Headphones, a ball cap, and sunglasses can help prevent overstimulation. Keep them close by, especially when traveling or even going to the grocery store. One time my husband and I were visiting his cousin in NYC. We would be riding the subway, which I knew would be challenging due to the noise and crowds. I specifically chose an inside seat where I could burrow into the safety of my husband’s side while he used his body as a barrier of protection. I tucked my hat down and plugged into some calming music on my phone. I was able to keep myself from getting anxious and overstimulated.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Ann King.
Lori Ann King. is the Amazon best-selling author of Come Back Strong, Balanced Wellness after Surgical Menopause, and a two-time contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Her latest book, Wheels to Wellbeing, is a self-care guide and tool to help readers go from unbalanced, chaotic, and overwhelmed to a more balanced, calm, and happy existence. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her with her husband, Jim on their bikes, paddleboards, kayaks, or in the gym.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Sure. My name is Lori King and I currently live in Las Cruces, NM, although I grew up and lived most of my life in upstate NY. I have an eclectic background, having worked in recreation, marketing, and web development jobs. I am currently a freelance writer, author, and speaker.
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?
Being a HSP is more than being someone whose feelings are easily hurt or offended. It is directly connected to our energy or nervous system. A few years ago, I met a woman who referred to herself as highly sensitive. When I asked her to clarify what she meant by that, her description struck a chord with me. She was easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, and loud noises. She needed to withdraw during busy days to a private place where she could recalibrate, refresh, and re-energize. She became overstimulated when a lot was going on around her, and excessive hunger disrupted her concentration or mood.
I could relate. Bright lights, loud noises, and crowds are definitely challenging for me. For example, one time I got so agitated and frustrated at a Super Bowl party, I had to leave early. The same thing happened at a convention where I was surrounded by a crowd of over 7,000 people that was super high energy and enthusiastic. The price for being around that is an emotional crash or low period. It’s just my normal ebb and flow of life. I retreated to an exhibit outside the arena where I collapsed into a friend’s arms in tears. She took one look at me and said, “Ah. Too much peopling. You’re overstimulated.”
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?
I believe that as an HSP I do have a higher degree of empathy toward others. I seem to sense the feeling or emotion beneath the words someone is speaking. I especially see it watching television. I am easily moved to tears of sadness or joy, depending on what I’m watching, especially shows that portray people pursuing their dreams.
I think it’s human nature to be offended by hurtful remarks or criticism, but as a HSP I find it harder than most to shake off. As an author I get a lot of reviews, and it’s the negative ones that seem to stick out in my head, regardless of how many positive ones I get. And I can still hear the snide remark a woman made years ago when I walked into a networking event. “Here comes little Miss Perfect.” I didn’t even know her and she certainly didn’t know me. To this day, I’m not sure why she said it or what I did to invoke her sarcasm. Her words still hurt.
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?
In today’s world, we are inundated with music, movies, newspapers, social media, texts from our friends, and television programming. This is an area I have to choose what I allow in.
When my husband and I started dating, he would ask what movie I wanted to see. I always picked the drama. He always picked the comedy. He still does. The dramas were my way of leaning into sadness, darkness, and negative emotions. The comedy was his way of lightening things up and adding more laughter to our lives.
During challenging times in my life, I realized how much I needed comedy to heal me and help me unwind. I took an inventory of what I was listening to, watching, and reading. I made sure I had a balance or overflow of things and people that lifted me up, changed my mood for the better or empowered me.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
While on a double date at a popular restaurant I became so disengaged from the conversation that my friend’s husband picked up on it. He must have thought I was rude as I tuned into my own little world. It wasn’t so much that I was disinterested in the conversation as much as I was overstimulated by the highly charged discussion of politics. Add this to the noise level and the fact that my back was to the room, so I was being bombarded with multiple conversations from other tables that overpowered the one in front of me. With all that stimulation, I was unable to be present, engaged and connected, something I truly value. Later that night we retreated to the quiet of their home, and I was much more comfortable and able to enjoy deeper conversations.
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 always knew I was an introvert and had prided myself in being a practiced extrovert. Yet ‘extroverting” took its toll on my emotions and energy. When I met a woman who referred to herself as highly sensitive, I had my “aha” moment. I suddenly understood myself better and I felt less alone.
I also realized that not everyone is like me. Apparently not everyone freaks out internally over the sound of the “Put your seatbelt on” alarm. Others don’t leave the mall on Black Friday feeling traumatized, and need three days to recover. Now I realize that while I hate a crowded mall, it’s not that I hate people or that all introverts or HSP’s feel that way; it was that I got overstimulated by the sounds, noises, voices, lights, signs, sales, babies, and emotions.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Being HS forces me to really know myself and know what I need to feel calm and healthy. It makes me more in tune with self-care and knowing what triggers overstimulate me, so that I can quickly do something that grounds me and brings me back to a place of balance or equilibrium. And being more empathetic than most makes me a great listener.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
One time, a friend and mentor made a passive aggressive criticism of me in front of a group. She said something like, “Oh Lori doesn’t need help with organization. She’s got that all figured out.” It was on a Zoom call and I remember hanging up and thinking, Huh. I wonder what she meant by that? I do pride myself in being organized but I’m also open to learning new tools and tricks. But her comment felt snarky and sarcastic. Something about it stung.
I could have very easily drawn my own conclusions, wondered what I did wrong, or simply just put a wall up — which is my default — and let the relationship go. But she was someone I looked up to and respected. I chose to pause, take a breath, and call her back. I asked if she could clarify what she meant by her comment.
What ensued was a beautiful intimate conversation. She revealed that she actually admired me for my organization. She knew as soon as the words had left her mouth that they had the wrong tone and could have been received negatively. She apologized and we were able to move on. Today, we still collaborate and mastermind together, and our friendship continues to grow.
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, we sense or know or have deeper compassion for others. It’s our gut instinct or “Spidey” sense that tells us when something is off.
Being empathetic, we absorb and are deeply affected by the emotions of others. It is sometimes hard to differentiate between what emotion is our own, verses someone else’s.
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?
People seem to hide behind the anonymity of social media. They tend to be more critical or cynical or negative. My mission and purpose and intent are always to inspire on social media, and at times, I’ve felt attacked. I have to consciously choose to ignore the negative and take a “bless and release” attitude. But also, I know that social media works off an algorithm, and even a negative comment might bring more awareness to a post. So, my hope is that a negative comment increases my algorithm, causing the right person or someone that can benefit from what I’m saying to see it be feel blessed, hopeful, or less alone.
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 would probably relate it to sexual harassment, in that it’s not the intention, but how it’s received.
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 try to educate and empower people through my writing. Overall, just bringing an awareness to terms like highly sensitive or empathetic can be powerful.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
That being highly sensitive is a bad thing. I mentioned that I was highly sensitive to someone in a casual conversation one time and they literally laughed out loud. This person was highly extroverted, social, and loud. I’m more introverted, a loner, and quiet. One is not right or wrong, we’re just different. Each has it’s benefits and strengths; each has a lot to offer the world.
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?
Kindness goes along way. We all need to learn to be more self-aware as well as to know those people in our inner hub. Knowing how we’re each wired. Acknowledging that we’re not the same. We all have different temperaments and mindsets. What’s right for you may not be best for the people closest to you in your inner hub. If someone is an introvert or highly sensitive, you can care for them by
- respecting their need for privacy and quiet time;
- allowing them extra time to think or process;
- listening when they speak, don’t interrupt or override them;
- giving them advance notice if you know change is coming;
- giving them time to finish what they are doing;
- not asking them to be more extroverted or outgoing — their superpower is their introversion and their high sensitivity.
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.
To survive and thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person, you need to know that
- Headphones, a ball cap, and sunglasses can help prevent overstimulation. Keep them close by, especially when traveling or even going to the grocery store. One time my husband and I were visiting his cousin in NYC. We would be riding the subway, which I knew would be challenging due to the noise and crowds. I specifically chose an inside seat where I could burrow into the safety of my husband’s side while he used his body as a barrier of protection. I tucked my hat down and plugged into some calming music on my phone. I was able to keep myself from getting anxious and overstimulated.
- It’s ok to take a break. When you can’t avoid a crowd, such as at a large event or mall during the busy holiday season, give yourself a break. Escape the crowds and duck into a quiet space or step outside. One time I was at a convention where I was surrounded by a crowd of over 7,000 people that was super high energy and enthusiastic. I could feel my energy and emotions dropping. The noise and energy of the large crowd was too overstimulating. There were multiple screens and conversations and music going on all around me. I retreated to an exhibit outside the arena that was quiet and had a small number of people that, probably like me, needed to take a break and recalibrate.
- You can manage your energy, not your calendar. Often, people manage their calendar, filling up every vacant spot from before sunrise to well after sunset. I certainly did for decades of my life. After years of trying to be a Superwoman every moment of every day, I accepted the fact that I am human, with limited energy. The old way involved jamming things into a calendar. The new way clears a space to live with intention and be fully engaged and connect with loved ones while practicing self-care.
There are days my energy abounds and I put six or eight or ten hours into a project. And, there are days where I don’t have the physical or creative energy to put in any time at all. On these days I give myself permission to zone-out in front of the TV or get lost in a romance novel. After pushing for days and weeks, that’s exactly what I need.
Some experts would advise me to write every day. I choose instead to follow the cycles of my energy, knowing that some days, the energy comes simply by parking myself in the chair and beginning to write. But on the days when it simply is not there — my creativity or energy — I don’t force it. I simply try again tomorrow.
- It’s ok to say no. Part of mastering this skill involves knowing your priorities and your purpose so that you can schedule things thoughtfully and with intention. It’s learning to say no more often, especially to things that don’t align with your health goals, purpose, passion, and priorities. Some weeks you can cross off the morning and evening hours on your calendar and schedule those as sacred “me” time. If you have an early morning Zoom call or yoga class, limit your activity that afternoon and evening. Plan on an afternoon nap or an earlier bedtime. If you have a late-night meeting or event, plan a slower, quieter morning the next day with a later start. When invited to add something to your schedule, ask yourself, “Is this something I really want to do? Does it align with my passions and purpose?” If the answer is not “heck, yes,” then it is “heck, no.”
- Self-care is non-negotiable. And the best self-care involves being self-aware. It’s about knowing yourself and what you need to feel calm and healthy. Growing up, I had a built-in system to get my needs met. I had plenty of alone time in my room. I received comfort from my feline friends Mittens, Muffin, and Spaz. We had a pool in the backyard and a powerboat to enjoy on weekends and week-long camping trips, nurturing my needs to be outside and near the water. I had softball and soccer games where I could hit, throw, and kick. I could safely bike around the neighborhood, walk barefoot in my backyard, and run around a four-mile block. Even mowing the lawn was meditative. In my late teens and early twenties I worked mostly outdoors on boats and at a resort. There was a built-in network of self-care all around me. In my mid-twenties, thirties, and forties I moved inside and away from those self-care practices. My technical, administrative and marketing skills developed. I became more responsible and productive. And I became really, really tired. I slowly moved myself away from the curious, playful, warm, whimsical adventurer I was. I told myself I could thrive in a fast-paced noisy world. I was strong, tough. I didn’t need a break. I didn’t need self-care. I used to fight the whole idea of slowing down. But beating myself up only intensified the energy and emotional crash that came from pushing too hard for too long. Now that I’m fifty, I recognize that I am content, cooperative, and calm when I’m not overstimulated, worn out, or hungry. When I don’t sleep or become overly fatigued, I lose my words and can’t focus or communicate; I’m helpless to autocorrect. My body relies on me to take care of my basic needs: water, food, sleep, and movement.
Knowing yourself and whether you are an introvert or extrovert — or something more, like a highly sensitive person or an empath — provides tools to cope and rebalance. Embracing who we truly are takes courage and hard work. But it can lead us from a life of struggle to one of strength. It can relieve anxiety and allow more room for empathy.
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.
Know yourself. Love yourself. Empower yourself.
Life and health are so much about being self-care and self-aware. When we learn to take care of ourself and our needs, especially emotionally, we are better able to serve others, and live a life of passion and purpose.
Many religions and spiritual traditions teach a version of the principles “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It’s the premise of treating others the way we would want to be treated. The problem is, we don’t love ourselves enough, which adds to our stress levels.
Today, choose love, especially when it comes to yourself. Decide to love all of who you are… your past, history, flaws, misgivings, mistakes, weaknesses, and fears. In doing so, it allows you to love your present, future, blessings, victories, successes, strengths, dreams, and hopes.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website is LoriAnnKing.com, where you can find links to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.