A Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide

Dandelion fluffI’ve seen quite a variety of posts ago by recently on how to recognize if you, your significant other, friend, family member, and so on is an introvert or an otherwise highly sensitive person, and how to handle/what to do/live with them. What I don’t see frequently addressed is what to do if you are that highly sensitive person.

I believe that most people who consider themselves introverts are probably introverted because they are highly sensitive. Sensitive to the emotions and energies of others, namely. This means that large crowds of people, or even just a small group of overly emotionally charged people, can be overwhelming and exhausting. Highly sensitive people are pretty much emotional/energetic sponges that tend to soak up all of the surrounding emotions or energy, good, bad, or ugly.

It’s no wonder then that as introverts, we feel strongly inclined to stay home in our own safe comfortable, less crowded environment. While this does have its appeal and its advantages, it can limit our growth and life experiences. And even introverts can get lonely and crave social interaction. The problem is we usually wind up needing a nap afterwards.

I’ve given this more thought recently because of an experience that I had a month or so ago. I am naturally inclined to be an introvert, and I work from home, which is a sensitive person’s dream. But I do make an effort to stretch my comfort level through leadership roles, singing, art and writing. So, I’m not a complete hermit. I do get out and socialize, though I generally find that I avoid situations with a lot of new people. The largest groups I tend to actively participate in are maybe 30 or so people for our community choir.

So anyway, back to my experience. Several weeks ago I had a rare chance to go to a symphony orchestra/choral performance, and was very excited. I settled in early and the theater filled up. The music played and it was beautiful and relaxing, including works by Brahms and Tchaikovsky. I noticed that I became very sleepy. And at first I thought it was the music. I frequently use classical music to help me sleep, so maybe it was just a natural response.

But in the second half, the choral singers joined the orchestra and the music’s energy level kicked up significantly. I, however, remained significantly exhausted through the remainder of the performance. I was completely worn out and actually felt physically ill, kind of like that feeling when you’re coming down with a cold. I took a nap when I got home and began to feel better, but I was left wondering what the heck had happened.

Then, as I was recalling the afternoon, it dawned on me. In my mind’s eye, I saw the packed theater. It was the season finale. Hundreds of people. And all of their baggage. And I, accustomed to my relatively small social network, had just sort of blindly wandered into this figurative hornets’ nest of people, energies, and emotions without so much as a psychic raincoat to protect me. No wonder I was exhausted!

IMG_0016.jpgSo, how does the sensitive person step out of their introvert cave and develop those social skills, without sending themselves into a spiral of exhaustion or anxiety? The first step is in recognizing that you are sensitive and probably absorbing other people’s emotions.

  • People may call you overly sensitive
  • You feel tired, drained, and stressed in crowds
  • Noise, smells, excessive talking, and “close talkers” set off your anxiety
  • You need time alone to recharge

To read more about how to tell if you’re an empath, check out this post.

The next thing you need to do is identify the source of the emotion or energy that is affecting you. If you’re feeling an emotion that doesn’t make sense to you, examine your situation.

  • Are you in a crowd or a group of people?
  • Are you sitting next to someone who may be giving off that emotion?
  • Try moving several feet away from the crowd.
  • Change seats if the source seems to be one particular person.

Once you’ve identified that an energy or emotion is affecting you, distance yourself from the source and take a moment to calm and center yourself.

  • Concentrate on your breath. Take a slow, deep breath and hold it a few seconds, then release it slowly.
  • As you release your breath, send the negative emotions into the earth, and with your next deep breath, imagine filling your body with warm, golden sunlight.
  • Do this a few times until you feel calmer.

You can prevent or reduce the effect of a situation by going into it with a bit more of a plan. Create an energy shield around yourself. You can imagine it a bit like the Star Trek force fields, visualize a bubble of protective energy around you, bouncing back negative energies and emotions. You can make the energy shield a color to enhance the effect.

  • Using pink light allows love and positive energy to flow in while repelling negative.
  • Blue can help calm you and maybe even those around you.
  • Green light can help heal.
  • You can use any color that appeals to you and comforts you. I sometimes use a mix of colors, like the iridescence in a soap bubble – pink, gold and green.

Other preventive measures can help lessen the effects of large crowds, or groups of emotionally charged people, or any other place that you know triggers you. Take a moment to deliberately visualize your shield in place before you even leave your house, and when you arrive, do a quick review to assure yourself that you are protected.
IMG_7741.jpgPay attention to particular people who have an effect on you. Some are like vampires, draining energy from you or leaving you emotionally exhausted. Remove yourself from their presence if you need to. Put another less sensitive person between you and them if the situation requires you to stay near them. Make a point to ensure that your shield is in place when you know you will be around them.

  • Eating protein before entering into situations that wear you down can help strengthen your defenses.
  • Eating protein after can help you recover if you were caught off guard.
  • Eating a little chocolate can also help you feel more grounded (Professor Lupin even recommended it after a Dementor attack in Harry Potter!).
  • Create a private time or space for yourself, where you can recharge and defuse. Let others who share your space with you know when you need some down time.

Not all crowds are bad. Create positive experiences. Put yourself into some positive group activities with people you trust. Start small and build up your ability to shield yourself and hang out with increasingly large groups of people.

Most importantly, be compassionate. Be compassionate towards the person/people dropping their emotional payload on you. It can help to diffuse the effects. Be compassionate towards yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for being the wonderful, sensitive, kind person that you are. The world needs more people like you!