Some people feel more stress than others, but a highly sensitive person (HSP) feels it on some level all the time. We have those days when the stress gets too much and we have a meltdown. Anything can send us spiraling out of control, such as:
- a bad day at work
- the power bill
- a really bad day at work
- a tough college class
- a flippant comment
- financial worries
- unwashed dishes in the sink
Remember, we’re not weak, just more susceptible to negative events and emotions. While we don’t expect or want to be catered to our every need, we would like non-HSPs near and dear to our hearts to know how to help us when we’re stressing out.
Here are some ways you can help an HSP:
1. Listen with an open mind and heart.
HSPs have a hard time opening themselves up to people. We like to choose our words carefully, and we want someone to really listen when we speak. If an HSP wants to talk about their troubles, listen and refrain from asking questions. Be sure to let the HSP choose where to talk, whether it’s on the bathroom floor or lying on a pile of leaves in the backyard. Stress can come from a feeling of life falling apart. Letting the HSP decide what to talk about and where allows them to regain control.
2. Remove loud or annoying stimuli.
Some HSPs like to calm down in solitude, but they might not have the energy to create that solitude in a home environment. Bright lights, especially fluorescents, can give someone who’s light-sensitive a headache. Switch those off if the HSP requests that. Turn off the loud music, wait to wash the dishes, close the windows if you live near a busy highway, and silence your cell phone.
3. Ask an HSP’s permission to touch him/her/them.
It’s an instinct for people to provide physical affection or comfort to someone who’s showing visible signs of tremendous stress. More often than not, an HSP doesn’t want to be touched. For example, when I’m stressed I’m the most sensitive around my shoulders, neck, back of my upper arms, and collarbone. I don’t want anyone, even my partner, touching me in those areas, as I usually flinch or cringe away. If you feel the need to give a hug or hold an HSP’s hand, make sure you ask permission. It may seem a silly thing, but knowing in advance that someone wants to touch us gives us time to feel comfortable in our skin again.
4. Try not to yell or talk too loudly.
It’s easy to misunderstand what a stressed-out HSP wants, or even why an HSP is stressed in the first place. You might become angry or annoyed. No matter how upset you become, please maintain a normal voice. Raising your voice might prompt us to stress more or raise our own voice, and a yelling match is the last thing we want. Keep your voice level and calm.
5. Respect an HSP’s need for alone time.
Sometimes the only way to process stress is to be alone. For an HSP, it’s crucial that we’re given the space to process our thoughts and feelings without worrying what someone else is thinking. Don’t be offended if an HSP seeks alone time away from you. Wherever the HSP goes — bedroom, backyard, car — respect that choice and adapt. Check up on them every twenty minutes or so, alerting them to your presence with a knock or a soft greeting.
6. Don’t rush your movements.
Us HSPs tend to flinch a lot at noises and movements. A fast or unexpected motion, even something as benign as a wave of the hand, may startle us and send us into panic mode. If you’re making a lot of hand or arm gestures while talking, we might be focusing more on that than your words. Instead, try to be aware of what your limbs are doing and how an HSP perceives your movements, and adjust your body language accordingly.
7. Avoid overwhelming an HSP with questions.
It’s understandable and normal to ask questions when you’re concerned about another person’s well-being. “What’s wrong?” “Why are you like this?” “What happened?” “Is everything okay?” Questions like this really rattle HSPs when we’re stressed. We already overthink things. We don’t want to feel pressured to answer those simple questions and stress even more. Be very selective and conscientious about what to ask about, and give space for the HSP to answer.
8. Perform a kind gesture.
It’s the little things that make the most impact. We see so much in simple kindness as a result of our sensitivity. Taking the time to be kind to us when we’re most vulnerable means the world to us. Make some coffee or tea, preferably decaffeinated — our nerves are already strained as it is. Fill up a hot water bottle for us. Burn some aromatherapy candles — smelling something nice can be relaxing and decrease stress.
HSPs don’t always like asking for help. We don’t want to burden others with our own problems. Making an effort to comfort us and understand how we deal with stress will go a long way towards helping us.
If you’re an HSP, how do you want others to help or comfort you when you’re stressed?