One of the most common questions Highly Sensitive People have is: how do I stop being so sensitive?
This is a fair question, given the typical problems Highly Sensitive People experience.
It’s also a question that the education system or mainstream media doesn’t usually answer.
You might have been told to ‘stop being so sensitive!’ or ‘grow a thicker skin’ – but have you noticed how nobody ever explains how to do these?
High Sensitivity can quickly lead to overwhelm – but that doesn’t mean you need to stop being so sensitive.
So what that means, is you need to learn a few tips, tricks and coping strategies for Highly Sensitive People.
Why do Highly Sensitive People get overwhelmed?
When your input is too high and your processing capacity too low, you get overloaded and experience the typical Highly Sensitive Person problems of overwhelm, anxiety, high stress, not feeling comfortable in your own skin, and not feeling understood by the non-HSPs around you. Even to the point of feeling there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.
The fundamental challenge of being Highly Sensitive is:
more input + less processing capacity = system overload
Let’s look at input levels, processing time, and how to avoid system overload – how to be Highly Sensitive and thriving, not just coping.
One of the first steps you can take to handle your high sensitivity, is to reduce your input. This may be temporary reduction, or longer-lasting habits of reduced input.
Why reducing input is critical:
Think about it: sensitive people notice more, and get more emotionally affected by their experiences.
Say you have double the number of sensory/experiential inputs: x2.
To each input, you have double the number of internal responses: x2.
And because your responses are more intense, let’s say double again: x2.
(I’m making these ratios up – it’s the general idea I want to convey, not empirical rates of relative sensitivity/response etc)
You have 2 x 2 x 2 = EIGHT TIMES the experience input and response level of a non-HSP.
Or more.[I’d love there to be some actual studies done on this. I’ve no idea if they exist – if you know of any, do drop me a note, I’d love to know! Thanks.]
Elaine Aron calls this High Sensitivity. Dabrovsky labelled it over-excitabilities.
Imagine yourself as a basket, and all these inputs come flying in through your day.
At the end of the day, your basket is eight times as full as non-HSP baskets. A full basket takes a lot of processing, and a full basket makes you less tolerant of more input coming in, so you start over-reacting or shutting down in response.
High sensitivity is often confused with over-reactivity. The two are related, one person can have both going on, but they’re not necessarily the same thing. Have a read of Sensitive or Sensitised and Stop over-reacting.
By reducing your inputs, even by a small amount, you reduce the processing 8x that small amount of input reduction.
Taking up meditation. Going for a walk. Lying on your bed doing nothing.
You can be physically active in a low-stimulus environment: Bake. Garden. Knit. Paint. Play music. Get a massage. Row. Bike on quiet lanes.
Increasing processing capacity
From the back-of-an-envelope estimate of 8x input/response level above, you need 8x the processing, to get through all that input.
Perhaps you recognise these signs:
- Do you lie awake in bed with your day whirring through your mind?
- Do you find yourself re-running conversations and events time and time again in your head?
- Do you feel so full up after interactions that you crave time by yourself?
These are all signs you have more to process, and you need to do it without (too much) extra input coming in.
When you have higher processing capacity, you’re less quickly overloaded or overwhelmed, and handle your sensitivity better – which means you get the benefits of it, not just the overwhelm.
How do you increase your processing capacity?
You have three options:
- You can increase the efficiency of your processing.
- You can increase the time you have available for processing.
- You can shift out the old stuff that’s inhibiting your processing.
Here we go…
Increasing your processing efficiency
Allocating more time to processing might not be an option for you.
Knowing what works for you, your own special recipe, is crucial. Try out suggestions, and after you’ve given it a reasonable go and it doesn’t work? Try something else. There are so many different options – because we’re all different. Find what works for you.
Here are a few strategies for improving your processing effectiveness, so you process more in a shorter window of time.
- Discover mindfulness: become clearer on what you’re experiencing, and apply it at odd moments of your day.
- Body awareness: the more you’re aware of your body, the quicker you’ll rcognise your responses. Watch out: if you ‘ve been through, or are currently experiencing, traumatic or chronically stressful situations, your body might feel uncomfortable to the point that you’ve numbed it out. Go gently – get help from an experienced meditation guide (hi – you’re looking for me?) to release the emotions stored in your body.
- Journal – write things down. Get them out of your head. The more you get out, the clearer you become over time.
- Do yoga or other exercises that get into your muscles, joints and fascia – clinical research shows that yoga is an effective trauma (stored emotion) release.
- Ground yourself – sign up to get grounded with my Free Grounding Course.
Being highly sensitive, you’ll have stronger responses to some positive and calming things too. When you experience more positivity and calm in your day, your processing capacity and efficiency go up.
Find the quick tricks that work for you to up your relaxation and decompression speed.
Going through your senses is a good way to start. Make a shortlist of 3 go-to quick fixes for each of your senses – for example:
- Sight: know what makes your eyes happy. A picture. A pattern. Something outside. A 5 sec GIF that never fails to lift your mood.
- Sound: A banging tune can press your reset button in 3 minutes 38 seconds. White noise or ASMR do things.
- Scent: Certain fragrances can chill you out in seconds. Others hype you up.
- Taste: Savour a tictac. Lose yourself in a nugget of deeply dark chocolate.
- Body: Hand massage. Face massage. Stretch. 30 sec walk. Dance. Jiggle about a bit. It doesn’t have to be formal, structured, or HIIT! Something that works is what we’re looking for.
- Mind: recite a favourite mantra, motto or poem. Remember how you felt at the spa after that amazing massage session – recreate it mentally. Ground – drop into your body, out of your head – download my Free Grounding Course for guided audios to do this quickly and effectively.
Increasing your processing time
Create little islands of time in your day where you can process:
- Schedule me-time into your diary.
- Take a brief pause between activities.
- Set an hourly reminder for a mindful minute.
Expand your current processing activities:
- Do a little longer every day.
- Do a little more often every day
- Do different ones, every day, so you build up what works for you.
Delete or reduce an unhelpful habit and replace it with a more helpful one, or extend a current activity into the space it frees up:
- Swap out Netflix for meditating, creating, doing nothing for a moment.
- Spend less time with people who cause chaos in your world, and more time with kind, caring, supportive people – especially if you have strong Empath skills.
Shifting out the old stuff
If you’ve gone through difficult experiences, as a child or adult, it may well have left its mark. You may have trauma (old, stored emotion) stored up, you would probably benefit from releasing that trauma. Clear your cache by closing down or deleting the apps you no longer use, so you have space for new ones.
Trauma from previous bad experiences shows up as triggers – catapulting you into highly charged states way in excess of where you need to be for the present situation. Releasing stored emotions from the body is one of the best ways to reduce your sensitivity to those triggers.
To go back to the basket analogy, old trauma is like having a constantly half-full basket: there’s much less room for what’s happening right now, there’s less space for processing, too.
Clearing out your trauma helps you to stop being sensitive, as it leaves you with a fewer traumas to trigger, a more relaxed baseline – an emptier basket.
Bodywork such as massage or cranio-sacral therapy, trauma-informed counselling, EMDR, and a wide range of helping modalities come in handy here.
My own speciality is helping you to reconnect with your body and let it release what it’s ready to release. This works both in-person and via online video calls. Have a look at your options for working with me.
1. Do Nothing
Totally valid option.
There are plenty of useful books, websites, programmes, workshops, retreats and more to help you identify, understand, manage, and magnify your high sensitivity gifts.
Many of my articles are about sensitivity – have a look around and find what’s useful to you.
You might enjoy my free course on grounding – a fundamental skill to keep yourself anchored in and open to your experience. Read about what it is to be Ungrounded then sign up for your free copy of my Grounding Course, with a guidebook and guided audios.
If you have Highly Sensitive Children, take a look at my self-guided course Highly Sensitive Child: Parenting Strategies.
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3. Do It With Someone
When you’re looking for someone to support you, especially with matters that affect your mental and emotional wellness, make sure you find a professional who’s up-to-date with High Sensitivity issues.
I offer 1:1 consultations to help people release baggage from their past and embrace their high sensitivity and its gifts. To get started, book yourself a Free 15 Minute Call with me. Tell me your situation and what you’re looking for, see how we click, and I’ll share with you a few options that you might find useful for supporting you.
For improving and practising your meditation, grounding and energy management, check out my monthly online retreats.