Why Change Can Be So Hard for HSPs (And What to Do About It)

An HSP having a hard time dealing with change

Most of us don’t naturally handle life changes so easily and smoothly that we don’t flinch at all. After reading chapter one of Elaine Aron’s amazing HSP book, I was able to note some interesting facts about my experiences with change:

  • When I went through my first breakup as a teen, I was so devastated that I didn’t eat anything for a week. I never had an eating disorder; I was just sad and didn’t feel like eating.
  • When I started college at a large state school, I couldn’t handle it. I was used to small town life where everybody knew my name. I didn’t make friends there, the classes were so big that I couldn’t get my questions answered, and marching band exhausted me. I felt depressed. I dropped out of band after the first week and left the university after the first semester (although it took an intervention and my parents telling me they wouldn’t be disappointed in me if I quit).
  • When I moved across the country for a new job, there was so much newness there that I burst into tears in front of my new coworkers. Later in the bathroom, I was so overwhelmed that I threw up.
  • For most of the morning on my wedding day, I had terrible anxiety. I do not like being the center of attention, and I almost passed out before having to walk down the aisle. I didn’t feel well most of the day.

Do you see a pattern here?

Most of these changes were wanted changes. And most of them turned out great after the “change period.” I ended up transferring to a smaller college where I did exceptionally well academically and thrived. My new job situation turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Ultimately, change resulted in personal growth.

But I have always felt ashamed of my initial response to these changes, which usually just makes it worse the next time I face a change. Not only am I dealing with my brain on overload, but I’m also dealing with the shame of my body’s responses!

Right before my wedding, as I think I was probably having a panic attack, my perceptive sister told me, “Kati, you have always manifested your emotions physically in your body.” I now realize that what she was talking about happens to many highly sensitive people. When our minds become over-aroused, our bodies flip out.

(Not sure what a highly sensitive person is? Check out this guide.) 

How to Stay Calm Through Change

It’s time to say goodbye to shame and accept who I am as a “mighty sensitive.” I don’t always like how my mind and body react to the overstimulation that comes with life changes, but good things, like empathy and intuition, also come from this same neutral part of me. In facing this reality, I can equip myself to handle change better.

As I become more aware of my self-care needs, I’ve found that I’m better able to deal with change. If you’re a highly sensitive person who struggles with change, here are four things that have helped me.

1. Relying on my support system

I need a feeling of “togetherness.” I need to know I’m not going through the change alone, that I am connected to others who are going through something similar. This is when I turn to a trusted friend, someone who is willing to listen to me process my feelings and encourage me through the change.

2. Being okay with ditching large events

Standing in front of hundreds of people who are all looking at me (like a bride at her wedding, perhaps?) is just not my idea of a good time. In my wellness business, for example, I prefer teaching one-on-one or in small groups rather than in large crowds, because smaller groups are less overstimulating. Our culture prizes large events, large audiences, and large parties, but that’s just not my style. It’s okay to be different.

3. Letting go of other people’s expectations

As an HSP, I can often sense what people want — even if they aren’t saying it. Then I end up “people-pleasing” and giving them the person they need me to be, instead of who I really am. Before I know it, my boundaries are flying out the window and I’m doing something that’s not even me. Sometimes it’s as subtle as sharing personal information with someone who I know gossips, just because they pried, or as big as staying in a job I dislike simply because I feel pressured by influential people in my life. I cannot lose who I am in order to keep a relationship or a job.

4. Using essential oils to feel more grounded

When everything feels shaky, and I’m not sure of myself in a new place, I’ll sprinkle an essential oil blend called Sacred Mountain over my heart and inhale deeply. The oils in this blend stimulate feelings of confidence. Another blend I like is Harmony. This one promotes feelings of love and goodwill toward others. It’s great for HSPs shifting into a new work environment or living situation.

It’s important to allow yourself to need time and space to adjust without feeling selfish or weak. Honor yourself, body and soul, as a way of acknowledging and honoring the way you were made.

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