5 Ways to Cope With Stress When You're Highly Sensitive

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If you are wondering if you are a highly sensitive person, it is quite possible that you actually are. This fact might be affecting your relationship with stress in your life. People who are considered "highly sensitive people" tend to feel things more deeply than others, detect life's subtleties more easily, and be more reactive to stimuli both internal and external. They are people who may be more bothered by an itchy shirt or an abrasive friend. They are also people who will notice when someone needs a hug or detect when something bad is about to happen and change course.

Unfortunately, this heightened sensitivity and awareness can translate into vigilance, rumination, and extra stress at times. Here is how to cope with the additional and unique stress of being a highly sensitive person, whether the sensitive person is you or someone you care about.

Set up Boundaries

When we speak of "boundaries," we mean boundaries in your relationships, but we also mean it in other ways as well. This means becoming more comfortable letting people know where you stand and what you need—classic boundary-setting techniques. But we also mean things like creating some extra wiggle room in your schedule so you don't feel stressed when things inevitably go wrong, pile on, or require an extra response from you.

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

These practices are closely related to the idea of setting boundaries. That's because this involves creating a perimeter around your experiences in life and your thoughts and feelings about them through the practices of meditation and mindfulness.

When you practice meditation, you learn to step back and observe your thoughts and feelings, and even your physical reactions as separate from your life and your "self." With practice, a few important things happen. You learn to calm your body more quickly, reversing your stress response and returning to a place of calmness. You also learn to detach from things emotionally more easily so if things feel overwhelming, you don't get swept away in the flood of emotion as easily. It helps you to stay grounded, It can also help you to build resilience to stress. All of this should make it worth the effort for anyone, but this is particularly true for the highly sensitive person.

"Relaxing Zones" for Yourself

This can mean having your home be soothing and relatively free of conflict. This can be done by adding a few elements known to relieve stress, such as soothing music and aromatherapy, and having "down time" there on a regular basis.

This can also mean that you keep your close relationships as conflict-free as possible. This can be accomplished by learning conflict-resolution techniques and assertiveness, both of which can provide you with the tools you need to work through difficulties that may arise between you and your loved ones.

Ultimately, it also means that you can choose people in your life to be part of your inner circle after they have proved themselves worthy of it, and you can put distance between yourself and those who drain you, frustrate you, or devalue you. When you have a supportive circle of people who will listen and care when you have a problem to deal with in your life, it can be even more soothing to you if you are sensitive; sensitive people need to feel understood and supported a little more than others, and they are wonderful in their capacity to offer this back as well. But it is important to save your supportiveness for those who will return it, at least in part, rather than those who will drain you and desert you, or inspire self-doubt.

Practice Self-Care

As a highly sensitive person, you are probably more susceptible to the ravages of sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and burnout. This means you need to be sure to get enough sleep at night (or supplement with naps when necessary), eat healthy meals, and take care of your body, mind, and spirit in whatever ways you can. This will leave you more able to handle whatever comes your way.

Know Your Triggers

Highly sensitive people all have their unique challenges. It helps to know what stresses you the most so you can avoid these things in your life. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day, and even maintain a stress journal if necessary. Be proactive in adding resilience-building practices as well as eliminating stressors whenever possible. 

You may not be able to change the fact that you are sensitive, but you can absolutely change your lifestyle and habits so that you're less affected by those stressors you can't control. After a while, this will become second nature and you will feel more resilient toward stress in general. Then you can simply enjoy the benefits that come with being sensitive.

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