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  • Dina Cohen

When It's More Than A Bit Much

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

The news has been shocking lately, but perhaps for some, it's even more overwhelming. You may be more than bothered by what's going on in the world right now. You may be deeply disturbed and emotionally rattled. Do you wonder how your friends can continue as normal when you're so upset by current events? Or, maybe you're wondering why your friend, or family member, or child seems so distraught by things that aren't actually happening to her.

It can help immensely to understand that some of us are "highly sensitive people". According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the psychologist who gave us this term, 15-20% of the population are high in a trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). This means that a highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences the world more intensely. You may be more emotionally sensitive as well as more reactive to things both inside you (such as hunger and pain) and out in the world (such as noise and light). To an HSP, things may seem brighter, louder, and more intense. Feelings, too, will be more intense. You may pick up on the emotions of others around you very easily.

If you are an HSP, it does not mean you have a disorder. It just means you have a highly sensitive nervous system. There are many gifts that an HSP may possess, including:

  • sensitivity to others

  • creativity and artistic talent

  • rich personal relationships

  • great appreciation for beauty

  • inclination towards spirituality

  • being a deep thinker

Some traits of high sensitivity may sometimes be a blessing and sometimes feel like a curse, such as having a high degree of empathy (you may not always want to feel everyone else's feelings!) and being highly attuned to bodily sensations (pain may bother you more).

Other aspects of being an HSP may often feel like challenges, such as:

  • feeling easily overwhelmed

  • being easily startled

  • getting highly stressed when being observed

  • getting more easily bothered by noisy environments, bright lights, or uncomfortable clothing

  • feeling highly disturbed by violence or tension

It's not always easy being an HSP!

I am fortunate to know a number of HSPs, both in my personal and professional life. HSPs are often very bright and talented. They can be great listeners and wonderfully caring friends. They are imaginative, deep, and insightful. Many HSPs are introverted and are happier to spend time with just a friend or two, but others are extroverted and can be really entertaining. They offer a depth to our lives that others can't because they notice so much more and take it all in. HSPs may be authors, artists, musicians, poets - and comedians! Their various gifts make our lives richer. However, HSPs may struggle more because of their tendency to get easily overwhelmed and feel things so deeply, particularly negative emotions. Because of this, HSPs may be more prone to depression and anxiety and can develop unhealthy ways to cope.

In knowing and working with many HSPs over the years, I've learned that recognizing in advance which situations will be more stressful for you can help you avoid some of the challenges inherent in being an HSP. I once heard it said that some children are like dandelions and others are like orchids. Dandelions can grow just about anywhere. They don't need very specialized care. If you provide them with their basic needs, they'll do just fine. Orchids, however, need a lot of care and attention in order to thrive. In the wrong environment, they won't do well. If you think you are an HSP or are the parent or loved one of an HSP, it's worthwhile to learn more about this personality type in order to understand its gifts and challenges. It may be easier to be a dandelion, and sometimes you might truly wish you were one. But if you were chosen to be an orchid, then remember that under the right conditions, you can blossom in ways that a dandelion never could.

As an HSP, you might need to be more on top of getting enough sleep, having regular, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day, and planning for downtime in order to feel your best. You might also need to be more careful about establishing boundaries with certain people so that you have less conflict in your life, and you may need to limit your exposure to the news or other disturbing material. Yes, you may need to be more vigilant about taking care of yourself, but remember -you're an orchid! And although you may be in the minority, you are certainly far from the only one. There is a lot of information about HSP online which can help you better care for yourself or your loved one, so please seek it out if this description of an HSP resonated with you.

You may not have chosen this gift, but as author Victoria Erikson put it,

"Highly sensitive beings suffer more but they also love harder...dream wider and experience deeper horizons and bliss. When you're sensitive, you're alive in every sense of this world, in this wildly beautiful world. Sensitivity is your strength. Keep soaking in the light and spreading it to others."

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