considered to be highly sensitive — our brains really are wired differently — so I am hardly alone in my sensitivity. We HSPs can look up at the moon and enjoy its beauty without understanding science. (But learning more about it enhances the view.) We can fully appreciate a piece of music we hear, or the birds singing outside our window (if it’s melodic more than chirpy, that is). We can connect with others deeply and give them our full attention, and then some. And the list goes on…

5. Indulge in your creativity, for HSPs are naturally creative — and the world can benefit from what you create.

I learned to capture my sensitivity and harness my assets. So why not develop your sensitive, thoughtful nature into a skill that serves you, embellishes you, and fine-tunes you? Your highly sensitive nature makes your life full and rich and deeply felt.

I love the sensuous process of making art. Beauty in my environment sustains me while nature nourishes me. In fact, at an early age, I began making art. It still sustains me. I learned that I am a very tactile person. 

In college, while other students painted in oil, I enjoyed paper collage and fabrics. I studied wood sculpture. While the other students used chained saws to rough out their designs, I used a set of hand tools for wood sculpting. It gave me great pleasure to hand sand the wood and make it smooth. Later, I used this skill when I worked in a shop, refinishing wood furniture.

Hand sewing is another activity I have enjoyed since I was a child. I used my allowance to buy hand-stamped towels or pillowcases and lovely-colored thread to embroider them. Slow stitching is calming and we HSPs can appreciate all the beauty of each stitch. I even taught my eldest daughter to hand sew when I recognized her sensitive nature. She cried at the sound of the sewing machine, but creating a handmade pillow for her favorite teacher brought her pleasure.

Soo, my fellow HSPs, practice being kind to yourself and to others. Help others understand that you are an HSP and compromise, if possible, but practice self-care and always take care of you first

Sometimes, such as when waking up in the morning, I appreciate the stillness and take time to experience my senses. I believe I have not become more sensitive with aging, but I have simply developed more self-awareness. I have learned to enjoy being me, and doing things my way in a very different world from the one in which I grew up. And I hope you can appreciate the differences now, too, while maintaining your sameness.

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