You can leverage this superpower. Design your morning routine, your workspace, your bedtime routine and lifestyle to support you in this regard. For example, highlight in interviews your attention to detail and intuitive nature at catching problems before they arise. Develop a morning routine that doesn’t shock the senses, eases you into your day and reserves your energy to be around a lot of stimuli when you need to be at work or with the family. Even just selecting an alarm that you find nourishing instead of alarming can have a huge impact on your nervous system.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Swan.
Megan Swan is from Calgary, Alberta where she grew up hiking and skiing in the Canadian Rockies, she currently resides in Mexico where she lives happily with her husband, two beautiful boys, and two dogs. She is an online Wellness & Mindset Coach with more than a decade of experience in the wellness industry, she now specializes in detoxification, plant-based living, mindful practices, stress management, yoga and meditation.
She is passionate about connecting with others worldwide to exchange ideas and practices in the world of wellness and online business. She has a strong sense that we are on the brink of a wellness revolution.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Thank you for the opportunity! I am a Wellness + Mindset Coach specializing in detoxification from refined sugars, gluten, alcohol, dairy, and processed foods. I love guiding women to reevaluate their relationship with these everyday toxins in order to rediscover their true sense of self and natural energy.
I started out in the wellness industry over a decade ago teaching yoga. After I became a mother I knew I wanted to shift into a new direction and that is when I found Health Coaching. I find it extremely rewarding helping women feel better, more empowered and knowledgeable about what makes them thrive.
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?
A Highly Sensitive Person is someone whose senses are more sensitive to everything in their environment, I suppose in that sense it sometimes means that they feel more deeply and fully than others as well and therefore a negative experience might hit them harder than someone who isn’t as in turn to subtleties in their environment. However I feel that once it has been brought to the person’s attention that this is something you can leverage, that it can be seen as a superpower of sorts it becomes a lot easier to manage. It is also easier to live this way when you understand on the one hand you are not alone, that there are others who are this sensitive, but on the other hand not everyone perceives things as intensely as you do.
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?
Well I think that yes they are more in tune to subtle shifts in energy, others emotions and their experiences and therefore they are more empathetic and capable of being offended on behalf of another person or group of people.
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?
Here I think it probably depends on the person to some degree, but on the level of the senses yes a Highly Sensitive Person hears sounds more intensely, and senses the emotions of others more intensely, so I would imagine they would have a stronger reaction to injustice or others’ pain. I think this is part of why some people cry all the time in movies, happy or sad, and others feel those emotions but not the point of tears. However I would imagine within the world of Highly Sensitive People there is a continuum of experiences.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
Sure, I think it always made it seem like I was just disagreeable in many social scenarios, when in fact now I know that the things that bother me and make it difficult for me to concentrate are not perceived in the same way by the majority of people. So for example I can’t sleep, or at least do not sleep as soundly if there is any light on in the room, that could be a crack of light coming through the curtain, or a tiny red light on something charging. Same goes if there is a tiny beep or noise of any kind it will interfere with my ability to concentrate, relax or get to sleep. Whereas my husband doesn’t even notice these details. Over the years I have found better ways to communicate my needs, but before I knew that I was different in this way on a biological level I would just get annoyed at the smallest things and ultimately it made it hard to be around me.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
Well it is actually very relatively recently, in the last five years I would say that it came to my attention. My Mom actually suggested I read the book The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., that I realized I was one of them! She suggested I read it, and within the context I just thought she was suggesting it would help with my coaching, which of course it did very much, but more because it helped me leverage my sensitivity to help other people and more clearly communicate my needs. I don’t think I am too sensitive, I think I am very intuitive and that makes me a better coach.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
Sure! Really this is my favorite spin on it as you can probably already tell! I love to empower my clients who are also “too sensitive” to see it as a superpower. We can read the room, read people, and read situations more quickly. I think it is a gift to live life a little more intensely than everyone else. I think I am more in tune to aesthetics, I have a better sense of smell, direction, and sound than most people. So I try to look at it as an advantage, in terms of survival skills or in terms of attention to detail you want me on your team.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I feel that way so often, I’m not sure I can think of one example! Here where I live in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico we have earthquakes quite frequently in the last quarter of the year. My sensitivity helps me hear the faint alarm they usually sound in the center of the city, when my husband can’t hear it. Or I hear that the water pump that is several floors below us sounds different, which usually means it is overworking and about to burn out, and no one else notices this. I sleep soundly, but I wake up quickly to any strange noises or an earthquake before anyone else.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Good question. This is one reason above I was sort of careful to point out that empathy has a lot to do with culture, personality and social upbringing. Being Highly Sensitive to the experience of others in theory makes it easier to be empathetic but wouldn’t assume that every Highly Sensitive person lives the same level of intensity, it is a spectrum like most things. It would also depend on their personality, context and culture. I would imagine how they express this empathy. I would imagine that many people that are living with anxiety and/or depression are highly sensitive people too, they simply perceive everything more intensely. Obviously anxiety and depression are much more complicated than that but I would imagine there is something of a correlation for sure, for those of us who don’t know exactly how we are different it can seem very isolating.
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?
Well I think this advice applies to everybody really, but would hold even more true for a highly sensitive person, increasingly we need to create digital buffers for ourselves and actively curate the content we are consuming. I would recommend everyone mute or unfollow anyone that triggers you in any way. That is not to say unfollow people who don’t agree with you, but there is a difference between differing views and negative energy. There is no reason you need to consume negative energy from someone else, from the media, or from a given group. We are still in control of what we consume, but you need to be intentional about setting your boundaries. In general less social media for everyone is probably ideal. I try to limit my time online to 30 minutes a day and I am very particular about what I am seeing, reading or listening to.
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?
Maybe this is a part of getting older and wiser, or maybe of developing a thick skin because I put myself out there a lot as part of my online business, but I would say you just have to understand that no one’s behavior is about you — it is always about them. There is no reason to internalize someone else’s negative vibes, whatever it is, it is something they need to deal with, not you. Here I would recommend the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, agreement number two: don’t take anything personally.
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?
Well I think, like I mentioned above, it is much easier (and more rewarding!) to spend your energy getting to know yourself and reframing your ‘weaknesses’ as superpowers you can leverage instead of spending energy on trying to control the actions, thoughts or behaviors of others. You are not for everyone, no one is. You will find your people. More you can get comfortable being who you truly are, the more the people who are your people will gravitate towards you.
If it is a family member or close friend that you are clashing with in this sense, you could kindly explain how your experience is different, maybe ask them to read the ‘bible’ on the subject with is Dr. Aron’s book, and lastly you need to get good at communicating your needs in a calm and clear manner.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
Yes, such an important question. I think I already have to some degree but I’d love to break it down more concisely.
First off, it is not a disability, it is a superpower. Once you know how to use it to your advantage you can leverage your sensitivity in your relationships, career and life.
Second, there is no such thing as being too sensitive! We need more empathy, and also more understanding that our shared reality does differ greatly at the experience level.
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?
Well I believe that people are all kind and good at heart, and oftentimes our differences or disagreements are mostly due to a lack of understanding of the other’s experience. Therefore if there was more awareness around how different our experience of this world can be in general and then specifically for a highly sensitive person it would be very informative and helpful for everyone. I mean I was in my late 30s before I became aware that this is a thing, it is biologically real, and I am one of these people! So I can’t imagine how many people have no idea it is a thing, and how many other highly sensitive people are not aware that their experience has a name!
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.
- You are not alone. 20% of the population is highly sensitive. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. You need to have a few in every crowd that detect danger more acutely. So in some ways you are here to look out for everyone else. Embrace it.
- You can leverage this superpower. Design your morning routine, your workspace, your bedtime routine and lifestyle to support you in this regard. For example, highlight in interviews your attention to detail and intuitive nature at catching problems before they arise. Develop a morning routine that doesn’t shock the senses, eases you into your day and reserves your energy to be around a lot of stimuli when you need to be at work or with the family. Even just selecting an alarm that you find nourishing instead of alarming can have a huge impact on your nervous system.
- Develop clear communication around your needs, don’t be afraid to voice your needs and also take charge of finding creative solutions. Kindly explain to your loved ones why you need all the lights turned off in the house, and get yourself a comfy eye mask to help you sleep. Explain to your boss why you need to work with headphones on to be more productive and creative. Learn to meditate so you can perfect your ability to sense aspects and intensity in the universe that others don’t.
- Understand that others literally do not hear it, see it, feel it, smell it, or taste it like you do. Therefore don’t waste your energy being frustrated in this regard or arguing about how things are. Simply take a stance of awe, ask questions and get to know how others experience things. Use your sensitivity to create conversations and build relationships, not to feel isolated in your uniqueness.
- Find your people. If you are not feeling supported by your existing social groups, seek out a new group that understands you and appreciates your sensibilities. One of the greatest aspects of social media is that it is still social. Find your people online!
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.
I would like to think I am doing my small part to contribute to the wellness revolution that has been growing and picking up speed over the last 20 years. I see that it started decades ago with independent micro revolutions with various pockets of knowledge around our overall health and wellness and that of the planet. Things such as a return to organic farming, plant-based living, non-toxic living, meditation, mindfulness, high endurance sporting events, sound baths, forest bathing, sensory deprivation tanks, distance reiki, and so many more. I see that this collective movement is increasingly integrated and is in effect a Wellness Revolution, where we are returning to our roots in some respects, but also leveraging technology to bring new waves of wellness to the masses. I am very hopeful and optimistic about the future of humanity and our increasingly deeper understanding of energy, and our differing perceptions of our reality.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please connect with me on Instagram @meganswanwellness or via my website: www.meganswanwellness.com .
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
I hope it will be helpful to someone, I know I found it really empowering to understand myself better in this regard. Thank you so much again for the opportunity to share my thoughts.