Highly Sensitive Refuge
An empty New York subway

As a Highly Sensitive New Yorker, I’m Resetting During Social Isolation

I used to find the city overstimulating. Now I miss its bustle of sights and sounds.

Being squished tight next to commuters on the subway. The bright lights of Times Square. The clamor of street carts and performers. The tourists and business people rushing around Midtown. The sounds of sirens and taxi horns. Watching the movement of every car, bike, and pedestrian to stay safe on the street. These are just a few things that I constantly take in while living in New York City as a highly sensitive person (HSP). 

Except those sensations are gone right now. And, for the time being, so am I.

At the beginning of March, all of these elements of NYC were still alive and well. By the end of March, this was far from the case. The COVID-19 cases were quickly rising, people were staying home, and my family and I decided that I should leave the city. At that moment, I was so focused on dropping everything — booking a ticket back to my Illinois hometown and packing — I didn’t think about how almost everything was about to come to a standstill.   

The first two weeks I was gone, I hardly missed the big city. Being away from it gave me a brief reprieve from the city’s usual hustle and bustle. And it felt nice. For me, the biggest challenge about living in NYC has always been the overstimulation from everything happening there. The city can be overwhelming at times, which is why I prioritize having a clean, quiet space to go home to in Brooklyn, with an adorable dog and beautiful views. I need a balance of peaceful moments to balance out the hectic ones. 

Then something changed. I began to feel the absence not just of NYC, but of its atmosphere.  

Do I Miss Being Overstimulated?  

By the third week of social isolation, I started to miss New York. My heart hurts for the city as much as for the people going through this horrific time. It scares me that things are mostly dormant now. As an HSP, it’s weird for me to say this, but I miss being overstimulated!

There isn’t always enough discussion around how even highly sensitive people want some level of stimulation. Yes, we process information deeply, and we can get overstimulated at times. But no one wants to be shut inside forever, right? And the energy of New York helps to make the city what it is. It’s sad to see it shut down — all its energy dissipated. I miss being there amid the day-to-day bustle. 

Yes, Even Stimulating Moments Can Be Beautiful

I believe as HSPs, we have the power within us to appreciate all the details of a person or place, more so than the average person. This ability is what makes me the photographer, videographer, and New Yorker that I am. I love to notice and capture all the details that make a place unique. I think we can cultivate an appreciation for those small moments when we emerge from this time of social distancing.

We can strive to appreciate the taste of that first sip of coffee with a friend. To appreciate the busy street, full of hardworking people going to work. To appreciate the dogs barking and children playing in the park during summer. Yes, maybe even to appreciate the noise of Times Square once in a while. The many sensations that can overwhelm us can also be something to savor when we focus on their small, beautiful meanings in the larger context of our lives.

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Learning to Press ‘Reset’

This is no doubt a hard time for most of us — whether it’s life being upended, losing jobs, doctors and nurses working extreme hours, or the passing of loved ones. While we are grateful for the first responders who are putting their lives on the line, many of us are doing our part by staying at home. That comes with some powerful feelings, whether that means you feel guilty for enjoying this moment or, like me, you’re surprised to be missing a more active lifestyle. 

To deal with that, I’m doing my best to accept and honor my sadness for what’s happening, but still be grateful for what I’m gaining from this time at home — a chance to reset and recharge. As HSPs, this can be a time of rest for those of us who push ourselves to be successful in an overstimulating world. I’m particularly cherishing quality time with my immediate family. This is one of the few times in recent years that everyone in my family has been home together. 

I’m also reflecting on my priorities and passions while being out of the city. At the end of a busy day in NYC, I’m often too tired to explore my hobbies. This time away is giving me space to see what I gravitate towards when I have extra energy and time, helping me discover what I’m passionate about currently. I’m hoping to carry that forward when we — eventually — go back to our ordinary lives.

Find Your Balance When Life Returns to Normal

If you live in a big city like me, maybe you sometimes feel guilty for craving a day inside when there’s always more to do right outside your door. With all of us at a standstill now, we’re learning how healthy it is to take a break. That will help us even more when the world becomes overstimulating again. Many of us could do with taking a few more moments to slow down, even when it’s no longer enforced. 

While it’s unclear when our lives and cities will return to normal, I hope this can be an opportunity for each of us to recharge as HSPs. And when the time comes for us to head back out into the stimulating world, let’s appreciate each detail in our daily lives for all its worth — even the ones that are a little too “loud.” 

To hear more of my thoughts on what it’s like living in NYC as a Highly Sensitive New Yorker, visit my YouTube channel here

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