What do Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr all have in common? Not only were they great historical figures, but they were also considered highly-sensitive empaths. Sensory Processing Sensitivity is believed to affect 15-20% of people whose nervous systems process stimuli intensely, causing individuals to feel overstimulated and overwhelmed.
What does it feel like to be “highly sensitive”?
“I’m like an exposed nerve,” says empath Jodi Fedor. “At its worst, my sensitivity turns me into a weather vane at the whim of my environment.” At its best, it can be a gift, making her in-tune with her surroundings, other people and animals.
Symptoms of Sensory Processing Sensitivity
Take a quiz here or consider these statements, which may apply to you if you’re an empath:
- I feel intense emotions when I read a disturbing news story and can’t get it out of my head.
- I often “tune in” to sounds around me like a bird’s call, traffic or background noise.
- Noise, smells, bright lights and excessive talking disturbs my mood.
- I cry almost daily for one reason or another and find that other people’s judgments bother me.
- Positive people make me feel energized and excited, but negative people drain me.
- I consider myself very intuitive and sometimes just “know” things, without being told.
- Being in busy public places is overwhelming to me and I crave solitude.
- I feel intense emotion and compassion for the underdogs or the abused.
- I am often fatigued or physically and mentally drained.
- I have a vivid imagination and exciting creative streaks. I daydream and doodle a lot.
- I love nature, animals and the outdoors – all of which can have a profound effect on my mind.
- Routine, rules and controls feel imprisoning.
- I am afraid of being engulfed by relationships because I feel so deeply.
- Some people say I’m shy, aloof, quiet, negative, moody or disconnected.*
- I don’t like second-hand goods because I can sense the vibrations of the previous owners.
- I prefer not to eat meat because I sense the cruelty and energy vibrations in the food.
*Note: By contrast, roughly a third of highly sensitive people are actually considered extroverts.
Psychological, Physical & Social Impact
Psychology Today says that many highly sensitive people may be prone to depression and anxiety, as well as physical ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines and fibromyalgia.
In the workplace, empaths can make great special needs workers, doctors, nurses, social workers, masseuses, estheticians, therapists, botanists, animal rescuers, veterinarians, Feng Shui designers, carpenters, farmers, clergy members, life coaches, writers and more.
Signs and symptoms of highly sensitive people can be identified at an early age. One thing is clear, no matter how many people tell you to “just get over it” or “stop being so sensitive,” current evidence suggests that Sensory Processing Sensitivity is something that is born, not made.
Tips For Healthy Living As An Empath
Here are other expert tips for leading an enjoyable, productive life, despite the tireless bombardment of your senses:
- Accept and love yourself. Many sensitive people inadvertently seek out others who try to “fix” them. Instead, accept who and how you are and seek out others who can do the same. Let prospective mates know where you’re coming from and that you require acceptance and unconditional love to move forward with the relationship. Seek out kindred spirits who deal with the same daily struggles and truly understand what you experience.
- Schedule regular quiet time throughout the day to “decompress.” Mini-breaks walking outdoors, meditating, listening to your favorite music with your eyes closed or reading can work wonders amid the hustle and bustle of a busy day.
- Know your triggers and set healthy boundaries. If crowds stress you out, tell your friend you cannot attend that festival or all-day concert. Take your own car and plan your exit strategy before visiting friends or relatives. Speak up if someone you know regularly wears heavy perfume around you. If a friend is “dumping” their emotional baggage on you, let them know you are there for him or her, but also that you may need to choose another time to speak when you are feeling up to it.
- Practice visualization. When you’re forced into unpleasant situations (like board meetings or crowded elevators, for instance), imagine a protective shield around yourself, deflecting all the stimuli and negativity.
- Refer to your checklist. One helpful practice recommended by some therapists is to carry around a checklist of questions to pull out and ponder when you start to feel overwhelmed. Include questions like: Is this about me? What is the intent of the other person? Am I reacting based on fear? How can I interpret this situation in a different way?
- Keep a gratitude journal. Remind yourself of the positive in life. Fill the pages with descriptions of the wonderful emotions and moments you encounter throughout the day. Read back over what you’ve written when the going gets tough.
- Seek support for any physical concerns. Seek help from a certified health coach or naturopathic doctor if needed. Many of my clients have found improvement in their health concerns by embracing healthy, clean, eating/living.
You may find it helpful to put together what I call an HSP Survival Kit . When trying to decompress from my day, I will often use my kit which consists of some good quality dark chocolate :-), an aromatherapy hot pack, some shower steamers and an essential oil candle for meditation. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me!
Stay tuned as I am also working on creating a guided meditation to help reduce stress.
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