Growing up, I was a very sensitive child. One of my earliest memories is of freaking out after seeing a particularly bad story on the news. I don’t remember what the story was about, but I do remember running into my bedroom, plugging my ears, and making up a song about how “everything will be all right.” I sang it as loudly as I could to cover the noise of the TV, until my mom came in, shocked to find me in such a ramped-up state.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), and then things finally made sense. Highly sensitive people process information deeply, and as a result, experience the world a little differently than others. Images of violence or stories of heartbreak can be excruciating to them. Sudden loud noises, bright lights, and busy schedules have the power to rattle HSPs profoundly.
Today, I’m a writer who studies introversion and high sensitivity. I’ve found that HSPs need somewhat different things in life to be happy than non-HSPs. Here are 14 of those things. Keep in mind that every highly sensitive person is an individual, so each will need slightly different things to thrive.
1. A slower, simpler pace of life.
Because they process information deeply, HSPs may move a little slower than others. They may need more time to do certain tasks, like getting out of the house in the morning. They may take a little longer to make decisions, such as which item to buy at the grocery store, because they are taking in not just the mountain of choices, but also nutrition information, price, and how they feel about chicken noodle soup. Suddenly, their mind flashes to chickens being cooped up in tiny cages then slaughtered … and they must take a few beats to ponder if they can live with this reality on their dinner plate. All of this takes time.
2. Time to wind down after a busy day.
Like introverts, HSPs can’t go-go-go for too long. Their extra-sensitive nervous systems absorb mounds of information and process it to the umpteenth degree. As a result, they may get easily overwhelmed and worn out after a busy day. Time to relax lowers their stimulation level and restores their sanity.
3. A calm, quiet space to retreat to.
Preferably this is paired with #2. This space, ideally, would have low lighting, little noise, a beautiful aesthetic, and the HSP’s favorite tools to relax (a book, music, a comfy pillow, etc.).
4. Permission to get emotional and have a good cry.
Not only are HSPs extra sensitive to environmental stimulation, they’re also sensitive emotionally. According to Dr. Elaine Aaron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, sensitive people tend to cry more easily than others. “Sensitive people can’t help but express what they’re feeling,” she told the Huffington Post. “They show their anger, they show their happiness. Appreciating that is really important.”
5. Time to adjust to change.
Transitions can be tough for anybody, but for highly sensitive people, they can quickly snowball into a bundle of stress and overwhelm. Even positive changes, like starting a new relationship or moving into a dream home, can be overstimulating and require an extra-long period of adjustment.
6. Close, meaningful relationships.
HSPs crave deep connections with others. In fact, according to Aron, they may get bored or restless in relationships that lack meaningful interaction. However, this doesn’t mean they’re prone to relationship hopping. Rather, they may actually work harder to strike up a meaningful conversation with their partner and create intimacy.
This also means HSPs tend to be selective about the people they let into their lives. A surface-level, give-and-take relationship will simply not cut it. An HSP wants to dive deep into your soul and connect with you in a profound way. Let them.
7. A gentle, healthy way of managing conflict.
Sensitive or not, fighting with a loved one is the worst, but sensitive people tend to feel extra anxious when conflict arises. Often an internal battle takes place. The HSP may have strong feelings about something, but keep it to themselves, because they don’t want to make the other person mad. Dealing with an angry person can be wildly overstimulating.
Plus, we hate hurting other people because we know from personal experience just how much that sucks. HSPs tend to have high levels of empathy, and this is just one of the ways our caring for others shows up.
Unfortunately, this means sensitive people often hide their needs and just “go along to get along.” They need a healthy way of dealing with disagreement that doesn’t involve yelling or drama.