Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person accesses her strengths.

5 Ways to Access Your Strengths as a Highly Sensitive Person

If you’re like me, you’ve been called “too much” of something — “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “too quiet.” Throughout our lives, many of us highly sensitive people have been told that our trait is a weakness. Or we’ve been labeled anxious, shy, or fragile as a result of being a deeply feeling person who needs time to observe and reflect.

After hearing these negative views of sensitivity, it’s not surprising that we struggle to fully accept ourselves and recognize the gifts of our trait. The truth is that we have many strengths that stem from our sensitivity, such as our capacity for empathy, creativity, and intuition — all of which can make us incredible friends, partners, employees, innovators, and leaders!

Being highly sensitive is not a weakness at all. It can be a powerful asset.

The process of accepting ourselves and discovering our sensitive strengths can be a difficult journey. We have to fight all those negative messages that tell us we are “less than” — messages that may feel true as we struggle to keep up with our non-HSP peers in this loud, fast, and overstimulating world.

Often we feel behind, different, lonely, or out of place. But as we start to value ourselves and prioritize our needs, our internal dialogue shifts to one of self-acceptance.

First, let’s take a look at some of the most powerful strengths of the highly sensitive person. Then, I’ll share five simple ways you can better access those strengths.

7 Strengths of the Highly Sensitive Person

Every HSP has their own unique gifts, and these are just a few of the many sensitive strengths that are possible. In general, highly sensitive people:

  1. Pick up on subtleties that others miss. Noticing little details allows HSPs to be able to anticipate the needs of others, which is a huge asset in relationships and at work.
  2. Feel things deeply. As a result, they’re easily moved; even little moments can bring sensitive people great joy.
  3. Tend to be spiritual or philosophical in nature. Many HSPs feel deeply connected to animals and the world around them.
  4. Are conscientious and honest. This leads HSPs to be committed to doing tasks the right way.
  5. Are very caring, empathetic, and emotionally responsive towards the needs of others. This is due to them having more active mirror neurons (the part of the brain responsible for empathy).
  6. Have heightened perception, insight, and intuition. This allows highly sensitive people to notice nonverbal cues and pick up subtle nuances.
  7. Are highly creative and introspective. They have rich inner worlds and a tendency toward vivid dreams.

Have You Ever Felt Like Your Sensitivity Was a Burden?

Noticing everything while thinking and feeling deeply uses a significant amount of our mental and physical energy. It’s no surprise that we’re often left feeling overwhelmed and anxious — especially if we don’t get enough time to ourselves.

When we’re stressed out and exhausted, being highly sensitive may feel more like a burden than a gift. You may have thought to yourself that it would be easier not to care as much or process every little detail with such great depth.

Perhaps this is true, but we would miss out on all the rich inner experiences and meaningful connections with others that are possible for us as HSPs.

5 Ways to Access Your Strengths

To access the incredible strengths we highly sensitive people possess, we must live a lifestyle that is aligned with our needs and supports our temperament. Here are five tips to help you start doing just that:

1. Make space for downtime.

The most essential practice for any HSP is getting quiet downtime every day. This also includes getting enough sleep to feel rested.

Overwhelm is so common for us because we notice everything around us, whether consciously or not — and then our brains process all that information very deeply. The more we over-schedule and multitask, the more exhausted we become and the more sleep we need. Imagine running your laptop until it overheats. That’s essentially what is happening to our brain and nervous system when we’re doing too much.

Tip: Try giving yourself one hour of unstructured quiet time before bed each night, plus a midday break to sit quietly or go for a walk outdoors.

2. Prioritize your needs.

Getting enough downtime means being able to set boundaries and place limits on our commitments to others. As Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, writes, “No one knows how tired you are except for you.” Saying no can be very difficult for HSPs because we feel guilty when we disappoint others, but it’s absolutely essential to avoid depletion.

Tip: Set a quota on how many social invites you say yes to each week and reserve one day per week as a self-care day. It’s also helpful to say “yes” on your own terms and practice saying “no” out loud to yourself or to others when it feels accessible.

3. Take time for self-reflection.

Since we feel everything so deeply, it’s important for us highly sensitive folks to take time to reflect and sort through our emotions on a regular basis.

Tip: Typically, self-reflection involves journaling, but creating art, talking with a friend, or engaging in expressive movement can all be effective forms of introspection. Create a practice that feels in alignment with your needs.

4. Just breathe.

When we feel overwhelmed or anxious, it’s often because our nervous system has gone into “fight-or-flight” mode. When this happens, you may notice that your breath is shallow, you have difficulty concentrating, or you become physically tense. To calm your nervous system, breathe slowly and mindfully.

Tip: With eyes closed, breathe in through your nostrils then breathe slowly out of your mouth through pursed lips (like you are blowing out a candle). Take at least three slow, deep breaths, seeing if you can make each exhale a little bit longer than the one before.

5. Be kind to yourself.

More often than not, we’ve internalized those negative messages about being highly sensitive, which makes it difficult to accept and be gentle with ourselves during moments of struggle. But being critical with ourselves will only keep us stuck. Instead, use self-compassion practices to calm the inner critic and soothe discomfort.

Tip: Whenever you are being hard on yourself, pause for a few moments to close your eyes and place a hand over your heart. With a soft inner voice, say to yourself: “It makes sense that I am feeling this way. May I be kind to myself and accept myself as I am. This feeling is only temporary.”

When you create a lifestyle that is in alignment with your needs, your strengths can truly shine through.

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