Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Highly Sensitive Person and 10 Survival Tips

The topic of being “highly sensitive” surfaces quite a bit on Beyond Blue, because there is a strong correlation between those of us who suffer from mood disorders and acute sensitivity issues. If you’re confused right about now, you might want to watch my video “On Being Highly Sensitive.” Since I am a visual learner, I demonstrate the difference between a “normal” person and a “highly sensitive” person.


Psychology Today just featured an excellent article by Andrea Bartz in their July issue, called “Sense and Sensitivity” in which they interviewed Mike Jawer, whom I interviewed awhile back, and, of course, Elaine Aron, author of “The Highly Sensitive Person,” and the foremost expert on this topic. The full article is not available online anymore. You can buy it on newsstands or subscribe to the full online edition of Psychology Today. Here are first paragraphs:


The Highly Sensitive Person has always been part of the human landscape. There’s evidence that many creative types are highly sensitive, perceiving cultural currents long before they are manifest to the mainstream, able to take in the richness of small things others often miss. Others may be especially sensitive to animals and how they are handled. They’re also the ones whose feelings are so easily bruised that they’re constantly being told to “toughen up.”

Today, science is validating a group of people whose sensitivity surfaces in many domains of life. Attuned to subtleties of all kinds, they have a complex inner life and need time to process the constant flow of sensory data that is their inheritance. Some may be particularly prone to the handful of hard-to-pin-down disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Technology is now providing an especially revealing window into that which likely defines them all—a nervous system set to register stimuli at very low frequency and amplify them internally.


We all experience shades of sensitivity. Who isn’t rocked by rejection and crushed by criticism? But for HSPs, emotional experience is at such a constant intensity that it shapes their personality and their lives—job performance, social life, intimate relationships—as much as gender and race do. Those who learn to dial down the relentless swooping and cresting of emotions that is the almost invariable accompaniment to extreme sensitivity are able to transform raw perception into keen perceptiveness.

Okay, so now that you know that there are, indeed, highly sensitive types out there, and that you might be one, what do you do about it? Also on Psychology Today’s website, I found this insightful blog by wellness expert Dr. Susan Biali, author of “Live a Life You Love.” I recognize many of her tips, as I have already incorporated them into my life (when I can). In fact, I think my recovery from my appendix operation has been much more difficult than anticipated because I am highly sensitive, and can’t do some things on the list that are usually a part of my day. Here’s hoping you can!


1) Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep (less than 7 hours, for most people) is well known to produce irritability, moodiness, and decreased concentration and productivity in the average person. Given our already ramped-up senses, I’m convinced that lack of sleep can make a highly sensitive life almost unbearable. Getting enough sleep soothes your senses and will help you cope with an already overwhelming world.

2) Eat healthy foods regularly throughout the day

Aron points out that extreme hunger can be disruptive to an HSP’s mood or concentration. Keep your edgy nerves happy by maintaining a steady blood sugar level through regular healthy well-balanced meals and snacks. I also take fish oil (omega-3) supplements daily as the brain loves these, lots of studies support their beneficial cognitive and emotional effects.


3) Wear noise-reducing headphones

A boyfriend introduced Peltor ear protecting headphones (usually used by construction workers, not pre-med students) to me when I was 19 and studying for exams. No matter where I am in the world I have had a pair with me ever since. HSPs are highly sensitive to noise, especially the kind we can’t control, and my beloved headphones give me control over my personal peace in what’s all too often a noisy intrusive world.

4) Plan in decompression time

HSPs don’t do well with an overly packed schedule or too much time in noisy, crowded or high pressure environments. If you know you’re going to spend a few hours in a challenging environment – such as a concert, a parade, or a crowded mall at Christmas time – know that you’re likely to be frazzled after and will need to decompress somewhere quiet and relaxing, on your own if possible.


5) Have at least one quiet room or space to retreat to in your home

If you live with others, create a quiet safe place you can retreat to when you need to get away from people and noise. This could be a bedroom, a study, or even just a candlelit bath (or shower if that’s all you have!). I’ve found it often helps to listen to quiet relaxing music as well, this can even drown out more jarring external noise when you need it to.

6) Give yourself time and space to get things done

I mentioned above that HSPs don’t do well with a packed schedule. I’ve managed to structure my work life so that I work afternoon/evening shifts the days I’m at the medical clinic. This way I’m able to get out of bed without an alarm, eat a calm unrushed breakfast and putter around before getting down to business. The calm this gives me carries through my whole day. Another strategy for those who work in the morning might be getting up extra early (after 8 hours sleep, of course) to enjoy the quiet before the rest of the household wakes up.


7) Limit caffeine

HSPs are sensitive to caffeine – I usually can’t even handle the traces of caffeine found in decaf coffee. If you’re a coffee drinker (or dark chocolate junkie) and identify with the HSP trait description, giving up the joe might be a big step towards feeling more collected and calm.

8) Keep the lights down low

I’ve never liked bright lights and learning about HSP helped me understand why. Minimizing light stimulation goes a long way: I only put on low lights in the evening, and prefer to shop in certain local grocery stores which have gentle mood lighting, avoiding the garishly lit, crowded “big box” stores whenever I can.

9) Get things done in off hours


To avoid crowds and the associated noise and stimulation, I’ve learned to live my life outside of the average person’s schedule. I grocery shop late in the evenings, run errands during the week whenever I can, go to movies on weeknights, and go out for my walks before the rest of the world hits the jogging path. An added bonus: by avoiding the crowds I usually get things done faster , and almost always get a parking spot!

10) Surround yourself with beauty and nature

Since we HSPs are so sensitive and deeply affected by our surroundings, envelop yourself with beauty and calm whenever possible. I’ve decorated my home simply in a way that’s very pleasing to my eye, with minimal clutter and chaos. I also spend as much time as I can walking in nature, enjoying the quiet and its naturally healing and calming beauty.


Image courtesy of Psychology Today.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment sharon

    Hope the healing is coming along well.
    Thanks so much for all you do, and for sharing and helping the rest of us feel “normal” and giving us skills to cope.

    God Bless !

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Charlene

    I find that all of these tips work for me except keeping the lights low and limiting caffeine. Being a depressive, I need lots of light to keep me out of “the hole” (electric bill be damned.) And no one gets between me and my coffee pot!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Adri

    You´re describing me allright. I already do some of these things (avoid loud noises and harsh lights) but will try the others. Thanks so much.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Charly

    They actually studied me? This is very interesting.I’m going to track down the original research. I’ve been on disabilty for 9 years for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I’m also ADD, chronically depressed, anxious, and agorphopic for the reasons mentioned. I gave up all of my artistic dreams because relatives didn’t believe in them,financially I couldn’t continue to fund my business. So the cycle of depression, defeat, and anxiety keeps rolling. At least now I know I’ve been ‘typed’ genetically and I’m not simply ‘nuts’.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment barb

    hoorah therese!! thank you for this post. HSP’s don’t get the attention they deserve as far as others understanding why we act they way we do. i didn’t know i was HSP until i read Elaine Aron’s book. now i know when i was a teenager on a date, when he would rub my arm, i pulled away. he probably thought it was him, when in fact, it was me. also hate it when my dog licks my hand or face! YUK. thank you for posting this. hope you on the mend!! take it easy, prayers and hugs, barb

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment roanne

    This is the second time i read this blog and i am glad you posted it again.Everything here is true about myself. i am glad to have subscribed to this site as i learned a lot about myself and why do i react this way.I am very sensitive to the light, annoyed by noise, hurt so easily by comments from others, and get sick/puke when i drink coffee nor can i sleep well at night when i drink just one cup, It just ruins my day and i even get body tremors. The rest of the descriptions are true to my situation.
    Thank you for helping me understand why i am this way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lisa

    Ever since i was little i needed my alone time! I would become agitated and grumpy with my friends who seemed to only become more energized by interaction. My Mom would come save me ,knowing i needed to decompress before i would become angry and do something I would later regret! Thanks Mom for knowing me and teaching me about myself!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anita Marie

    Thank you so much for addressing this “little known” temperament. I fortunately have two girlfriends who are also HSP, and we bond with each other in a way that helps us feel valued. I work at an office where there is a lot of “drama.” I can’t do anything about that – but I can get myself used to utilizing my keen perception of what’s going on around me, and not let it frazzle me. I feel fortunate being HSP, I get to see things in a much clearer light than most others. Sometimes it can be upsetting, but more often than not it’s helpful and I trust in myself to know that what I sense and feel is real. Thank you for writing about this small segment of our population. By the way, as a sidenote – I am a Black female and as such, the reality of bigotry, dismissive behavior, etc., has been a great part of my life experiences. I have come to understand the lack of the person who perpetrates this type of behavior, and I am glad that I have grown to that point. Racist behavior, slights, downright rudeness only allow me to see the fool in front of me. That is a gift.


    Anita Marie Colbert

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jean-elie

    I was a bit skeptic at first, thinking to myself that i was simply reinforcing my own self-image as an overly sensitive person, but reading through the advice you give i realized these are all things i already do in my life unconsciously, because they allow me to maintain my emotional balance and well-being. Whenever i am unable to attend to this delicate equilibrium i feel lost, tired and frustrated.
    Thanks for making me aware of this overlooked yet crucial aspect of my daily life.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Catherine

    thanks for the info; I have always considered myself a sensitive person, in reading your story I realize that I do a lot of the things in your suggestions which has been so helpful to me…avoiding high volume times at stores etc., sleeping more, spending quieter time….keeps me calm and peaceful…my life is so much better.

  • Elliot Dwennen

    A fantastic insight one that I put myself into this area being very sensitive to noise and sound. Thank for the great tips

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jean

    This describes me perfectly. Being sensitive is part of why I cannot land – or keep – a job. It’s also why I cannot stand raucous barking dogs in the neighborhood, and am currently attempting to take a neighbor to court. Would sooooo like to be normal!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Cathy

    Great post. I thought there was just something with me, being overly sensitive to criticism, noise and any sort of conflict. Coping with it seems to be limiting your exposure to the things that cause you to be overwhelmed. People, places, situations can all be triggers. Thanks for the reminder.

  • michael platania

    I have sound sensitivity – certain noises and sounds can send me into a rage. My sister has it to, and it can make life awful. I have learned to deal with it, and sleeping with earplugs in my noisy building is a great relief.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Brigette

    This sounds so much like me but didn’t know what to call it. Can’t stand loud noises, crowds, bright lights,etc.. Now I have a name for it. I too go walking in the early am with my dog and shop at 4am to avoid crowds.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rita

    I was just in the hospital for a week and had a doctor tell me that he thought I was too ‘sensitive to my own body’s sensations’ and that that caused me unneeded anxiety. Out of the hospital now, I still feel like crap. I have had the experience every time I have an illness of being told its all anxiety or a ‘panic attack’ as soon as they find out I’m on medication for bipolar. The last time this happened I got mad and took my ‘business’ to an out of town hospital where they don’t know me and they actually ran tests! They found out I needed my gallbladder out and have a growth in my lung! But this is the same hospital where the doctor just got done telling me I was too ‘sensitive’! So, next time I feel sick do I just try to ignore it because I’m too ‘sensitive’ or do I try to find a third town now that doesn’t know yet that I’m bipolar. I’m really getting sick of being treated like I don’t know my own body just because I’m mentally ill!!!



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