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How to navigate HSP (high sensitivity)

I just returned from my two-week vacation: a week in Morocco, and a week in Rome. In Morocco, I was partly by myself, partly with a friend. Then, in Rome, I was in full 'Italian style' with a big group of family. 9 people in total. Because of the contrast between the two travel experiences, I had a rare opportunity to see just how much I am impacted by HSP, aka. being a Highly Sensitive Person. Most people who are gifted, are also HSP. So chances are, you are too. MOROCCO Both Morocco and Rome are intense places, with lots of sensory stimulation. In Essaouira and Marrakech, the busy bazaars were filled with too many impressions to process: I found myself making space for donkeys in alleys, smelling all sorts of spices in the air, listening to calls to prayer, men trying to sell me bread in the streets, boys asking for photos with me, so many moments of eye contact with strangers around me, getting pressed up against others when trying to buy fresh mint, the smell of raw fish for sale, laid out on cardboard on the floor. Live chickens scrambling round on the live animal market, sea gulls crying, children playing, people haggling over the price of shoes, knives shopping meat in the street, Moroccan sweets vendors loudly promoting their syrup-soaked cookies, and so many more impressions. Morocco is a place of intense sounds, sights, and smells.

But when I am on my own, or with one other friend I feel very comfortable with, I can go at my own pace. I can take time to process the impressions after returning from the crowded medina. I can spend time in peace and quiet, to 'recover' from all the intensity, and catch my breath.

ROME Now in Rome, this was a different story. Being with a group of nine people, I could really tell the difference. Firstly, I no longer had control over my day planning: we had pre-booked city tours, pre-reserved Vatican Museum tickets, concerts, dinner bookings, etc. With 9 people, of course the logistics are different, and we were there to do lots of sightseeing. But I noticed the impact of the lack of 'recovery time' that I usually take when I'm in control of my schedule. Rome had slow-moving crowds of tourists, huge groups following guides with colorful umbrellas held up in the sky, Rome had big buses, and living sculptures, and street vendors trying to sell you souvenirs or ponchos when it rained. Busy coffee bars, terraces filled with people drinking Aperol Spritzes, smoking hot pizza ovens, long lines to enter the St Peter's Basilica, rapidly speaking Italians, taxi drivers chatting me up, and church bells ringing. And there I was, amidst the bustle of it all, with a big group where some members wanted to shop, others were hungry, some were tired, and others full of energy to continue sightseeing. It made my Rome experience infinitely more overstimulating.

BEING HSP I had an enormous amount of fun in Rome. At the same time, I found myself struggling with fatigue due to overstimulation. I noticed how this at times impacted my mood: I'd get irritated more quickly, be more blunt in my communication, less patient, and just overall feel like I was out of breath all the time, like I could no longer keep up. I clearly noticed just how differently I was impacted by all this in comparison to the rest of my family. Because after a full day of sightseeing, they would come back to the AirBnB ready to start an evening of playing boardgames and socializing. Whereas I'd feel the need to be by myself, away from everyone else, in a quiet space for a while. Just like I cannot understand how my family doesn't feel the need to have time to themselves after a long day out, they don't understand why I do need that time. To them, it can easily come across as anti-social ('ongezellig') behavior when I seclude myself in my room the moment we get back to the AirBnB. The irony is that, if I don't take that time to myself and instead keep pushing myself to participate, I will in fact become more anti-social. Which wouldn't be fun for anyone involved. The complicating factor in all of this is that I don't get to see my family that often, because I live in the UK and they live in the Netherlands. We all want to maximize the amount of time we spend together whenever they get a chance. Which makes it all the more difficult for me to step away for 'me-time', as 'family-time' is such a scarce good. SOME TIPS FOR YOU Despite the challenges, I succeeded to take a few actions to help manage my HSP overstimulation. Here below, I'm sharing a few tips with you:

  1. In restaurants, and other loud places, I wore earplugs (I will even put tissue in my ears if I've forgotten them), because I'm especially sensitive to sound. No one even needs to notice. But if they do and give me a weird look, I simply explain that I only want to lower the sound level - not block anyone out.

  2. I tried to sit on the outside of the group, rather than in the middle, because being caught between multiple conversations happening at once isn't ideal.

  3. I occasionally passed on activities, in order to manage my energy. Eg. there was a day where we had a cycling tour planned for the afternoon, a dinner in the evening, and a market trip in the morning. The preceding day had already been very full, so I decided not to join the market trip. My family didn't like it (again, they want to spend as much time with me as possible), but I really needed time to myself so I could also be more social during the rest of the day (win-win).

  4. After coming back from a long day, I took at least an hour to myself, before rejoining the others for boardgames in the evening. One evening, I didn't rejoin them at all because I was too overstimulated. Again, people didn't love that I did this, but it was necessary.

  5. I respected my own needs for quiet time and rest throughout the trip. With a depleted social battery, I'm not enjoyable company. So it's for the sake of everyone's enjoyment that I respect my own needs.

  6. I understood that others may not always comprehend my needs. Just like I don't always understand the needs of people who aren't HSP. We're just different. And that's OK. Understanding one another isn't a requirement for respecting one another. Communication is key here. And start by respecting yourself.


That's right! It's time to pick my monthly Masterclasses back up. This month, we'll have a session on HSP: what it is, how to appreciate it, and how to navigate it in daily life (including overwhelm and overstimulation). You'll have the opportunity to be coached directly by me within a group setting (small scale as always). We'll also go through the connection between HSP and giftedness, and the difference between High Sensation Seekers (HSS) and Low Sensation Seekers (LSS). You'll walk away with a ton of practical tips, new insights, and a regained sense of confidence to be the beautifully sensitive person that you are. What I shared above is just the tip of the iceberg... So come along for an in-depth masterclass on high sensitivity. And get ready to enjoy your senses to the fullest!

When: Saturday 27 May, 10.30 am - 12 pm CET (Amsterdam time) Where: Online, Zoom Replay: Yes! (so you can still get your ticket, even if you can't attend live) Early-Bird: Buy your ticket before May 11th to receive a big discount. Regular price is 59 euros. Early Bird tickets are just 39 euros (also, there is a 50% student discount available). Price goes up to the regular level on May 11th. Availability: Spots are limited, to maximize interaction and give you the chance to ask questions and get personalized support from me.

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1 Comment

Wouter Hijlkema
Wouter Hijlkema
May 11, 2023

I know the struggle all too well... Great tips!

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