Why ‘Community Care’ Is Just as Important for HSPs as Self-Care

A highly sensitive person practices community care

HSPs often feel like they’re different from other people, but when they have a trusted community, they nourish themselves with human connection. 

Self-care is all the rage these days — and for good reason. Many of us learn to shirk our own needs, working harder and longer, while mental health professionals push the importance of taking time for ourselves. In fact, self-care is essential for good mental and physical health.

But at the same time, self-care is no replacement for having caring people in your life. As activist and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” But when you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) who loves downtime and gets overwhelmed by too much social interaction, it can be hard to form a circle of trust with others. 

In the last several hundreds of years, society has shifted from group-centric living to self-reliant individualism. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” you might know what I’m talking about. There’s a sense that we’re only responsible for ourselves — that we don’t (and shouldn’t) need anyone else’s help.

But this concept isn’t entirely healthy for anyone — and that includes HSPs. There’s a flip side to self-care that we also need. Let’s call it “community care.”

Self-Care vs. Community Care (and Why HSPs Need Both)

Let’s get one thing clear: Self-care is not selfish. There’s so much value in being able to self-soothe and care for your own needs. And because HSPs have a rich inner world, they are often great at knowing what types of self-care they need.

Now, in contrast to self-care, community care means a ring of people who watch out for each other’s needs. They don’t just call when they need a favor, but check in and behave in a caring way because they care. Each person in the community gets their needs met through the group’s commitment.

According to Frank Martela, Ph.D., in A Wonderful Life: Insights on Finding a Meaningful Existence, our brains are wired to be social. “It’s in our nature to have, as the locus of one’s life, not me but we,” he writes.

And giving to the community might also have physical health benefits. A research team at the University of British Columbia gave weekly spending money to a group of people with high blood pressure. Researchers told half of the group to spend the money on themselves. The other half was to spend the money on someone else. After three weeks, the group that spent money on other people had significantly decreased blood pressure compared to the other group.

Thankfully, there are many ways we can benefit from a community these days, including:

  • in-person get-togethers
  • social media groups
  • chat boards
  • private communication platforms (like Slack or Discord)
  • voice or video chats (like Google Meet or Zoom)

Although we have many ways to connect, the internet can also be isolating. Photographs, filters, and selective posting (where people only share what they want others to see) create an unrealistic version of life. So, community care is about finding people with whom you can be yourself, receive support, and provide support in return.

HSPs Need Community Care, But It Can Be Challenging for Them

HSPs highly value their inner worlds. They tend to think deeply, favor quiet, creative hobbies over social ones, and spend a lot of time processing what they perceive. Getting outside of their heads and forming relationships takes extra energy, and unless there’s a deep sense of trust, many HSPs feel exposed when sharing their lives with others. 

For example, friends must understand that an HSP needs more time to recharge from social gatherings and might take things more personally than the average person. At the same time, HSPs must recognize the value of having and being part of a community. There’s no substitute for having people you can turn to for support.

Ironically, while building community can be hard for HSPs, they’re a group that might need it the most. 

Here’s what I mean:

As an HSP myself, I tend to detach from others when I’m overwhelmed, stressed, or sad. It’s hard and uncomfortable to let other people “in” until I’ve processed my situation fully… But, at the same time, I feel better when I talk to people who relate to what I’m going through. Even if they can’t completely understand, close friends will validate my feelings as tough. I have two best friends I text regularly. When one of us feels self-doubt or anxiety, we all confirm that we’ve experienced it, too, and offer each other support. 

HSPs often feel like they’re different from those around them. But when they have a trusted community of like-minded people, they nourish themselves with the natural human connection. 

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How to Incorporate Community Care Into Your Life

Even though connecting with others can be challenging for HSPs, it’s not impossible, and there are ways you can slowly start to build your community.

Here are some steps you might take.

  • Reach out to old (or current) friends. Busy lives make it hard for everyone to keep in touch. If you had old good relationships that fell off over time, consider reaching out again. That other person might have been meaning to catch up, too, but never found the time. You might reach out by sending a check-in text, commenting on social media posts, writing a thoughtful letter, sending them a funny post, picture, or video they’d like, you name it! And, of course, don’t forget about the people who are currently in your life. When you think of them, take a few moments to reach out. Simple acts can often compound and lead to more regular connections. They may have just needed a little nudge!
  • Show up to get-togethers (even just for a little while). I am a pro at accepting invites and fully intending to go to an event. But the “showing up” part is the problem. I’ll get busy with daily life and suddenly realize that the party or get-together was yesterday. Going to social events is also hard for me if my energy levels are low, I’m stressed, or I’ve been social earlier that week. But I think it’s essential for HSPs to remember the benefits of saying “yes” to some things — within limits. For example, my husband and I might agree to attend a party, but only stay until a certain time. We can show up, say hello, and see friends before heading back home to recharge. Showing up can also help you find and connect with other HSPs. Maybe someone else came to support their friend, too, but would rather be at home reading. That person could be your future book club companion. 
  • Suggest HSP-friendly activities. Speaking of book clubs, that’s just one of several activities that make HSPs happy. Sometimes, you can form a community by doing things you like around others. You might propose a coffee shop date, one of those painting parties, or a stay-at-home movie night. These activities could become a regular occurrence that you look forward to each week or month.
  • Connect with fellow HSPs online. The fact that you’re reading this article is proof of the internet’s power of connection. (There’s strength in numbers, right?) Look for online groups and forums where you can connect with other HSPs (such as the Highly Sensitive Refuge Facebook group!). It’s definitely not only a place to find like-minded people who share your sensitive nature, but you can also form friendships and community with people from all over. Plus, online chats are lower pressure than in-person events and give you a place to discuss topics deeply. Those are win-wins for HSPs. (And you can log off whenever you’d like.) 
  • Think of “community care” as “self-care.” Highly sensitive people are often highly in tune with their self-care needs. Even if they ignore their bodies’ calls for rest, HSPs can feel fatigue, overwhelm, or burnout faster than others. But it’s easy to forget that having a community is part of self-care. I try to remember that meaningful human connection is a pillar of health, even if (as an HSP introvert) I need it less frequently than others. 

So, in essence, community care is vital for humans, even highly sensitive people who highly value alone time. If the thought of building a community is a lot, take it slow. Try the tips above to reach out to others a little at a time. You can gradually form a community that supports you — and vice-versa. And the best part is, there is no “wrong” way to do it! 

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