I am often overwhelmed, but you wouldn’t know it. When the world is bombarding me with stimuli my brain responds with a ‘nope I’m not dealing with this’ and inside at least, I will shut down and do my utmost to ignore everything around me.
At least I make an attempt at doing so.
Crowded spaces are the worst. Busy town centres or nightclubs where you are literally being barged out the way every 5 seconds. But I am not claustrophobic in the slightest. Sometimes just the knowledge that someone is in my presence is enough for me to start looking at the nearest exit sign for a reprieve from the stress this brings.
God knows what my previous flatmate thought about me, always hiding in my room when his friends were round. But I’m not shy at all.
How on earth are you supposed to relax when someone is sat just feet away, knowing they can see you in the corner of their eye, listening to your every breath, interjecting your thoughts with banal small talk and the occasional moan about their day.
Living alone is where it’s at, bliss.
So what on earth is wrong with me?
I’m just a highly sensitive person
Apparently, 20% of the population are highly sensitive people. The term “highly sensitive person” was created by Dr. Elaine N. Aron and it is characterised by the ability to process sensory data more thoroughly than other people.
It’s actually thought to be an evolutionary trait that enables us to think before we act; kind of like a survival instinct that helped us grow as a species.
If you are someone who has always struggled with the feeling of being uncomfortable in social settings, often without knowing why, then you could be one of these people too.
Of course you could just be an anxious person but the two go hand in hand, so what are the signs?
- The most obvious one; do you struggle in crowds or in loud environments?
- Do you prefer hanging out with just one friend rather than a group?
- Are you quite happy in silence, without the need for stimulation?
- Are you fairly sensitive to violence, whether on screen or in real life?
- Do you try your utmost to hide away from small talk?
- Are you highly empathetic and responsive to subtle stimuli?
What does this mean?
Well, obviously being a highly sensitive person has both good and bad points. The ability to be more in tune with your surroundings is great if you are creative as you will take in a lot more information than most people. You will also see the world differently and may even pick up on certain things that wash over everyone else. Yet the downside is that it is easy for others to see you as shy or even somewhat antisocial, which couldn’t be further from the truth. How often has someone said ‘come on, stop being so sensitive’ or ‘relax, you seem tense’? Annoying isn’t it?
I’ve been there so many times.
It’s important to remember that these feelings are totally natural and so what if you like to live your life a little differently than every else, if we were all wild and outgoing then the world would be a far crazier place than it currently is.
So how do we cope with this?
1. Take some time out every day to relax
As we’ve already established that the world is totally bonkers, we need to have our space just to get away from it all. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, always take time out to relax and clear your thoughts.
2. Make the most of your quiet time
When you finally get to be alone, make sure that you really are relaxing. Turn off the TV, put your phone on silent and if you can, wear some noise cancelling headphones that plays some mellow chilled music. Let yourself go and allow your mind to wander.
3. Cut out the clutter in your life
It’s very easy to become stressed and overwhelmed and a large portion of this is due to the people and the activities that you allow into your life. Figure out what the major triggers are in your life and begin to eliminate them one by one. Hang around people who make you feel positive and find a job that is more in line with who you are as a person.
4. Exercise regularly, especially when you feel stressed
It is well known that exercising releases endorphins and reduces cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Some people prefer to exercise in the morning to put them in a good mood for the day ahead while others like to hit the gym after work to unwind. Find out what works best for you and make this a regular occurrence.
5. Start desensitising yourself to common stimuli
I believe that it is healthy to occasionally confront your demons head on. For example I truly hate talking on the phone so a few years ago, whilst unemployed, I rang about 30 companies one after another in an attempt to overcome my ‘phone shyness’.
It wasn’t a permanent change but for a short while I definitely found using the phone to be somewhat tolerable.
Does this describe you?
If you’re a highly sensitive person like me then I’d like to hear your thoughts below. Do you have a coping mechanism for when life gets a bit too much? Do you recognise this in others? Is this the first time you have noticed this in yourself?