Part II: The Top 5 Health Challenges of Being an HSP…AND What You Can Do

If you didn’t get a chance to read Part I of this article, you might want to go back and take a quick peak so that you have some context for the solutions I’m proposing here.

But for a quick summary – the top five health challenges that I have found HSP’s to have in my practice are: increased stress levels (due to overstimulation); emotional eating, disrupted sleep, adrenal fatigue, and symptoms of depression.

So let’s break this down. As an HSP – what can you do to avoid (or at least reduce the prevalence of) these challenges?

  1. Stress. There are a couple of strategies that you can use to improve in this area. First, you can avoid situations that you know aggravate your system. If that isn’t an option, you can learn strategies to help manage your stress. Finally, you can fundamentally change your relationship. with stress.
    • To avoid situations that aggravate your system…that means needing to be comfortable with the word “no.” If you’re noticing that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed, tap into that. Communicate your needs. Don’t agree to do things you know will push you over the edge. This tends to be particularly challenging for HSP’s, as they don’t want to disappoint others. They tend to be conscientious by nature and want to “do things right.” Well…would you rather do a bunch of things poorly? Or give yourself some time to recharge so you can do the important things well?
    • If you can’t avoid them, you will want to find ways to manage your stress. For example, I once worked at a call-center. I loved the people I worked with and I loved the conversations I was having over the phone. But the constant noise and buzz around me would leave me feeling taxed. So during my lunch break, I made it a point to go into one of the small offices and shut out the lights. I would take deep breaths and try to recenter. In the morning before work, I practiced meditation. In the evenings after work, I ended it the day with a meditation practice as well.
    • You can also reframe your stress. One of the surest signs of resilience is the ability to see stress as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. Kelly McGonigal is a terrific resource on this!
  2. Emotional Eating: Here’s the thing about being highly sensitive. Often those who identify as being an HSP also tend to have strong emotional reactions to things. As kids, they might have been told they “are too sensitive” or “fussy” or maybe just “took things too seriously.” On the flip-side, they may be given compliments like “old soul” and “precocious.” As adults, though, most HSP’s get that they cannot simply act out the emotions they feel. Its rarely socially appropriate to do so. Instead, they learn (quickly) what is appropriate and adapt to their environment. In other words…they draw on their prefrontal cortex to continuously (maybe even unconsciously) put on a mask of calm despite the strength of what is happening inside. Doing this requires a tremendous amount of energy. And when that energy gets zapped up….how do you suppose the body asks for fuel? FOOD. Delicious food. Preferably in the form of carbs and sugar, please. So what do you do?
    • Balance your blood sugar. Every 2.5 – 3.5 hours, try to eat something with a bit of protein (eggs, meat, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes) and a complex carb (fruit, vegetable, whole grain, starch). This helps feed your adrenal glands so that you can better manage stress AND it helps curb physical cravings.
    • Stay really well hydrated. In a mess of stress, we can easily mistake thirst for hunger and overeat.
    • Each time you settle in to eat, ask yourself – What am I really hungry for? If it is food, then continue. If its not (maybe you’re hungry for connection? Maybe you’re  bored and are hungry for excitement)? In any case, be willing to ask the question.
    • Distract yourself with activities that soothe you. If you start to feel a slight hunger, go for a walk, color, watch a Netflix show with some tea…anything. Wait about 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry…then eat! If not, then perhaps you just needed to give it a minute.
  3. Adrenal Fatigue: As I mentioned above…as an HSP, it takes a lot of energy to adapt to an environment that was not designed for sensitive nervous systems. That insistent and perpetual stimulation isn’t life threatening, but it can be taxing. Its the adrenal glands being taxed. To combat this:
    • As mentioned above, eat some protein at regular intervals throughout the day (ideally every 2.5 – 3.5 hours)
    • Practice a mild to moderate exercise. Walking. Yoga. Pilates. Whatever it happens to be, you want it to be hearty enough to create some sweat on the brow and on the small of your back…but not so intense that you feel like the wind is knocked out of your sails. That helps reduce stress and burn off the excess cortisol without exacerbating fatigue.
    • Avoid Caffeine (something all HSP’s tend to do intuitively)
  4. Sleep: If there is one subset of people who are challenged most with the act of getting some good sleep, its an HSP. They are the ones dissecting every detail of the day at all hours of the night. They wake up easily. They panic more quickly when they don’t get enough sleep. So what to do?
    • First – create a regular sleep/wake cycle and STICK TO IT.
    • Second – create a night time ritual that soothes your nervous system. An epsom salt bath. Yoga. Stretching. Meditation. Soft music.
    • Third – avoid blue lights. They are stimulating for anyone, but they are especially problematic for HSP’s. If you can’t turn off the laptop/phone/TV, then wear a pear of orange tinted glasses to block out the blue light. Put your electronics on night-time mode.
    • Fourth (and finally) have tools available to you when none of those sleep tips work for you. The worst part about not getting sleep is the fear of living without that sleep. Don’t give insomnia the keys to your car. Instead, find ways to rest even when sleep doesn’t come.
  5. Depression: When HSP’s push themselves too hard and for too long, they can begin to exhaust their systems to such a degree that many of the signs of depression surface. Apathy. Lethargy. Weeping spells. Learned helplessness. Aches and pains in the body. The works. The one thing that is great about being an HSP is that OFTEN, they respond very quickly to small changes.
    • Remove the stimuli that is disrupting your calm. (even if it means quitting your job).
    • Find a space where you can calm down and recover regularly
    • Seek out a naturapathic doctor, holistic nutritionist, or holistic health practitioner to see if supplementation and lifestyle change doesn’t help.
    • Seek out the advice of a psychiatrist to see if medication might not be able to help reset the clock and get you back to yourself.
      • And excellent resource for this issue is A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan. She speaks to holistic methods of working with depression holistically.

The downside to being highly sensitive is that it makes us susceptible to being swept up by our surroundings. But the upside to being highly sensitive is that sometimes the slightest changes to what we are doing can have powerful results.

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