Highly Sensitive Refuge
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How to Live Your ‘Best Life’ as a Highly Sensitive Person — And Find Meaning

Every HSP’s “best life” is different, but they all lead to one place — finding the purpose and joy that sensitive people crave.

Trigger warning: The following article contains the mention of sexual assault.

If you’re a highly sensitive person like I am, you probably get overwhelmed and overstimulated easily. Yet you’re also the first person a friend turns to when they want a listening, empathic ear. After all, when they tell you about something that’s happened to them — good or bad — you feel like it happened to you, too. And you’re happy to be there for them.

You also aim to be happy when it comes to living your own life. You soon realize that you need to mix and match experiences you have to see which produce the best result(s). That said, here are some things that have helped me live my best life as a highly sensitive person.

4 Ways to Live Your Best Life as a Highly Sensitive Person 

1. Find characters, people, and ideas you can relate to.

HSPs can find comfort in relating to characters who are similar to themselves. As an HSP, I am at ease when I am watching film characters like Ricky Fitts in the critically acclaimed film American Beauty. I like him because he is likely a highly sensitive character

From the outside, he is an ordinary middle class adolescent — he is obedient and responsible. But on the inside, Fitts is a highly clever and creative young man who has come to realize the narrow pitfalls of American society. 

He’s an artist, and in one of the film’s most iconic scenes, he shows his love interest one of his films of a plastic bag floating in the air. In it, he says, “And this bag was like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid. Ever.”

When I feel “different” from others, I take comfort in being able to relate to characters like Fitts. He captured beauty through his lens that only a highly sensitive person could do. Like me, his character is written as someone who could both withdraw in certain situations, but also be on a quest to answer some of life’s more meaningful questions. More importantly, his character understood how so many people get caught up in seeking the “wrong” things in life. 

To that end, HSPs look for beauty that gives them greater perspective and can be discouraged by the cookie-cutter middle class setting portrayed in American Beauty. Fitts’ imagining of a plastic grocery bag as some benevolent force reminds me that I am not alone in feeling empathy for so much around me.

2. Learn to avoid your triggers, which is an ongoing process.

As I am quickly approaching the big 3-0, I can tell you that one of the hardest things an adult can accomplish is the ability to know, recognize, and avoid their triggers. By “triggers,” I mean those little things you have a negative association with, often because of past experiences. In turn, they can lead your high sensitivity to work against you, not for you

It has taken me over a decade of practice, and it is an ongoing process. Some of my past experiences can quickly turn my high sensitivity into anxiety and fear, emotions that are obviously negative. 

As an example of this, alcohol is my kryptonite. In case you missed the Superman reference, alcohol easily opens the flood door to a tsunami of my most agonizing melancholy feelings. And, as a highly sensitive person, I often associate drinking alcohol with the violence and toxicity that I experienced from having been raised by a parent who suffered from the disease of alcoholism. Similarly, booze is the liquid substance I was consuming when I’d been sexually assaulted a decade ago — so it’s definitely a triggering substance to me, to say the least.

Drinking can also make me increasingly sensitive to criticism and causes me to slip into my own personal black hole of paranoia: I’ll excessively worry about absolutely everything, for that’s what triggers do.

A highly sensitive person’s negative triggers are unique to them and not even always obvious to them or their loved ones. It requires a constant effort of getting to know oneself better to uncover the triggers. But the trade-off is that by knowing yourself better, you are better able to avoid negative or toxic people, places, or ideas that prevent you from being a happy, joy-filled highly sensitive person

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3. Get moving, whether that means taking a walk or going to the gym.

Take an HSP who loves watching television and add the COVID-19 pandemic to the mix (including a whole bunch of restrictions and stay-at-home mandates)… and you have a super couch potato. In addition to being a highly sensitive person, I am (deep-down) one of these couch potatoes, so I am by no means a fitness guru. Nevertheless, I am living my best life as a highly sensitive person when I get moving and am active.

Before becoming a mom, I saw working out and sweating as my overwhelmed, overtired, and overstimulated reaction to a society which would always ridicule my body, a world in which my figure never seemed to be enough. After becoming a mom, however, I viewed my body completely differently. I see the masterpiece that I created, my son, and suddenly my body is a vessel to befriend, a monument that needs to be protected and maintained. Now, I don’t fret about clothing sizes; instead, I get moving because I want to always be capable of giving my son whatever he’ll need to live his best life, too. 

You don’t need to have a six-pack or gym membership to get moving and live your best life. Similarly, it doesn’t cost anything to just stretch and walk more. If you do find yourself sweating, though, those endorphins help us HSPs use our sensitivity for positive purposes. Whether it is having the energy to play with a child or giving yourself the chance to worry about your health a little less, the psychologial, physical, and restorative benefits are endless for a moving HSP.

4. Find your true calling and purpose.

Highly sensitive people are amazing because we pursue greater callings that are bigger than ourselves. As an HSP who is always seeking balance within myself, I know that I am less likely to fall into the cycle of pursuing a pointless high paycheck in order to attempt to buy my way to happiness — I have no desire to keep up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians’, for that matter).

HSPs can lead their best lives when they find something that gives them purpose on a day-to-day basis. For example, this could mean not making a lot, income-wise, but feeling fulfilled regardless, like taking on a role as a caregiver. The point is, a sensitive person can lead their best life when they are engaging in something where they can use their empathy and generosity toward others.

By the way, I know it may not always be easy for an HSP to find something that gives them purpose. Similarly, it is just as difficult to know for sure that you have found your calling. The best tip that I can give to my fellow HSPs is to not overthink your purpose due to a previous negative and/or toxic work environment.

During the pandemic, for example, I left my job teaching English to do a training program in import and export coordination. Like many people have done before, I found myself quitting my job because of unethical and disorderly management practices that my sensitive self grew fed up with. However, I forgot to ask myself one key question: “Did you like what you were doing?” 

I didn’t ask myself this… and, before I knew it, I found myself in a highly technical training program in a profession that would not allow me to put my sensitivity to good use. After realizing that this line of work wouldn’t give me the purpose I was seeking, I found myself returning to, and finding purpose in, teaching again. I learned through trial and error, and you probably will, too.

The most important lesson that I learned from this experience was that just because you have found something meaningful does not mean others you work with have, and that’s okay — just stay in your lane. There is no perfect line of work where everyone around you is going to be compassionate and empathetic; it doesn’t exist. What matters is that you are doing something meaningful, and using your sensitivity and empathy for good. HSPs shouldn’t get trapped overthinking about what brings them purpose — even though we’re so good at overthinking! — because it is often something simple and right under our noses.

As a sensitive person who has experienced a roller coaster of emotions and life experiences, I know that these four tips help me lead my best life. I hope to encourage other HSPs to do the same. We HSPs are united in our shared creative approach to defining, seeking, and leading our best lives. Even though every HSP probably sees their “best life” as something different, I’m sure many of us would agree that it includes being happier and more fulfilled. 

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