When you have BIG feelings, it’s tempting to run away from them. Here’s how to tame them instead.
It’s not always obvious that I am a highly sensitive person (HSP). I’m not the type to “wear my heart on my sleeve.” I’m notoriously difficult to get to know, and unless you’re a member of my immediate inner circle, I can sometimes be hard to read. When I feel a conversation starting to drift even slightly into deep, emotional or vulnerable territory, I am quick to respond with sarcasm or self-deprecating humor — anything to “lighten the mood” and redirect attention to safer, more comfortable topics.
But the truth is, these are carefully curated defense mechanisms I’ve developed — because actually, I’m afraid that if I let myself really feel my feelings, they’d swallow me whole.
HSPs feel things deeply. It’s a simple, scientific fact that emotions tend to hit hard for us; with brains wired for deeper sensory processing, our feelings tend to be amplified. Because of that, it can sometimes be overwhelming to try to manage those big feelings — which makes it tempting to avoid them altogether.
But I’ve started to realize that there are consequences to attempting to repress my emotional responses. It’s not healthy. And I think that, as HSPs, we need to feel our feelings in order to be our best, truest selves. To deny our feelings is to deny who we are.
If you struggle with this, here are five things you can try to face your fear, get back in touch with your feelings, and fully embrace yourself as an HSP — big, messy emotions and all.
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1. Check in with your feelings by writing them
Writing is an amazing way to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling, and it can be especially beneficial for HSPs who struggle to process emotions. By getting complex thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper, you can better organize and make sense of your feelings and reconnect with your emotional side.
If you’re not sure where to start, try grabbing an old notebook and pen and simply follow your stream of consciousness. Try not to judge or censor yourself as you write; just allow the words to flow. You can even start by simply writing about the events of your day (what you had for lunch, what you did at work, what you watched on TV) — and then try reflecting on how those things made you feel. As you review those events, your emotional stuck points will naturally come to the surface.
Many people find it helpful to do this practice first thing in the morning, on a daily basis — a practice known as morning pages. You’ll find that writing morning pages not only helps you meet and tame your emotions, it also gives you a lot of self-insight you can use to guide your day and your long-term goals. (It’s also particularly known for unblocking creativity.)
Keeping a journal can also allow you to keep a record of your emotions over time and start to notice patterns. By tracking your mental health over several weeks or months, you can learn more about yourself, the things that overwhelm you, and the things that bring you joy.
It might feel awkward at first, but once you build the habit, you’ll find yourself naturally reaching for your journal when you have something you need to process!
2. Practice (safely) confronting your feelings
The best way to face any fear is to slowly, methodically confront it. One highly effective way to do this is by talking about your feelings with a trusted friend or family member, perhaps over a cup of coffee. This can be a healing experience for HSPs, as we tend to crave deep connections with others. Allowing yourself to share your feelings and be vulnerable is key to achieving that type of emotional intimacy.
It can be nerve-wracking to open up to others about your true feelings, especially the difficult ones. But it’s okay to start small. The next time you make plans with a friend, try planning this out ahead: choose one thing in advance that you can share about yourself and your feelings. It could be a frustration you’re dealing with at work or a confession about a recent moment where you felt awkward or out of place. You could even try asking for advice dealing with a tricky situation.
But there are other ways to confront your feelings, too. Therapy is a great way to do this, and it can be especially helpful to HSPs. Some types of therapy are proven to be effective at helping people embrace their emotions: CBT is well-known for helping people face and manage their feelings, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was specifically developed for people with strong emotions. But even normal talk therapy with any good therapist will help. Through regularly scheduled sessions, you can practice opening up about your feelings in a safe space with the guidance of a trained professional.
Regardless of where you get them, interactions like these can help humanize you and deepen your relationships — and with repetition over time, you’ll find that they become less awkward and more natural.
Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System?
HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?
That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.
Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.
3. Use physical movement to explore your emotions (without the overwhelm)
There’s a reason why physical activity is included in pretty much every list of mental health tips on the internet: it really does help improve mood, combat anxiety and depression, and boost mental health. But it also gets you out of your head and into your body — known as grounding — which helps you work through and manage big emotions.
That may explain why research shows that physical activity improves mindfulness and reduces emotional reactivity. This connection is so powerful that there is an entire school of therapy — somatic therapy — that uses physical sensation and grounding in the physical body to explore emotions and heal trauma. Our emotional wounds are stored in the body — in our pains, in our tics, in our posture and how we move — and can be healed there, too.
You can put this “heart-body connection” to use for yourself. Next time you find yourself avoiding complicated feelings, try lacing up your tennis shoes and going for a walk. As you’re moving, notice the feelings that come up — sometimes it’s easier to focus on physical sensations than emotional ones. For example, when I’m doing yoga, I often catch myself tensing my jaw or shoulders and realize that I’m carrying stress (often without realizing it). This allows me to examine why I’m stressed and dig deeper into those feelings.
While any exercise is good for mental health, mind-body practices like yoga or tai chi can be especially beneficial for grounding and mindfulness, and long-distance activities like jogging, walking, and cycling are especially powerful for letting the mind run to explore your emotions.
4. Finally start practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool, especially for HSPs. It has so many benefits, from calming a sensitive nervous system to helping us get more in touch with our feelings.
- Paying attention to scents, flavors, and sensations (like the feeling of petting your cat or feeling sunshine on your face)
- Pausing to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths (or practicing breathing exercises)
- Tuning into all five senses with a grounding exercise — try naming five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste
Sometimes, just slowing down and taking a moment to turn inward can help you get in touch with yourself and your feelings in a way that you might not otherwise.
5. Find new forms of expression
Finally, look for creative outlets to help you tap into, channel and express your emotions. Activities like art projects, playing music and writing can be amazing for HSPs (who tend to be naturally creative anyway).
Don’t worry about whether or not you are “talented” in these areas; it’s not about producing something “great.” Don’t feel pressure to share your art with anyone, either. Even if it’s just for you, being creative can be incredibly rewarding — and help you get in touch with those emotions you might have been denying. By taking your big feelings and turning them into something tangible and creative, you can show yourself that it’s okay to let yourself sit with those feelings and experience them fully — and that doing so can have a beautiful outcome.
Processing strong emotions can be hard for us HSPs, but if you can learn to lean into those feelings and make the most of them, it can actually be an incredible strength. Our sensitivity can make us more emotionally intelligent, empathetic and self-aware — but only if we allow ourselves to experience it fully.
You Might Like:
- Why Highly Sensitive People Absorb Other People’s Emotions
- The Truth About Overwhelming Emotions, According to a Highly Sensitive Therapist
- How Being a Highly Sensitive Person Affects Your Body Physically
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