The HSP Experience - Everyday Life
Updated: Aug 8, 2021
Being highly sensitive and processing things more deeply can be a real bummer at times. Reaching my limits more quickly than others and basically living in a world not meant for me, and the 15-20% of us out there, makes it hard to keep a positive outlook about my trait all the time.
However, I very much prefer my ability to appreciate so many of the little things that others might not even notice. The nuances in the everyday moments.
I really dig my "oracle" abilities and my expedient and accurate readings of who people truly are... even when they originally disagree. It's just that I often know their true selves before they have come to know it. I know in my gut. I used to let people make me think I was arrogant, "off-base", or "misunderstanding" them, but not these days. I truly can read between the lines, the tones, the spoken and unspoken - even with the best of salesmen. It is just a skill that is not comprehensible or believable by those that haven't experienced it first hand.
It's weird as hell, I admit it! Freaks people out.
It's a pretty useful superpower though.
There is so much to LOVE about being an HSP that it makes sense that there would be so much to struggle with as one also.
So what's a gal to do then? If the downside is just part of the amazing upside, one that I'm not interested in giving up truly (some days I'll tell you otherwise though!), then I'd better find ways to get perspective and harness my individual HSP characteristics in a way that serves me and my needs, goals, and - dare I say it - empower my own damn self!
That takes a lot of doing. That, in my experience, takes a minimum of some therapy and some real deep inner-work to obtain a quality and supportive understanding of oneself. I also believe it takes practical strategies and exercises (highly triggering ones at times) in order to truly get to know yourself and be able to reflect on the past, assess the present, and plan for the future.
For me, that equates to lots of reading/research, workbooks, therapies (this blog included), and constant inner-evaluation of what I'm really needing in this moment and what it will take to get there. It's been hard as hell rediscovering myself, but more so finding my voice again. I had surrounded myself with those who weren't used to hearing it, so it was an adjustment for them as well.
I've had to leave some really important relationships behind that had stood for some time and through some dark moments of my life.
But coming back to yourself is hard to do... and it can hurt. But you must. If you are to survive this messy life, you must be true to yourself.
I don't have this all figured out - let's be very clear about that. I'm learning every day and changing every day. But there are some things I have learned thus far that have been mighty helpful and I'd really love if they helped someone else too.
This is the first in a series where I am going to speak to common experiences that affect HSPs and some tips and tricks for working through them.
Keep in mind, every HSP experience is unique. This contains generalities mixed with my personal experiences and practices. I use the word practices on purpose. As with yoga and meditation, I'll never have this figured out fully, it's a daily practice.
I explained a bit about my HSP trait and what that means in a previous blog post you can access by clicking the button below to refresh yourself:
To quickly generalize it, HSPs have an increased depth of processing, a tendency to be more easily overstimulated, a higher level of emotional intensity, and increased awareness of environmental subtleties.
Subsequent topics will cover social situations, relationships, work, health & self-care, and possibly some deeper work. Let's kick this off shall we!
Everyday Life and Social Situations
Life is exhausting, for everyone. For an HSP, it can be even more so, or at least we get there more quickly. Tasks that a non-HSP sees as simple or easy may end up being overwhelming for me. There are several practices that have been really helpful to me on this journey.
Transition Times/Breaks Between Activities
Understanding that I shouldn't go from one task to another, one event to another, one place to another (anything that involves a transition really) without some "transition time" or "break" between has been a game changer. It gives my body the time it needs to adjust and be a better version of me than you were about to get. Just sayin'.
It could be as simple as a quick walk around the building or as big of a move as asking someone to delay your lunch/dinner for 30-minutes.
This goes for bedtime too. A "wind-down" activity at night like journaling or some relaxing stretching is something I have to have or my brain goes haywire and I can't sleep. I'm better at morning transitions, but I'm at my best when I can take 30 minutes or so from my alarm going off to when I have to start my workout. Otherwise I sort of just muddle through it instead of having my wits and determination about me. I really love it when I have time after my workout to have a cup of coffee before getting ready, but that usually only happens on the weekends.
Building in some time between activities can be done in a number of ways. Making it a point to get these breaks throughout the day make a difference.
Routine - I'm gonna beat the fire outta this dead horse!!!
Ew, routines are boring! Nah, brah - routines are where the fun lives! I am a routine person, no book had to teach me that. Once I learned how much better routine and structure made my life, it was on like Donkey Kong.
Routines help you know what to expect and be more resilient for the things you weren't. Following a routine frees up some of that brain-processing power so you can save it for other tasks throughout the day. Without routine, I operate in a state of heightened attention, thus draining me of that extra energy I'll need later when it really counts. Embrace auto-pilot!
As with most HSPs, I consistently evaluate my routines for efficiency and simplicity to see if I can improve upon it. I'm always "fixing" things. Some people say they don't need fixing. I say perhaps they aren't noticing the details I am to see where it could be even better. A heavy skill set I possess is taking existing things or ideas and improving upon them. I am always looking for ways to be faster, better, stronger.
Another super important learning experience for me was how my environment affected me. Assessing and curating my environment has helped me manage stress and feel more grounded. Finally working toward saving and spending money on things that aesthetically please me, that I personally selected, and that speak to my soul has been a great investment. I have two more rooms in my house to change out, my bedroom being the next target! But my home now reflects ME and MY STYLE. It's welcoming and modern, but it's also a little eclectic - most people say it's like a boutique hotel vibe. I even started painting again and putting stuff on my walls... pillows... blankets... and golden velvet chairs because I can! All the stuff that makes my heart smile and feel at peace.
Taking the time to sit down in each room and think about how that room made me FEEL was a valuable exercise and it really helped pinpoint not just the sights I wanted to see, but the sounds and smells I was looking for as well.
Taking the time (SOOOOOO MUCH TIME) to find the things I was looking for to achieve the environment I can thrive in, the nightmare of making budgets, planning the when's and the how's, fighting shipping during COVID, the list goes on... when I sit in my home I am grounded. In every room of my home that has been revived, I feel myself. I am at peace with the sights, smells, and sounds. And that was worth the struggle to get there.
Master bedroom... I'm coming for ya!!!
Assessing Stimulation Levels
Everyone has limits on what their central nervous system can handle and everyone can, and does, reach a point of feeling overwhelmed. HSPs just get their faster usually.
Understanding what stimulates me helps me learn ways to create a more livable day-to-day life. Discovering what sources of stimulation are good or bad for me and what environments and situations trigger the good and bad has been worth the time - and continued review.
Making a list or chart of "sources" of stimulation, then noting the things I like and things I dislike about those sources helps me understand where I might need to give myself some extra care or prep-time, or even set some boundaries that work for me.
The struggle bus of all struggles for me.
Anywho, I digress.
Here is an example from my own chart to help you get started:
This leads me to recognize that I need to give myself the proper time and space to come down from the inevitable overstimulation the new experience will bring, as well as understanding that it is best for me to thoroughly research the new experience so I can feel more in-control and proficient, so it hopefully doesn't affect me quite as much. It's not about learning to avoid all the things that stimulate me, but about how to work through them so they are a more positive experience and not so draining for me.
This has also lead to discoveries of the types of people I surrounded myself with and spend my time and energy on. I've let go of some relationships that I learned weren't "right" for me and what I needed. That's probably the hardest thing for this HSP to do. But I can tell you I notice a big difference in my emotional well being - the band-aid hurt like hell when I ripped it (still does some days), but it needed to be done.
It's hard when I cannot control the level of stimulation in an environment. Every mood/energy, sight, sound, and smell matters to me. Using planning and strategy to help cope makes a difference for me. I'm no longer self-shaming thinking I should be more like other people and that it's "in my head." Everyone has limitations. I'm just learning what mine are so I can better live with the hand that has been dealt and make the best of the situations I encounter.
This is a fun one - and a time consuming one. The tasks in your life take your time, energy, focus, and emotional bandwidth. We all have limited hours in the day and we all try to get as much done in that time as possible - our current world setup seems to demand it. Knowing how much sleep you need, transition times, and what tasks are priorities/necessities or just wants can help you sort and plan your time more appropriately, so you stay in your optimal zone more often.
I review my needs and wants in my professional and personal life and then map out and strategically plan the next week.
This practice enables me to see where my necessities and wants conflict, or what tasks I'm going to need to build in transition time for, so that I don't get too overwhelmed.
I started with a week at a time to get an idea of things. Over time, I discovered and developed recurring items that weren't negotiable and programmed my calendar as such. I do this on my Outlook calendar. I used to Bullet Journal or have a physical planner, but I find I do best these days with the electronic version that I never "forget" to take with me.
I make a list or chart of the things that are "Necessities" at Work and Personally that week (separate boxes for each) - so think, deadlines, meetings, hygiene, sleep, and one self-care activity. It took me a long time to learn that the self-care activity is a necessity and not a want.
Then I add things that are "Wants" for that week. Things like ongoing projects or tasks without deadlines, and socializing or personal projects I want to tackle.
Then it is time to organize and assess the data and start plugging things into the calendar in a way that is meaningful to me. This ensures I take care of the "must-have" items first, the big rocks, and then fill in the rest with the little rocks. Here is my general rule of thumb for the order things are reviewed and added:
Sleep & Waking Routines - I include my workouts and meditation here, because those are part of my non-negotiable morning routine. This group includes everything from getting myself ready, making sure the kids get ready, and getting them to school/etc. before anything else gets to hit the calendar.
Necessities List - These are the needed, non-negotiable things. I plug in the tasks and activities for the things on my necessities list I created. Notice this goes before the wants and that self-care isn't a want, EVER.
Wants List - I go into this knowing some of these might get bumped to later if I wind up not having the time to "do it all", the biggest farce we continue to perpetuate. We cannot do it all. Just be like Elsa and let that shit go. This is the "hope" list. I HOPE I get to it.
Account for Everything - Include travel time and the transition/breaks you'll need. It's most common to over-schedule with the best of intentions, only to have our time run out. So we steal from sleep, eat less healthy, and neglect our self-care. Welcome to the path to burnout. So count it ALL when you start out with this practice.
Buffer Time Blocks - Including a couple of "buffer" blocks each week for unexpected problems can help alleviate some panic if something goes awry or you aren't able go get something done in the allotted time frame. I thought this was a little silly at first, but something always doesn't go to plan and you best have the time to deal with it set aside, or your gonna have to figure out what else is getting bumped. Then comes the anxiety!
On Saturday mornings I review the week that just passed and ask myself the needed questions before starting to budget my time and resources for the coming week. I ask myself questions, such as:
What worked well?
Where did I need more time than I thought?
What can I change to improve my experience next week?
Was there enough time for everything? If not, what needs to give?
After a few weeks of doing this, it became easier and easier to run through the process each week, as I found myself already asking myself these questions throughout the week - being present.
You can go so far as to even time out exactly how long your morning routine takes, and make sure you're allotting that time so you aren't rushed or stressed. I did assess mine, but that doesn't go on my actual calendar. It could go on yours though!
These practices help me with managing my overstimulation and time on a daily basis and I've really seen differences for my quality of life by implementing these activities. They are useful for non-HSPs of course too. Everyone could use better management skills for this crazy ride of life we are all on.
I can't wait to hear what other tips and tricks you guys have to share!
Peace, love, and sparkle dust! (too much? oh well, I stand by it.)