Living the HSP Life: Tips for Highly Sensitive People

Positively Present HSP

 

Note: A lot of what I learned about Highly Sensitive People (aside from my own personal experience), came from Elaine N. Aron's book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. If you want to learn more about the info that's not personal-experience-based, I highly recommend you check it out or visit her site here

 

WHAT IS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON (HSP)? 

Basically, Highly Sensitive People (HSP) is a term developed in the 1990s to describe people who pick up on subtleties that most others ignore. HSPs are more sensitive to external stimuli (sounds, colors, movement, etc.); they have strong emotional reactions to what they experience (though they might not express these emotions outwardly); they notice things others would not; they are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed in environments with a lot going on; they process things very deeply; they are very attune to others' emotions; they have a rich, complex inner life; and they need time away from the world to regroup. 

As with any trait, there are differences for each individual person, but there's an HSP test that explores a lot of the traits HSPs may have. (I answer yes to all but the last two questions, making me very HSP). High-sensitivity is a trait that about 15-20% of people have, and, while it's genetic, it can be influenced (for better or worse!) by circumstances, particularly those experienced in childhood. It might sound like it's a bad thing (and sometimes, believe me, it is!), but there are a lot of benefits to being an HSP, too. 

If you're not an HSP, it can be kind of hard to understand what it's like. HSPs might be labeled "dramatic" or "neurotic" or "anxious" or "fussy," when, really, we just see the world differently. For an non-HSP, I imagine experiencing a day in the life of an HSP would almost be like being on some sort of psychedelic trip. Sounds are louder, colors brighter, scents more pungent. Every detail is heightened so that everything from someone else's slight shift in mood to the slight flickering of a light is noticed and, odd as this might sound, felt. It's almost as if the boundaries between the internal world and the external world are thinner. Or, rather, they feel thinner. 

From the outside, it might sound neurotic or anxious behavior traits, but, while I personally am an HSP who experiences anxiety, high-sensitivity isn't the same thing as anxiety. High-sensitivity is about how the environment (both internal and external is perceived); anxiety is a feeling of worry and unease. They can overlap, but they aren't the same. 

I'm certainly not an expert on this, but I hope that gave you a bit of an idea of what an HSP is. Now, here are some of the pros and cons that HSPs experience. 

 

THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN HSP

  • HSPs are often creative and imaginative because they are so tuned into details and notice what others might not. This makes them great at creative career paths. 
  • HSPs are attuned to others' moods, making them potentially great friends and loved ones. (See the "Challenges" section for the flip side of this.)
  • HSPs tend absorb and learn info quickly, which means they're likely to be good students and to pick up new information at work easily. They're often life-long learners. 
  • HSPs are very aware of their own thoughts and often prefer to think very deeply about things. This self-awareness can be helpful for cultivating a world that suits the HSP.  
  • HSPs are alert to potential dangers; they're likely the first ones to smell smoke, to spot a rattlesnake, to notice a candle's still lit before leaving the house.
  • HSPs are experiencing a lot when they're out in the world and taking it all in, which often makes them open-minded to new ideas and ways of thinking. 
  • HSPs will pick up on the little details that others might miss. They'll spot the typo, notice that a shade of blue is off, or tell you that you've got a bit of pepper in your tooth. 

These are just a few of the many benefits of being an HSP. But, as well many traits, with the good comes the bad. Here are some of the challenges...

 

THE CHALLENGES OF BEING AN HSP

  • HSPs are likely to appear unhappy / moody, particularly if they are in a new or overstimulating environment. Frequently they are simply overwhelmed, but their mood can shift and it might not make sense to others. 
  • HSPs are alert to potential dangers, which, while this might be a benefit sometimes, can also be stressful for the HSP since they are always on the lookout for something amiss. 
  • HSPs are attuned to others' moods (as mentioned above), which can result in them being really empathetic and loving or, if they are too overwhelmed by others' emotions, can make them avoidant and distant. It's not that they don't care; it's often that they care too much, and don't quite know how to handle it. 
  • HSPs are easily overstimulated, making a lot of environments (particularly new ones) a lot for them to handle. This can be frustrating for loved ones who enjoy new things or lots of stimulation. 
  • HSPs, because they are so easily stimulated, are resistant to change, which can put limitations on they ways they live their lives (though this is something that can be improved with hard work and the right therapy!). 
  • HSPs might have physical challenges as a result of overstimulation (stomach aches in a stressful environment, difficulty sleeping after a highly stimulating event). 

 

Again, these are just a few of the challenges HSPs might face. In addition, many societies don't value the trait of sensitivity highly. In some cultures, this trait is praised (and even revered!) but in Western culture, sensitivity is frequently seen as a detriment rather than a strength. Most "fun" activities portrayed in popular culture (parties, amusement parks, holidays, etc.) are often enjoyable for HSPs, making them appear to be unsociable, lame, stick-in-the-muds for not thriving in those environments. But HSPs can have fun, exciting, and amazing lives, too -- they just might look a little bit different from the norm, and that's okay. The key, if you're an HSP, is learning how to take what you've got and work with it. 

Here are some of the ways I've learned to cope with being an HSP. (Again, I'm not an expert, but I always like to share what I learn in case it might help someone else too!)

 

HOW TO COPE WITH BEING AN HSP

 

Recognize when you're overstimulated.

This has been such a huge game-changer for me. I used to just feel frazzled and panicky and it felt so out of control when I was overstimulated. I didn't know why I was suddenly feeling cranky or upset. Now that I've identified this HSP trait, I can usually (though not always) pinpoint that I'm overwhelmed because I'm overstimulated. This knowledge sounds basic, but I can't tell you how transformative it's been. While before, I would just become moody or feel this intense pull to return home, I can now recognize my HSP-ness, try to evaluate the situation from a less emotional point of view, and do my best to determine how to lessen the stimulation or cope with my feelings if, for whatever reason, I cannot reduce or avoid the stimulating experiences. Self-awareness takes practice, but once you identify yourself as an HSP, it'll become a lot easier to notice because you'll discover that the slightest little things can be a trigger for overstimulation. 

 

Pay attention to how you define a situation.

One of the best things that Aron talks about in her book, is reframing how you think about a situation. A "terrifying crowd" at a concert could be seen as "a bigger group than the concerts I've been too before." How you talk to yourself and the thoughts you repeat have a big impact on how you see a situation and, potentially, how overstimulated you feel. While HSP is a very real thing (no, you're not crazy; you are actually experiencing the environment in a more intense way than others), the mind is a powerful tool, and you can use it to work on lessening your emotional response. Not every thought you think is a fact, and you have the option to challenge you thinking and consider whether or not something actually is as overwhelming as it initially feels. (You might find that it is, and that's okay -- but it's good to check and to consider whether you might be able to reframe the situation!)

 

Know what soothes you. 

If you've spent time trying to reframe a situation and it's still deeply overwhelming, it's time to identify what's soothing to you. Aron talks about treating your HSP self like a baby (an analogy I'm not a big fan of, but admittedly it kind of works). When you're incredibly overstimulated (as a baby often is), you can't just tell yourself to get over it. You have to take action. Knowing what works to soothe you might take some time to figure out. Some things that might work: breathing exercises, going for a walk, stepping outside, a cool glass of water, thinking of something very safe and calming. Every person has unique things that will help them tone down the overstimulation in the brain to feel more relaxed, and once you start paying attention to what works for you, you'll be able to turn to these tools when feel uneasy or overwhelmed. 

 

Trick your mind with your body.

Your mind often gets cues from your body, and you can sometimes use this to your advantage if you're feeling overstimulated. See, if you're super overwhelmed, your body is in that fight-or-flight mode, ready to take on a challenge or get the hell out of there. Your muscles are tense; your vision is focused; your blood is pumping to the places that need it most. But if you actively make an effort to breathe calmly, to unclench your fists, to relax your shoulders, your mind might get a message that there's nothing to be afraid of. This doesn't always work, of course, but it's worth trying! You can also trick your mind into believing you're more relaxed and less alert simply by shifting your body in subtle ways. Stand with confidence, even if you don't feel it. Uncross your arms and leave them loose at your sides. If you're frequently jittery, try to stand still. If there are too many lights, close your eyes for a minute. Too many sounds? Step outside or cover your ears. These small physical things can actually help you feel a bit less overwhelmed. 

 

Identify intangible sources of safety. 

Your home / car / spouse / pet might be your go-to for feeling safe, but sometimes they're not available, so it's good to have some mental retreats where you can go to calm down. When I was a kid and had a difficult time going to sleep, I would always imagine that I was in the Pastoral scene in Disney's Fantasia. I used to think it was so strange that I did that, but now I realize that, for whatever strange reason, that scene made me feel very calm and relaxed. Whenever I couldn't sleep, I would "go" there, and just thinking of it usually sent me off to dreamland. For HSPs, it's important to have things like that to refer to mentally when you physically can't remove yourself from an overstimulating situation. (My therapist once asked me to think of doing something calming when I was feeling really anxious and this helped a lot. If you ever see me sitting nervously in a doctor's office, I'm likely thinking, Imagine petting a dog. Imagine petting a dog, to calm myself.) Having intangible sources of safety is key because they're always available, unlike tangible safe spaces. 

 

Remove yourself from the situation if need be.

Sometimes things really are too much for an HSP, no matter how much self-awareness or reframing you try. While it's not always best to leave a situation simply because you're overstimulated (after all, the only way we ever become comfortable in a place is after we've been there awhile!), it sometimes happens that an HSP is just too overstimulated to be anything by stressed and anxious in an environment. If there's no way to find comfort or enjoyment in it (because, yes, I can be both overwhelmed and having a good time), it's often good to leave a situation. But balance is key. You don't want to leave every situation that causes discomfort or you'll never stay anywhere, but you don't want to force yourself to stay in situations that could cause long-term stress simply because you're trying to power through your sensitivity. Personally, I've found that the more I pay attention and the more self-aware I become, the better I am at knowing when it's vital for me to leave a situation. Sometimes I stay when I shouldn't, and sometimes I leave when I should stay, but overall I think I'm getting better at finding a balance that keeps me sane and (somewhat) social. 

 

Seek out inner / outer world balance. 

As an HSP, it's tempting to just say, "The world is too much! I'm going to shut myself away and live as a hermit!" But, the more you avoid stimulation, the more stimulating it becomes. You have to find a balance between being overwhelmed outside in the world and spending all of your time alone inside your own world. This one is definitely a struggle for me personally because, honestly, it's a lot of work to overcome the overstimulation of the world. It can be downright exhausting and, if I'm honest, sometimes I'm just plain lazy and don't want to do the work. But, after reading Aron's book, I'm reminded that the less I go out into the world, the harder it will be when I do. As with most things in life, it's all about balance and learning to do what's best for you. And "best for you" includes in the long-run. Yes, in the moment, it might be tempting for an HSP to decline an invitation, but just because it feels right in the moment doesn't mean it's the best choice overall. HSPs have to work hard to cultivate balance between the internal and external worlds. 

 

Set clear boundaries.

Boundaries are important for everyone, but especially for HSPs who can become super stimulated when boundaries are crossed. The key to setting boundaries is to pay close attention to the experiences that make you feel really overwhelmed. For example, one thing that can be particularly overwhelming for me is physical touch. I don't enjoy hugging. I don't want someone to touch my arm frequently when they are speaking to me. This boundary can be tough to set because I don't want to seem rude or cold, but it's important for me to speak up for myself in order to be comfortable. Other boundaries you might want to consider: the amount time you spend with others (balance is key! avoid isolation!); the number of people you interact with at one time (it's alright to prefer small groups); the environments you choose to spend time in (for example, I love concerts, but I wouldn't do well at a huge festival); the people who get your emotional energy (yes, even in your head!); the amount and type of news / media you consume (remember: you can be informed without being inundated). Sometimes you'll need to push yourself a bit on these boundaries (both for personal growth and because not everything in the world will adjust for your needs) but, more often than not, if you have clear and reasonable boundaries, you can use them to shape your experiences and make them more positive for you and those around you. 

 

Phew, that was a long one! I've been putting off writing about this for probably a year or so because, honestly, I feel kind of embarrassed about it. While I understand it and experience it on a daily basis, I can imagine how, from a non-HSP point of view, it might just seem like I'm a fussy, anxiety-ridden, introvert who just wants everything to be perfectly aligned to my tastes. But, having lived with this my entire life and only recently discovered what it was, I knew I had to share my thoughts on it because maybe other people are also HSPs and don't understand why they're so overwhelmed and overstimulated all the time. Honestly, if you don't have a name for it, it can feel, at times, like you're just crazy. But, if you're an HSP, you're not crazy. You're sensitive. You're really, really present. You're paying attention. It can be a lot, sometimes, I know, but it can also lead to really cool, creative, inventive, interesting experiences. The world needs HSPs just as much as it needs non-HSPs, so keep being your sensitive self! 

 

 

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Getting a L.E.G. Up (+ Limited Edition Prints!)

 

2019 Mothers Day Prints - Positively Present

 

On Friday, my mom celebrated her birthday, and it never feels like I'm able to express how grateful I am for her presence in my life in the form of tangible gifts. You see, my mom is the absolute best mom. I know lots of people think their mom is the best, but I truly did get the best one. And this time of year, with her birthday and Mother's Day, always reminds me of how fortunate I am to call her mine.  

As someone who is incredibly fortunate to have an amazing mom, I sometimes feel guilty talking about the topic of how great my mother is. I know, for a lot of people, mothers — and motherhood — is complex. Whether you are a mother, want to be a mother, don't want to be mother, don't have a relationship with your mother, or have a difficult relationship with your mother, there are many reasons why this time of the year might be challenging. The whole country seems to shout "MOM!" in honor of Mother's Day, and if you're not a in a positive place with that word, it must be incredibly difficult. Knowing this, when I came up with the notion to create these exclusive Mother's Day prints (details below!), I hesitated. I didn't want to make things more difficult for those who are motherless (or mother-troubled). But I also knew that many of you have wonderful, loving, and inspiring mothers that, like mine, have likely influenced your life in a way that's almost impossible to put into words. 

So, I thought a great deal about these prints, and I did my best to create illustrations and words that could apply not only to those who have wonderful mothers, but also to those mother-like figures that many have in their lives. Whether it's a mentor, a family member, a friend, or a teacher, there are so many amazing women that give those in their lives a L.E.G. up with Love, Encouragement, and Guidance. And this time of year is as good as any to celebrate them and the valuable support they've given us. Read on to see my thoughts about the L.E.G. up I've been given by my incredible mom (and check out the prints, too!). 

 

Mothers Day - Sky and Back
Grab this print in the shop here!

LOVE

One of the most amazing things about mothers (or mother-like figures — I'll just be using the word "mothers" from here on out to make it easier, but know that these words apply not only to biological mothers, but to all kinds of wise and influential women who make the lives around them better) is their unconditional love. Over the years, I've done a lot of stupid things. I've said a lot of things that probably should have been kept to myself. I've been a brat and I've been a bitch. I've been cranky and I've been quarrelsome. (I've also done some cool and kind things, too, but those are so much easier to love!) Through it all — my highs and lows, my good times and my bad — I've never once questioned my mother's love for me. That's the great thing about great moms: they love you unconditionally, without hesitation, and regardless of the nonsensical choices you make in life. They're there for you in good times and in bad, and that's a pretty amazing thing when you think about it!

Mothers Day - Bloom
Grab this print in the shop here!

 

ENCOURAGEMENT

Not only is a mother's love unconditional, but it comes with a big heaping side of encouragement. No matter what I've been doing in my life, I felt my mom encouraging me to go for it, to take a leap, to try what I wanted to try. Even when things weren't working out as planned, I've always knew that my mom had my back and believed in me. It sounds silly — of course my mom believed in me; that's what moms do! — but it's not something that should be taken for granted. Not everyone is lucky to have a mother and, of those that do, not everyone is lucky to have one that is so encouraging and supportive. It can be easy to laugh off a mom's encouragement if it's something you've had all of your life, but it's a wondrous and magical thing. Without the support of my mom, her warm glow of belief-in-me, I might have not have tried all of the things I was brave enough to try. I might not be anything like the person I am today. 

 

Mothers Day - Showing the Way
Grab this print in the shop here!

GUIDANCE

One of the benefits of having the best mom in the world is that she's offered me just the right amount of guidance over the years. She's given me advice and is always happy to listen (without judgment, I might add!) to whatever quandary I'm facing. Through her words and her actions, she's taught me how to be a good friend, how to negotiate without fear, how to use attitude to improve circumstances (the very foundation of this site, in fact!). While I'll never be as wonderful as she is, I like to think I've learned a thing or two from her about what it means to be a good human being. She's given me advice and inspiration, but she's never pushed me to do what she wants. She shows me the way without forcing me down a path, which I know isn't the case for all mothers. I'm incredibly lucky to have been given support and guidance without any pressure or expectations, and I'm forever grateful for that perfect balance. 

 

I hope you, too, are lucky to have a wonderful mom (or mother-like figure) in your life to give you a L.E.G up in life! If you want to show her (or anyone else in your life) a little love with a special, limited-edition print, check out the shop here. These prints are available only until Sunday, April 28, 2019. Once they're gone, they're gone, so grab them while you can! (And use code "mom" for 20% off!)


6 Things You Should Stop Settling For

Positively Present - Stop Settling

 

As the leaves start to sprout on the trees and the flowers begin to poke their heads up through the dirt, I'm reminded, once again, of how spring is the ultimate symbolic season of change and growth and blooming once again. After months of drab, colorless treetops, things are blooming as they always do, and it's showing me that we, too, can bloom again, even when things have been dormant for some time. One of the best ways to channel the springtime vibe of transformation is to investigate what we've been settling for.

When we can identify the areas in which we're not getting what we truly want in life, we're able to consider how we might reshape those aspects of our lives. Of course, such transformation won't happen overnight, but recognizing the places in which we might be settling is the first step towards change. Here are six areas in which settling should be avoided. But don't beat yourself up if you've been settling in these areas. Just consider how you might want to change them going forward. Like the seeds tucked underground all winter long, you, too, can recognize that there's more to life than dirt and darkness. You, too, can push out of your confines and stretch toward the sunlight you deserve. 

 

LUKEWARM LOVE AFFAIRS

Real love (not that easy falling-in-love stuff) is tough. There are highs and lows, good times and bad. But if you're not in it together — usually on the same team, mostly putting in the same amount of effort, having similar feelings for one another — it might not be a full-hearted kind of love. If you only see someone when it's convenient for them, if you put in all of the effort and get little in return, if you worry constantly if the other person feels the same, it's time to stop settling and seek out the kind of love you (we all!) deserve. 

 

JOY-STEALING WORK

Work — even the very best kind — is no piece of cake. It's tough, even when you love your job. But if it feels like it's sucking the life out of you, if it feels like it takes everything you've got and gives nothing back, it's time for a change. You might not be able to drastically change your work situation, but you can seek out a similar job in a new place, find a way to transform the work you're doing, or even take a pay cut to work in a more fulfilling environment. Most of us spend a huge chunk of our lives at work so it's definitely not an area of life where settling should be acceptable. 

 

FICKLE FRIENDSHIPS

Every relationship — even the best of friendships — has its ups and downs, but if you're putting in all the work, it's time to consider if it's worth it. Consider whether your friend is asking about your wellbeing, interested in your life, or doing kind things to show their appreciation for you. (And, on the flip side, consider if you're doing these things as a friend!) Relationships of all kinds should include give and take and if you're the only one giving, you're settling for less and should seek companionship elsewhere. 

 

SECOND-RATE STORIES

Life is short, so why settle for second-rate things? This is particularly true when faced with items that have tons of options (like books!). There is an incredible amount of text to be read in this world, so if the book is bad, put it down. Don't waste time on second-rate stories when you could pick up a magical, potentially life-changing work. Same goes for food (if it's bad, send it back), clothing (if it doesn't work, return it), etc. Yes, it can be easier to stick with what's already in your hand, but do you really want to look back a mourn all the time you wasted on second-rate nonsense?

 

DEADEND DREAMS

Consider, for a moment, what a dream life looks like to you. Is that your idea of an ideal scenario or someone else's? It is something that gets you up in the morning, pumped to started your day and move toward that dream? If not, you might be suffering from a case of uninspired dreaming. Reflect on what you really want — and make sure that you're not aiming towards goals that others have set for you or goals that you set for yourself a long time ago that no longer speak to what you want your future to look like. We change, and often our dreams do too. 

 

LACKLUSTER LEISURE

How are you spending your free time? Are you truly enjoying the activities you've deemed as "leisure"? If you are, awesome! Keep at it! But if you're doing something just because it's easy, you've always done it, or it's someone else's idea of a good time, consider exploring new leisure-time activities. In fact, maybe just try doing something different to see if you like it. If you're always watching TV, try going for a walk. If your weekends are spent on a hiking trail, consider a Netflix binge. Try new things to make sure you're not settling for how you spend your friend time! 

 

Life is short is such a cliche, but it's true. Too many of us (myself included!) are settling for things (and people...) because it feels easier than change. You're not alone if, like me, change intimidates you. But do what you can to find the courage to stop settling for less than you deserve. It's rarely easy to let go of what's comforting (even when it's unhealthy), but the sooner you do it, the sooner you'll have the freedom to pursue the things in life that add real value, that make you excited and empowered! 

 

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