I used to think there was something wrong with me because I move slower and generally prefer calm over “fun.”
I’ve always hated rushing. As a kid, my parents and teachers were always telling me to “hurry up” or “get moving.” As an adult, I still tend to move slowly, whether it’s doing the dishes or getting out the door in the morning for work. Often this makes me the friend who shows up a few minutes late.
“You’re very deliberate about what you do,” my personal trainer recently told me as I moved methodically through my weight-lifting set.
Just like I need a little extra time to accomplish something, I also hate having too many things to do. Weekends are best when there’s plenty of time to wrap myself in a blanket and relax, and I love having no evening plans after work. A blank spot on my calendar isn’t boring — it’s bliss.
When there are too many tasks on my to-do list, or too many obligations on my calendar, I become a ball of stress. No matter how much I tell myself that “it will be okay,” sometimes my body feels shaky and my mind races — well after the busyness is over. If someone is hovering over me as I try to collect what I need to get out the door, or rushing me onward, it makes those feelings so much worse.
I used to think there was something wrong with me because I move slower and generally prefer calm over “fun.” Then I learned that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), and everything made sense. Highly sensitive people process stimulation deeply, and as a result, they’re more prone to overwhelm. Time pressure is a form of stimulation, and HSPs are extra sensitive to stimulation of all kinds.
No one likes feeling too busy or rushed, but for HSPs, the stress is magnified.
Why Highly Sensitive People Hate Being Busy and Rushed
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, it’s common for HSPs to struggle with deadlines and time pressure. Why? It has to do with our depth of processing.
Our depth of processing affects us in many ways, from causing us to not notice time passing, to overthinking things, to being overstimulated when there’s a lot going on.
In a recent blog post, Aron explains why it’s not unusual for HSPs to run late, even though we’re generally quite conscientious and thoughtful of others. The sensitive person’s depth of processing might cause him or her “to be thinking, maybe planning or imagining, and not noticing the time passing” — in other words, entering a rich state of concentration.
Our depth of processing may also make it harder for us to get out the door and get to appointments or scheduled events.
For example, let’s say you’re an HSP who’s leaving the house for a trip. As you’re packing and getting ready, your depth of processing kicks in. You start thinking about all the possible scenarios that might happen on your vacation (and all the things that could go wrong). Wait, I need my umbrella, because it might rain. Hold on, these shoes won’t be comfortable for lots of walking — I need to change them. And on, and on.
For HSPs, these little things make a big difference. For example, wearing clothing with a tight waistband or uncomfortable shoes can determine whether I have a good day or a bad one! No wonder HSPs put a lot of energy into trying to predict or avoid what others might call “minor” inconveniences.
There’s an upside to this: HSPs are usually the ones who have exactly what anyone might need, from Advil for a sudden headache to a snack at the airport. The downside: All that preparation takes time.
It’s a similar story when we have a lot to do. Our depth of processing makes us think deeply about each task, and we’d generally rather work conscientiously, avoiding mistakes, than rush. And when you can’t cross tasks off your to-do list fast enough, the stress compounds.
Finally, when we have a lot going on — whether it’s a family get-together, a work event, or hanging out with friends — we want to be prepared for those events, and we process them deeply, too. After an event, highly sensitive people need time to “come down” and relax — again, processing every little thing that just happened to us — so it’s stressful when we have back-to-back obligations or a lot going on.
For HSPs, the struggle against busyness is real, as they say. Is it any surprise that sensitive people suffer from frequent exhaustion and emotional burnout?
How HSPs Can Cope With Time Pressure
1. Leave extra time.
When you have to get somewhere, leave extra time. More time than you think you’ll need. Ridiculous amounts of extra time! That way, when your depth of processing kicks in and you start thinking about grabbing extra tissues or changing your clothes, you’ll have the time you need.
2. Make lists of what you need.
I have a master packing list that includes everything I need when I travel. It’s saved on my laptop so I don’t have to recreate it every time I go on a trip, or even think about what I need to pack. You can do this for other things, too, such as a list for what you need when you leave the house for work. This especially helps if you’re responsible for getting young children out the door!
3. Remove extra stimulation.
If possible, pack your suitcase when other people aren’t around. Get ready for the social event with the bathroom door closed. Find a quiet spot to tackle your to-do list. Do things quietly and alone — whenever possible — to remove some stimulation.
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4. Say no.
HSPs are natural givers; we don’t want to let anyone down. Sometimes we say yes when we really should say no. When you say no, you’re saying yes to more energy for the things that really matter. For HSPs, the key is to break the momentum of overwhelm before it overtakes us.
5. Give yourself time warnings.
If you run late because you struggle to pull yourself from your current task (me!), keep an eye on the clock and give yourself time warnings, much like you’d do for a child who needs to quit playing soon and pick up his or her toys. “20 minutes until I need to get ready to leave… 10 minutes…” and so on. You might even try setting a timer (if that won’t make you more stressed out).
In a lot of ways, the busy modern world works against HSPs. While this can create unique problems for the sensitive person, it’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. Aren’t we all trying to slow down and find a little more peace? The world could learn some important lessons from thoughtful, conscientious HSPs.
Do you feel very stressed out when there’s time pressure or lots to do? How do you cope? Let me know in the comments below.