Being a highly sensitive soul isn’t just in your head — it’s also in your skin, your nervous system, and even your pelvic floor muscles.
It is a physically taxing experience to be highly sensitive. In fact, research shows that sensory processing sensitivity (the other name for high sensitivity) is increasingly being linked to physiological reactions.
If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), you probably know this already — you’ve felt physically tired or pained from having your senses be overwhelmed. Scary movies, loud parties, and upsetting news (and more) can all cause physical reactions in a highly sensitive person’s body.
I did some more research into this because of my own health journey recently. I’ve been seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist for several months. (Generally, they can help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles, which can be impacted by things such as childbirth, surgery, menopause.)
As a result of seeing this specialist, I have learned so much about the way being highly sensitive can take a toll on your muscles, skin, nervous system, and more. I’ve also learned how my sensory sensitivity is linked to feelings of anxiety, and how that has affected my muscles and the nerve receptors in my skin. Fascinating!
After learning about this, I went on to do more research, which I will elaborate on below. In short, I’ve discovered many other physiological reactions we highly sensitive people can have, including headaches and a stressed-out digestive system.
Being highly sensitive is a full-body experience. And I wanted to share what I’ve learned in case anyone else might find it helpful. So, here’s what I’ve learned about how being a sensitive soul can take its toll on your body (and don’t worry, it’s not all bad, I promise).
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4 Common Ways Your Sensitivity Is Affecting Your Body
If you’re highly sensitive, you probably have had your fair share of headaches. Whether you’re overwhelmed by a long meeting of constant talking, a concert with too many bright lights and sounds, or just had an emotionally taxing day… Point being, if you’re overwhelmed, you’re likely to feel it in your head at some point.
Psychology and physiology are linked in many ways; for highly sensitive people, the connection can be even more sensitive and obvious. You might get headaches more often, or more intensely.
Research has found that people with higher sensitivity are more likely to get migraines. That makes sense because highly sensitive people may have a heightened response to stress and stress is a major contributor to migraines — especially chronic migraines. So, if you’re an HSP suffering from frequent migraines, you are far from alone.
To help combat this, try and take note of when and where you notice yourself getting headaches. This might help you avoid certain places, people, and times that you know overwhelm you physically. (Also, carrying ibuprofen or panadol with you can go a long way.)
Personally, I have been getting headaches regularly since I was a child. My advice is to take yourself to a dark, quiet room and lie down, put a cold, wet washcloth on your forehead, and close your eyes. A cold, quiet shower — that includes getting your head and hair wet — can work wonders, as well.
Your body reacts to being overwhelmed mentally in unexpected ways; one of these is through muscular contractions. Research has found that anxiety and stress are among the causes of muscles contracting. Furthermore, your muscles can chronically contract as a way to avoid and stifle any overwhelming feelings of overstimulation.
So check yourself when you’re overstimulated or overwhelmed to see if your muscles are tight or clenched. These things can work both ways: Relaxing the body can help you relax and sit with overwhelming thoughts and feelings. You can try meditating, doing yoga, journaling… anything that helps bring you peace.
This can work its way to your digestive system, clenching and tightening the muscles around your intestines and creating digestive issues. Which I will talk about next…
Digestive Issues and Gastrointestinal Stress
As above, the muscles in your body can affect your digestion if you’re clenching and tensing as a reaction to being oversensitive to external stimuli or emotions. There is a lot of research to back this up, too, how our emotions affect our digestive system — and, usually, not for the better. For instance, you can feel nauseous in the gut if you’re nervous, or pain in the stomach if you’re stressed.
Further studies show that your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is sensitive to your emotions. This is especially noticeable in people with no obvious GI disorders who experience a distressed gut, whether it’s increased stomach pains or stomachaches.
Highly sensitive folks can experience this more than others, as we can even be sensitive to the emotions of others, as well as often being more stressed by the world around us.
It’s important to listen to your gut — physically and via your “gut feeling” — when it is telling you that you are stressed out. It’s an indicator that you are overwhelmed and need time alone to decompress and relax.
In my own physiotherapy, I’ve learned how my sensitivity to external stimuli is linked to feelings of anxiety and has caused the nerve receptors in my skin to be on high alert. This phenomenon is referred to as “hypersensitive nerves.”
It can come and go depending on your stress levels, and it is more likely to be a problem if you are regularly hyperstimulated or stressed. This leads your nerves to being on high alert as a defense mechanism. The nerves in your skin react as though you are being threatened and send off big warning signals to your brain. You might feel highly reactive and sensitive to anything touching your skin — which is common among HSPs. (Goodbye, itchy sweaters and tags! However, the reaction can become quite more heightened.)
This is important for highly sensitive folks to be aware of because we are more sensitive to external stimuli. If you are regularly in an environment where your stress response is triggered and hyperstimulated, you can develop a nervous system response that includes heightened sensitivity to touch.
Luckily, this isn’t a permanent or harmful condition; it simply indicates that you are feeling overstimulated and need to take time for yourself away from any stressful environments. (And, of course, speak to your healthcare provider if you have chronic, persistent nerve sensitivity. You want them to rule out any other potential conditions.)
Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System?
HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?
That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.
Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.
The Big Takeaway: Listen to Your Body!
If there’s one piece of advice you take away from this article, make it this: Listen to (and be kind to) your body!
Being highly sensitive can make your muscles tight, put your skin receptors on alert, and give you headaches and even stomach pain. But that doesn’t mean being highly sensitive is a bad thing. (Just look at this article for all the things I love about being a highly sensitive person!)
Just because we burn out quickly, get overwhelmed, and feel stressed more often doesn’t mean we have to suffer. All it means is that you need to take time to look after yourself — to think about where you hold tension, if you’re breathing normally, if you’re clenching your muscles, and so on. Don’t ever underestimate the mind-body connection.
Have you noticed ways that your body is affected by being highly sensitive? Comment below!
You might like:
- HSPs, Your Body Affects You More Than You Think. Here’s How to Make it Your Friend.
- 11 ‘Little’ Things That Overwhelm Highly Sensitive People
- These 8 Things Bring Peace to Highly Sensitive People
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