Coping technique: Hypersensitivity

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

1. Recognize that high sensitivity is part of your experience. There is nothing wrong with you.

2. Develop a practice of exploring your emotions in a safe place, such as through journaling or in therapy.

3. As you explore your feelings identify triggers for sensitivity in order to decrease the impact of your responses. Triggers can include stress, such as an overcrowded schedule. Therefore consider which ways are available to you to decrease stress. One way is to manage your schedule. For instance, if possible space out demanding tasks or appointments so that they’re not back-to-back. As well, schedule break time for yourself, so that there are periods of time throughout the day, even if brief, when you’re at rest.

4. If you notice that you respond to sensory overload you can develop management practices with this as well. If noise in the environment is a stressor consider some ways in which you might decrease it or replace it with sounds of your own choosing, such as ear plugs or listening to calm music through earphones or humming quietly to yourself. Remind yourself in a noisy environment that the noise does not constitute a threat, even if it is an annoyance. Talk yourself through such times (“I’m not in danger, that’s just the sound of traffic”). If the sense of touch is a source of sensitivity select clothing made from soft smooth fabrics. In this regard do you prefer light touch or heavy touch? If smell is a source of sensitivity consider carrying a handkerchief sprinkled with a few drops of a preferred scent or with a neutral aroma. If visual overload is an issue consider dimming the lights or wearing sunglasses, or clearing the table or desk where you work in order to reduce distractions. And don’t forget that you can simply close your eyes in some situations (though not when driving, of course).

5. When stressed consider taking a break. This can be from newsfeeds and social media. It can be alone time, which will give you an opportunity to sort out and integrate your responses. It can be a brief walk instead of a coffee break at work, in order to remove yourself to a less stimulating environment.

6. On the flips side, consider whether sensory input can provide you with soothing. For instance, sucking on a piece of candy, or drinking something through a straw are both linked to increased feelings of calmness. Depending on your own preferences a soft garment or other piece of cloth can decrease feelings of agitation.

7. Another way to manage your sensitivity is to disclose to and educate important people in your life about your responses. Practice assertive communication of your thoughts and feelings.

8. Notice if you feel triggered when you experience frustration, either with completing goal-oriented behaviors such as at work or school (which can be experienced as a threat to autonomy) or in your relationships (which can feel like abandonment, loss or the imminent threat of loss). If so consider whether you may be experiencing a cognitive distortion.

9. Become familiar with cognitive distortions that may be adding to your sensitivity. These are unconscious beliefs or automatic conclusions that are neither helpful nor accurate. Personalization is when we identify ourselves as the cause of things we have no control over, and when we take things that aren’t aimed at us personally. Emotional reasoning is assuming that our feelings are facts (“I’m angry, therefore you must have been trying to make me mad”). Labelling is when we generalize from a single event (“You were busy tonight, so I know you don’t want to see me ever again”). Should statements refer to external standards that are often unreasonable, and that we punish ourselves or others for not living up to (“We should always be happy”). Jumping to conclusions describes rapidly assigning negative meanings when there aren’t enough facts to support doing so. Catastrophizing is when we jump to the worst possible conclusion, again often without any supportive facts.

10. Meditation can support the ability to recognize and sit with feelings without the need to do anything with them. Yoga and exercise can help manage the physical aspects of the arousal that often accompanies high sensitivity. Deep breathing techniques, such as locating where in your body you’re carrying a sudden increase of stress and breathing directly into that area, can help you relax in the moment.

11. Take sufficient time in the evening to practice good sleep hygiene. Decrease your exposure to bright light for the last hour. Avoid heavy food in the evening. Let yourself be finished with tasks so that you can relax with a soothing book.

12. Be compassionate with yourself, and take this process slowly.