Self Care Tips for Sensitivities
If you’re Highly Sensitive, you’ve experienced some reactivity to things in the environment, whether related to sound, touch, sight, smell, even taste. You’ve likely also felt challenged by others’ feelings, cultural and world events, even your own emotions. Sensory Processing Sensitivity, the official term for high sensitivity, describes this…we are especially sensitive in our processing of sensory experiences.
For some, one or more of the physical senses may function within seemingly average bounds while the rest are in the high range. For others, like me, it’s a smorgasbord of all senses. I remember as a child trying every soap made until we found one that didn’t make me itch or turn red (I think it was Ivory). I couldn’t abide any tags in my clothing and couldn’t wear animal fibers…and these hold true today. I can’t even wear cashmere without a shirt underneath at the neck and elbows!! And if I use a towel washed with a typical commercial detergent, my eyes may turn red.
And smell…wow, can you walk down the detergent isle of a big grocery store? Yikes! I have to hold my breath and run. I’ll always stand upwind of someone wearing perfume outside, and move away from them inside. Of course, unpleasant odors are very challenging as well.
I have food sensitivities, mainly regarding digestion, but even just in terms of taste. I love good, tasty foods with yummy spices, but if it’s too hot (spicy) I can’t taste anything, and I often find pre-made foods way too sweet or salty. I like a good balance of flavors…one can easily overwhelm the rest for me.
And sometimes are your feelings just too much to handle, to where you want to just curl into a ball and cover up with a blanket and make everything go away? When I saw the movie Amistad I felt like I had PTSD for a week; just thinking about an animal being abused makes me cry; I don’t watch mainstream news, because I’ll feel so angry or hopeless, or both, the rest of the day and beyond.
The world can be a noisy, uncaring, busy place with lots of activity and expressed emotions and other sensory experiences. So how can we enjoy ourselves as Highly Sensitive people? Should we just grin and bear it? Shut down so we don’t feel?
This is a good time to remember that our needs matter and that even if they don’t match the 80% of the world who doesn’t have these same needs, it’s ok to have them. How often do you ask yourself, as Julie Bjelland, HSP psychotherapist suggests, “How am I doing?” and “What do I need?” If your need is to have extra soft clothing without tags, get or ask for that. If you feel better shopping at small, independent stores at off peak times, do that (I do.) If someone’s music is keeping you from concentrating on your own tasks, ask them to turn it down or wear headphones. You can let friends know you’d love to see a movie together but certain ones are just not going to work for you. It’s ok to ask for these things!
And are you taking care of yourself on a daily basis, so you have more reserves to pull from when the world gets over-full of sensory input? Making sure to have lots of down time, time in nature, time to yourself where it’s quiet is very important. A daily meditation or mindfulness practice really helps to keep your nervous system calmer so you can cope more effectively.
Here are some more ideas to help you manage all of the sensory experiences. You may already be doing some of these, but hopefully there will be a new idea or two to add to your self care toolbox.
~ Choose an area as far from distraction as possible for work or projects.
~ When you’re thinking or trying to focus, look out the window at the trees if they’re visible; if not, have a photo next to you or on your desktop that you can look at to recenter.
~ Sometimes focusing on anything adds to the overload it and helps to just close your eyes for a minute or two…just remove all visual input.
~ Wear earplugs or listen to a sound machine while sleeping, especially away from home. (While traveling I listen to a white noise app with my earbuds; it’s the only way I can sleep)
~ Try noise-canceling earphones to drown out external noises.
~ Find quiet places to work or relax; a little tea bar might be better than a bustling coffee house.
~ Play soothing music while working or relaxing.
~ Turn off all notification sounds on your devices. I am always carful to silence my computer before I turn it off so it dose’t make a disturbing noise when I turn it on in the morning.
~ Buy cotton, silk, modal and other fibers you’ve tried and found soft and non-irritating. Just because someone gifted you something or everyone else likes it, doesn’t mean you need to wear it if it makes you itch! And cut out those tags.
~ Get new towels when the old ones start to get rough on your skin.
~ Use natural soaps and lotions, and laundry detergent, or make your own. I use an Eco-egg for laundry…it cleans with minerals so there’s no residue.
~ Always have a sweater with you when you leave the house in case you end up somewhere that’s too cool for you…no reason to be miserable even if no one else is wearing one.
~ Sit in an aisle when possible to avoid having people on both sides emanating various scents, or bumping you or your chair, or making noises.
~ Request that when people come to your house or join you for an activity, they leave their perfume/cologne at home.
~ Carry a calming, soothing essential oil to use in over-stimulating situations.
~ Make your own products. Some things are a bit time consuming, but it’s surprisingly easy and fairly quick to make some products. Those I currently make are yogurt, granola, nut mix, pesto, guacamole and toothpaste.
~ Ask about specific ingredients before ordering at restaurants. Ask for them to ‘go light’ on things you’re particularly sensitive to…salt, cheese, pepper, etc.
~ Avoid mainstream news, violent movies and books.
~ Shop during low-traffic times.
~ Keep snacks handy so you don’t have a blood-sugar drop.
~ Opt out of activities/events if you’re not feeling up to it, even if you committed. Just explain that you’re at your limit and it wouldn’t be good for you, and you wouldn’t be the best companion.
~ Avoid time with ‘energy vampires’ or negative energy folks.
Remember to recharge often, listen to your needs and share them with others. It can help to explain to others what your experience is like, as an HSP in general and in specific situations, and create an environment that works for you. Your needs matter! Not only are you OK in spite of your sensitivities, you are needed in this world BECAUSE of them!