Navigating the Biggest Energy Sappers for HSPs
When Rachelle Mee-Chapman’s daughter was just 5 years old, she’d walk into a restaurant and say “Mommy, that couple is fighting.” The people weren’t visibly arguing. But by the end of their meal, they were. Whether she was picking up on non-verbal cues or some energetic exchange, Mee-Chapman’s daughter was internalizing more information than the average person. Which is precisely what highly sensitive people (HSPs) do. We notice details the rest of the population doesn’t.
We experience the emotional nuances of others, and we are more aware of our own emotional states, said Mee-Chapman, also an HSP and an author and educator who helps people create right-fit spiritual practices for themselves and their families.
We “tend to remember small missteps or embarrassing moments more often and longer than others,” and pay closer, deeper attention to our emotions. Which can be absolutely exhausting. “It’s like trying to run a complicated new program on your very old computer. You’re processing far more than the average brain.”
HSPs also have more sensitive nervous systems, said Joy Malek, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with deep feelers, or people who are intuitive, empathic, creative and highly sensitive.
Below, Malek and Mee-Chapman share the biggest things that deplete HSPs—and how we can respect and navigate our natural tendencies.
Because HSPs have more sensitive nervous systems, sensory information can feel especially loud to us. We have a harder time filtering out stimuli. Which means that noise, bright lights, strong smells and bustling activity feel overpowering, said Malek, also an HSP.
Mee-Chapman shared this example: “Take an outdoor concert. You have the hype of the crowd and the performers, the scent of the food booths, the wall of sound from the stage. Plus, you may be in uncomfortable seats, or too hot or too cold.” In short, “it’s a lot to process.”
Malek encouraged HSPs to give ourselves permission to take breaks in overstimulating situations, and excuse ourselves from overwhelming environments.
It’s also helpful to plan ahead. For instance, if Malek is attending a really loud concert, she purchases tickets in the back. If she’s going on a trip with friends, she looks for a quiet coffee shop to seek space when she needs it. Mee-Chapman navigates noise by wearing noise-canceling earphones on the bus, listening to soothing Spotify playlists at work and turning off the radio in the car.
Maybe you have a huge family or you spend 8 hours a day at a highly social work environment. Either way, you’re always “on”; you’re regularly engaged. At the end (or middle!) of every day, you start feeling like a smartphone with 2 percent battery.
This is when a little communication can go a long way. According to Malek, “Sometimes those around us just need some simple education about how we function best in order to respect our needs for space and time to be with our own thoughts.”
This education might look like expressing yourself in one clear-cut sentence: “I’ve found that I work best when I have some time by myself in between our meetings/talks/collaborations to sift through what we’ve discussed and apply it.” If you’re talking to your family, you might tell them when you need alone time, and for how long.
Groups & Crowds
“Every person carries with them their own field of energy,” Mee-Chapman said. “A crowd is energy soup—so many opinions, voices, attitudes, and moods.” She suggested creating downtime before and after attending meetings, conferences and parties.
Because it’s harder to manage this energy when you’re hungry, Mee-Chapman also suggested carrying food and water with you. Lastly, she’s found this visualization technique to be helpful: She envisions herself buttoning up a huge overcoat to create a layer of energetic protection between her and the crowd.
As a minister, Mee-Chapman regularly works in hospitals. The range of emotions—from hope to heartache—and events—from birth to death—used to leave her with severe migraines. Today, she prepares for hospital visits by meditating beforehand. Specifically, she uses a free app called Meditation Music. She sets the timer and focuses on the location of her breath. Is it in her throat, chest or belly? Without judgment, she watches her breath.
“On the exhale, I send unwanted energy down into the earth to ‘compost.’ On the inhale, I invite light to enter through the crown of my head and flood my body.” Sometimes, she counts her breaths.
Mee-Chapman reminds herself that her “only job is to ‘be present,’ not to rescue or to heal.” She also makes sure that she has 3 hours to half a day of downtime after each visit.
When you’re going into a highly-charged setting (whatever this is for you), she suggested practicing the “fingertip method”: Become aware of your breathing. Count your breaths on your fingertips, starting with your left thumb, and ending with your right pinky. You can do this anywhere, from a busy conference to a crowded state fair. “It brings you out of any panic or overwhelm and back to the truth—that you are in your body, and that you are OK,” Mee-Chapman said.
Little Processing Time
“Perhaps most depleting is when highly sensitive people don’t have the time and space to process our experiences as we go through life,” Malek said. We also tend to question whether this need is actually legitimate, especially since others might not need it.
Malek encouraged readers to prioritize this time. “[W]ithout it, it becomes harder to function, but with it, we find levels of insight and wisdom that are unique to HSPs.” You might carve out time for contemplative practices such as journaling, making art and taking walks, she said.
When you’re an HSP, you can easily feel like there’s something wrong with you. I can’t believe I need to take so many breaks! Why can’t I just enjoy a crowded concert like everyone else? Why must I feel so much and so often?
Being an HSP comes with many gifts—including greater empathy. Which can take a toll on our hearts and minds. Remind yourself regularly that it’s OK to protect your energy. As Mee-Chapman said, “It’s OK to live a bit quieter of a life—to curate the things you say ‘yes’ to more carefully, and to have more time alone.” This is how we honor ourselves.
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Navigating the Biggest Energy Sappers for HSPs. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/navigating-the-biggest-energy-sappers-for-hsps/