As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I often feel like I need a break from the noise of the world. Work, people, and even my own head can be too loud at times (okay, maybe a lot of the time). That’s why it’s been so important to recognize when I need a reprieve — and actually take the breaks that I need.
One way I’ve done this by building my own HSP “sanctuary” to turn to. It’s made a dramatic difference in my ability to avoid overstimulation, emotional flooding, and overwhelm. And if you’re a highly sensitive person, I believe it can help you too.
Why HSPs Need Their Own Sanctuary
A sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety — a place that feels peaceful and reassuring. What could be more perfect when the world is overwhelming, right? It’s a space to breathe, relax, and recharge. A sanctuary can be helpful for any person who is overwhelmed, but HSPs can especially benefit from their own safe haven.
That’s because HSPs tend to feel things more deeply and more intensely than other people. It can take us longer to recover from being in a large crowd, getting criticized at work, or going through a stressful life event, just to give a few examples. Basically, many aspects of life that are “little things” to others can feel like a lot when you’re a highly sensitive person.
HSPs also tend to feel like we must “power through” or we’ll be considered weak. But the truth is, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we’ll be constantly stressed, overwhelmed, and can even get physically sick. (There are several instances in my life where I’ve had a cold for weeks, even months, just because I wasn’t giving myself the space to slow down and be away from the intensity of life for a while.)
We must remember that being a “highly sensitive person” is real and valid. That also means our need for repose are very real, too. We might need more breaks than the average person, and that’s completely okay and normal for us. Building your sanctuary can make self-care easier and more accessible during those times when life is too intense.
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5 Tips for Building Your Own HSP Sanctuary
You might picture an HSP sanctuary as some picture-perfect getaway off the beaten path, perhaps complete with a quiet beach or some other beautiful nature scene. However, most of us don’t have access to a private destination like this — not every day, at least. And the truth is, having a sanctuary that’s accessible in your normal, everyday life is even more valuable.
So guess what: Nothing fancy is required to create an HSP sanctuary of your very own. Here are my recommendations for getting started.
1. Choose a location where you can enjoy quiet and solitude.
I’ll be honest: For me, this is often just my living room couch! I’m fortunate to have a pretty quiet household, so I do a lot of reading, writing, and creative projects in my living room.
However, I know this isn’t realistic for everyone — especially if there are other people around. Maybe you need an actual room, a corner of the house, your bedroom, an attic, space under the stairs, or even an outdoor location that is more solitary. Wherever it is, make sure you can be as comfortable as possible. Start with physical comfort: Have a cozy chair, cushion, hammock, or couch where you can physically relax. These can be good options if you live in a smaller shared space and don’t have an actual room to use.
If you live with other people, no matter the size of the space, you might want to communicate with them about your HSP sanctuary. Let them know that you need a designated space where you can go for your “me” time. Stress that this is important for your physical and mental health. They might even be able to help you decide on the best spot for your sanctuary.
You also don’t need to use the same place every time for your HSP sanctuary, although that might make it easier. If your life changes day-to-day, think of a few locations you can set up to be free from too much noise or distraction when you need time to yourself.
2. Build up your HSP sanctuary “toolkit.”
It’s not always easy for HSPs to know how to help ourselves when we’re feeling all the feelings. We need self-care resources we can turn to — things we know from prior experience make us feel better. Ask yourself: What makes me feel soothed? Calmed? Relaxed? Or just a little more “safe”? You can you can build your sanctuary around those things or actions, and have them on hand, like a toolkit.
Items you might have in your sanctuary could include:
- A queue of your favorite movies or TV shows
- Drawing or painting supplies
- Comfy blankets and pillows
- A meditation or prayer cushion
- Headphones for calming music — and a playlist that works for you
- Pictures, mantras, or quotes that make you happy
- Other religious or spiritual items based on your own path (if any)
- Your favorite snacks
Basically, include things that give you the most joy in life and help you feel calm.
3. Be firm on what your sanctuary will not include.
As an HSP myself, I highly recommend making your sanctuary a place where you take a break from social media and cell phone usage. When I’m overwhelmed, I delete all social media apps from my phone. I also turn my attention to something other than my phone (like any of the items above).
Social media often leads to comparing our lives with everyone else’s. It can also be a hotbed for political discussions or other high-escalation topics — a recipe for news overload. It’s especially bad if we’re already feeling vulnerable. Try turning it all off for a while.
(However, if there are certain websites, apps, or online groups that help you recharge, feel free to make those a part of your sanctuary.)
Other things to leave out of your HSP sanctuary:
- Self-judgment, self-blame, or other negative thoughts about yourself
- Shame about being highly sensitive (because being an HSP is a wonderful trait)
- Worry over things you cannot control (including others’ opinions)
- Any extra stimuli that make you feel anxious
4. Choose decor that makes you happy.
Set up your space for you. The right colors, decorations, and even where you sit in your space can have a positive impact on your mind and mood.
Choose colors for furniture, walls, curtains, or anything else in your space that means something to you. Or, pick cool, calming colors like lavender, light or deep blues, light grays, soft greens, or whites. You can balance these with warm, cozy colors like reds, red-oranges, yellows, and yellow-greens. If you don’t have much control over changing colors, get a soft throw blanket, a cushion, or a chair in calming colors.
Be careful using a lot of primary colors (reds, yellows, and blues). Too many of these may increase feelings of passion, anxiety, or sadness, respectively. Balance them with calming colors or textures if they feel overwhelming. If you want, create a color palette to decorate your space.
Also, think about decorations you can add. Pictures of your loved ones or art you love? Your favorite flowers? Paintings you’ve created? Whatever helps you relax and feel happy is welcome in your HSP sanctuary. (This goes along with the concept of hygge, which can also be great for HSPs.)
Make sure any furniture in your sanctuary fits what you like to do there, as well. For example, if you like to draw, you might need a sturdier chair and a table or other flat surface. But if you want to lay down and read, a beanbag chair or cushion might be better for you.
5. You can carry the tools of your sanctuary with you.
Lastly, you don’t always need a set location to create a sanctuary for your highly sensitive soul. The point is to give yourself permission to take breaks, which allow you to thrive most in life — wherever you are. This permission can take time to develop. Start with these steps:
- When you are feeling overwhelmed, pause, take some deep breaths, and let any emotions come to you (without fighting them).
- Ask yourself, “What am I thinking and feeling in this moment? What do I need right now?” Be honest in your answer. If you need to stop and rest, tell yourself, “I deserve to honor my needs.”
- If you feel guilty about taking breaks or “doing nothing,” start with just a few moments of something you enjoy. Each time, remind yourself that resting is a productive and necessary part of being your best self. Over time, you will get better at this.
Most of all, creating an HSP sanctuary is about cultivating more peace, love, and understanding towards yourself. It’s about knowing what makes you feel well and having some resources available for your highly sensitive self.