In my work as a licensed therapist for highly sensitive people (HSPs), I see a lot of people who struggle with their sensitivity. It’s not that being highly sensitive is bad — it’s actually a blessing. It’s that the world throws around a lot of stimulation, information, emotional baggage, and stress. Most people screen it out. But highly sensitive people don’t — they pick up 100% of it. And that takes a toll.
(Why? Well, if you think of your brain as a supercomputer, the average brain takes in five or ten “tubes” of information. The highly sensitive brain takes in hundreds.)
Even though all highly sensitive people share this trait, the actual struggles they go through can be very different from person to person. Recently I asked the question of my readers: What are the biggest challenges of being a highly sensitive person?
And the answers were astounding.
The Biggest Struggles of Being Highly Sensitive, According to HSPs
Here are the responses of HSPs from all over the world about what they find challenging about being highly sensitive:
- Crying easily when overwhelmed, especially when angry, then thinking everyone thinks you’re a crybaby.
- The overthinking (which comes from HSPs’ depth of processing) is the hardest for many people.
- The sensitivity to sleep deprivation.
- Picking up other people’s emotional “junk.”
- Sensory overload. Uggh.
- As one person said: “Feeling EVERYTHING!!”
- Being misunderstood.
- Having your feelings displayed all over your face.
- Being hypersensitive to criticism.
- Wanting to “save” or help everyone.
- Dealing with people who don’t understand I’m an HSP and what that means.
- Simply watching the (super negative, often tragic) daily news.
- Being surrounded by people who “don’t take my sensitivity seriously; they think I’m weak or mentally off.”
- The anxiety: “Knowing something is about to happen and having no control over it. The sinking of my stomach. Walking into a room or house and feeling the tension of fighting no matter how much it’s hidden.”
- Handling the stress of work. As one HSP said, “I love my job most of the time, but Monday I was stressed for three hours straight with no relief, and by the time I was leaving, I was so frustrated/overwhelmed I wanted to cry.”
- Knowing when people aren’t being honest… but others can’t see it.
- Feeling exhausted from stimuli, and thus exhausted from trying to fit in in a very hectic, social world.
- Seeing other people be insensitive — especially about animals — a huge trigger for many HSPs that other people don’t always share.
- Loud noises.
- “One big challenge I have is other people’s bad moods rubbing off on me. I absorb their energy. When this happens, the other person can revert back to being happy very quickly, but I’m left with the bad mood for hours!”
- The difficulty of setting boundaries. For example: “I struggle with trusting what I need to be healthy, knowing other people will be hurt by my choices.”
- “Helping my highly sensitive son when I haven’t sorted myself out yet!”
- Or, as one person summed it up: “Work, parenting, life.”
But none of these on its own was as common as…
The No. 1 Challenge for HSPs
Across all HSPs, one of our biggest struggles, in general, is a nervous system that seems to be in overdrive by default.
That makes us feel overwhelmed, emotional, hypersensitive, and reactive — and this can be very exhausting and difficult.
In fact, most or all of the challenges above probably come from, or are related to, an overloaded nervous system.
Think of your nervous system as a big bucket. The more full the bucket, the more your brain and body have to process. The majority of the population might dump 3 cups of information at a time into that bucket, but a sensitive person’s brain might have 100 cups dumped into that bucket — and that’s a lot to process!
If we have too much in that bucket, our nervous system is too overloaded to process the things it’s supposed to process for the sake of our health — which means we might get sick more often, more intensely, and longer, and/or suffer from chronic conditions. Part of what gets dumped into that nervous system bucket is also our emotional experiences and sensory sensitivities. This is why emotional and physical strain seem to go hand in hand for HSPs.
So, if we process and drain what’s in that bucket, we will feel more energy, patience, balance, calm, and joy, as well as have better overall health.
As an HSP myself, I used to struggle a lot with this kind of overload. And the more HSPs I met through my work as a psychotherapist, the more I saw we all seemed to struggle in the same ways. I feel it is so important for us HSPs to understand our unique brains and the differences in our limbic systems. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to find out why and to develop tools and techniques to reduce the challenges and increase access to the positives of this trait.
Here are four ways HSPs can do just that, that I’ve seen work for myself and my clients.
4 Ways to Stop Overloading Your Nervous System
1. Alone time to do nothing
I recommend 2 hours a day for the most sensitive people, and one full day off a week. Remember you have 100 cups of stuff to go through, so don’t compare your self-care needs to the majority that might only have 3 cups to go through! Your downtime is your key to your wellbeing — mind, body, and spirit.
(I know this is hard for many people to achieve. One huge source of help comes from having friends, a partner, or other close loved ones who understand and respect your needs. I help teach HSPs how to establish this kind of support and boundaries in my course — see details below.)
2. Be in nature every day…
…even if it means a park or your backyard garden. Yes, a small grassy park with a few trees makes a difference! Take your shoes off and feel the grass so you can connect to the earth. Spend some time noticing the trees, birds, sky, and all the brilliant colors of nature around you. Nature is incredibly restorative for every HSP and is the fastest way to clear out that bucket!
3. Meditation and mindfulness practices
These practices slow the nervous system “motor” down, therefore giving it a chance to process and drain all those cups that got dumped in. In addition, they strengthen the brain’s ability to emotionally regulate, and that’s something that really helps HSPs!
4. Learn all you can about the trait of high sensitivity
It is incredibly healing and reassuring to learn and see how NORMAL you are. This kind of learning makes you understand yourself, and it normalizes and validates your experience, which helps you speak clearly about your needs — and feel safe and confident even when others don’t understand.
There Is Help for Overwhelmed HSPs
HSPs, do you relate to the challenges listed above? I want you to know that life can get better, and you can truly thrive. You are needed in this world, and your gifts are valuable. We are fortunate because we now understand why we HSPs experience things the way we do, and we have access to powerful techniques to change the way we experience our sensitivity — without “turning it off.”
The most effective of these methods work at the level of the nervous system itself — they actually train our brains and transform our experience. This is good for everyone, not just us, because everyone around us benefits when we are living well.
I teach these techniques, and I use them successfully with my clients and in my own life. They work. If you would like to learn these techniques with me, I am offering a FREE introductory session to my upcoming course for HSPs. It focuses on the challenges that HSPs face, how to overcome those challenges, and real techniques you can use to access your positive traits and start to truly thrive and be happy.
You can join us live or download the session at your convenience.
You might like:
- The 7 Best Careers for a Highly Sensitive Person
- Do Highly Sensitive People Attract Narcissists?
- The Difference Between Introverts, Empaths, and Highly Sensitive People
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