Every house needs a strong foundation — and so does your mental health as an HSP. Here’s how to get it.
As a psychotherapist, I advocate for all my clients to utilize coping skills in order to help them address emotionally difficult situations, as well as to navigate life in general. I also believe coping skills to be notably vital for those of us who are highly sensitive people (HSPs), given that we feel our emotions more deeply. Additionally, if we experience adverse situations during our childhood, we become more susceptible to mental health struggles later in life, making coping skills even more necessary.
I suggest creating a toolbox of coping skills to help assist you. Here, I will be providing a blueprint of foundational coping skills you can practice on a consistent basis. This way, they’ll sustain you and promote optimal mental health. Essentially, self-care. This is akin to having a strong foundation on which to build a house upon in order to ensure the house remains intact whenever a storm hits. As HSPs, we want to try to prevent the storms as much as possible.
9 Ways to Build a Coping Skills Toolkit as an HSP
1. Get enough sleep, something highly sensitive people sometimes struggle with.
Sleep is essential for our ability to function. It is a necessity for many processes, including physically, cognitively, and emotionally. HSPs have been found to need even more sleep than non-HSPs due to our depth of processing, so getting adequate sleep is a non-negotiable for us! Our sensitive nervous systems make us more susceptible to experiencing the negative consequences of foregoing a good night’s sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. And factor in more if you’re an HSP, as well as extra time for falling asleep.
How to do it: Implement a relaxing wind-down routine (no phones or screens, take a bath, etc.). Make your room into a restful HSP sanctuary. Take naps as needed (as long as they do not interfere with your ability to sleep at night). And practice good sleep hygiene, such as going to bed at the same time each night.
2. Carve out moments to rest and relax throughout the day.
HSPs are vulnerable to overwhelm and overstimulation — especially as our day progresses — and our bodies and minds require downtime to recuperate. Therefore, it’s invaluable to make time to destimulate our senses and enjoy an activity (or two) that allows us to relax. Unfortunately, productivity culture can make us feel guilty for resting, but doing so will actually help us to be more productive in the long run by preventing burnout. The main point here is to reduce our stress level and recharge our batteries.
3. Move your body, which will help your body and mind relax.
Our bodies and minds tend to feel their best when we engage in movement on a regular basis. It has a myriad of advantages, including clearing our minds, creating feel-good endorphins, reducing stress hormones (i.e., cortisol), strengthening our cardiovascular system, building muscle and preventing muscular atrophy, and more. Since HSPs are more sensitive to physical ailments affecting our bodies, movement can be of particular benefit to us. Also, exercise should be a form of self-care, not self-punishment. Movement doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in grueling physical activity — all forms of movement are beneficial! We want to take care of our body in a way that brings us joy, not dread (no toxic diet culture standards here!).
How to do it: Walk. Run. Dance. Hike. Stretch.
4. Eat and hydrate properly — always have snacks on hand.
Nourishing our bodies with food and water is important for everyone. However, HSPs are particularly sensitive to the effects of not eating enough and are known to get hangry (hungry + angry) if we don’t give ourselves enough to eat. Indeed, our bodies (including our brains!) need food and water to function. Most people require three meals and a snack or two, plus around eight cups of water per day. Additionally, despite what diet culture tells us, it’s good to receive pleasure from food and eat delicious meals! Nourish not just your body, but your soul, as
How to do it: Have snacks on hand (always). Carry a water bottle with you. Listen to your body. Follow the principles of intuitive eating, like honoring your hunger and making peace with food.
5. Figure out what brings you joy and do more of it.
What brings you joy? What lights you up? What fills up your emotional cup? Give yourself permission to do whatever that is. Better yet, schedule time each week to engage in such activities. It doesn’t need to be productive — it simply needs to bring you joy. This can be particularly vital for HSPs, since we feel our emotions more deeply than non-HSPs. We need to cultivate joy to help create balance with the more difficult emotions, such as sadness and anxiety, we may experience.
How to do it: Draw or color. Play with a furry friend, your pet or someone else’s. Sing. Play a game. Bake. Find a new hobby. Attend an event of your choice.
6. Build in time to connect with others, either via texts, phone calls, or in person.
Although HSPs may be selective about those we allow into our inner world, for those that do make the cut, we tend to be deeply devoted to those relationships. Feeling seen and understood can do wonders for our mental health, bringing us a sense of validation. Having a strong support network can make a huge difference, as this helps us feel less alone, especially during difficult times. Additionally, when we can be of support to others (which HSPs are naturally skilled at), we increase our sense of efficacy, which subsequently helps empower us.
How to do it: Skip the small talk and discuss deeper issues. Set aside time to text, call, or hang out with others (with enough time to mentally prepare and also to decompress afterwards). Do activities together to help you bond. Play connection games, such as We’re Not Really Strangers.
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6. Get out into nature — it’ll allow you to slow down while also invoking a sense of calm.
HSPs are deeply moved by and appreciative of beauty, including that found in nature. And nature really is therapeutic for sensitive people. Not only does being outside create vitamin D (specifically from being in the sun), but it also gives us the opportunity to slow down, unplug, and connect to our natural world. We tend to feel calmer, happier, and less anxious after spending time outdoors. Nature is also an ideal place to destimulate, which is important for HSPs, given our propensity to feel overwhelmed.
How to do it: Hike. Walk in the park. Pack a picnic lunch. Read, draw, or meditate outside. Grow a garden. Swim in a lake, river, or ocean.
7. Laugh and think of all the positives in life.
Due to some of the qualities we HSPs tend to possess — such as our empathy for others, deep depth of processing, and tendency to become overstimulated — it’s all too easy to become overly serious. But laughter is the perfect way to counter this, reminding us of all the positives in life. Laughter also contributes to our overall happiness and sense of well-being.
How to do it: Watch a sitcom or funny movie. Watch stand-up comedy. Watch funny animal videos on YouTube.
8. Practice mindfulness, like meditation.
Mindfulness is a grounding technique that’s often defined as nonjudgmental present awareness. One of the most common forms of mindfulness is meditation. Meditation doesn’t mean turning off all our thoughts (which isn’t actually possible, especially for us HSPs whose minds are always processing!). Rather, it’s about noticing when a thought arises and then returning to the object of focus (e.g., your breath, bodily sensations, or positive mantra, like “I am enough”). Mindfulness also helps us become more familiar with our thought processes, in which we become more familiar with our minds, helping us move through difficult emotions and anxiety.
How to do it: Focus on your breath. Notice your bodily sensations. Notice your five senses. Use a meditation app, like Headspace or Insight Timer. Go on a distraction-free walk, paying attention to your surroundings instead of your phone.
9. Check in with yourself: How are you feeling throughout the day?
How are you really, truly doing? What is it that you need in this moment? Use your HSP intuition to connect to your inner world. The more detail you can go into, the better. By making a habit of checking in with ourselves throughout the day, we can more easily identify our feelings. And when we know how we’re feeling, we know how to better take care of ourselves.
How to do it: Check in with yourself when you wake up and before you go to sleep, as well as throughout the day, the same way you would with a friend. Set a timer on your phone or another device to remind yourself to check in. Check in with yourself during especially difficult moments, too, and figure out how to self-soothe.
Keep a List of Coping Skills Handy
Finally, I would recommend keeping a list of coping skills that work well for you somewhere easily accessible, such as your phone. You can include things like: step outside for some air; go to the car and meditate; go take a few deep breaths, and so on. Whatever works for you. Sometimes we feel so frazzled during difficult situations that we forget what it is we can do to help ourselves. Returning to a list can be useful during such times and ensure you always have your toolbox handy.
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