Highly sensitive people can be introverts or extroverts, but big groups of people overload us either way. So how should you cope?
Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) has its challenges, one of which is when you’re in a situation where there are a lot of people. Being in a large crowd, working with the public, attending a party — all these experiences can be very stressful for HSPs. They can cause a highly sensitive person to become overwhelmed due to all the overstimulation.
You see, we HSPs get overstimulated way more easily than non-HSPs. And too much overstimulation makes our highly sensitive souls go into overdrive. So it’s a vicious cycle.
If you’d like some ways to better manage this — and get less fatigued, anxious, and overwhelmed when among large groups of people — I’ve learned some ways through trial and error.
Why Do HSPs Get Exhausted by Groups of People?
Approximately 30 percent of people score as highly sensitive, meaning they absorb more information from their surroundings and respond to it more than other people. This comes out in many ways: deep thinking, creativity and innovation, strong emotions, and being “attuned” or highly aware of even the smallest details around you. (Someone who notices the subtle flavor notes in a good cup of coffee might be highly sensitive. So is someone who connects the dots between ideas that others miss.)
These highly sensitive people (HSPs) have many gifts, and according to the book Sensitive by Jenn Granneman and Andre Sólo, high sensitivity is even linked to higher IQ. What powers these gifts, however, is a brain wired to process all information deeply — so much so that HSPs may take longer to think, and can get overstimulated and fatigued in loud or busy environments. Think of it like opening a really big file on your laptop, when there are already too many apps open — the laptop may lag, freeze up, or even need to be restarted. That’s an HSP’s brain in an overstimulating situation.
And what’s more stimulating than being in a big group of people — especially at a party, club, or networking event where everyone is talking at once? Add in some background music and you have a recipe for HSP overstimulation.
Of course, that sounds a little bit like being an introvert — but it turns out, the two are very different.
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The Difference Between HSPs and Introverts
Sensitivity and introversion/extroversion are two separate traits, and sensitive people can be either introverts or extroverts. The difference is that introversion and extroversion is a social orientation — it’s about whether you get your energy from being around people (extrovert) or from having quality alone time (introvert). Being sensitive, on the other hand, is more about how you respond to your enviroment: a calm environment is fine, with or without people in it, but an overstimulating environment overloads you, even if you’re braving it on your own. (You can be an extroverted HSP and love being around people, but you may prefer smaller groups where you can have deeper conversations, and you’ll probably have your fill of a crowded music festival much faster than a less-sensitive extrovert.)
Personally, I am an introvert and HSP. I work as a Youth Services Librarian in a public library. Most of the time, I love my job. I love working in a place surrounded by books. I love sharing my love of reading with the kids who come to the library. I love the ample opportunities to be creative through programming and decorating. Oftentimes, it seems like a dream job for an HSP.
What is challenging, however, are things like helping out at the busy circulation desk, answering the constantly-ringing phone, or doing a storytime in front of several parents and kids, some of whom might continue to talk during it.
I’ve had many positive and (occasional negative) encounters throughout my career so far. Both kinds are draining to me. I think that’s something people don’t always understand about HSPs. Just because an encounter is positive doesn’t mean it’s not draining. Over the years, though, I’ve learned some ways to help cope with the challenges that being surrounded by so many people can bring for an HSP like me.
7 Ways to Deal With Too Many People as an HSP
1. Remember to take some deep breaths.
Doing a few deep belly breaths before a storytime or assisting a patron always makes a difference in how calm I feel navigating the situation. Otherwise, I’ll start to feel emotionally flooded, which will lead to the opposite of feeling relaxed. While there aren’t a lot of ways we can tap into our fight-or-flight response, deep breathing is one of them.
By taking a few deep breaths, we can ground ourselves in calm and slow our heart rate, reminding our body that there’s no immediate threat. That patron isn’t a saber tooth tiger ready to pounce on me. They’re simply human, just like me.
Similarly, if you need to take “flight” and flee the situation, you can always take a “bathroom break” and do your deep breathing there.
2. Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can.
When you get overwhelmed by all the people around, give yourself a break and praise for taking on these challenges. Remember: You are capable of anything and can handle whatever happens.
Writing positive mantras for yourself on Post-It notes, or your phone, can help, too, like “You’ve got this!” or “I will survive!” These will serve as tangible reminders that you are capable and will be just fine.
3. Use each interaction as a learning experience.
Each time you interact with someone, regardless whether the outcome is positive or negative, take note of it. Write down what happened and how you handled it.
Then, when you need a boost or reminder that you are capable of being in a situation with a lot of people, go back and read through your encounters. Even the negative ones will give you strength, because as bad as they may have been, you handled it.
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4. Try to focus on having a deep conversation with at least one person.
HSPs are great at forming deep friendships and connections with others due to their high sensitivity to emotional and social stimuli. When in a situation where there is a large crowd of people, one possible coping strategy could be choosing just one person to focus on and get to know. This can help you get through the situation while also offering the benefit of connecting with at least someone in a meaningful way.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll be feeling so much more confident after that one connection that you’ll be inspired to connect with a second person, too!
5. Use your HSP superpower of empathy to relate to others.
Unfortunately, a consequence of dealing with a lot of people are the occasional negative ones. It is very challenging when a person is unhappy and taking their unhappiness out on you.
HSPs, though, have a superpower to deal with these kinds of situations — through our empathy. Not that it is easy, by any means, but sensitive people tend to have a knack for putting themselves in another person’s shoes. So trying to imagine what the person is dealing with — which is causing them to act in a negative way — can help depersonalize the situation. (And, as an HSP, you know it’s easy for us to take things personally!)
If you are able to not take the negative actions personally, you will be able to engage better and get through the experience.
5. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed or stressed, don’t be afraid to leave the situation.
Definitely don’t feel bad if you need to remove yourself from the situation at hand that’s causing you more bad than good. Ask a coworker to cover for you while you take a break to do some deep breathing. Or leave a party early. Or take a mental health day if you’re feeling burnt out.
While HSPs are often people-pleasers, that doesn’t mean you should bend over backwards at the expense of your mental health and well-being.
And trust me, people will be more understanding than you might think. You could possibly even meet a fellow HSP by being vulnerable and honest, and you might inadvertently encourage someone else to take a much-need time-out, too.
6. Have a couple people in your life who “get it.”
Having a friend or family member who “gets it” can be a lifesaver. We all need people we feel understand us — and our sensitivity — and are in our corner. Having a couple people who understand you, and the challenges you may face as an HSP, can be very cathartic.
7. Most importantly, don’t let being an HSP hold you back — embrace it, don’t shun it.
If you want to go to that networking event, go. If you want to go to your best friend’s wedding, do it. If you want to work in a job that deals with a lot of people, go for it. Don’t let fear hold you back.
There are ways to work around the challenges that being an HSP brings to such situations, and you’ll only know if you try. Plus, think about all the strengths you have as an HSP — your deep listening skills, empathy, and attention-to-detail — and let them overpower any “faults” you find with yourself. (I even suggest writing them down by your desk or in your phone!) In no time, you’ll see that there are many more pluses than minuses.
You might like:
- Get Overstimulated Easily? You Might Be a Highly Sensitive Person
- This Is How It Feels to Be Emotionally ‘Flooded’
- What to Do When Your Highly Sensitive Soul Is in Overdrive
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