7 Things Highly Sensitive People Should Do For Their Mental Health
We often talk about the importance of self-care, but taking care of yourself means something different when you're a highly sensitive person (HSP) — someone who feels sensations and emotions very acutely and deeply. Because HSPs process information differently from others, they may need different strategies to maintain good mental health. With this extra care, highly sensitive people can not only survive but also thrive by using their sensitivity to pick up on things that others can't.
"The majority of the world does not experience their nervous system in the same way as an HSP, so the most common messages and cultural structures are built by non-HSPs," life coach and HSP Christina Salerno tells Bustle. "This can cause a feeling of being unsafe or that you need to be different from your innate way of being. In research, they’ve found this trait in 20 percent of every species. That is not a mistake. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel highly sensitive. The way you are, innately sensitive, is important and much needed. However, this means you might not have been taught how to care for your sensitive nervous system."
So, how do you do that? Here are some ways to improve your mental health if you're a highly sensitive person, according to experts.
1. Explore Your Spirituality
Many people's needs can be described by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with the physical needs at the bottom. These have to be fulfilled before people's emotional needs, which have to be met before their spiritual needs. For HSPs, it's the opposite, says Salerno, drawing from a theory created by HSP life coach Ane Axford. If you don't take care of your transcendent needs, everything else will fall out of whack. This doesn't necessarily mean joining any religion; it just means doing what's spiritual to you.
2. Do A Reverse Body Scan
For the same reason, Salerno finds it helpful for HSPs to meditate in reverse: While most "body scan" meditations have you start with attention to your feet and work up to your head, she recommends starting at your crown chakra and sending the energy down through your feet.
3. "Ground" Your Emotions
"If I’m in public and I start to feel a swell of emotions either from myself or from someone else, instead of tensing up and trying to make the emotions stop, I’ve found it to be very soothing to send the emotions downwards and into the earth," says Salerno. "If they’re especially strong, I will go into the bathroom and do some deep breathing and stomp my feet on the ground and clench and release parts of my body." She compares it to animals shaking their bodies when they get spooked. It can literally shake off your stress.
4. Focus On The Present
The dreaded question "how are you?" can be especially overwhelming for highly sensitive people, who are often feeling many different sensations at once. When someone asks you an overwhelming question, Salerno finds it's best to answer based on what you're feeling right at that moment.
5. Ask For Options
Another way to deal with an overwhelming question is to ask someone to present you with just a few options. "My partner knows if I struggle to answer, he will offer me two to three options," says Salerno. "But I can also provide that for myself. When trying to make a choice, I only really consider a few. One feels too limiting, but more than four feels overwhelming. You can find what your sweet spot of options is for your own system."
6. Find The Right Amount Of Stimulation
If you find yourself procrastinating a physical need, like laundry or grocery shopping, you may be under-stimulated or overstimulated. If you're under-stimulated, Salerno recommends giving yourself a goal, reward, or challenge. If you're overstimulated, give yourself some time to recharge so that the task comes to seem less overwhelming.
7. Mix Structure And Flow
Highly sensitive people may get overwhelmed if they have nothing to occupy their time, but they may feel confined if they're forced to do too many things. To avoid both these situations, Salerno recommends combining "structure and flow." For example, you might block out a few minutes every day where you can do whatever your heart desires. Or, plan a theme for every week in your calendar with a few tasks related to that theme that you can do any time.
Being highly sensitive is not a weakness; it's a strength. And if you take good care of your mental health, you'll have all that strength available to you.