When things get intense, HSPs go into “overdrive” — and then brain fog. Here’s how to stop the process and turn it around.
People getting on our nerves is a normal part of life. But when you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), you’re more overstimulated than the average person, and that means the words — and actions — of other people can feel very intense. I mean heart pounding, brain racing, energy levels dropping, like your whole system is going into overdrive. Before I learned I was an HSP, I didn’t realize why people people — and their moods — affected me so much.
But this is actually normal for HSPs, and there are ways you can calm your highly sensitive soul down. But to understand them, first let’s take a look at what being highly sensitive even means — and why we so easily switch into “overdrive.”
Why Highly Sensitive People Go Into Overdrive
While we can say that every single person is sensitive to an extent, some people are more sensitive than others. In fact, approximately 30 percent of people are born more sensitive, both physically and emotionally. (While about 40 percent of people are average in sensitivity, 20 percent are low in sensitivity.) According to researchers, this trait is referred to as environmental sensitivity, or Sensory Processing Sensitivity. And, not to worry: All three levels of environmental sensitivity are considered healthy and normal.
People (both children and adults) who fall near the high end of the sensitivity continuum are called highly sensitive people, or HSPs. They are often deeply in touch with their own emotions, as well as others’ — they feel them as though they’re their own. Plus, their physical environments affect them, too, and they’ll pick up on the little things others miss. They’re also more sensitive to lights, textures, noises, smells, and other environmental factors that others don’t really think about. Their sensitivity comes out in other ways, as well: They are highly creative, empathic, and intuitive. And some researchers believe high sensitivity is linked to giftedness, as well.
If you’re wondering how someone “becomes” sensitive, they’re born that way — and the trait continues to develop from childhood through adulthood. Although sensitivity does not just “go away,” there are ways to better manage the overstimulation, and intense emotions, that result from it.
Believe me, I used to want my sensitivity to just disappear — especially as I’d feel my (very big) emotions go into overdrive. They’d get the best of me: I was exhausted (mentally and physically), my creativity dulled, and my senses felt less sharp. It was like I was in a fog because I was constantly drained — and I couldn’t see the road ahead. And even though I had identified the problems, I wasn’t as clear on how to find the solutions.
But the more I researched high sensitivity, the more I realized I could take certain actions to work with it instead of against it. And, over time, I’ve learned to calm my highly sensitive soul instead, in these two ways.
Why Balance Is Essential for Highly Sensitive People
As I integrated more meditation, time in nature, and feel-good spaces in my life, I was able to build up my energy, both mentally and physically. Before this, I hadn’t had a good sense of balance, which I realized once I started becoming more balanced (if that makes sense).
Before, I’d been flailing like a fish out of its bowl — balance had been elusive and hidden from my overworked nervous system. But now that I had the keys to balance — and actually made time for these self-care practices — I could then do them whenever I needed to calm down. (Or as a preventative measure.)
Part of this balance also includes environmental psychology and becoming more and more aware of it. In other words, it’s all about spacing. Our energy extends out, and if there are chaotic factors around us, like lots of people, it could impact how we feel. So removing ourselves from such a situation — like stepping outside for a literal breath of fresh air — can work wonders. That way, you can easily build up your energy, as well as your resilience.
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What Happens When You Actually Listen to your HSP Intuition?
Because we HSPs have such a strong sense of intuition, it really works against us when we ignore it. For instance, if our body and soul tells us we’ve had enough socializing and we need to go home, that’s that. If we stay in an overstimulating environment just to appease others, or attend that social event we really want to skip, it does us more harm than good.
We HSPs benefit from listening to our intuition, or at least meeting ourselves in the middle. You can ask yourself: What would you like to see happen now that you realize that overwhelm may be imminent? How would you like to create balance in a situation that is clearly chaotic?
We have to keep in mind that we have the power to change our situation, even though it may not always seem like it in the moment.
For example, if you are a people-pleaser, you are driven by others’ needs before your own, so listening to your intuition may take practice — and a lot of it. I spent many years in the people-pleaser “role” and it certainly takes its toll on you. I’d ignored my own needs because it was just easier not to rock the boat — HSPs don’t like conflict! However, it created years of discontentment and burnout for me, which was not good for my HSP soul!
In fact, at one point, I felt like my only purpose was just to be a help to others and that my needs weren’t valid. After all, if you think too much of yourself, you are labeled as “selfish.” So, instead, I was selfless — but to a fault. But once I learned to become self-aware instead, it changed everything. By creating boundaries — which is not easy for highly sensitive people to do — I learned to honor myself better, and my needs. And, it goes without saying that honoring yourself, and your needs, is a healthy response to any environment you enter.
When you do this, then there is no room for manipulation or the “chameleon experience.” What is the chameleon experience? It means to mold and adapt yourself to fit into the environment you’re in (vs. listening to your own wants and needs). I think so many of us just fit in and fake it. But, as HSPs, we pride ourselves on being authentic, so the more authentic we are, the more true we are to our HSP nature.
Your Nervous System Can Be Your Messenger, but Doesn’t Have to Be Your Manipulator
These days, when I feel I’m getting into “overdrive” mode, I remind myself of this simple thing: My nervous system may be my messenger, but it doesn’t have to be my manipulator. In other words, we are all in control of how we handle the memos, so to speak, that are sent to us through this intricate, sensitive soul of ours. And it takes practice responding to these messages in order to truly honor yourself.
But, the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. The old saying that “practice makes perfect” is, indeed, true — especially when it comes to achieving balance through authenticity and listening to our HSP intuition.
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