Highly Sensitive Refuge
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How to Manage Your High Sensitivity (So It Doesn’t Manage You)

As an HSP, sometimes it feels as though everything is too much to handle — which is where these coping mechanisms come in.

I have a very rich and vivid imagination — it is one of the things that I have always loved about myself. For instance, I love that when I read books, the movie that plays in my mind’s eye is sometimes better than an actual adaptation would be. 

In recent years, though, I have begun to realize that having such a vivid inner world can be a double-edged sword, as things can linger in my mind for a long time… a very long time.

For example, saying that I dislike horror movies is a huge understatement (and I know other HSPs would agree with me). In fact, it took until this year for me to “forget” about one particular horror movie I had seen back in 2019. During the past few years, my mind would very vividly replay scenes from the movie that scared me, or parts to which I had a strong emotional reaction (despite my not wanting to think about them). So why on earth was my mind doing this? 

HSPs Process Things More Deeply Than Others (For Better or Worse)

One of the qualities associated with being an HSP is our knack for deep processing. Our highly sensitive brains are always absorbing the information around us — whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Because our brains are always “on” (even during rest), we are constantly in a state of processing. And, with all the information to be mulled over, it can take a long time for everything to be sorted out in our minds. 

In the past, and to a certain extent now, it has been quite frustrating to deal with my tendency to process information so deeply. Since I connect intensely with the information that I’m engaging with, all aspects of my life are affected. These include, but are not limited to, the things people tell me, the media I consume, other people’s energy I absorb, and intense sensory or emotional experiences I’ve had — all these things will stay with me for a long time, for better or for worse. (For example, around the time I watched that horror movie, I didn’t know I was highly sensitive, so I didn’t truly know that the movie could have — and would have — negatively affected me for so long.) 

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Frustration would set in when someone’s advice included statements like: “It’s not a big deal,” “Just get over it,” or “Try and stop thinking about it” whenever I shared about an experience that still bothered me months later. To all these things I wanted to scream, “Obviously, I want to stop thinking about it! If I could, you don’t think I would have by now?”

Feeling like you can’t move on from something that you really want to get over can be extremely irritating, especially when others can move on with such ease. My fellow HSPs, just know that you are not alone in feeling this way. Over the past two years, I have found ways that help me to feel better whenever the feeling of “I can’t move on” seems like it’s too much to handle. 

4 Ways to Manage Your High Sensitivity (So It Doesn’t Manage You) 

1. Journal to process your many thoughts and emotions.

I started journaling as a form of self-care when the COVID-19 pandemic started — I figured that it would be a refreshing outlet for me to release stress. 

My love of writing has taken on different forms throughout my life. Whether it be poetry, writing short stories, or simply jotting down the events of my dreams, writing has always been a creative outlet. Seeking ways to keep novelty alive during lockdowns, I thought that starting a journal would be beneficial — it provided variety while still being a familiar activity. 

When I started, I did not realize what an amazingly positive effect it would have on me! When I journal, I allow myself to create a “judgment-free zone” — my ideas flow freely and no one questions them. Nor do I have to deal with the usual questions about my sensitivity. (There’s only so many times one can hear, “Why are you so sensitive?”) So journaling is an escape from the judgment that may come from people who don’t get it

The only person who should interact with your words is you — a person who does get it. If frustration sets in, write about it! Again, and again and again… until you feel better. Journaling is liberating and helps you avoid repressing your feelings. Plus, there are all types of journaling methods out there, from bullet journaling to Morning Pages to gratitude journals. So pick one and start — and you can always switch things up and try a new method if you’d like. 

2. See a psychotherapist or counselor of some sort.

Going through my first breakup was a very intense experience, and I take it this is common for us HSPs. For months, I felt like I would never be able to move on from the pain the relationship caused — my emotions were in overdrive. I felt as though I had lost a very loved part of myself forever, the sensitive part of me. 

Using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy — while consulting with a therapist — really helped me to see that wasn’t the case. IFS is a self-directed therapy that allows for the individual using it to cultivate a relationship with themselves that is rooted in self-love and self-compassion. To this day, it is still a technique that I use in my daily life. I believe it has helped me trust myself more and allows me to make space to confidently listen to my intuition (which is important for HSPs). 

It’s important to note, though, that therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. So, while IFS works wonderfully for me, it may not for you, and that is more than okay! When trying to find a therapy style that benefits you, working alongside a therapist will help and you can try out different methods with them.

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

3. Talk to your trusted loved ones, like close friends and family — people who “get” you.

In recent years, I have had several epiphanies about myself and the things I can do. One of these revelations sounded like: “Wait a minute — I can talk to my loved ones about my problems, too!” 

As an empathetic highly sensitive person, I had become so accustomed to lending an ear to others that I didn’t even stop to think that I could also confide in others. I think while it is very important to have trusted family and friends that you can openly speak with, it’s important to keep in mind that it can be all too easy to emotionally dump our feelings onto those willing to listen. 

Without realizing it, I was guilty of doing this when I initially openly talked to someone about my struggles. It became quite draining for them. I understand now that since I felt like I was never able to freely express my emotions, when I was finally given the opportunity, there was an intense outpouring of feelings! 

An important lesson I took from those interactions was that, as an HSP, sometimes we feel like we can’t talk to people about our problems since we tend to be the ones who listen. It is such a privilege, however, to be able to talk to people you trust. But it is important to make sure that a safe space is created, in order to allow for others to be able to set boundaries with you, as well. 

So now before talking to a loved one about a problem I’m facing, I’ll ask the following question: “Do you have space on your plate to have an emotional conversation with me?” (You can tailor this question anyway you’d like.) In this way, I can create an environment that allows for everyone’s energy to remain safe.  

4. HSPs love others so much — but be sure to direct that feeling toward yourself, too.

By having a much better understanding of what it means to process information deeply, I can create more space for myself. I know now that even when I make a good decision, one that I am truly happy with, I will still need to give myself time away from others to process that decision. Highly sensitive people need alone time, but this becomes especially important when we need to mull something over. 

Currently, the way I like to look at deep processing is that it is a time that allows me to truly be there for myself. I take the time to reflect and allow myself to engage in some deep introspection. This helps with the furthering of my understanding of myself, and allows room for growth, self-love, and self-compassion. I have found that this helps me to stay true to who I am, as I prioritize myself in these moments. Giving myself the time (and space) I need to process information as deeply as I do is an act of love. And it’s just as important that we love ourselves at least as much as we love others.

Now that I know that I’m a highly sensitive person and I have more knowledge about how my brain naturally takes a long time to process information, it helps me to create better boundaries around the media that I consume, too (no horror movies or scary clips for me). This awareness also helps me create better boundaries around how I deal with conflict that involves others. Being able to communicate with loved ones — like telling them I need to take time away from them to be alone to properly process intense emotions — has had such a positive impact on my relations with others, too. 

I also believe that this understanding can help with strengthening the relationship we have with ourselves. It’s important to be able to show ourselves compassion and love, especially in the moments where it seems like we can’t move on from something and it’s impacting our everyday lives. If you are currently feeling the frustration that may be the result of deep processing, please know that it’s okay. Give yourself the grace, and space, you need to feel all that you are feeling — after all, that’s the best part about being a highly sensitive person.

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