How I Learned to Accept Risk as an HSP — and Why It Pays Off

A highly sensitive person sits comfortably on top of a cliff gazing at the sky

Highly sensitive people don’t like taking risks — and that can hold us back. Here’s how to take risks the sensitive and safe way.

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are more attuned to their environment, and more easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, than the general population. As a result, they tend to be more cautious and hesitant when it comes to taking risks.

This could be true for a variety of reasons. For instance, because they have a high degree of empathy, they feel others’ pain as though it were their own. So this could make them hesitant to take risks that could potentially harm others. Similarly, HSPs feel pain more so than most, so to avoid it, it’s easier to not take a risk that may result in physical or mental pain.

HSPs also tend to overthink, like replaying a mistake over and over again in their head. So they may hesitate taking a similar risk, as they don’t want to make the same mistake again. Yet another reason could be fear of the unknown, as sensitive people usually don’t like change

But if you’re an HSP who’d like to practice taking more risks, here are some ways to start.

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5 Ways to Better Accept Risk as an HSP

1. Practice exposure therapy and do one step at a time.

Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to a feared situation or stimulus in a controlled way. Here are some steps that HSPs can take to practice exposure therapy.

  • Start with a small, manageable step that feels slightly outside your comfort zone. For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, you can start by speaking in front of a small group of friends or family members.
  • Gradually increase the difficulty or challenge of the situation. With public speaking, you could gradually increase the size of the audience, or try speaking in a more formal or high-pressure setting.
  • Practice relaxation and coping techniques to help manage any anxiety or discomfort. This could include deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, or positive self-talk (your internal dialogue). Instead of feeling like you’ll bomb your speech, remind yourself that you’re confident about the subject matter and know what you’re talking about. 
  • Seek support from others. Exposure therapy can be a challenging process, so it’s important to have a support system in place. Reach out to friends or family members who can provide encouragement and support, or consider working with a therapist.
  • Be mindful of your limits. It’s important to be aware of your limits and not push yourself too hard. If you find you’re becoming overwhelmed or overly anxious, it’s okay to take a step back and regroup. Listen to your mind and body, and be kind to yourself throughout the process.

2. Keep track of your small victories and continue to build on them.

Since HSPs may be more prone to self-doubt and negative self-talk, it’s important to celebrate even small victories and progress. Here are some tips on how to do so.

  • Recognize and appreciate your progress. Take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the progress you’ve made, no matter how small it may seem. Give yourself credit for the effort you’ve put in, and recognize that every step forward is a victory.
  • Focus on the positive. Celebrate the positive aspects of your experience and highlight the things that went well. This will help you build momentum and feel more motivated to continue working toward your goal or the risk(s) you’re taking.
  • Share your successes with others. Sharing your successes with others can help you feel supported and encouraged. Tell your friends and family members about your risk-taking accomplishments, and allow them to share in your joy and excitement.
  • Treat yourself. Celebrating small victories is also about treating yourself to something special or indulgent. This could be anything from a favorite meal or snack to a relaxing day at the spa or a new item of clothing.
  • Reflect on your growth. Take some time to reflect on how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown. Consider how your accomplishments have helped you develop new skills or confidence, and use this as motivation to continue pushing forward.
  • Set new goals. This can also be a time to set new goals or challenges for yourself. Use your successes — like the public speaking example — as a springboard to take on new challenges.

3. Try new experiences with a trusted friend first.

Sensitive people may find it easier to take risks if they have a trusted friend or family member to share the experience with. Having someone you trust to support you and share in the experience can help reduce anxiety and make the experience more enjoyable. Here are some ways to do this.

  • Once you choose your trusted friend, start small. Choose a new experience that feels relatively safe and manageable, like publicly speaking to 10 people vs. 100.
  • Take some time to plan the experience ahead of time. This can include researching the activity, choosing a date and time, and discussing any concerns or fears with your friend.
  • Be open and honest with your friend about your feelings and concerns. Let them know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not comfortable with, and ask for their support and guidance.
  • Take breaks when needed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, take a break, go for a walk, or simply take some deep breaths and “do nothing.” 
  • After the experience is over, take some time to reflect on what you learned and how you felt. Celebrate any accomplishments, and use any challenges as a learning opportunity for future experiences.

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4. Use visualization techniques to imagine your desired outcome.

Visualization techniques involve imagining yourself in a particular situation and mentally rehearsing how you would like to respond or behave. They can be a helpful tool for reducing anxiety and building confidence. Since HSPs are naturals at channeling their creativity, this should come easily to you.

For example, if you’re preparing for a public speaking gig, you can visualize yourself giving your speech calmly and confidently. Rehearse it in your mind, including how you would like the situation to play out (i.e., with everyone clapping and giving you a standing ovation). Here are some steps for HSPs to follow when engaging in visualization techniques.

  • Choose a specific situation that you want to visualize. This could be anything from delivering a successful presentation at work to going skydiving.
  • Find a quiet, comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Use your imagination to visualize the situation in as much detail as possible. Imagine yourself in the situation, using all your senses to create a vivid mental picture. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste?
  • As you visualize the situation, create a positive outcome in your mind. Imagine yourself succeeding, feeling good, and achieving your goal. This can help build confidence and reduce anxiety.
  • Practice your visualization regularly, ideally every day. Research shows that this can help build new neural pathways in your brain and reinforce positive thinking patterns.
  • Use positive affirmations to reinforce your visualization. Repeat affirmations in present tense, such as “I am confident and capable,” “I am confident and clear when speaking in public,” or “I trust in my ability to handle whatever comes my way.” The more personal they are, the better. Then, repeat them on a regular basis, ideally multiple times a day. You can say them out loud, write them down, or repeat them silently to yourself.  

5. Focus on the potential benefits more than the drawbacks.

Highly sensitive people may be more likely to focus on the potential downsides of taking a risk vs. actually taking the risk. But to conquer these limited beliefs, it can be helpful to reframe your thinking and focus on the potential benefits instead. Here are some ways to shift your perspective toward the positive.

  • Make a list of all the positive outcomes that can come from taking the risk. Then, remind yourself of them when you’re feeling hesitant. For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, think about how much the audience will benefit from your talk, as well as how much it will boost your confidence. (You can write the list by hand or have it accessible on your phone.) 
  • Practice gratitude. Research has found that taking time to reflect on the things you’re grateful for can help shift your focus toward the positive aspects of your life. Consider making a daily habit of writing down at least three things you’re grateful for, no matter how small they may seem. This will help you tackle bigger things, like the speech you’re afraid to give.
  • Embrace your sensitivity. Being highly sensitive is not a weakness; it’s a unique personality trait that can provide many benefits. Embrace your sensitivity and focus on the positive aspects it brings to your life, such as greater empathy, intuition, and creativity. These can all assist you when it’s time to take a risk.
  • Cultivate positive relationships. Surrounding yourself with positive people who appreciate and support you can help you feel more confident and positive about any risks you’d like to take.
  • Practice self-care. As an HSP, you may be more prone to becoming overwhelmed and stressed. Prioritizing self-care can help you manage your emotions and feel more positive. This may include things like meditation, exercise, and getting enough rest (especially since HSPs need more sleep than most!). These will all help when it comes time to feeling confident about taking risks. 
  • Set goals. Setting achievable goals can give you a sense of purpose, which can help shift your focus toward the positive aspects of your life. In turn, this new mindset can challenge you to take risks. 
  • Engage in activities that bring you joy. Whether it’s listening to music, spending time in nature, or pursuing a creative hobby, doing activities that bring you joy can help you feel more positive and energized. This will then make you feel more confident when it comes to trying new things.

So the next time you’re trying to take a risk — especially by doing something out of your comfort zone — keep the above tips in mind. They say “practice makes perfect,” and it’s true for risk-taking, too.

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