HSP and Stress

Being an HSP (Highly sensitive person) I often end up in situations where I feel overwhelmed or stressed out. I think this goes for most HSPs, but not all of us know how to recognize the “symptoms” telling us to slow down and have a time-out. I have been, and still often am, one of those who feel the aftermath of such situations like an emotional hangover hitting my body full on like a case of PTS (Post-traumatic stress).

I am brought up in a culture where emotions are something you should learn from an early age to control. Showing especially negative emotions is considered to be selfish as it becomes awkward for the person who has to deal with it, and emotional people are considered to be either overly dramatic or weak. I will go as far as to say that showing distress is considered to be rude. Being tough is a highly regarded virtue, which basically just means not showing any emotions, especially not weak ones like fear and insecurity. This, to say it mildly, is not an ideal environment for an HSP to grow up in. But I think many HSPs are forced to do just that.

It is hard to shake this way of thinking, even when you know that it does not work for you. Being polite, putting other people first, not being a burden, are all qualities we admire and like in each other, but being highly sensitive, especially if you are also an empath (someone with heightened empathy), we can take this to the extreme, thinking that just a simple “no, thank you” or “I am a little busy, can we reschedule?” is equal to being rude. Many of us are so tentative and caring towards others that we erase ourselves completely. And why do we do that? Because all of us, when going on autopilot, assumes that everyone else is like us. Well, they are not. How many of us haven’t been completely surprised when a friend we have spent half our life helping refuses to help us when we truly need them and finally dare to ask? That is not to say that everyone who is not an HSP are selfish. Perhaps it was just a bad time, or perhaps they just didn’t feel competent enough to help with that particular problem. Most people think it is okay to say no, and would not have any problem if you said no to them.

But we don’t really do that do we? Say no. And then we get in over our heads. Being overwhelmed is a typical HSP problem. For an HSP a job interview or a party with lots of strangers can invoke the same feeling of sensory overstimulation as a culture shock for a non-HSP. It is sometimes just too much. But if you, like me, have been brought up to smile and be polite, those emotions might be so strongly suppressed that they will not rise to the surface until after the overwhelming situation is over. It works the same way as PTS. When you are in the “dangerous” situation you remain completely cool and calm, but then when it is over and your body relaxes again the fear comes out. I call this an emotional hangover. An emotional hangover works a little bit the same way as any other hangover, my body is aching, my head is aching and I feel exhausted, spent and tired. I especially feel it in my eyes, I get tired eyes, as though they want to shut out the world, but I can’t sleep because I feel restless and I have a hard time focusing on anything. It feels the same way as when you are on an airport trying to read, there is so much going on and your body is on so high alert that you can’t process a word your reading, it just becomes meaningless letters. For years I thought there was something wrong with me because I used to get these emotional hangovers all the time, not knowing why. I was so disconnected in the stressful situations that I did not really register them as a stressful because “normal” people did not get stressed in such situations. I could even get these hangovers after being around people who talked a lot. The worst part started for me when I got my first fulltime job. I was forced to be on full alert for 8 hours in a go, and after a month of this my body just stopped cooperating. I was so weak I couldn’t even stand up, but I still wanted to be “a good girl” so I was forced-sent to the doctor by my colleagues. The diagnosis was acute exhaustion or simply “burnt out”. This came as a shock to me. I had only worked for a month and in a “normal” low stress job! I felt like a loser. I felt weak, and I didn’t dare tell anyone in my family about my failure to cope with normal adult life. I tried working a full time job three times. But the same thing kept happening, so I came to the difficult conclusion that a fulltime job was just too much for me. I thought maybe I had some kind of weird disorder.

It took my years before I figured out that I was highly sensitive. Funny in a way because I had always known that I had strong emotions and very alert senses. One thing I had always been told was that I had extremely good hearing. This I later found out was auditory sensitivity. No wonder I had been so afraid of balloons as a little girl! Learning that I was highly sensitive was not really a light-bulb moment that fixed everything and led to an immediate new self-awareness. It took time, and I am still adjusting. But now I don’t blame myself so much for feeling the way I do and I try my best to avoid certain situations I know will lead to overstimulation and emotional hangovers. But it isn’t easy. I still cringe when I have to do things that makes me feel like a burden. I mean, it took my years before I dared to press the service button on the airplane to ask for another glass of wine! I remember my heart racing and sweat appearing on my forehead the first time I did it.

I have learned some remedies though. But most of them are not quick fixes. It requires me to actually speak up and dare to say out loud what I need. I am still struggling with that. And I still get emotional hangovers. But there are some things that help, like holding the hand of a loved one who truly understands me (I call this borrowing energy) when I am in overwhelming situations, going for walks in nature like in a forest or by the sea, listening to soothing sounds like ocean waves, soft wind playing in the leaves, or bird twitter. Being around animals can also give relief, as long as it is stable and calm animals not an anxious dog barking frantically or a cat in hunting mode using you as target practice. A lot of therapists claims that talking about the stressful situations helps to ease the stress, but that doesn’t always work for me. Recognizing what caused the stress and why, is important as a self-awareness lesson, but once I have done that I don’t want to re-leave the situation over and over again. I mean that is pretty much what is the problem. So I have found that the best relief for me is in art. When using an artistic expression like drawing, painting, writing etc. I can access the emotions on a subconscious level and bring them out of myself so to speak. There is no need to compose or plan here, just letting the writing, or the painting, do its own creating freed from the rational mind is the best thing.

Being highly sensitive certainly has its challenges! I know that my life choices will always be unconventional and maybe not even accepted by many, but they are my choices and what is best for me, so I need to stand by them. I know that many people will think of me as weak, and childish and somewhat of a pushover. I know that I definitely will never live up to the new ideals for women such as “badass” and “boss”. But that is just not who I am. I know that many people will think avoiding certain situations is being a coward and that I should face my fears and just get over myself, but these people are not highly sensitive and have no idea what they are talking about. Thankfully, being and HSP has more gifts than drawbacks. I know that my creativity, imagination, spirituality, artistic talents, kindness and generosity all come from being an HSP. My capacity to observe, understand and find deeper meaning would not be the same if I did not have highly alerted senses. I know that I can see beauty that other people cannot see and grasp meanings that others will overlook. I would not be me if I was not an HSP. And the kindest sweetest people I know are all highly sensitive.

The lesson for those of us who are highly sensitive are the same as everyone else: Learn to know yourself and shape your life accordingly. We just don’t quite fit into the traditional mold. But that is okay. In my experience, when we are open about who we are and speak from the heart, a lot of people will actually respond by revealing sides of themselves that they would normally not show or talk about, and such openness leads to more tolerance and less prejudice.

So let us all practice being more of ourselves, to talk about, and show, our uniqueness, and be respectful and mindful of those who are different from ourselves. And if you are an HSP like me, be kind to yourself, dare to speak up about your needs, ask for help, ask for understanding, make the right choices for YOU even if it upsets others, you deserve to be happy and fulfilled just as much as everyone else. There are many of us out there just like you and we are rooting for you!

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70 thoughts on “HSP and Stress

  1. Pingback: Highly Sensitive | Anything is Possible!

  2. Thank you for your courage and wisdom in sharing this, Trini. I’ve always known that I was sensitive and fought against it most of my life. Now, I’m honoring this in myself and just beginning (with this post) to realize that my mother was a HSP and how that affected me.

    • Thank you so much for your appreciation of this piece, JoAnna! 💖💖💖 I think there is still a lot work to be done when it comes to HSP, there is still little understanding and acceptance of it. I think that is why so many of us struggle with it. I am so happy that you have started honoring your sensitivity instead of fighting against it! Yay! 😃😃. It is great for younger people to have someone like you to look up to. Probably when your mother was young there was no such thing as HSP, so it must have been even more difficult for her. In Norway people often called people who were sensitive “nervous” or having problems with the nerves. Always a “problem” and definitely nothing to be proud of. It must have been difficult. I am so happy that it is changing and we are learning to see the beauty in sensitivity. 😊😊

      • Yes. I think that’s why it was such a relief when I decided to relax into myself when I was healing from anorexia. I still can switch into that roster break mode real quick. I still wish my husband or anyone could comfort me like that, but he really can’t. My daughter is sensitive so I often have to calm us both down. She’s almost 10 now. I have to help her calm her mind down at night time because shes sp creative. I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging after finishing a book and focusing on her. It’s so nice to pass notes with you. Write anytime. 🙂

      • I know about the comforting. I think as we grow older we learn to comfort ourselves more and more. I needed more comfort when I was younger. Calming down can be tricky. I love excitement, but sometimes even positive excitement can be stressful. 💖

  3. From the “Faeries” album, freshly published music that helps it settle in our bones: There is no strength like sensitivity, Trini! With much gratitude and trust, Leon

  4. Thank you for sharing parts of your story Trini. It’s so inspiring and it’s definitely a great help.
    “Learn to know yourself and shape your life accordingly” – this is so accurate and true. It’s not always easy, as you said, when we were taught to just manage emotions on our own and smile at any occasion. Some situations are scaring me to death so I try my best to avoid them. I did feel like a coward at some stage, not anymore, I learnt to accept who I am and to be happy with that.
    We are all different!
    ❤❤

    • What a lovely and inspiring comment, Marie! 💖💖💖. Thank you for your beautiful wisdom and encouragement! 💖💖. You seem so strong and self-aware, and I feel inspired by that 😊😊. Learning to accept ourselves and even be proud of who we are is such a life long process, I think. I am still struggling to “choose” myself sometimes and I still adjust too much to accommodate others, but I am definitely working on it! 😊😊😊😊😊. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating this sharing, Marie! 💖💖💖💖💖🌷🙏🏻🌷

  5. Thank you for your explanations and suggestions for working with these feelings. I, too, feel overwhelmed by stimulus and feel that I am an empath.
    😀 I’ve often thought the term “morning-after social hangover” when I am recovering from situations with people -and yet, keep talking to them because I need connections.
    My solution is usually to numb; not a good one, but easier to fall into. :/

    • I know the feeling! 💖 i heard a podcast a couple of days ago about breaking up with friends, and I just thought to myself that I could never do that! It’s hard. Especially if the people who drain you emotionally are family. You can’t really break up with family. I think we just need to learn how to take care of ourselves, and sometimes I think it is okay with little white lies saying that we are busy when we really just need time to ourselves. 😊 I have tried a couple of times to explain my sensitivity to non-sensitive friends and family, but it is hard for them to understand. Anyway, there are many of us out there and we need to help each other 😊😊😊😊💖. Thank you for reading and appreciating this sharing 😊💖

  6. Thank you dear for writing this!!! Another HSP here ❤
    1." I know that I definitely will never live up to the new ideals for women such as “badass” and “boss”. But that is just not who I am." Yes, I know!!! I have wondered that boss thinking, what??? I cannot ever be that, I can slightly think I am sometimes badass in my imagination, but BOSS never 😀
    2. " I know that many people will think avoiding certain situations is being a coward and that I should face my fears and just get over myself, but these people are not highly sensitive and have no idea what they are talking about." yeah, something I have often came across… sometimes it is quite sad that people don`t understand, and they won`t even believe you…
    3. " Thankfully, being and HSP has more gifts than drawbacks. I know that my creativity, imagination, spirituality, artistic talents, kindness and generosity all come from being an HSP. " Bless you my dear ❤ You are creative, you are kind, you are magnificent! I have thought about that my creativity comes lots of that as well.

    You are so wonderful, I hope you have been feeling well ❤

    • I was so happy to read your comment and learn that I am not the only one who feels like this! 💖💖. It’s strange….here on my blog I have encountered many other HSPs but I have never met one in real life! Maybe we are rarer than I think 😊.

      I think it is true that there is little understanding in general for people who are different, and still HSP has not been taken seriously by even doctors and psychiatrists. People think it is just another word for being emotionally unstable! 🙄. So I think it is important that we speak up and make ourselves more visible!

      It’s funny…I saw a program once on TV called Dogs 101 and in it dog experts explained the differences between different breeds of dogs and how some needs to be trained with a gentle hand but others need a bit firm hand. And I was thinking to myself….it looks like there is more awareness about dog training than about bringing up human children!

      I think it is time now that we realize that children have different temperaments and need to be brought up differently according to their needs. An HSP child never needs to scolded or yelled at! It will snuff out their confidence completely! We need to nurture those beautiful qualities in these sweet children, not try to undermine them and call them weaknesses. An HSP child who grows up in such environment will likely develop depression and/or anxiety later in life and can even turn to alcohol or drugs to numb those painful feelings. We need to address these issues now, and I feel who best to do that than those of us who are HSPs ourselves 😊😊😊.

      Thank you so much for your beautiful comment! It really means a lot to me! Continue being your wonderful self for the world surely needs you and your beautiful sensitivity! 💖💖💖💖💖

  7. What a beautiful post, Trini. I resonate with much of what you’ve said. I am extremely empathic which feels overwhelming quite often and I have always thought that I’m too sensitive and in need a thicker skin. As I get older, I realize it is just who I am and choose more wisely where I spend my time and energy.

    • I am exactly the same! 💖. Or I am getting there, I still have a tough time making the right choices about people and situations, but as I get older I am improving. 😊. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating this sharing! 💖. It feels really good to know that others feel the same way. 😊💖. I have never actually met another HSP or Empath in real life before ☺️.

  8. Trini, I am glad you found a way to let your emotions flow and fly and even use them to be a blessing to others. I can relate so well to what you write here. I oppressed my natural emotions a lot too since I was taught to “be strong”. It is hard at times when you feel the inner implemented barrier that is almost impossible to break although you fight it. But breaking it is one of the lessons we learn here and makes it, even more, meaning- and powerful!

  9. I totally get it. Thank you for sharing this. I had trouble fitting in to regular jobs and couldn’t focus after a few hours and felt exhausted and stressed when I was working 9-5. It was better when I worked as an artist.

    • It is so nice to know that I am not the only one who can’t do the 9-5 thing! 💖. It helps to know others have gone through the same 😊. The artist’s road is the choice for me too 😊💖. And I love it! 💖. Thank you so much for appreciating this sharing! 🌷🌷

  10. Yayyyyyyyy! Big hugs (gently 😀 ) to an openness built on self love. Well said young lady and very true. And most certainly standing in your truth 😀
    The one part that is still ‘hanging on’ for me is to speak publicly. I get very nervous and I ‘know’ if I track down what triggered this it will give me the answer I’m looking for…for once you ‘see’ what triggered it, it no longer is a fear. A fear is only something you don’t understand. Once you understand it, it loses its power.
    Now, I’ve been digging for this one for quite some time. I’m getting better at it but still haven’t cracked that wall 😀
    May your walls be built on flowers and love Trini, so that your love can flow through that gentle HSP heart ❤

    • Yeah, public speaking is definitely a challenge. For most I think, but even more so HSPs. I remember the first time I had a poetry reading, I was super super nervous, but I wanted to do it real badly so I jumped in, and as soon as I started reading I went all calm and collected and did wonderfully!! Afterwards I was full of positive adrenaline, I was sooooooo excited and proud of myself! 😊😊😊😊😊 Thank you so much for reading and appreciating this sharing, Mark! 🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷

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