What is sensory processing sensitivity?
25 % of people are highly sensitive. HSPs have a nervous system that reacts strongly to the environment: sounds, smell, touch, and even other people’s emotions. It is a trait characterized by great empathy and depth of processing. This normal personality trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) affects almost all aspects of life. Being an HSP is not a good or a bad thing. HSPs can be more bothered by negative people or loud noises, but also find greater pleasure in relatively ordinary things such as beautiful art, positive social connection, or watching a sunrise. I am an HSP myself I know that living with a sensitive nervous system can be challenging in the modern world with phone alarms, noises, hurry, and emotional rollercoasters. Therefore, I gathered 10 tools that help HSPs to manage their daily life from morning till evening.
If you agree with these statements, you might be Highly Sensitive.
- Other people’s moods affect me
- Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
- I enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, and works of art
- I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once
- I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things
- I have a rich, complex inner life
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) survival guide from morning till evening
1) Morning Meditation
Meditation is the number one tool to gain control of emotional reactivity to signals in the environment as well as one’s thoughts. For example, focusing on the breath (Focused Attention meditation) can prevent distractibility and improve calm mental control. Breath focus practices increase activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain (important for focus and inhibition) and decrease the activity of the amygdala (linked to fear response and emotional reactivity). Meditation can even change the brain matter so that one becomes more efficient in controlling their emotions also when not meditating. Another useful and effective form of meditation is Mindfulness Meditation.
How to meditate?
- Sit comfortably in the floor or in a chair, close your eyes
- Start observing your breathing without trying to change it
- Notice when inhalation starts, follow the full length of the inhalation and notice when it naturally stops
- Notice when exhalation starts, follow the full length of the exhalation and notice when it naturally stops
- Repeat for 10 rounds of breaths
- You can extend the time for several minutes (Buddhist monks may do this for hours!)
Apps for meditation
- 3-minute Mindfulness meditation by Honest Guys
- 3-minute Mindfulness practice by Stop, Think & Breath
- 10-minute Daily calm Meditation by Calm meditation
- 10-minute Mindfulness by Honest Guys
- 20-minute Mindfulness by Jon-Kabat Zinn
- 10-minute Loving-Kindness Meditation by WiseMindBody
- 20-minute Loving-Kindness meditation by Jason Stephenson
2) L-theanine to coffee
If you are a fan of coffee, consider adding theanine (or L-theanine) to your warm drink to prevent anxiety. Coffee increases alertness and sensitivity to external signals. L-theanine has shown to counterbalance the stimulating effect of caffeine and may help you to prevent overstimulation caused by caffeine. Theanine is a natural compound found in tea leaves and it is sold also in supplement form. It has shown to help the brain to reach a meditative state by helping the brain to reach a more relaxed state. Theanine can also ease symptoms of anxiety and support sleep.
3) Work from home
If your work allows, work from home even occasionally. This might be especially important during times of high stress in the workplace. HSPs are more attuned to other people’s emotions and thus a negative co-worker or stressed atmosphere at the office may decrease HSP’s mood and wellbeing. Working from home also allows you to manage environmental noises, air quality, and lights, and allows you to take sufficient breaks to calm down your nervous system.
4) Aim for easy commuting to work
If you do need to go to the office, however, try to minimize the stress associated with commuting. If you walk, choose a route with the most natural elements even if it is a bit longer (e.g. walk through the park or next to the ocean). If you travel by car, aim to commute to work outside of the rush hours. If you use public transport, use earplugs or Active Noise Cancelling headphones during the journey to manage noises.
5) Wear Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones
Active Noise Cancelling headphones have a technology that reduces environmental noises, especially the very high pitch and low pitch sounds. They are useful especially in an open office, airports, busy streets, and noisy cafeterias. Make sure to read the reviews of different ANC headphones, since there is a lot of variability of the quality of the ANC technology.
I use these ones from TaoTronics. They reduce noise extremely well and the quality of their sound is amazing.
6) Take breaks in a calm environment
Take enough breaks during the workday in an environment that allow you to block as much sensory stimulation as possible. This helps your nervous system to calm down. Go to a place where you can completely block noise off and even close your eyes for a bit. If there is no such place in the office, take a walk in a park or in nature or try meditating.
7) Bring plants and other natural elements to office
Plants can both calm the mind and purify the air quality. Nature elements have shown to relax and increase positivity. Plants can eliminate toxins and harmful gases in the air such as benzene (found in plastics, pesticides, and cigarette smoke) and formaldehyde (found in detergents, carpet cleaners, and fabric softeners). For example, Aloe Vera and Chrysanthemum purify the air. NASA recommends the following plants for optimal indoor air quality (source: Biohacker’s Handbook):
- Barberton Daisy
- Gerbera Daisy
- Bamboo Plants
- Snake plants
- Peace Lily
- Janet Graig
8) Train to activate the vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is the most important nerve linked to the activation of the rest-and-digest nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system). Vagus nerve connects the brain to multiple internal organs (e.g. lungs, gut, liver, heart, kidneys, and gallbladder). Activation of the vagus nerve is linked to a relaxed state, lowered blood pressure, and oxytocin in the brain. Read how to stimulate the vagus nerve.
9) Use adaptogenic herbs
Adaptogenic herbs help the body to combat mental and environmental stress. Adaptogenic herbs balance the function of the central nervous system and thus improve stress-resilience and immunity. Adaptogenic herbs include:
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Licorice root
Sleep is one of the most important health practices due to its effect on almost all bodily functions and mental health. Especially the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep is important for restoring the nervous system state and emotional balance. Deep sleep stage is important for cell restoration and brain detoxification. High quality sleep of 7-9 hours a night is fundamental for good mood and less reactivity to stress.