How I Got Over My Fear of Risk as a Highly Sensitive Person

A highly sensitive person woman gazing off into the distance in a field

Sometimes, a single leap is all it takes to find a life-changing adventure — and it may pay off even more for HSPs.

As someone who enjoys being around, and connecting with, people, it can sometimes be difficult to discern where my social battery runs out and when I need to force myself to leave the house and make plans with friends or family. Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) adds a whole new dynamic when trying to balance my “me-time” with socializing. It took me a long time to be okay with the fact that I do not utilize energy the same way that others (who are less-sensitive) do. I felt shame around not being able to always be “on” — for people, for tasks, for work, for myself. Soon, this outlook was spilling over into my career and working environment, too.

I currently work as an au pair in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s been just over two months, and while I’ve enjoyed being here and the excitement of new beginnings, I have also struggled. This is partly due to my nostalgic sentimentality and partly due to my HSP nature. 

Before arriving here, I spent seven years in college, during which I au paired part-time in my home country of South Africa. I have always been someone who adores children, and I’m naturally comfortable around them. (I would like to work with children one day in the field of psychology, which is what I studied.) 

That being said, children usually have a lot of energy, tend to speak at higher volumes, and are particularly stimulated by the environment. While I enjoyed au pairing while living in South Africa, this has been an entirely new experience. There are a number of reasons for this, and they definitely point to my being an HSP.

While there were many risks involved in going abroad and working in a country that’s foreign to me, I feel there are three primary ways I’ve gotten over my fear of risk — all as an HSP. Here’s how.

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5 Ways I Got Over My Fear of Risk as a Highly Sensitive Person 

1. A new living environment means new challenges.

I am a live-in au pair here in Stockholm, which means I stay with the family in their apartment and share my living space with them. I help to look after three kids; they are four, six, and eight years old. As someone who values her own space and alone time, this has challenged me in a whole new way. 

Having not been surrounded by young children in my living space for a very long time, it is definitely still taking some time to adjust to this new way of life. Add onto this the novelty, stimulation, and overwhelm of navigating a completely new city environment and language, and you’ve got yourself an overwhelmed HSP

2. Living in the city, instead of a residential area, is much more hectic and loud.

I have lived in a residential neighborhood all my life. This year is my first time living in the city, which brings with it an extra layer of simultaneous discomfort and excitement. The city sounds and pace of life are so different to what I am used to, as well as the demeanor of its people. 

As someone who loves losing myself in, being surrounded by, and having easy access to nature, adjusting to city living has been tough in a lot of ways. I don’t like to feel as though I am living in a place where nature is contained, but rather, where the buildings seem to be housed in nature. While Stockholm is a beautiful city with so much natural beauty surrounding it, it still has a primarily city feel for me

Of course, there is the possibility of it being credited to the harshness of the winter season. Check back with me when it’s summer — maybe I’ll have changed my mind.

All this is not to belittle city living and those who have chosen this life because they truly enjoy it. I’m merely noting the way that the rhythm and pace of a big, inner city can clash with an HSP’s typically natural inclinations toward ease, flow, and stillness — especially one who’s spent all her life living in residential areas close to a city rather than within it. 

3. A darker climate makes you miss the sun.

The climate and darkness of the North has been a particularly unique experience, too. I arrived at the end of November, during which the transition into December consisted of the shortest days and longest nights. Cold, dark winters are hard for HSPs. Yet the euphoria of a new city to explore, magical snowstorms, and the Christmas spirit helped immensely in dealing with the fact that the sun would set at 2:50 p.m. — 2:50 p.m.!

Still, as a tried-and-true summer person, it was tough. And different. And homesickness kicked in. I missed my boyfriend. I missed my family. And I missed the familiarity and warmth of my home country and its people. Honestly, I still do.

There are days when it feels as if the heartache is reaching into the depths of my soul and I can’t bear it. That sounds so dramatic, and yet, it’s true. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. That depth of feeling, that being a highly sensitive person entails, is something I am, at times, so grateful for… yet, at other times, I long to wish it away. 

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4. It proves HSPs can do hard things.

At the end of the day. I took the risk. I did the daunting, scary thing and I leapt, not knowing where it would take me or how I would react to it. I did it scared, intimidated, and heartbroken — I left my partner and family behind. And, in as many ways as I have struggled with the depth of overwhelm, heartache, and longing for home, I have also felt exhilarated, excited, wonderstruck, and been left with such gratitude that I get to go through this once-in-a-lifetime experience. As a result, I see myself grow, slowly accept risk, and step up in ways I never envisioned myself to be capable of before.

For example… 

I submerged myself in a hole in a frozen lake while snow fell around me in negative-degree weather. I went skiing for the first time at a resort in the North of Sweden. I saw a 300-year old ship that has retained its original structure. I took myself to a bar for live music, danced until 4 a.m. in Stockholm’s clubs, and started up conversations with complete strangers. I saw the Nobel Week Lights Show in Stockholm and participated in a park run in the snow. I put myself out there and went to events to meet new people. I played my favorite sport, netball, again after six years, and moved in with a completely new family. I have experienced so much in the short space of two months… and I’m sure countless more experiences await me, too.

5. At the end of the day, the pay-off is well worth it.

At the end of the day, I know this sensitivity makes me stronger as an individual, not weaker. And it makes me challenge myself in taking these risks and making these leaps — so I can experience growth, adventure, and see more of the world. I am not a natural risk-taker; I love my comfort zone, my space, my routines.

But, in challenging myself and forcing myself to take a step (or many) out of my comfort zone, I have found that there is nothing better than finding that you do have the strength to rise up within you — especially in those difficult times when it seems impossible that you’re going to make it through. The risk pays off because you do it knowing that if you didn’t, you’d always wonder, the inkling of regret forever lingering in the back of your mind.

Yes, I’ve spoken a lot about the things I’ve struggled with since moving to Stockholm. The weather, navigating a new, highly stimulating home environment, city living, with its heightened sounds and pace and rhythms, and I could go on… Most of these things I feel have impacted me quite intensely because of being a highly sensitive individual. But at the same time, that does not limit or invalidate my inner strength and resolve. If anything, all the nuances and little things are even more apparent to me since I’m an HSP, and some of these are what make me happy.

While there have been as many highs and lows, isn’t that the wondrous, glorious beauty of it? To have taken the risk as an HSP, knowing there are certain things that will be harder for me to navigate and get my head around? 

And you know what? I’ve learned there’s always risk. There’s the risk of going and seeing where it may take you, uncertain and terrified and uncomfortable as you are. Or, at the very least, having the opportunity to decide whether what you thought you wanted is what you actually find when you take that leap. 

And then there’s the risk of staying the same and never knowing all that could have been… because you didn’t even try, whether out of fear, discomfort, laziness, or self-doubt.

I’ve found that therein lies the beauty of this one meaningful life we get to live. I’m not going to regret taking this risk, coming here, experiencing these things… For I know that even when it feels really challenging, I would have always wondered, had I not taken the leap. 

And even though I don’t feel as though this culture and environment could be for me in the long-term, I can still value it for all it is and enjoy being here for this year, soaking it all in. I can appreciate the opportunities and things I get to see as a South African living in the capital of Sweden, in the North. If there’s one thing that HSPs can be exceptionally good at, its experiencing something to its greatest depth and fullest breadth. After all, this helps us find our life’s purpose. What a gift — and what a risk worth taking.

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