First and foremost, I think it’s important to approach this from an empowered stance. As sensitive people, we are not victims of our environment. We are not “weak” because we’re more impacted by stressful situations. We are simply wired differently. We’re more perceptive, aware, and in tune with our environments. And, yes, we’re more emotional and cry more easily than non-HSPs. But these are all strengths of being an HSP. However, at the same time, we also have to know how to take great care of ourselves in order to manage it.
The reality is, we can’t control what happens in the world around us. All we can do is be mindful of how we respond to it. This puts the control back in our hands. So, if you have a job that requires a lot of emotional labor, I’d highly recommend beginning your day with a mindful practice that makes you feel calm and centered.
After experiencing burnout in my corporate job, it became a non-negotiable for me to start every single day with a 10-minute meditation. This simple practice allows me to connect to myself and be intentional about the way I move into my day. As an HSP, I especially love cord-cutting meditations. This type of meditation is helpful for HSPs because it’s a practice that allows us to disconnect from other people’s emotions, energy, or moods, and reconnect to ourselves.
Some other ways for you to start your day mindfully include: taking a short walk, writing in your journal, listening to soft music while drinking tea, doing breathwork (I like a breathing exercise called Box Breathing), practicing yoga, or tending to your garden.
It’s important for us HSPs to have healthy ways to calm our nervous system so that, no matter what happens in the day ahead, we know we’ve done something positive for our mental and emotional well-being. I like to think of it as making deposits into our mental health “bank account.” This way, when something stressful happens, we aren’t nearly as impacted by it.
I also find it helpful to have go-to practices — as part of your “HSP mental health toolbox” — you can turn to when a stressful event happens at work. For instance, if you’re feeling exhausted after dealing with a difficult customer, excuse yourself when you’re able to — even just for a few minutes — and practice deep breathing to calm your nervous system. I also love this Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practice that can be practiced any time, anywhere. If you’re unfamiliar with EFT, it’s an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress that’s practiced by tapping on different acupressure points on the body.
At the end of the day, it’s up to us to take control of our own experience as much as we can. That means taking our mental health seriously and cultivating healthy practices that calm our nervous system. That also means being aware of when enough is enough and not staying in a job which is negatively impacting our health day after day.
You’ll know your job has become unhealthy when you feel a sense of dread or anxiety about going to work each day. This may even be affecting you physically, which is another warning sign. Another example your job is toxic is if you’re being mistreated, which might look like a boss not respecting your boundaries, being talked down to, or feeling like you’re constantly walking on eggshells, to name a few.
In most professions, emotional labor is going to be a necessary evil and something we can learn to manage in a healthy way. However, it’s important we know the difference between manageable emotional labor and unhealthy emotional labor that’s burning us out.
Call it analysis paralysis, avoiding, resisting, or procrastinating.
As a highly sensitive person, overthinking feels like a way to outsmart risk. HSPs have what researchers call a “pause and check” response. We stop and observe a situation before diving in. It’s part of our innate survival response. And since the trait of high sensitivity shows up in over 100 species, you can even see it when you spot a pack of deer wading into a pond for a cool drink. You may notice one or two holding back, taking their time going in to make sure it’s safe to grab some water.
I have so many memories of getting stopped from taking action because of this part of the trait. On a diving board, I would stand forever, peering into the deep end, waiting to feel ready to jump. At the edge of the ocean, while my sisters went right in, trying to entice me to follow, I lingered on my raft at the edge, and then slowly made my way, watching the wave patterns, judging how big the waves were and where they were breaking, trying to wrap my brain around the idea that the water might actually be more calm just beyond that large swell. Preparing to share the news with my neighbor that we needed to drop out of the neighborhood dinner club, I practiced the conversation and prepared to deliver the news for weeks, as if I was preparing to negotiate a hostage release. Analyzing every angle and the best way to break the news with kindness and also trying to give myself permission to speak the truth about how it wasn’t working for us to go anymore.
My hesitating and holding back happened with so many things. Having a hard conversation, initiating a breakup, setting a boundary, making an important phone call. It even happened with things I wanted to do. It’s easy to find yourself stück in analysis paralysis, trying to think your way into feeling ready to take action. What if my trepidation was onto something and I was about to walk into a bees nest, I wondered?
And memories of bad experiences would remind me to proceed with caution. If you’ve ever rushed in quickly without thinking things through first, say you got called on in class or in a meeting and weren’t prepared to speak, you know how unpleasant it is to feel surprised and feel unglued, stumbling to find the words, and going through all the physiological changes that come with it. Your mind going blank, the sound of blood rushing in your ears, blushing and burning cheeks, heart pounding. And after you’re through it all, the physical intensity you just went through makes you think, “I never want to do that again, no way.” When it’s time to try something new again, past experience and your spinning mind and the anxiety in your gut leads you to withdraw in apprehension that steals your ability to move forward.
Tips; 1. Calm your nervous system when it’s spinning. You won’t discover creative solutions if you’re flooded with intense negative emotion. That closes the door on inspired insight. 2. Once you’re feeling centered, open yourself up to discovering a creative way to move forward. Stay open and present in the moment to your environment to see the signs and solutions that emerge. It may be an email you receive, a book or article or podcast that pops up that gives you an idea and shows you the next step. 3. Engage your body. Creative solutions always pop into my mind when I’m exercising or moving my body. Plus, research on the benefits of exercise shows it boosts your mood, increases courage and reduces anxiety. I have found this to be true. If you’re not into exercise, I have even found that just cleaning the dishes, the house, showering or cooking can lead to inspired insight. When you’ve been getting repeated signs to act as a thought or idea you can’t shake, you may be being nudged to do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone and is hard and stressful. Perhaps setting a boundary or initiating a breakup. I knew I needed to end my first marriage. And the push that made me have that hard conversation came as a dream. Studying my Human Design, I now know that I’m an intuitive dreamer. One morning, I had a dream that God was talking to me and said I wasn’t fulfilling my life purpose in that relationship. This sounds totally far-out, but as a spiritual person who has always longed to fulfill my life purpose, this was a dream that shook me awake, physically and spiritually. I knew, without a doubt, that I needed to have that conversation and did it that very moment, while still laying in bed.
In the absence of intuitive dreams, if you’re looking to spark your own forward progress, and get started with something that feels hard, identify a small action step you can take and use a tool called the 5-Second Rule. Based on the book by Mel Robbins
It works like this, when you get a gut instinct to act, count backwards, 5-4-3-2-1 and GO. Rip the band-aid off and do the thing. Don’t stop to analyze the options. If you wait to feel like doing it, you never will. You will enter mental jail and talk yourself out of it. When you get a gut instinct to act, there’s a moment of pause where the instinct to act is clear and unmarred by doubts. At that moment, don’t pause to analyze the options. Count 5-4-3-2-1 and GO and do the thing. She says “there is a window for everyone between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing that instinct. While your mind starts working against you in nanoseconds, the barrage of thoughts and excuses don’t seem to kick into full force and stop you for a few seconds.” This is why counting for 5 seconds seems to universally work. Here’s what Mel Robbins says about why the act of counting works. Counting and then moving are actions. Counting backwards does a few important things simultaneously, she writes.It distracts you from your worries, it focuses your attention on what you need to do, it prompts you to act, and it interrupts the habits of hesitating, overthinking, and holding yourself back.” It’s important to count backwards, since we have a built-in association with a countdown leading to a launch. And moving into action when you get to 1 is crucial. When you move, your physiology changes, and so does your mind. Counting becomes a starting ritual. You’re beginning to take action, which revs up your prefrontal cortex, the problem-solving part of the brain that makes you feel more in control of your life. Robbins says you can use the rule to create new habits or change self-defeating habits, to change your thinking and focus on the positive, to be more intentional, and to do new things that are out of your comfort zone.
As Mel Robbins says, the 5-Second Rule taps into activation energy, the energy of forward momentum. You probably have noticed that on mornings that you wake up and exercise first thing, you are more productive than on days that you don’t. That’s because by getting up and taking decisive action of working out, you’ve tapped into activation energy. By taking action and counting, you engage the prefrontal cortex, the planning and problem-solving part of the brain that helps you find a way around obstacles. Keep mindfully taking action and you'll feel more in control of your life.
As a sensitive person who is a classic overthinker, analysis paralysis feels like an insurance policy. A way to outsmart risk. But the longer you stay immobilized, the harder it is to get moving. The 5-Second Rule is a way to break the pattern. And after you've taken action, if you’re feeling vulnerable or overexposed, or you can’t stop thinking about what happened, I know how this is. You’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and worries about what you said and did, and feelings of vulnerability wake you up in the middle of the night. How to Cope with Intense Situations, to cope with the feelings that come up: I like to walk the stress out of my nervous system and then journal. Journaling and writing activates your prefrontal cortex, engaging your brain in creative problem solving, calming your nervous system. Your stress response is quieted when your brain is engaged in creative problem solving. Plus, it shifts your perspective so you can keep moving forward.
OK, now you’re ready. Tap into your Inner Knowing. If you’ve been thinking about doing something, you’ve been getting signs and having intuitions, when your gut says GO, Countdown 5-4-3-2-1 and GO. I promise you, you were made for this moment. Your life is ready to expand. Accept the invitation.
5 Ways HSPs Can Protect Themselves From ‘Energy Vampires’
1. Recognize when someone is an energy vampire. The first step is realizing when someone is an energy vampire. The greatest way to know is that you feel exhausted when you’re around them. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, your body’s intuition gives you signs that this person is not emotionally healthy.
For example, you might feel completely drained after spending time with them, even if that visit is short. Or maybe you experience feelings of anxiety, guilt, or apprehension when you think about them. HSPs are sensitive to everyone’s energy, but energy vampires leave us with especially bad feelings.
2. Create boundaries and know your limits. It’s a good idea to set firm boundaries with yourself regarding an energy vampire in your life. (I know — setting boundaries is not easy for us sensitive types!) You might be unable to cut them off completely, and you might not want to. So, you’ll need to take care of yourself by knowing your guidelines. For example, maybe you’ll say “no” to invitations from this person unless it involves a group of people. This way, you can avoid getting drained if there are other people around to interact with the person, too, and a group outing might even take their mind off of their sorrows.
Another example could be asking the person, after they start complaining to you, if anything would help them feel better. If they don’t have solutions — or aren’t open to solutions and keep complaining — your boundary would be finding an excuse to leave the conversation.
Other boundaries could be not answering calls, texts, or online messages from the person after a specific time or on particular days. Or maybe you start to avoid bringing up topics that trigger the types of conversations that drain you. Only you can figure out what boundaries will work best for you, but setting some up is imperative when it comes to an energy vampire.
3. Provide a listening ear, but remember your boundaries. HSPs are exceptional listeners, a trait that their friends and loved ones value. In some cases, an active listener can actually help an energy vampire, but HSPs should still approach with caution.
Here’s a personal anecdote: I once worked in a call center for a non-profit that provided services to people with cancer. One day, I got a call from a woman who was incredibly bitter and hostile from the get-go. She immediately turned down any resources I provided to her. I could see from her file that previous employees had had to hang up on her for being inappropriately rude.
Instead of hanging up this time, I asked questions about her needs and mirrored her answers back to her, hoping to show that I cared. She opened up gradually, finally telling me that she had been a pastor for most of her life, helping everyone around her. She never received that same kindness back when she fell ill and admitted she was incredibly bitter about it. Our call actually ended with a kind and appreciative conversation.
That day, listening helped an energy vampire break her negativity spiral and see things more positively. I do believe that can sometimes be the outcome, but at the same time, HSPs are not obligated to be informal therapists. I was feeling extra patient on that phone call — plus, it was my job.
If you give an energy vampire your time to listen, pay attention to your energy levels. If you notice yourself getting dragged down, you have every right to remove yourself.
4. Have a plan for decompression post-energy vampire. Sensitive people’s kind and caring natures make them especially vulnerable to energy vampires. So, HSPs, remember to care for yourself after an interaction with a draining person. Create an HSP sanctuary where you can quietly relax, process, and do things that bring you joy.
This might mean sacrificing something else on your schedule or simply slowing things down more so that you remember to breathe. But whatever you do to decompress, have some ideas at the ready. Some grounding rituals to try include taking a walk, using a diffuser with your favorite essential oil in it for some aromatherapy, or simply enjoying your favorite hot beverage, like herbal tea.
5. Think big picture — disconnecting from the person may be best (for both of you). The sad truth is that being there for an energy vampire will not help you or them. You’ll just end up perpetually drained, and they won’t get out of their negative mindset if they’re not willing to change.
It can become easier to distance yourself and decline invitations from an energy vampire if you recognize the relationship is not good on either side. You can still tap into your empathy while acknowledging that letting the person go (or setting firm boundaries) is the most loving thing to do.
In essence, always protect your energy by recognizing how other people make you feel. And save your valuable time for people who will appreciate it and return the favor, not those who will suck you dry without a second thought.
The Science Behind Why Calming Music Is So Soothing for HSPs Calming music works at a brain level to soothe the highly sensitive system and boost your mood.
3 Reasons Why Calming Music Is So Soothing for HSPs
1. Music calms the nervous system. Depth of processing is a key marker of being a highly sensitive person. Which means that our nervous systems process information more deeply and for longer. It’s common for HSPs to become easily overwhelmed by stress and daily demands. Soothing the nervous system and becoming calm is vital for highly sensitive people to maintain physical and mental health. And music is a fantastic way to relieve stress.
But why is music so calming? In a word? Entrainment. Entrainment refers to the synchronization of organisms to an external perceived rhythm. Our bodies and minds integrate musical patterns in unison with our own biological rhythms. Sometimes those rhythms are obvious, like tapping your foot along with the beat, or dancing the Tango. But some entrainment rhythms are more subtle. Music can entrain our heartbeat, our brain waves, and even our hormones.
For example, researchers at Stanford University found that music with slow beats encourages slow brain waves that are associated with meditative states. (And meditative states are a great way for us sensitive types to decompress!) Similarly, German researchers demonstrated that listening to music lowered cortisol (a stress hormone) during surgery. And a study from Taiwan found that listening to soothing music before bed resulted in significantly better quality sleep. Bottom line: Music soothes an overwhelmed HSP.
2. Music boosts your mood. Have you ever felt chills or goosebumps when you listen to really beautiful music? These are called musical frisson, a French word meaning aesthetic chills, and they are a transient emotional response to music or other experiences of beauty. And as my fellow HSPs know, we find beauty in even the smallest of things. As it turns out, these chills are caused by the same feel-good neurochemical triggered by sugar, cocaine, and being in love.
Dopamine. Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter for emotional and cognitive functioning. And listening to music you love will make your brain release more of it. In one study, levels of dopamine were found to be up to 9 percent higher when volunteers were listening to music they enjoyed. To determine when dopamine was released, researchers marked when participants felt a shiver. Musical frisson pinpointed the exact moment volunteers felt maximum pleasure.
But who is more likely to experience musical frisson? Studies have shown it’s most likely experienced by people who:
have unusually active imaginations appreciate beauty and nature seek out new experiences often reflect deeply on their feelings love variety in life Sounds like a highly sensitive person, right?
Of course, not every highly sensitive person will experience musical frisson. But even if you don’t? There is a definitive link between music and pleasure.
3. Music nourishes the HSP soul. Music expresses the ineffable: It is a complex array of vibration, harmony, and dynamics that is greater than the sum of its parts. It connects us with our emotions, can bond us to other people, trigger nostalgia, and make us feel part of something larger than ourselves. Being a highly sensitive person can be lonely at times. Because we only make up around 30 percent of the population, our experience is often dismissed and we may experience gaslighting. And yet music can make us feel less alone — through lyrics that convey how we feel, or patterns that stimulate deep thought, or by soothing our overwhelm. Music touches the edge of mystery. It is a form that understands us. Music often speaks where we cannot.
One of the best things about being a highly sensitive person is how deeply we appreciate beauty, and music can be profoundly moving and nourishing. It can satiate a highly sensitive person’s need for beauty and meaning.
Savoring beauty is not superficial. It isn’t about consumerism or buying luxurious items. Beauty is a portal to deep appreciation. When you immerse yourself in calming music, you’re allowing yourself to just be. To exist in the peace of the present moment. To feel gratitude for the simple pleasures in life.
What Is the Best Calming Music for HSPs?
Now that you know why calming music is so soothing for highly sensitive people, you might be wondering what kind of calming music to listen to. Firstly, it needs to be music you enjoy. Perhaps you love the gentle nostalgia of lo-fi hip hop. Or perhaps you prefer the undulating flow of instrumental jazz. Or maybe deep, ambient drone is your thing. Experiment with different genres to find the best kind of calming music for you.
Secondly, it needs to be slower paced music. BPM stands for beats per minute, and in music, it represents the tempo (or how fast/slow the beat is). But BPM can also measure your heart rate, i.e., how many times your heart beats in one minute. Because your heart will synchronise to the beat of the music, having a slower BPM in music will help calm you down. Music that is between 60-100 BPM is perfect for relaxation because it is the same speed as a resting heart rate. But you don’t need to calculate the exact tempo to know if a track is calming. If the music feels slow, gentle, and soothing, it’s the right tempo for you.
When to Listen to Calming Music as an HSP
The great thing about music is you can listen to it all day, every day. But there are some specific times that calming music will work best.
You could listen to calming music: after a long, draining day to restore your energy and balance before bed for a good night’s sleep while you’re studying or working to help you focus to reduce or relieve pain during travel, to help relieve stress and anxiety Calming music is a balm, especially for highly sensitive people — it soothes your nervous system, boosts your mood, and fulfills your need for beauty and connection. It’s not always easy to be a highly sensitive person in a world that doesn’t value your sensitivity. But music can make your HSP experience a little easier and a lot more enjoyable.