Manage Your Clutter — Clutter is a silent stressor, that little thing you can’t put your finger on; that bit of uneasiness as you look around your room or your desk right now. We may not register that it’s stressful, but the disorganization of clutter leads to near-instant overstimulation. Keeping your spaces tidy isn’t just about what other people will think, it’s a method of avoiding overwhelm. It also helps reduce overwhelm by knowing where all your things are and not having to search for them when you need them.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arielle Sterling. Arielle Sterling is a holistic life coach and author from Mesa, Arizona. She helps people enjoy life, and feel happy and comfortable within their own skin. Arielle enjoys cooking, going on road trips with her partner, and adding to her expansive crystal collection.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
My name is Arielle Sterling and I am a holistic life coach. The vast majority of my clients are Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and empaths. I came into this line of work after learning how to properly take care of myself, after I realized that I, too, was a Highly Sensitive Person and I realized how much it affected my quality of life.
Signs of my lack of energetic control were everywhere and affected almost every single aspect of my life.
I had no control over my energy or my life. I was constantly sick, depressed and angry. And bless my parents’ hearts, but they had no idea what to do with me. I was different.
School felt like a struggle, not because of content, but because of all the chaotic energy of the other students, teachers and administrators. I spent a lot of time outside of the classroom, either not feeling well in the nurse’s office or in specialized programs where I was in a small group. I had a few friends, but was pretty much an outcast; I was that weird kid.
As a teenager, I came into the awareness that it was more than just being a highly sensitive person; I was an empath, physically internalizing the pain and emotions of people around me. It soon became apparent to me that I didn’t need to grow a thicker skin; I needed to gain control of my energy and personal energetic boundaries.
I had zero boundaries, soaking up everything around me like a sponge. Violent movies and television made me stressed and anxious; being forced to watch historical films and documentaries in school triggered panic attacks and stomach aches. Whenever I was out in public, I felt constantly exposed to all of the anger, pain and suffering in the world around me.
Eventually, I became so clouded by everyone else’s feelings and emotions around me that I became completely disillusioned. I was literally weighed down by dense, heavy energy; I couldn’t envision a future for myself, I didn’t know how to interact with people, I couldn’t feel anything but anger, hurt and fear.
I knew that I needed to get to the root of my issues and not just continue treating the symptoms, or it would turn into a never-ending problem. It was during this time that I started learning about concepts like meditation, energy work and other tools that I could utilize as coping strategies to help me on a regular basis.
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?
Having hurt feelings and being easily offended may be some of the most common signs that someone is a HSP, but it goes far deeper than that. A Highly Sensitive Person is an individual who is keenly aware of the energy of the world around them. All of the five senses, plus emotions are highly engaged for the HSP.
Smell — HSPs may have a heightened sense of smell, being able to detect faint aromas that are not as apparent to others. This can work in the HSP’s favor, but it can also mean overwhelm, headaches and possibly even nasal congestion/allergies.
Sight — HSP often struggle with intense visual stimuli such as bright, flashing or incandescent lights. Bright daylight and direct sunlight can also be very intense for the HSP. Many HSPs wear sunglasses to control the brightness, even indoors! Hats are also used as a tool to shield the eyes and cut down on the range of vision the HSP needs to process.
Taste — HSPs often have issues with eating food with textures that other people may not understand. Additionally, HSPs are often prone to food allergies and sensitivities, requiring special diets, and often display extreme sensitivity to things like caffeine and alcohol.
Touch — HSPs are very aware of how things feel on their skin. Tight clothes or scratchy fabrics may be uncomfortable for HSPs. They may also be more aware of extreme temperatures, and temperature changes. Some HSPs may not like to be touched by other people, or touched by strangers, even a pat on the shoulder can be jarring.
Sound — Loud music, blaring sounds and piercing noises can be a challenge for the HSP. The idea of “nails on a chalkboard” begins to describe it, but doesn’t quite do it full justice for the HSP.
Additionally, HSPs can easily get overwhelmed in crowded shopping malls, grocery stores and airports. Overstimulation can be frequent and draining, causing a HSP to need to retreat into a calming, quiet environment. HSPs are often introverted, requiring additional downtime alone to decompress.
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?
Absolutely, HSPs have a very high degree of empathy towards others. I think this is one of the most interesting tell-tale signs of a HSP. On the spectrum of how humans experience empathy, simply based on the name, we know that HSPs will be more highly sensitive than normal, but the HSP can also experience too great a feeling of empathy. Getting physically or verbally upset over things that do not directly impact us is often an overextension of our empathic nature, and an invitation for us to look at how we’re communicating and maintaining our own personal boundaries.
I think that we see many individuals who are HSP but as they resist their natural sensitivities (as a result of societal conditioning) they lash out, not having the ability or opportunity to truly express themselves. If a HSP is presented with an idea that causes discomfort, an emotional outburst can be triggered if the emotions are not able to be processed, creating empty and repetitous remarks like “that’s wrong” or “that’s stupid” without actually offering a clear and dissenting opinion.
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?
I do believe that HSPs have a greater difficulty with media in general. Watching the news, for example, can be very overwhelming, especially for a HSP. The dramatic tones of the music, the vocal qualities of the broadcaster, their facial expressions, the images or videos flashing on screen, the news crawl at the bottom showing headlines or upcoming news stories, and finally the actual message being spoken is a great deal of information for a HSP to process simultaneously. This can be extremely challenging for the HSP if the video, images or story content are graphic and disturbing, which is a regular occurance in a typical news cycle.
I prefer to read the news instead of watching it as there is only one medium that needs interpretation — the written word.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
My heightened awareness and the expansion of my learning to honor being a HSP led me to quit a respectable job as a licensed claims adjuster for a large insurance company. Part of my job was taking recorded statements from individuals involved in automobile accidents. It became too overwhelming to hear about car accidents, inquire about the details, and piece together what had happened every single day. Every phone call was filled with frustration, contempt, sometimes anger, and often fear. Each time my phone rang, I knew that someone was calling me on one of the worst days they’ve had, needing me to fix their problems. I became stressed out and overwhelmed, and with no end in sight, I left that career to pursue my dreams and help others in a more productive manner.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
Ever since I can remember, I have constantly been told that I was too sensitive. And I believed what I was told for far too long. Growing up, people were constantly telling me that I needed to grow “thicker skin”. I would cry at the drop of a hat, anytime I experienced anxiety (which was often) or any time I felt an inconsistency between what I was told and what I believed for myself. I later realized that this was my body’s way of trying to communicate the dissonance it was feeling. I didn’t need to be less sensitive, I needed to understand what my body was trying to communicate with me!
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Highly Sensitive People are keenly aware of their surroundings and are excellent at noticing subtle changes in their environment. HSPs are known to have strong attention to detail and excel with creative ventures as they’re able to express themselves fully. Since HSPs have a strong attention to detail, they are often excellent judges of character and can tell when there is something “off” about a person, place or situation. Highly sensitive people are also great at picking up a talent, job, or skill without much training outside of their own intuitive abilities.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I’ve truly come to see my sensitivities as a superpower. I think that in my daily interactions with people, I’m very aware of the energy that they’re presenting. For me, it’s more than just the ability to read their body language or mannerisms, it’s the awareness of the underlying energies that they may be experiencing. In this manner, I’m able to connect with them better, than if I had to rely on the information that they were presenting to me. How many times have you asked someone, “how are you doing?”, only to have them respond with a lifeless “oh, fine”? I can often tell if a person is actually fine and doesn’t want to talk, or if they’re anxious, lonely or sad, and I’m able to hold space for them.
This also allows me to share a kind word, some encouragement or a compliment, if appropriate. I’ve even had a few instances this week, where I was able to really connect with someone and share a few positive words with them, to have them tell me that what I said was one of the nicest things they’ve ever been told, and that it brightened their day.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Being empathetic is a normal human function; we were designed to be empathetic creatures, or we would not have the capacity to experience this emotion. But as with most things, there is a spectrum of how humans experience empathy.
On the low end of the scale, we have apathy, in the middle zone we have “normal” empathy, and past that, we would be highly sensitive. The distinction of a person being considered Highly Sensitive versus purely empathetic, would be drawn when more than the emotional elements of empathy are present. Being a HSP impacts an individual not only emotionally and mentally, but physically as well.
Now, if we were to take it one step further past HSP on the empathy scale, there are individuals like myself who are Empathic. This means that they not only feel emotions of others like HSP do, but they physically internalize the pain and feelings of others within their own body.
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?
Social media can be a bit of a landmine situation when it comes to being a HSP. Graphic photos are often posted as click-bait or to illustrate a cause, but these images can be emotionally painful for a HSP to view while scrolling through their news feeds. Social media challenges can also place a spotlight on looks, body type or the ability to complete inane tasks causing people to compare each other, sometimes in a not-so-kind manner. This can be extremely harmful, especially for younger HSPs who are much more aware of the behavior of their peers thanks to the massive technology at their fingertips. Diet culture can also be extremely prevalent on social media and can
There are so many benefits to using social media, when done with clarity and intent. I recommend unfollowing anyone that doesn’t bring you joy, inspire you, uplift you or teach you. If there are pages or people that you’re following that make you feel bad about yourself, or people that you’re just “keeping tabs on” or hate-following, it’s time to unfollow them as well.
We are in full control of our social media experience! Trust that I’m not over here preaching toxic positivity, I simply happen to believe how important it is to be conscientious about what you’re getting out of the experience that you’re creating for yourself on social media. It’s all intentional and purposeful, and if we can be honest about why we do the things we do, we can better focus on what we want to accomplish long term.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or effects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
I would like to think that most of the time when people post something mean or hurtful online (for example), they don’t actually intend to cause harm. I’d like to think that anyways. When I do come across something that I find to be hurtful, I try to address it head on, explaining why it doesn’t resonate for me, often trying to show a differing perspective, bringing empathy into the situation. Most people don’t connect mean and hurtful things with the people that are affected by them, so by putting a name, face and story with the situation, they may be able see a new and different perspective.
I genuinely think that most people don’t intend to be hurtful, and once they’ve been made aware that their words or actions may be hurtful to others, they are more mindful of how they use them going forward. That said, hurt people hurt people, and you can learn a lot about someone by how they choose to interact with others, especially once something has been brought to their attention.
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 remind myself that what other people think of me is not my main concern. My priority is what I think of me, and how I’m handling my own affairs. I often remind myself that the other person hasn’t had my life training, experiences and doesn’t share my thoughts, ideas and perspectives, and that’s okay.
I spent too many years listening to what other people said and thought of me, before I realized I didn’t know what I thought of me, because I was too busy listening to everyone else’s thoughts and opinions. It truly doesn’t matter what other people think of me, because I only have to make sure that I am right with one person, and that’s me. As long as I go to bed at the end of each and every day knowing that I did the best I could, didn’t cause harm to others, and helped bring more love into this world, I know I’m on the right path.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
I think that one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to HSP is that only women can be highly sensitive. This is hands down the most damaging misconception for highly sensitive people, especially men. When sensitivity is considered to be a feminized trait, men are often berated for expressing any feeling, emotion or sensitivity, even when considered to be a socially appropriate time to do so.
From a young age, boys are told to “man up” and conditioned to “act like a man”, meaning they should appear tough and strong, not cry, or have feelings or express emotion. If we stop villainizing sensitivity as a feminine trait, we can start to accept it back into the mainstream.
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?
A great start would be a in shift our perspective regarding the idea of sensitivity. Sensitivity should be looked at as a strength instead of a weakness. Our emotions are natural expressions of the human experience and should be celebrated as such! If we weren’t meant to experience empathy, we simply would not have the capability to do so!
The anthem of the HSP should be Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, because baby, I was born this way, and I’m not about to change myself to please others.
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.
- Learn to Honor Your Boundaries — This is by far the most important and hardest thing to do as a HSP. Having clear boundaries allows us to maintain a healthy life with healthy relationships. This includes our relationships with friends, family, food, places, and habits to name a few.
Maintaining relationships with other people can be difficult for the HSP. Often times Highly Sensitive People don’t honor their own thoughts, feelings and emotions in an effort to appease someone else, ultimately making decisions that are not in their own best interest. While some people may think that having boundaries is selfish, it’s how we choose to compromise so that all parties involved feel heard, respected and represented. Just because someone is family does not give them a free pass to be rude, mean or degrade you.
- Manage Your Clutter — Clutter is a silent stressor, that little thing you can’t put your finger on; that bit of uneasiness as you look around your room or your desk right now. We may not register that it’s stressful, but the disorganization of clutter leads to near-instant overstimulation. Keeping your spaces tidy isn’t just about what other people will think, it’s a method of avoiding overwhelm. It also helps reduce overwhelm by knowing where all your things are and not having to search for them when you need them.
- Put Good In, Get Good Out — I started to feel much better mentally, emotionally and physically when I began to eat better. I switched to more whole foods instead of processed, and ate less junk food and more home cooked meals. I was fueling my body with the nutrition it desired, and it rewarded me by not being tired and in pain all the time after I ate food. I also switched to drinking mainly water, from a combination of caffeinated beverages, which were making me sick, shaky, and constantly dehydrated.
- Surround Yourself with the Right People — I know this may seem obvious, but if you’re constantly upset or anxious after being with certain people, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship(s). Relationships should allow for equal exchanges of energy and if you’re consistently tired or drained after spending time with someone, it’s not fulfilling. The people that we spend the most time with should uplift and celebrate with us, not bring us down or hurt us.
- Listen to Your Body — Your body is in constant communication with you, if you stop and listen to it. When there is pain or discomfort in the body, it’s likely trying to communicate with you! Stomach ache when you eat a certain food? Headache whenever you think about a certain situation? Your body is a compass interacting with the energies of the world around it, and it will tell you what’s going on if you take the time to listen to it!
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.
If I could inspire a movement, it would be one of kindness and compassion. I wish people would stop and realize that we are all hurting in some way, and we all deserve kindness and compassion. We never know what traumas people are experiencing in their lives, whether its a chronic illness, family problems, or mourning the death of a loved one. By taking the time to stop and remember that we’re all human, experiencing similar difficulties, we can find compassion for one another. I hope that this allows us to identify more of what we have in common with each other, rather than what separates and divides us.
How can our readers follow you online?
If you’d like to learn more about me, feel free to visit website www.ariellesterling.com. You can also purchase my Amazon best selling book, Shift Happens! 21 Days to Better Energy Through the Chakras if you’re interested in learning about how to better maintain your own energy and personal energetic boundaries!
I’m on Facebook at facebook.com/ariellesterlingauthor
I’m on Youtube at youtube.com/c/ariellesterling
I’m on Instagram at instagram.com/xoariellesterling
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Author
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 500 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His first book is a visceral, no-holds-barred look at worker safety, I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. His third book, Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands is expected in March followed by Loving An Addict: Collateral Damage Of the Opioid Epidemic due to be released in June. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.