How Highly Sensitive People Can Get Socially Fit, and Join In Without Getting Wiped Out

Jan 7, 2019 | Blog

Highly Sensitive People do have some unique characteristics…

Highly sensitive people are often misconstrued by others as being weak. And I get it. We wear out more quickly than the average person seems to. Whereas most people can go to a theme park and find themselves charged up and ready to take on the world, a highly sensitive person might go home wanting nothing more than a quiet evening with a cup of tea and some silence. Most people can watch a terrifying movie and go straight to bed afterwards. Highly sensitive people will likely stay up for hours replaying it over and over and over again.

In compensation, highly sensitive people tend to be easy to amuse (you really can’t bore an HSP. They could get lost in their thoughts for hours). They also tend to be insightful and, on the whole, a compassionate lot. Look around you at your work space. You probably work right beside an HSP and you likely find them to be among the most dependable, efficient, and conscientious of the herd.

The challenge HSP’s have is that they really WANT to participate and join in. They just get wiped out easily. 

But what highly sensitive people want to know is: how do I participate fully in life without getting completely zonked out afterward? Is that even possible?

The answer is yes. That’s the good news. But having that kind of capacity is much like developing one’s physical fitness level. It requires consistent effort. You have to, in other words, work out.

So what are the kinds of things that improve one’s intellectual/emotional fitness? 

  1. Daily meditation. There was NO WAY you are surprised by this one. I am sure of it. And I’m sure you’re also getting tired of hearing about it. “Ugh…another person telling me to meditate? Seriously?” Yes. Seriously. But take heart…it doesn’t even require that you spend that much time doing it. If you could dedicate even so much as five minutes every day, that’s enough to build up your brain’s capacity to handle discomfort. Now…what a lot of people THINK is that meditation must be about reducing your thoughts. It’s not. It’s more about watching your thoughts. It’s about focusing on a singular thing for an extended period of time. This helps build your brain’s capacity to withstand discomfort and it helps you cultivate a sense of calm alertness (rather than the feeling of being tired but wired). Examples of meditation tools include:
    • Counting your breaths. Count 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, 3 on the inhale and so on until you reach 10 or 20 or whatever number you like. Then start over. Do that for 10 minutes or so.
    • Following a guided meditation. There are apps that can even help with this:
      • Headspace
      • Calm
    • Sitting quietly with a mantra. You can be fancy (omnimashivaya) or you can just say a few words that resonate with you (let go….let go…) whatever you like. You can say curse words over and over if it brings you a sense of focus.
    • Making a point of observing all the sounds around you. Make it your  mission to identify all the sounds in the room, and outside of the room that you can find.
  2. Exercise. Yes exercise. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that when you move your body, you are ALSO helping your nervous system on the whole. Exercise doesn’t just build your body’s physical stamina, but it also helps improve your whole system’s resilience and strength. It helps get you out of your head and into your body. The more you continue to do this, the better your baseline of contentment will be on a day-to-day basis. Physical stamina really does seem to translate into emotional stamina. Examples of what this can include are:
    • Walking (30 –  60 minutes a day)
    • Interval training (you probably only need 10 – 30 minutes a day of that)
    • Yoga
  3. Gratitude journal. I know it sounds woo-woo, but when you make it a practice to look for what is going right…RIGHT NOW…it trains your brain to look for the positive rather than focusing on what is disturbing you. It opens you up to see the possibilities of every moment rather than only seeing what needs improvement. The trick is to keep it consistent. Try these exercises:
    • Write down three NEW things you are grateful for every day for at least 3 weeks.
    • Every day, write about a positive event that occurred today (and don’t tell me you don’t have anything. You’re still ALIVE…so clearly some things did go according to plan, yes?)
  4. Acts of kindness. Doing kind things for others is actually a pretty selfish act. Or…at least…it’s a self-interested act. When you do something that makes someone else happy, it actually lights up the same region of YOUR brain, signifying that it’s time for you to feel good, too. You don’t even have to make it a BIG to do. Something as simple as thanking someone in your life for being there for you, or sending a quick text to someone you love to let them know you’re thinking about them…whatever it is, just make it something easy enough that you can do consistently, and sincere enough that you know the message will be well received. Examples include:
    • Pay for the coffee of the person behind you. Just because
    • Text a friend to let them know you’re thinking of them.
    • Call a relative you haven’t spoken with in a while and tell them you love them.
    • Compliment someone for no good reason other than that they are there and they have something worth complimenting.
  5. Eat. Real. Food. And to the best of your ability, balance each of your meals/snacks. I know this one is true for everyone, but highly sensitive people tend to be especially prone to getting “hangry” when not properly fed. They don’t do well when their blood sugar is low. So one of the best things you can do to keep your capacity intact is to be sure you keep your body properly fueled. What does that entail?
    • Every 2 – 4 hours, be sure you have a complex carb and some protein. Examples include:
      • Apple and peanut butter
      • Chicken with vegetables
      • Berries and unsweetened Greek yogurt
      • You can also find bars that have both protein and fiber (kind bar, quest bar, ONE bar, etc.)
    • Bring snacks with you wherever you go so that you don’t have to rely on other people’s appetites. Highly sensitive people are often keen on being polite. They don’t want to force other people to stop and eat if THEY aren’t hungry. If you have snacks with you, you don’t have to worry. If you notice your blood sugar start to drop…you can just pull out your snack and keep on keepin on.

Great! So I can do these things and I will be just like an other non-HSP? 

My dear HSP’s, something you need to know is that no matter how long you meditate or how often you eat your vegetables, you do still have a natural constitution that is forever going to be more sensitive than your fellow homo-sapiens. Practicing these things will not make you someone other than who you are.

The way to think about these practices is to see them like mental workouts. Every time you engage in them, you gradually strengthen your ability to manage your system. The better you are able to manage your system, the greater your capacity to experiment with new experiences and the faster you will recover after the fact.

Much as with a workout regimen, you also cannot expect to magically become a wicked emotional Olympic athlete after one day. You wouldn’t train for a marathon today and expect to be ready tomorrow. It’s something you have to build over time. Most of these practices prove to be effective after about 3 – 4 weeks (which isn’t that long, really…but it’s not immediate).

And even THEN, you ALSO need to be willing to get out there and play. Just like a basketball star might run laps and build endurance…but still need to get on the court and practice with his teammates, YOU will need to get out there in life and experiment. Try extending your capacity zone a little bit when you get an opportunity. Say yes to something that makes you just a little uncomfortable to try. Maybe you go out for a networking event. Or maybe you say yes to going to a theme park with friends. Whatever it is, just EXPERIMENT. You will probably be tired. But if you engage in the behaviors above, you’ll be able to recharge much more quickly. You’ll also get better at recharging EVEN AS you are doing the thing that is outside of your comfort zone. If you get good at meditation, you’ll notice that waiting in line for a wild ride even with screaming children nearby isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. You have learned to breathe through it and you’ll see that your system really can tolerate it longer than you realized. By keeping your blood sugar balanced, you won’t worry so much about feeling wiped out. You have the physical tools you need to re-calibrate and get back on track.

Finally…one last thing to remember when building up your capacity…

As you venture out into the world and gradually build up your tolerance for stimulation, another thing to remember is the bookend approach. Any time you decide to try something new, be sure that you bookend it with time before and after to regroup. Make sure you have a day beforehand that is quiet so your battery is full. And make sure the day AFTER the event is free so you have plenty of time to relax. This will ensure that you are able to fill back up AND it helps make the actual event more enjoyable. It’s much easier to relax into an exciting event when you know you’ll have plenty of downtime after it’s done.