Growing up, I was a very sensitive child. One of my earliest memories is of freaking out after seeing a particularly bad story on the news. I don’t remember what the story was about, but I do remember running to my bedroom, plugging my ears, and making up a song about how “everything will be all right.” I sang it as loudly as I could — to cover the noise of the TV — until my mom came in, shocked to find me in such a ramped-up state.
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I learned I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), and things finally made sense. HSPs process information deeply, and as a result, they experience the world a little differently than non-HSPs. Images of violence or stories of heartbreak can be excruciating for them to witness. Sudden loud noises, bright lights, and busy schedules have the power to rattle them profoundly.
(Read more about what a highly sensitive person is.)
Today, I’m an author who studies introversion and high sensitivity. I’ve found that HSPs need somewhat different things in life than non-HSPs to be happy; here are 14 of those things. Keep in mind that every highly sensitive person is an individual, so these points may not full apply to each HSP.
What Highly Sensitive People Need to Be Happy
1. A slower, simpler pace of life
Because they process information deeply, HSPs may move a little slower than non-HSPs. They may need more time to do certain tasks, like getting out of the house in the morning. They may take a little longer to make decisions, such as which item to buy at the grocery store, because they are taking in not just the mountain of choices, but also nutrition information, price, and how they feel about chicken noodle. Suddenly, their mind flashes to chickens being cooped up in tiny cages then slaughtered… and they must take a few beats to ponder if they can live with this reality on their dinner plate or not. All of this takes time.
2. Time to wind down after a busy day
Like introverts, HSPs can’t go-go-go for too long. Their extra sensitive nervous systems absorb mounds of information and process it to the umpteenth degree. As a result, they may get easily overwhelmed and worn out after a busy day. Time to relax lowers their stimulation level and restores their sanity.
3. A calm, quiet space to retreat to
Preferably #2 is paired with #3. This space, ideally, would have low lighting, little noise, a warm feeling, a beautiful look, and the HSP’s favorite tools to relax (a book, music, a comfy pillow, etc.).
4. Permission to get emotional and have a good cry
Not only are HSPs extra sensitive to environmental stimulation, they’re also sensitive emotionally. According to Dr. Elaine Aaron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, sensitive people tend to cry more than non-HSPs. “Sensitive people can’t help but express what they’re feeling,” she told the Huffington Post. “They show their anger, they show their happiness. Appreciating that is really important.”
5. Time to adjust to change
Transitions can be tough for anybody, but for HSPs, they can quickly snowball into a bundle of stress and overwhelm. Even positive changes, like starting a new relationship or moving into a dream home, can be overstimulating and require an extra long period of adjustment.
6. Close, meaningful relationships
HSPs crave deep connections with others. In fact, according to Aron, they may get bored or restless in relationships that lack meaningful interaction. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re prone to relationship hopping. Rather, they may actually work harder to strike up a meaningful conversation with their partner and create intimacy.
This also means HSPs tend to be selective about the people they let into their lives. A simple surface-level, give-and-take relationship will simply not cut it for an HSP. They want to dive deep into your soul and connect with you in a profound way. Let them.
7. A gentle, healthy way of managing conflict
HSP or not, fighting with a loved one is the worst, but sensitive people tend to feel extra anxious when conflict arises. Often an internal battle takes place. The HSP may have strong feelings about something, but they keep them to themselves, because they don’t want to make the other person mad. Dealing with an angry person can be overstimulating.
Plus, we hate hurting other people because we know from personal experience just how much that sucks. HSPs tend to have high levels of empathy, and this is just one of the ways our caring for others shows up.
Unfortunately, this means sensitive people often hide their needs and just “go along to get along.” They need a healthy way of dealing with disagreements that doesn’t involve yelling or drama.
8. A good night’s sleep
A lack of sleep is enough to make anyone cranky, sloppy, and oh-so-unproductive. But a lack of sleep for an HSP can make life almost unbearable. Getting enough sleep helps soothe the HSP’s ramped-up senses and allows them to process their emotions. How much sleep a sensitive person gets can literally make or break their day.
9. Healthy meals, spaced regularly throughout the day
According to Aron, hunger can really mess with a sensitive person’s mood or concentration. HSPs are the ultimate hangry monsters.
10. Caffeine-free and nonalcoholic options
Surprise, surprise… some HSPs (not all!) are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and alcohol.
11. An outlet for their creative side
Many HSPs have a strong need to create. They channel their poignant observations, insights, and emotions into art, poetry, music, and more. Deborah Ward, author of Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness, writes, “Sensitivity can be overwhelming, but it is also like having extra RAM on my personal hard drive…Creativity is the pressure valve for all that accumulated emotional and sensory data.”
12. A strong sense of purpose
Some people seem to drift through life without direction or purpose. For HSPs, this is unthinkable. Rather, they think deeply about the big things in life. Who are they, why are they here, and what were they put on this planet to do? Whether it’s writing a novel, traveling the world, or leading the way for a cause they believe in, HSPs crave meaning.
13. Loved ones who understand and respect their sensitive nature
Because most people are not highly sensitive, they simply don’t understand what it’s like to get very stressed out by, say, a startling noise, a busy weekend, or a violent scene in a movie. Not everyone will understand, and that’s okay. But what an HSP needs is at least a few people — preferably the people closest to them — to “get” their sensitivity. Someone who not only gets it, but helps protect them from overstimulation (“Yes, it’s perfectly okay that we leave the party now. I can see all over your face that you’re overstimulated.”). And, someone who sees all the wonderful gifts that come with this rare trait.
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14. Natural surroundings and beauty
HSP or not, our environment affects us. For example, people tend to feel happier in rooms with curved edges and rounded contours than in sharp-edged rectangular rooms. Also, green spaces boost our mood and soothe mental illness. For HSPs, this effect is even more profound. For them, the way things look really matters. Cluttered, chaotic, or just plain ugly environments may really unsettle them. Beauty is a soul-balm that rejuvenates and soothes.
You might like:
- 21 Signs That You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
- Why Do Highly Sensitive People Absorb Other People’s Emotions?
- 12 Secrets About Dating an HSP
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