Highly Sensitive Refuge
An extroverted HSP takes a selfie with friends

How to Thrive (and Survive) as an Extroverted HSP

As an extroverted HSP, I’m a walking contradiction — I crave overstimulation, yet also seek understimulation. But these tools help.

Walking the line between overstimulation and understimulation can be a very challenging one. I’ve always known I have been more on the extroverted side of the spectrum. I am always excited to go on adventures, I have a need for novelty, and being around other people gives me an incredible boost sometimes. 

However, this is only one part of who I am. 

I’ve also always known that there is a more sensitive side to me, though I haven’t always known the term for it — highly sensitive person (HSP). Movies and stories with happy endings can result in a (seemingly) never-ending flow of tears, I take a very long time to process information, and I experience my emotions (and the emotions of others) very intensely. 

After going through my own journey of self-discovery, the term HSP made me feel at home with myself. The only thing that didn’t resonate with me was refraining from certain activities, like going to parties, traveling, or seeking out new experiences that involve extra sensation in general. These are all things that I deeply appreciate about life and that are part of my extroverted core.

Understimulation vs. Overstimulation as a Highly Sensitive Extrovert

Considering that my interests do have me interacting with the external world more often, if I don’t take care of myself, I run the risk of getting overstimulated because of being an HSP. However, if I don’t get enough of these invigorating activities in my life, I run the risk of being understimulated because of my extroverted nature. 

To me, being a highly sensitive extrovert is the coolest thing ever — it’s truly the best of both worlds. When I listen to music, I really get to feel it. When I go on adventures with loved ones, being in those moments emotionally impacts me in the most positive ways. I’ve experienced being “high on life” from those moments. 

For example, when I go out to watch fireworks, my senses become energized by being in the crowd with others whose excitement fills the air. Similarly, the colors in the sky almost feel alive to me. The world, being filled with the different sensations that I get to experience to the fullest, doesn’t make me want to retreat —- but run toward it. 

As magical as that all can be to me, though, if I am not careful about how much external stimuli I take in, those beautiful feelings can easily turn into a nightmare of an experience. I am a walking contradiction. However, with the right habits in play, I can enjoy the wonder in the chaos. This is my toolkit for the extroverted HSP

5 Ways to Thrive (and Survive) as an Extroverted HSP

1. Earplugs — you can still go out and have fun (but with limits).

I remember the first time I went to an indoor concert. It took place in a relatively small hall that was completely packed with screaming fans. For me, the night started off amazingly well. I was having a great time cheering alongside other fans. But as the night progressed, all the cheers of excitement turned into something else — they turned into the source of my misery. My head started to hurt, and I found myself less interested in listening to the music and enjoying myself, and more focused on protecting my ears. 

I found myself feeling mentally and emotionally flooded, almost desperate to go home. That is, until I found some earplugs I had forgotten in my bag (I had gone indoor skydiving a couple of weeks prior and had taken an extra pair of earplugs). As soon as I put them on at the concert, I found that I was able to start enjoying myself again. I no longer felt drained, as the loud screaming was no longer negatively affecting me. And, as the night went on, I was able to happily enjoy the concert. 

One of the rules that I presently have when venturing out is to bring earplugs with me. This way, I don’t get too overstimulated or overwhelmed. You never know what intense, yet exciting, event awaits. 

2. Take time-outs — you may have the energy of an extrovert, yet also feel a lack of energy from being an HSP.

When I was in my second year of college, I decided to try clubbing. I rationalized that I love to dance and listen to live music, so how could going clubbing be any different? Spoiler: It’s different. 

The first time I went to a club, it was maybe halfway through the night when I started to realize that I was feeling tired — not physically, but mentally. I had to leave my friends to find a quiet (or as quiet as possible) place to take a breather. I remember being confused, questioning why I needed a break. After all, I was enjoying myself and wasn’t feeling physically tired. 

As a highly sensitive person, however, my nervous system is more sensitive to external stimuli. This means that I’ll absorb all that is going on around me, especially the small stuff. So why did I need a break? 

At the time, without even realizing it, I was becoming overwhelmed by the scene I was in — the crowd, the bright lights, and loud music, all things HSPs are sensitive to. As an extroverted HSP, it’s important to listen to when your body is telling you that it is time to take a break, or you may risk becoming suddenly overwhelmed. By taking a time-out, I didn’t have to leave the club altogether. I just needed to recharge before returning to all the overstimulation.

3. Know your limits — and listen to them.

One interesting thing I have discovered as a highly sensitive person is that I don’t need to drink too much alcohol in order to feel buzzed. Because of the nature of our sensitivity, sometimes less equals more for us, and that’s okay! (What isn’t okay is thinking you need to have the same number of drinks as your non-HSP friends to have the same amount of fun as they do. That simply isn’t true.) 

What’s important is to know your limits and how your body reacts so that you can make safe decisions for yourself based on what your body is telling you. And this doesn’t just have to do with drinking, but with your mental and physical body, too — like taking those time-outs  I mentioned above. Although highly sensitive people typically struggle with boundary-setting, it’s pivotal we enact some… and then follow them.

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4. Say “no” — again… and again… and again.

Even though I enjoy going out with my loved ones, sometimes the best way to enjoy a night is in my PJs, home alone, and watching my favorite movies. Simply thinking about this brings a smile to my face. I can enjoy (and do very much enjoy) low-key activities. Given that HSPs get overwhelmed by our surroundings, taking time to withdraw and recharge on our own is really important for our well-being. 

It is because of this that sometimes we have to decline invites out. Developing strong boundaries, like I mentioned above, is a surefire way to be able to find balance in anyone’s life — but this is especially important for us HSPs. Knowing how to say “no” is a way to prevent any possible “HSP hangovers,” too. I know it might be a challenge at first, but with more practice, you will get better and better at putting yourself first. And, once again, this is key to keep our HSP energy enact — and also build it up for when we do decide to be social again.

5. Make sure to have a support system.

Having people in your life who understand your sensitivities is truly a blessing. Being highly sensitive is complex (even for us), so having a support system is very important. Whether your support comes from other sensitive souls, or non-HSPs who are willing to learn about you and your sensitivities, having trusted loved ones with you as you explore the external world will be a huge help. 

After two years of avoiding crowds of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one day, I decided it was time that I reenter the world as an extrovert once again. I am so happy that I asked one of my closest friends to come with me, as he made the trip into the city so much more manageable. I had forgotten how loud it can be. I had forgotten about all the random, intense smells. 

For the past two years, understimulation had been a very prominent feeling for me, so much so that it’s almost as though I had forgotten what being overwhelmed was like. Being back in the city definitely reminded me. And I knew it was time for me to make my way home when I found serenity in a vacant restroom. I was the only person in there and a sense of peace washed over me. It was quiet and still, and the fact that the solitude affected me so strongly and positively made me aware that this was my cue: I craved alone time and wanted to go home.

Even though there was one more place we wanted to visit before we left, my friend was extremely understanding of my situation. His being open to listening to my perspective, and his continuous reassurance, bolstered me. He did his utmost to get us back home and I appreciate him dearly for it. 

Balancing My Extroversion With My Sensitivity 

To live my life to the fullest as a highly sensitive person I can’t deny the fact that I’m an extrovert. Yet, as an extrovert, I can’t deny the fact that I’m an HSP. Walking the line between overstimulation and understimulation can be a very challenging one, but I believe that with this toolkit in hand, it does not need to be. 

To be able to embrace life to the fullest, we need to be able to also embrace ourselves to the fullest. Having the ability to experience life on such an intense level can be nerve-wracking, but it can also be the most beautiful thing. And for that, I am grateful.

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