Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person doing creative work

How to Maximize Your Creativity as a Highly Sensitive Person

As an HSP, it’s time to recognize your “creative triggers” — and start using them to your advantage.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed being creative. I was fortunate to have family and teachers who encouraged my creative writing starting in grade school, which has led to my career as a freelance writer. And when I learned that I was a highly sensitive person (HSP), I could clearly see the connection between my high sensitivity and artistic expression.

But although I write for a living, I still struggle to maximize the natural-born creativity that resides inside my HSP self. Ever since “graduating” to adulthood — with all of its glorious distractions and responsibilities — I’ve had to make more of an effort to nurture my creative work and prioritize it over other things in my life.  

This seems to be a typical pattern for HSPs. Some of the most creative people are highly sensitive, but that creativity gets squashed by others, our own self-esteem issues, or the distracting sensory overload that comes from the many people and stimuli in our lives. 

So how do you maximize your creativity when you’re an HSP in an often non-HSP-friendly world? I am still figuring it out, but here are some things that have been working for me.

6 Ways to Maximize Your Creativity as an HSP

1. Understand the power of “doing nothing” for creativity.

Highly sensitive brains are constantly working overtime — even when they’re “at rest.” HSPs love being alone because it’s our time to process the world, free of distractions. (If you’re an HSP who’s ever gotten a rush from canceling plans just to stay home and “do nothing,” you know what I mean!)

In our culture, productivity and busyness are lauded as the definitions of success, but many people don’t realize that constantly being “on” can kill creativity. HSPs — the daydreamers who need extra time to process and take breaks — have it right. 

Research shows our brains need downtime time to do their best work. A study on brain activity while solving problems found that:

  • When the people focused just on a puzzle presented to them, they often failed, but…
  • When the subjects let their minds wander and started thinking of something else, they would have an “Aha!” moment and suddenly think of the solution

Entering daydreaming mode is essential for any type of meaningful work, and it can help those of us who struggle with a blank canvas or an empty, blinking line in a Google Doc when we sit down to be creative. In his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the World of Information Overload, Daniel Levitin writes that concentration is most effective in “big focused chunks separated by leisure, exercise, or other mentally restorative activities.”

If you’ve ever had a brilliant idea while in the shower or driving to the grocery store, you’ve experienced the power of insight from a relaxed mind. Experts often refer to this as a “flow state” — where you get lost in what you’re doing, lose track of time, and forget about the outside world. 

You also stop worrying about failure or judging your work. Research shows that when artistic people are in a flow state, their brains temporarily “turn off” areas responsible for fear and self-criticism.

So, why am I mentioning all of this? To remind you that daydreaming and rest are crucial for creativity. And also, as an HSP, you can maximize your creativity by allowing your brain to enter the deep processing state it naturally falls into.

And because HSPs need plenty of alone time, you can take advantage of that…

2. Designate creative time during your alone time.

One of my biggest struggles as a creative HSP is juggling free time with creative time. I’ve had to learn that part of my self-care is not feeling like I have to be doing something all of the time; I need time to do “nothing” and recharge my batteries.

But I also have to make time for creativity; otherwise, I’ll never work on the creative ideas that come to me throughout the day when I’m doing other things. 

What helps is not overlapping “recharge” time with creative time.

Here’s what I mean. There are three main ways I use alone time:

  1. Getting job-related work done
  2. Working on creative outlets
  3. Doing activities that are for enjoyment and recharging, such as reading, playing video games, or daydreaming

Job-related work is necessary for me to make a living, so it often gets priority throughout the week. I’m also pretty great at making time for self-care activities because I need them to recharge. But the creative time is something I have to assign somehow, or I’ll never actually get to it.

Creative HSPs must have both recharge and creative alone time while also remembering that they are distinct. Creativity still requires mental energy, so it might feel heavy if you try to cram it into your “nothing” time.

One thing that makes a huge difference is setting metrics for creative time. For example, my most significant chunk of alone time happens on Sundays. I spend most of the day recharging with enjoyable activities or housework, but I’ll set aside creative time for something for one hour. Another method is to say you’re going to complete a certain amount of creative work during your creative time, such as writing X number of pages.

It’s also a good idea to schedule creative time when your mind tends to be most fresh, if possible. For me, that’s the time before I start my freelance work or in the evening before dinner.

And, this is very important: I treat my creative time as different from “work” work. Instead of thinking of it as being on the clock, I allow for the daydreaming time I talked about above during this creative time. Otherwise, I put too much pressure on myself, which causes me to feel anxious.

3. Minimize distractions as much as you can.

Because HSPs are so sensitive to everything around them, the slightest distractions can make staying in a creative flow difficult. But research shows that multitasking is inefficient, leading to not only less work, but sloppier work! There’s no room for the type of deep insights that come with being creative. Instead, “single-tasking” is better-suited for highly sensitive types.

Of course, you can’t always avoid distractions. Life is chaotic at times, especially if you live with other people, have kids, or take care of pets. This is where it’s important to communicate with those around you and set boundaries:

  • Treat your creative time as just as necessary as other engagements (because it is!)
  • Let those you live with know when you need some uninterrupted time
  • Find opportunities for quiet, alone time — if you work in an office, that might mean coming in early or staying late

For example, my husband knows that even minor distractions rattle me and make it hard to get back on track. I can’t get caught up in a random conversation or have something playing loudly on the TV. When I need to work on a creative project, I set myself up in a room of our home where I can close the door and sit quietly. 

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4. Make little notes when inspiration strikes.

I have written the most beautiful poems and short stories in my head while going for a drive or taking a walk. But by the time I get home and sit in front of my computer, it feels like I’m drawing blanks.

What helps me hold onto inspiration is taking notes as often as I can. My smartphone is my best friend for this. For example, if I’m taking a walk, I’ll briefly stop and type out a very rough version of what I’m thinking into my phone’s Notes app. If I’m driving, I’ll use the hands-free function of my phone to speak my thoughts out loud into the same app, or even pull over to a safe area and jot down my thoughts. 

There are a lot of distractions throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to use technology (safely) and tools to bookmark inspiration as it comes to you.

5. Expose yourself to things that trigger your creativity.

As an HSP with anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), getting into a creative zone on cue often feels impossible — or stressful! Instead of making it feel like a chore, I set up my environment for creativity. I’ll put on lyrics-free music that makes me feel inspired, go for a walk (we HSPs love nature!), or look up quotes about creativity.

Think about what conditions are present when you feel most inspired and how you can mimic them during creative time. Maybe inspiration strikes most when you’re listening to your favorite artist, daydreaming while walking your dog, or sitting in a calming environment with comfy clothes. Or maybe your creative “triggers” are completely different! Recognize what leads you to want to create, then try to give yourself more of it.

6. Start with the first step.

HSPs are big-picture thinkers. We’re often anticipating the outcome of a decision before it’s even been executed. We’re picturing the entire project before we’ve even started. While there are many advantages to this, it can also lead to massive amounts of overthinking, leading to perfectionism and procrastination. We might begin with an incredible idea, but never follow through because we can’t connect step one with step 452. 

In his book How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, Rob Bell reminds us to start with the first step and worry about the rest later. “You start with your 1, and then you suspend judgment on what you’re doing because you don’t know what you have when you start.” That’s the thing about creativity — it morphs and changes, and what you end up with might be very different, yet even better, than what you pictured at the beginning.

Just start. Worry about the outcome later. Creativity isn’t linear, so your draft (whether it’s a book, an art project, or what have you) might look entirely different from your end result — and that’s part of the process. 

When starting and working on a creative project, it helps me to remember that:

  • Failure is often part of the process. Things might not go how I expect, or I might not like the outcome of my work at first, but that discomfort is often necessary to get through to the end.
  • Focus on the skills you have, not what you don’t have or who you aren’t. You can’t — and don’t need to be — good at everything. Comparing ourselves to others, or worrying about not being good enough, uses precious energy that we can put toward creative endeavors.
  • Art is subjective. I love The Beatles, but several of my friends hate them. I also have friends who have called their own work “trash” when I could clearly see that it was amazing! If you’re feeling self-doubt about what you create, keep creating anyway. The wonderful thing about art is that there is always something to appreciate. Plus, artists tend to be their own worst critics, so you might not realize what you have until you’ve shown others or taken a step back from it.

Fellow creative HSP, I hope these tips can help you on your artistic journey. Don’t forget to make time for the creative endeavors that call to you and allow you to express your rich inner world.

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