Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person who’s sensitive to light

How to Cope With Light Sensitivity as an HSP

Light sensitivity is common among HSPs — from overhead fluorescent lights at work to sunlight coming through your bedroom window.

My migraines began four years ago. It took some time, but I finally realized the cause: Light. Fluorescent lights in offices and the light from my computer screen were the main triggers. 

In retrospect, as a highly sensitive person (HSP), this made sense. Since we’re easily overstimulated by things in our environment, why not lights, too? I also learned that migraines could cause sensitivity to light, so lucky me! 

Aside from extremely bad headaches, my migraines also caused nausea and dizziness — and the only relief would be to lie down in my bed, away from any and all light. Although I didn’t always experience pain with the migraines, when I did, my HSP self struggled with the intensity of the symptoms even more so. My bedroom became the perfect HSP sanctuary.

Add my HSP tendency to feel emotions deeply to the mix, and it made for a very stressful experience! I noticed that any change in my routine (sleep, meal times, and stress) increased the likelihood of having a really bad migraine, and they’d sometimes last for days. Not to mention, the migraines would cause me to be more sensitive to light than usual, too, and the cycle would continue.

After seeing various doctors and changing my lifestyle so that I prioritized my routines, I’ve learned how to manage my migraine triggers — including light sensitivity — and my symptoms have decreased.

(Don’t) ‘Let There Be Light’!

While most people feel sensitive to their surroundings at some point, we HSPs are masters at feeling sensitive to our surroundings all the time. Plus, the intensity to which we’re affected can impact our emotional and physical well-being. And I’m not alone: research has found that roughly 20 percent (or more) of the population is made up of highly sensitive types, so that’s a lot of sensitive people like me!

For example, some people are bothered by cold temperatures while others are not. And some are bothered by smells — like HSPs with chemical sensitivity — while others don’t seem to mind them at all. And then there are those of us with light sensitivity: A flickering light may not bother non-sensitive types, but if I’m in a store with one, I have to leave immediately, as it’s too distracting.

How to Manage Your Light Sensitivity as an HSP

The more we HSPs understand our sensitivities and triggers, the better. Based on trial and error, here’s how I’ve learned to manage my light sensitivity as an HSP. In essence, preparation is key.

When you’re out and about alone:

  • Keep sunglasses with you at all times. Store extra pairs in the car, in your bag… everywhere!
  • Have an eye mask at the ready. You may think eye masks are only for plane or train trips, but think again. Whether you’re on public transportation or sitting in the park breathing in the scent of the freshly mowed lawn, an eye mask can help.
  • A baseball cap or hat with a wide brim will become your new best friend. A good hat is invaluable for the summer months when out and about.
  • Stay hydrated: Carry a water bottle. Being dehydrated can make an HSP’s sensitivities worse, so always have water with you. 

When you’re out and about with others: 

  • Share your needs with friends (before you start to feel overstimulated or overwhelmed). I suffered for so long without telling anyone: I’d avoid going out to restaurants because I’d feel stressed about making a fuss. I didn’t want to trouble anyone, but I learned that it’s not unnecessary, it’s a need. Plus, most people are understanding! For instance, when at a restaurant, you could always ask to be seated at a different table if the one you’re given has a bright overhead light.
  • Depending on the social event, check ahead regarding lighting levels. Many venues will want to help answer accessibility questions like this.
  • Always be open about changing social activities. If an activity involves harsh lighting, then you may want to suggest a different social event or minimize your time at the event. It’s important to listen to your body and gauge how you feel.
  • When you can’t check ahead, there are simple things you can do to minimize discomfort, like wearing your sunglasses (even indoors).

When you’re at work:

  • Tell people about your light sensitivity (which will also be a good time to tell them you’re an HSP). Explain your high sensitivity and your needs; they probably don’t love the overhead fluorescent lighting either! Even if they can’t get rid of it (but maybe they can!), perhaps they can move you to another cubicle or office with dimmer lighting. 
  • Lower the brightness on your computer screen. This can easily be done with the touch of a button or two, but you can also download blue light filter extensions. (I did the latter to minimize the harsh light from my computer screen.) Most social media apps have a dark screen option these days, too.
  • Don’t forget to lower the brightness on your phone, too! Since it’s safe to say that most of us are addicted to our phones, don’t forget to dim your phone’s brightness also. Many phones have a setting for this these days, but you can also download an app, such as Twilight, for added light reduction. (This will come in handy at home, too, especially when it’s time to sleep — bright phone screens make it more difficult for our eyes and brains to relax before bed. And we highly sensitive types need our sleep!) 

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When you’re at home:

  • Get creative to allow for a variety of light levels to suit your mood. Make use of lamps, not just overhead lights (which can be quite harsh). We’re not made to be bombarded with bright lights, and HSPs may find this more difficult to cope with than others. You can also replace your current lightbulbs with less stimulating one, like soft white LED bulbs.
  • Purchase blackout curtains and drapes. I have sheer window drapes, as well as light-blocking curtains; the latter are especially useful in the summer, when I struggle to sleep during the lighter nights. And since HSPs need more sleep than others, I make having blackout curtains a priority when I’m feeling extra sensitive to my surroundings.
  • Position furniture so that it faces away from the windows. When you’re feeling sensitive to light, this is a small fix with  big rewards.

Listen to Your Highly Sensitive Soul and Act Accordingly

After being out and getting overstimulated by all the light you may encounter, it will help your sensitive senses to spend time in a darkened room where you feel relaxed. After all, a calm environment is important for HSPs! Lie down and close your eyes to acclimate to the change in light levels until you begin to feel better. 

Remember, be gentle with yourself! Listen to your body and its finely tuned HSP response system and act accordingly. It’ll be grateful!

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