Highly Sensitive Refuge
A successful highly sensitive person in a suit leans against the wall in an executive office.

This Is How Highly Sensitive People Succeed in the Workplace

As I slouched at my laptop, I felt like the world was crashing in on me. I was sitting in the makeshift home office I’d made out of my son’s room, but it was far from serene. My son continuously burst in to remind me that we still had to work on his latest ELA assignment due that night, and I fretted over the amount of screen time my daughter had accrued that day. Beyond my “office,” I could hear loudly clanging plates as my husband shuffled around the kitchen, reminding me of what a mess it had become without extra tending. 

My role as a sales manager had become extremely difficult in the pandemic environment. I was constantly looking at my company’s numbers, identifying ways to increase them at a time when everything was in a downturn. My company seemed to need more and more from me at a time when my family obligations had skyrocketed. 

Like many highly sensitive people, I can feel overwhelmed on a good day, but this particular day was a storm of exceptional magnitude. As I tossed and turned that night at 3 a.m., I found myself diving further into despair, especially about work. I’d long enjoyed the challenge of my career, but I began to think about stepping down a few levels in order to give myself some breathing room. 

I’d been climbing the corporate ladder for so long now. Maybe I was grasping for rungs that were out of my reach? Things didn’t seem in balance anymore. What if I was completely missing the mark of what was meaningful in life? My highly sensitive nature didn’t feel prepared to handle work during such extreme chaos. 

When Work Becomes Overwhelming for HSPs

My anxiety kept building and building as insomnia took over. Giving up on the hope of sleep, I turned on my laptop and came across a post from this very site that reminded me I was not alone. The depression — and overwhelm — I’d been feeling since I’d started working from home (in a pandemic!) was normal. Stressful situations affect HSPs more acutely than others, so it’s no wonder that I didn’t exactly feel like a stellar employee at the moment.  

I was clearly not accounting for that need in the “new normal.” I needed to figure out a way to deal with my family’s needs and decompress at home, all while strategizing ways to succeed at work and empower a more-than-capable-team to find their way amid high levels of ambiguity. 

Although sometimes my highly sensitive nature feels like a drawback, it’s actually an advantage. Rather than step down or change careers, I realized I could lean into my HSP superpowers, and use my unique traits to create a work life where I would not be crushed, but where I would actually thrive. 

Here are six tips for HSPs to flourish at work during uncertain and stressful times. 

6 Ways HSPs Can Thrive at Work During Stressful Times

1. Build a road map.

HSPs constantly pick up on nuances happening all around us. This can be extremely overwhelming in the moment, but taking time immediately after an experience to write out our observations can give us a basis for a roadmap that we can later break into smaller actionable chunks. This becomes less overwhelming, more manageable, and an ultimately effective way to guide yourself through uncertain times. 

2. Connect with team members.

HSPs excel at making deep connections with people. When leading teams, that type of meaningful connection can serve as a driver for employees to do exceptional work above and beyond their daily duties. 

During team meetings, which are now largely driven by webcams, set aside time to connect with your team on a personal level. Themed meetings or reflective questions can help engage people to share more than just the numbers and feel more bonded as a team. Even if the work itself feels impossible at times, creating a healthy team morale will help you feel more grounded and the team to feel more capable of completing their tasks.  

3. Set aside time to dream.

HSPs can see beyond the mundane and envision outcomes beyond their wildest dreams. Turning those dreams into reality can produce stellar results that get noticed at the highest levels of an organization, if they are properly executed. 

Set aside a little time each week to dream. Then write those dreams down per my first piece of advice. Later, chunking out actionable items will ensure your brilliant and original ideas get turned into projects that will drive tangible results.

4. Keep your workplace organized as much as possible.

Budget time to continuously reorganize. HSPs can easily become overwhelmed by messes that sneakily suck the life out of you. While not fun, organizing your workspace throughout the day will provide much needed and continuous peace.

If you’re working from home like me and your workspace isn’t truly yours (like me with my son’s bedroom), find ways to keep it as clutter-free as possible. Carve out a corner of the room that’s off-limits when you’re not working. Or arrange a portable table that you can keep easily keep organized. The book Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind by Dan Charnas is a fantastic “how-to” that highlights the calming power of this concept.

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5. Make it meaningful. 

HSPs are “higher purpose” driven — we need to know our work makes a difference. We have to remind ourselves often of those higher ideals, especially if we haven’t chosen a career that typically suits our unique composition. 

Sitting down to reflect upon how we can connect certain everyday actions to a loftier purpose will remind us of why we chose the career in the first place. We should schedule time within our days to complete actions that fuel our overarching desire to meaningfully contribute, even if those actions don’t always directly hit the bottom line.

6. Manage your energy.

Remember to manage your energy, not your time. I can’t take credit for this concept, but check out this two-minute video by Gaining Traction. It gives you the freedom to schedule your energy on your terms. This concept is very important for HSPs. Every minute of every day takes energy from us at a rapid pace since we are continuously and deeply processing so many things around us, even when we don’t realize it.

Once you learn how to manage your energy, you’ll apportion it to the tasks at hand so that when you’re working you’re not stressing about the cluttered kitchen, and vice versa.

Effectively executing the above six strategies can help you manage stressful situations and thrive at work despite the circumstances. Although the world seems to prefer “louder” personalities, our HSP superpowers are secret weapons that help us work intuitively, lead teams empathetically, and get actionable, meaningful results. 

Don’t forget that life isn’t solely about work, though. Schedule in a cushion to recharge, and don’t feel guilty about it. You’ll be a better employee if you’re ready and raring to go.  

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