You may not feel like you need to seek help, but that’s the dangerous irony: when HSPs don’t feel much, it’s potentially a cause for concern.
Hope and optimism seem to finally be on the horizon for many people. The COVID-19 vaccines are continually to be widely distributed, things are slowly opening up again, and life is creeping back to some semblance of normalcy.
But for a highly sensitive person (HSP), things might not actually feel better. Many of us might actually find ourselves feeling extra exhausted, or like we’ve been stuck in a rut, or maybe, for lack of a better term, you’re just feeling kind of “meh.”
Because sensitive people are generally more emotionally attuned and empathic to the world around them, it’s very likely that many HSPs have been hit harder by the collective trauma of the past year. And because of this ability to feel the things of this past year more deeply, many of us find ourselves still reeling from things like grief (whether personal or collective), stress, and anxiety.
So if you’re concerned that you’re not of those running out to celebrate and revel in the returning normalcy, and you find yourself wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” just know that many may still be feeling the same way as you. As a therapist, I have seen a wide range of coping, and some people are not yet completely healed from the tragedies of last year. It is completely understandable that some of us would still be feeling loss, especially since the HSP feels deeper.
When we are stressed, our nervous system goes into a heightened sense of vigilance (aka the fight-or-flight response), and for someone whose nervous system responds to things more deeply, this can be extremely taxing on one’s mental and physical health.
I picture a soldier standing guard all night, keeping an eye out for possible danger. It’s tiring. But at least the soldier gets relieved when it’s time for a changing of the post. There’s an end in sight and they get to go recoup and recover.
But imagine an HSP’s nervous system doing that for over a year — nonstop. And though things seem to be getting better, the pandemic isn’t really over yet, which can mean that our heightened guard will be kept up for even longer. It can be downright debilitating.
Highly Sensitive People May Be ‘Languishing’ More Than Others
Psychologist Adam Grant from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania recently published an article in The New York Times where he cited research by sociologist Corey Keyes and defined this feeling as a feeling of “languishing.” Grant describes the effects of languishing as losing focus and motivation, and has even labeled it as the “dominant emotion of 2021.” If languishing is the dominant emotion for the general masses, just imagine how domin-ating and crushing an emotion it can be for us highly sensitive types.
Perhaps we can find comfort in knowing that we’re not alone; that many people, and not just HSPs, are feeling these things. But that doesn’t mean we just accept it, roll over, and give in to the emptiness and stagnation. If anything, the fact that it is the “dominant emotion” of this past year just underscores how important it is for everyone to seek help; and especially so for the highly sensitive to consider seeking a therapist to talk to.
Therapists Can Help Sensitive People Validate Their Experience
Sensitive people can greatly benefit from finding someone who will validate their experience. When we can easily get overwhelmed, especially given how we may have experienced this past year, we need to talk to someone that can help us navigate that experience and to not pathologize our temperament.
One of the go-to strategies psychologists have for helping people manage their emotions is to give them a way of naming them. Just as Grant has given us a name for the overall emotion we’re feeling, talking to someone can help us acknowledge the especially difficult things we’ve been feeling. When you name the thing you’re feeling, it’s a step in the right direction to helping you figure out how to manage. Is it grief? Sadness? Anger? Maybe a spectrum of things? Untangling the wiry, complicated feelings of our year in quarantine is an important thing to do.
A Therapist Can Help an HSP Foster and Nurture Their Sensitivity
But it’s not just with the difficult emotions that therapy can really help an HSP with. Since we tend to feel every emotion on a deeper level, we can also feel the happier feelings more, too. A therapist can help a sensitive person foster and nurture their sensitivity in such a way that they harness the experiences of this past year so that it can be a source of healing and well-being rather than one that leads to hopelessness.
Despite the fact that we might have seen more sad things than happy things this past year, finding someone to help you find positives can help you take back much of what the pandemic has stolen from you in terms of your mental health. A therapist can help guide you in finding gratefulness in the midst of grief, or self-compassion in the midst of despondency or helplessness.
The important thing to keep under consideration is that when looking for a therapist, find one who is familiar with the trait of high sensitivity. You might ask potential providers questions regarding their knowledge and experience with working with people who share our temperament.
The other thing to consider is that this “bleh” feeling might be causing a blindspot. Whereas some of us are feeling the weight of the world and taking that as a sign that we ought to ask for help, the opposite could happen, too. You may be hesitant or reluctant to seek therapy because you’re not clinically depressed. You may not exhibit tangible symptoms of mental illness, but that doesn’t mean you’re well either. You may not actually feel like you need to seek help, but that’s the dangerous irony: for someone who feels things deeply to actually not feel much is potentially a cause for concern. But that’s the dilemma, isn’t it? How are we supposed to spot something we can’t see?
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Benefits of Seeking Help and Seeing a Therapist
While certainly not an end-all list, the following things can be indicators that you may benefit from seeing a therapist:
- You find yourself forgetting things often, feeling “foggy headed,” or having more brain slips. Maybe you find yourself making more mistakes at work, or you’re mixing up important dates. Perhaps you’re catching typos or other little blips. In any case, you’re just not yourself.
- Your sleep is disrupted. You’re lying awake at night, ruminating over things or worrying. And it’s known that we sensitive types need more sleep than others due to the overstimulation we experience all day, so a lack of sleep is something to be concerned about. Or it could be the reverse; instead of being kept up all hours of the night, you find yourself sleeping a lot more than you’re used to and spending too much time in bed.
- Regardless of how much you sleep, you feel tired all the time. You might be getting enough sleep, but you don’t feel refreshed in the morning. During the day, you’re sluggish and zombie-walking through what feels like a constant malaise.
- Your eating habits are off. You may be stress eating. Or, it could be the opposite. You’ve lost your appetite and are not adequately nourishing your body. You’re skipping meals that you used to have consistently. You may also be getting hangry (hungry + angry) more often, which is common among HSPs.
- You are isolating yourself or retreating from social connections. One of the healthiest things to do that keeps us mentally and emotionally healthy is to keep our relationships and connections intact. But perhaps you find yourself not really wanting to engage with others. While sensitive people do sometimes need time alone and a quiet space away from people to not get overstimulated, there’s a balance to be struck. Maybe you’re feeling no desire, or a lack of capacity even for those who are closest to you.
- You lack motivation. You just don’t feel like it — like anything. Whereas you used to get outside for that 20-minute jog or walk, you now sometimes find it difficult to even get up and walk over to your fridge.
- You are unable to keep up with your regular tasks at work. While it is normal for our level of productivity to shift from time to time, you’re finding yourself uncharacteristically missing multiple deadlines at work.
- You feel “meh” more often than not. Instead of thriving, you’re empty and void of things: vitality, joy, gratitude, all things you might normally feel a lot more of. It’s not that you have to be the life of the party, but if you’re not as “alive” as you used to be. Thus, you might be slinking downward into languishment.
While a lot of these warning signs can easily be explained away as just being in a “funk,” they might also be indications that you’d greatly benefit from seeking help and talking to a licensed therapist. Finding a safe space to delve into things with someone who can acknowledge what you’re going through — and guide you through the process — is a great way to climb out of the pit of listlessness and back into a healthy, thriving life.
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