Amy Neuzil of To Health With That!: “Stop trying to be something other than you are”

The first and most important, is stop trying to be something other than you are. If you’re fighting against your sensitivity or pushing yourself into situations that are uncomfortable or overwhelming, then you miss out on all of the benefits that can be found within your sensitivity. Trying to “fix” sensitivity often looks like ignoring […]

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The first and most important, is stop trying to be something other than you are. If you’re fighting against your sensitivity or pushing yourself into situations that are uncomfortable or overwhelming, then you miss out on all of the benefits that can be found within your sensitivity. Trying to “fix” sensitivity often looks like ignoring or denying it. Your body and mind have to exert so much energy to protect themselves that could be put to such better use.


As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Neuzil, ND.

Amy is a naturopathic doctor, writer, speaker, and host of the To Health With That! Podcast. Her primary focus is the MTHFR polymorphism and all of its quirks, including perfectionism and High Sensitivity. She is also the mutant-in-chief at Genetic Rockstars, a community where the overachievers, black sheep, and MTHFR folks become better. You can see more of her work at tohealthwiththat.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

Like so many other Highly Sensitive People, I chose a helping profession. I’m a Naturopathic Doctor and I coach people on physical and mental health, and related work or creative performance issues. Especially people like myself who have MTHFR mutations, many of whom are also Highly Sensitive,

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?

Not at all! Actually, I’d say I’m thicker-skinned than average, or that I have learned to be. It is a very common misconception that people who are Highly Sensitive must be easily offended or hurt. I would say it’s more that we’re concerned about hurting others and that other people’s emotions influence us. It can include sensitivity to perceived criticism, but more often it is sensitivity to one’s own perceived failings — this trait is correlated with perfectionism. As a recovering perfectionist, which you can read about in this Authority Magazine interview, it’s an area with which I’ve worked extensively.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?

Highly Sensitive People are known to have a higher degree of empathy, to the point of having a hard time differentiating our own emotions and those of other people. It can be very difficult to sort out, especially as a teenager when everyone’s emotions are so turbulent. It takes some practice to feel your way through the barriers between your own responses and the ambient emotional energy of a situation or group. So yes, if a hurtful remark is made to another person, we suffer empathically with that person. It can push us to get involved in activism, human rights, and social justice issues.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?

Yes — this can be a big issue, especially for Highly Sensitive People who haven’t accepted their sensitivities as a part of themselves. News and mainstream media is following the attention-seeking trends of the internet, and so the more sensational and emotionally compelling a story is, the better it performs. For Highly Sensitive People, the terror-based reporting can have a negative impact on mental and emotional health. Social media is a walk through a mine-field for a Highly Sensitive Person, especially if that person hasn’t yet accepted their own sensitivities.

I remember when I was doing my undergraduate studies at UVA. I was very politically involved one day I had a moment of actual panic over the reality that I wasn’t going to be able to influence the vote to any degree while engaging in my studies. This was actually the tipping point for me in terms of seeing how deeply the news and the political situation, which are entirely out of my control, were affecting my life.

I made the decision then to start a news-fast and noticed such an immediate and tangible impact on my quality of life, that I’ve never gone back. I cherry-pick my media now, which is obviously not the way to get a balanced picture of what is happening in the world, but it is a way for me to have a positive and mentally balanced state in the midst of global chaos. My father argues that this direction leads to ignorance of the totality of global events, which is valid. But for me, knowing the broad picture of global events is enough. Diving into the nitty gritty of situations that I can’t change just makes my life and my mental health worse.

Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?

When i first stared my private practice in Austin almost 20 years ago now, I dove into the work and loved it. I didn’t have a lot of time for socializing and that was fine because I was building my practice and having an impact. As my practice became more established, I started to notice that I often pulled back from intimate relationships or those would be the first things to go when life got busy or chaotic. Balancing the emotional demands of my work, which is in a helping and emotionally intense profession, with the natural emotional demands of relationships was difficult for me. It became much easier when I accepted my sensitivity as part of myself and didn’t try to muscle through it. When I actually built some buffers into my life to honor and protect these parts of myself.

When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?

I knew from my earliest memories that I was more sensitive than other people. I remember one of the times my family went to a restaurant together when I was a child. There was a couple arguing quietly in the corner. Their voices weren’t raised, but they were both so achingly sad and hurt I couldn’t even eat. My stomach was churning and I remember looking around the restaurant at everyone else enjoying their meals and talking with their friends or families and wondering why they could bear it when I so obviously couldn’t. From childhood to my mid 20s I thought of myself as “too sensitive” but after being in practice for a few years I really started to see how many advantages my sensitivity gave me in my work. Once I started accepting this as a valuable part of myself, rather than trying to push through it or ignore it away, everything shifted.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

Absolutely. We’re far more perceptive to social, emotional, and relational nuance. Essentially, we live in the fine points. As a practitioner I’m very able to connect with my clients experience and address emotional needs in their care that they find difficult to state verbally. As a parent I’m highly perceptive to my daughter’s emotional states and needs. This can make it harder on me as a parent, but I feel like my daughter and I have a richer relationship and a higher level of mutual responsiveness because of it. She’s Highly Sensitive too, so in truth we are both sensitive to each other.

Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?

It is a constant advantage in my work, and even in friendships I find it very easy to deepen relationships because I am so attuned to the things people don’t say or don’t know how to say.

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

Being Highly Sensitive includes empathy, but also includes sensitivity to other stimuli like noise, lights, and chaos. It isn’t just the empathy, but also the tendency to become overstimulated in situations that might not bother the average person.

Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?

I think social media requires a special kind of awareness. At the end of the day, you’re interacting with people you don’t actually know. Relationships that are worthwhile may form from that, but the bulk of those people are like people that you’re passing on a busy street. They aren’t actually a part of your life. It is really important to maintain perspective on what your goals are with social media, the types of people you really want to connect with, and also the types of people you don’t. You don’t have to engage with every hateful troll on the internet. You can just delete, skip, or block them. Why clutter up your feed with that anyway? Of course that is the tactic I use and it works for me. My feed is filled up with people who are kind and supportive and generally try to lift other humans up rather than tear them down. But it’s probably smaller than it would be if I kept the trolls and whatnot. That’s ok. In terms of my goals with social media that is a trade-off I’m completely willing to accept.

How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?

I am sensitive to injustice and the mistreatment of people, so I often intervene if I feel like someone else is being bullied or being treated unfairly. It can lead to some sticky situations because in some cases it is obviously not my business, and I know it isn’t my business, but it’s hard not to get involved. The worst time that I remember was seeing a mother slap her child on the face in a store. I was just a teenager at the time and was with my own mother, who really didn’t want us to interfere even though we were both equally impacted by the scene. I was shaken by that one for months.

What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?

I speak openly about my sensitivities. I’m very honest about my own strengths and weaknesses and usually people are entirely fine with that once they understand where I’m coming from. Of course conflict happens sometimes, but conflict is just a part of life.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?

Certainly the myth that we’re thin skinned. Some people are, of course, but that isn’t particularly a hallmark of being a Highly Sensitive Person — that is a different type of sensitivity. Also, the myth that sensitivity is a weakness. Sensitivity is as much a strength as it is a weakness — but trying to deny or ignore it can make it harder to appreciate and engage with the benefits.

As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?

To be honest, there are some people who will never understand sensitivity but the right people will. This isn’t the battle to take to social media, where you are surrounded by people who aren’t actually friends or meaningful relationships. It’s a great conversation to have with people who are in your life and physically close to you on a daily basis. Those are the people who matter, and also the people who will listen with openness. Social media has plenty of positive people, but there are also plenty of people looking to vent the anger, inferiority, and hatred that they can’t find expression for in the real world. It’s a sad place.

If you see bringing awareness of High Sensitivity to social media as a part of your passion or mission, then do it! But also, develop your playlist of ways to deal with meanness, pettiness, spite, trolling, and general rudeness. If you want to bring light to that space, it’s an amazing challenge, but be ready for the darkness you’ll have to engage with.

Ok, here is the main question for our discussion. Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.

Surviving and thriving as a Highly Sensitive Person really does take knowing a few tricks. If you prefer to watch a synopsis in video form, I recorded it here.

The first and most important, is stop trying to be something other than you are. If you’re fighting against your sensitivity or pushing yourself into situations that are uncomfortable or overwhelming, then you miss out on all of the benefits that can be found within your sensitivity. Trying to “fix” sensitivity often looks like ignoring or denying it. Your body and mind have to exert so much energy to protect themselves that could be put to such better use.

When I was in my early twenties I was certainly guilty of this. I was building my business and started going to the glad handing type business events in which you’re supposed to make contacts in lightning-round style conversation. They were horrible. Universally horrible. I found them to be so draining and depleting and just all around fake. Most of those people are putting on shows and pretending to be something they’re not, and for a Highly Sensitive Person that feels just like rubbing your skin with burlap.

Once I embraced that I was a Highly Sensitive Person and that it came with gifts but only if I didn’t torture myself with nonsense like that, my entire marketing strategy (not to mention my life) changed. I started focusing on smaller, more intimate events. Quieter affairs like lectures and educational events for business owners. I met fewer people but actually formed deeper and more impactful relationships and gained far more business from those relationships than I ever would have from the plastic-fantastic events.

The second thing is to find your happy places. Every Highly Sensitive Person is sensitive in different ways. Find the activities and places that are the easiest for you so that you have go-to restaurants, bars, social activities that you can suggest to friends. Don’t limit yourself to “quiet” activities — just find the things that suit you. I am Highly Sensitive, but when I was younger I loved going dancing, especially when I could dance right next to the speakers because the crushing base drowned out everything else and it was strangely peaceful for me. Being Highly Sensitive doesn’t mean you can’t do all the fun things, it just means you might have to find the things that work for you.

The third thing is to plan ahead. Fall in love with some kind of journaling or time management tool and really use it to build buffers into your life. If you know you have something that is going to be emotionally heavy or overstimulating like a stacked day of clients or a carnival, just be sure to build in some recovery time where you can get nourished and replenished. It might only be 15 minutes, but that 15 minutes will allow you to bounce back rather than to be a zombie for the rest of the day.

When I had a brick and mortar private practice I would schedule two 15 minute blocks in the day when I could turn off the lights, light a candle and either journal or just sit in the quiet for a bit before I saw my next client. It gave me enough of a buffer that I was empathetically recharged for the next person, even if the last one spent 20 minutes crying about a cancer diagnosis.

The fourth thing is to develop your go-to list of activities that revive or nourish you. For me, it’s dancing, walking alone in nature, journaling, meditating, spending time with animals, or gardening. Even just putting on the noise-cancelling headphones and closing my eyes for 10 minutes. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to work. Make sure you find a couple of things you can do at work, on a bathroom break, in 3 minutes, or wherever you happen to be. For example, if I’m in a public place or a time-sensitive situation I can use something like box breathing for a minute in a bathroom and feel a bit less overwhelmed.

The fifth and final thing is to develop some grace around the idea of being a Highly Sensitive Person. Every human I’ve ever met is sensitive to different things in different ways. It’s just a part of being human and there doesn’t need to be judgement around that. Not against someone else and certainly not against yourself. This world would be a dull place if we were all the same, and embracing your own quirks and the quirks of others makes things far more interesting and joyful.

I can say that when I stopped judging myself for being sensitive and accepted that this is who I am, and that I can spend my life fighting against myself or I can just be myself, everything shifted. Suddenly I had more confidence, stronger boundaries, my business shaped itself more to my needs. If felt like just that one shift changed the direction of my life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Honestly, I’m a huge fan of personal quirks. Quirks and differences are the things that make people interesting and that make life interesting. If we could all wear our quirks with a bit more pride and be more curious and more open to the quirks of other people this would be a far kinder and also more interesting world.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find the To Health With That! Podcast wherever you happen to listen, sign up for my weekly emails at tohealthwiththat.com, or if you’re really into social media you can find me on Instagram at amy_tohealthwiththat or on twitter @doctoramyneuzil.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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