Highly Sensitive Refuge
a highly sensitive person relaxes during the holidays

8 Things All Highly Sensitive People Need to Survive the Holidays

The holidays can be tough for anyone, but they can be especially stressful when you’re a highly sensitive person. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are the 15-20 percent of the population whose nervous system processes everything more deeply. Being highly sensitive means that you deal with all the normal stresses of the holidays, but for you, they’re all cranked up to an 11. If you’re an HSP, you might already be frazzled and overstimulated before you even get to your family holiday gathering. And it only gets more overwhelming from there.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, in talking and working with HSPs, I’ve found that the biggest thing they need at any stressful time is simply permission to be who they are. That means honoring their own needs as highly sensitive people and communicating those needs to others.

Here are eight things all highly sensitive people need during the holiday season to stay sane.

What Highly Sensitive People Need During the Holidays

1. Relaxing, low-key holiday activities

Because they process every detail in depth, HSPs tend to get overstimulated much more quickly than non-HSPs. They may need to move slower, think things through longer, and avoid too many high-intensity activities (like loud music, fast-moving games, or spirited family discussions). Unfortunately, holiday events tend to be a whirlwind of sensory and emotional stimuli… and it takes a lot out of them. Don’t be surprised if an HSP shows up with a coloring book, some knitting, or a sketchpad so they can do something low-intensity while others party.

2. A chance to recuperate alone

In a highly sensitive person’s ideal world, every holiday would come sandwiched between a self-care day the day before, and another one the day after. This isn’t because HSPs don’t like people; many feel happiest when around their friends and loved ones. However, the highly sensitive nervous system takes in mountains of information — and processes every bit of it. That’s why HSPs often need to recuperate alone, for hours or longer. If you’re highly sensitive, consider scheduling some free evenings or self-care time during the holiday season, and treat them as hard commitments just like family events.

3. Loved ones who understand high sensitivity

There’s no question that high sensitivity is still widely misunderstood. But there’s no reason for it to be — it’s a trait that occurs in over 100 species, it’s a well-understood part of human psychology, and it’s common enough (about one in every six people) that just about everyone knows an HSP. Too many families treat their highly sensitive loved one as a black sheep, or openly criticize them for being “too sensitive” or “overreacting.” When a relative takes the time to understand the definition of a highly sensitive person, or simply listens without judgment when an HSP explains it, that counts for a lot. And it feels good to have at least a few relatives who really do understand and accept you.

4. The right to say “no” to an invitation

Being invited to a holiday gathering feels good (usually). It’s important to spend time with the people you love.

But you know what else feels good?

Saying no.

The truth is, many HSPs feel pressured to attend events even if they know it will be overstimulating. And highly sensitive people often struggle to set boundaries. Because they care very much about the emotions and needs of those around them, they work hard to make their loved ones happy — often even at their own expense. During the holidays, this can result in crashing and burning out from too many obligations.

If you’re highly sensitive, it’s okay to turn down some holiday events for the sake of your wellbeing. And if people keep pressuring you to come anyway — even after you’ve clearly expressed your boundary — remember that they’re the rude ones, not you.

5. Permission to leave early

Sometimes you don’t need to skip an event entirely to avoid overwhelm. But it can do wonders for a sensitive person’s happiness if they feel like they can leave early (without being made to feel like a bad person for it). Ultimately, HSPs have to give themselves permission to do this, but it makes a big difference when others are understanding.

6. A supportive partner

If you’re the spouse or partner of a highly sensitive person, you need to know that your HSP is counting on you to support their needs. They know that they will get overstimulated at a certain point, and they need you to run interference and help them avoid that.

That may mean leaving earlier than you otherwise would, agreeing to skip some obligations or go to some on your own, or simply listening to them and helping them enforce boundaries. Every HSP will be different, but if you’re willing to support them, their holiday season is going to be a much happier one.

7. Less time with toxic relatives

You know how everyone thinks their family is a little messed up? Well, a lot of the time, it’s not the whole family; it’s just a few difficult individuals. And, as an HSP, dealing with those people can be far harder than it would be for others — both because you feel the interaction very deeply, and because you process it over and over afterward. As a bonus, HSPs seem to be a favorite target for rude and offensive people.

Which is why it’s such a game-changer when other people in the family help minimize these toxic individuals. That could be by not inviting them, talking to them beforehand about behavior expectations, or providing a setup where it’s easy to be in a different room. In general, HSPs become more relaxed just knowing that they won’t have to face a confrontation with a known loudmouth.

8. A simpler, more meaningful celebration

Too often, the world thinks that bigger, grander, and more expensive simply MUST be better. Especially during the holiday season. What we often forget is that every holiday is, at its core, a way to bring people together. And each holiday has its own meaning that matters far more than elaborate celebrations. Highly sensitive people think deeply about things in life, and they often value a simpler, more meaningful celebration. They crave simple together time with the people they love, without the stress of the “perfect” party.

Highly sensitive people, what would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.

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