Give adequate downtime. Give your loved one loads of downtime! When I go to a party, it’s like I have a social hangover for the next few days. I need solitude to recharge my batteries. Being in busy settings drains a highly sensitive person, so allow oodles of downtime without getting upset. And if it’s your child that is highly sensitive than ensure you are steering your child towards downtime, use sensory breaks and/or try not to overload their schedule. They can’t regulate their own emotional bucket at such a young age so you need to do this for them.
As a part of our series about How to Survive and Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing…Tina Williamson writer and founder Mindfulmazing, a peaceful parenting blog that guides busy moms and dads to tune into what matters most, and ultimately, create a happy life! Tina shares strategies and advice for raising responsible, mindful, and resilient kids.
In 2019, she created the popular eBook, “Mighty Mindful Kids” a mindfulness activity book which helps kids with focus, emotional regulation, awareness, and connection. This guide was inspired by her passion to help her high functioning autism son cope with his BIG emotions and anxieties. This movement led to Tina creating a series of printable worksheets to help other kids and parents going through the same struggles.
Tina is also an accountant by day, mindfulness teacher by night, she loves running, Netflix and chips. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada with her son and partner.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Tina! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
I’m so happy to be here today! My name is Tina, and I’m the founder over at Mindfulmazing which is a blog to help busy parents navigate many aspects of their lives, from peaceful parenting to meditation to helpful products and anxiety management.
It seems we are in an epidemic of feeling overwhelmed, and I’m passionate about sharing tips, routines and information to help parents reduce some of that stress.
My blog was inspired by my son (he’s now 5) but when he was 3 he was diagnosed with high functioning autism. I’ve learned A LOT along the way. He’s anxious, emotional, sensitive, super-intelligent (I could go on) and I’ve tried and tested many strategies to help him overcome some of these challenges. I’m super passionate about sharing what I’ve learnt with others.
I’m also an accountant by day, (totally random, I know) so I’m pretty busy!
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 highly sensitive person encompasses an entire range of symptoms. It covers physical (like hearing sounds too loudly, or clothing feeling off) to mental (like taking things too personally, or crying at every Hallmark commercial) to emotional (like being unable to control bursts of anxiety or anger).
We all experience sensitivity at times, but being a highly sensitive person means you experience these feelings at a much higher velocity. It is so much more than just being easily offended. Your entire nervous system is in overdrive. It can be utterly overwhelming.
Ultimately, being sensitive refers to one’s ability to process information through our senses, how one might interpret that information and then generate a response. (Senses being touch, movement, smell, taste, hearing and sight). For most people, this process is automatic, but for a highly sensitive person it’s like the brain interprets that information differently, and that, of course directly affects a person’s reaction to all that stimulus.
Today I’m going to talk mainly about my five-year-old son who is a highly sensitive person. Kids who are HSP can exhibit some challenging behaviours. For example, he might scream if his face gets wet, or he might completely meltdown trying to get him dressed.
My son might be just fine with me in a quiet and calm setting, but put him in a grocery store filled with bright lights, unfamiliar faces, lots of noises, and he is sure to have an uncontrollable meltdown.
Adults tend to handle this sensory input a little better, after all, we have spent year’s fine-tuning our emotional regulation. But regardless of how adept you are at handling the stimulus overload, being highly sensitive is very real for kids and adults. It is so much more than just being emotionally a little more sensitive, although it’s different for everyone, the sensitivities span across a number of our senses and affect many different aspects of one’s life.
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’ve found in my experience that highly sensitive people do have a higher degree of empathy towards others, and in fact, they often take on other people’s pain, both physically and emotionally. They usually connect deeply with everything around them and they often slip into a “fix it” state.
They want to fix everyone else’s problems. We all know someone like that right? Someone who spends endless amounts of energy trying to fix other people’s problems and seems to take on much more than they should be.
Highly sensitive people must set boundaries! They need to realize that it’s okay to care about other people’s plights, but they can’t take it on. All that stress and negative energy will consume them and eat them up, ultimately, it will negatively affect their own families, jobs and mental health.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, which depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?
I simply shut the news off. If I see a disturbing story (or if my highly sensitive son sees a story) it will be on our minds for weeks, months, years?!
Last year my son learned about Terry Fox at school, and over a year later he is still upset about Terry Fox’s journey and continues to obsess about it.
Certain aspects of being a highly sensitive person are basic in nature like your shirt feels too scratchy, but the symptoms also run so much deeper, you feel things at a very heightened level. So tragic news stories can leave a mark, which can disrupt the emotional state of the person for a long while. Highly sensitive people need to filter what’s coming at them. Protect themselves so to speak.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
My son suffers from sensory processing disorder (he also has high functioning autism). And it’s turned my world upside down. To be honest, before my son was born, I didn’t even know sensory issues was a thing!
But since dealing with it first hand, I’ve come to realize that I too am highly sensitive (not to the same degree and intensity as my son, but it’s there).
For me, when I’m at a social engagement and simultaneous conversations and things are going on around me, I can’t seem to focus on one conversation, it’s like all the stimulus from the entire room is coming at me and I have trouble blocking it out.
My five-year-old son struggles with socks, they feel funny, and he often screams, “There are bumps in my socks.” And I just want to say, “Put on your socks and let’s go.” (After all, we are often late) But I need to remember that his nervous system is firing differently, and the socks actually hurt his feet or that tag on his shirt scratching at his back in unbearable.
Where one might be inclined to say, “Suck it up” when you’re dealing with a highly sensitive person you can’t do that. This has caused enormous problems at school. My son gets overstimulated when there are too many kids around him or too much noise, and struggles to put his boots, mitts and general outdoor gear on. We’ve actually missed an entire week of school because my son wouldn’t get dressed (and we tried everything you could think of in this situation). I’m continually meeting with the teachers and the school to try to come up with strategies and plans to ease this disrupt on everyone.
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 there was something different about my son from an early age. When we’d go to my sister’s house and her dog would bark, my son would get so distraught. I remember even when my son was only nine-months old helplessly Googling ‘highly sensitive child.’
When my son was a toddler he would scream and meltdown for no apparent reason. Like category five meltdowns. I didn’t understand why, at the time, but now I’ve come to learn that his clothes didn’t feel right to him, he couldn’t handle loud noises, or he was simply overstimulated.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives your son certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
I’d love to share my thoughts on this because I think it’s easy to focus on only negative qualities. Since going through this process with my son, and realizing my own highly sensitive nature I can tell you that highly sensitive people are great listeners. They have considerable empathy and make great friends. They pick up on other people’s energies, have an uncanny ability to judge character, and are often super in-tune, observant and intelligent.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
One of my greatest sensitivities is my ability to pick up what others are feeling. This has allowed me to help other people. I can recognize when someone needs a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen. It can be very emotionally exhausting to constantly pick up on what others are feeling all the time, but at times you can really help others.
I have a friend who recently was going through a troubled period in her marriage. She was experiencing depression and tons of anxiety. She put on a brave face for the world, but I could sense her despair and asked her to go for coffee one day, and we talked about everything that she was going through. She said later that she felt so much better being able to get things off her chest and have someone to talk to.
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
There is no harm in caring for others, but as I’ve said before, being highly sensitive means you process stimulus differently and you need to be very careful not to take everyone’s pain and problems on.
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 to utilize social media, a highly sensitive person needs to use it with boundaries. And really that goes for all people, it can be overwhelming to even the most steadfast person. There is a bombardment of evil, marketing, fake news, real news, not to mention just the general shaming or guilt when scrolling through your friends Facebook feeds.
To use social media positively you need to be aware of the negative effects it can have over you. Knowledge is power. Realizing that a lot of what you see posted isn’t real, or it’s just marketing or just plain nonsense can go along way for your mental health.
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?
It’s interesting that you bring this up because others comment on this very thing about my son all the time. “Tell him to suck it up.” They say, “You’re going to raise a suck!”
I need to remind others that his nervous system is operating differently. But, at times, I won’t say anything at all. It’s exhausting to try to explain what’s happening in his body and have them look at me skeptically. This is where mindfulness comes into play (and I’ll talk about this a little more in a few minutes)
I can’t change people, but I can change my reaction.
So I’ve found a way to let it go, (via mindfulness practices). I remind myself that in the big picture of the world, and all that is happening in the world, this one tiny interaction is not something I need to blow out of proportion, sometimes I’ll just say, “Thanks for the advice.” And leave it at that.
Dust yourself off and keep going.
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 recently learned that instead of trying to change others perception of me, I’m trying to be okay with who I am and not be bothered by others perceptions of me. People will always judge, it’s human nature, you can’t prevent this and it would be a soul-sucking endeavor to try. For me, this is a journey into loving and accepting myself, and let me tell you it gets a lot easier with age!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
The myths I’d like to comment on would be that a HSP is just difficult, or can suck it up, or is defiant or angry or unable to cope with their emotions. Many times when people are overstimulated it presents as anger, defiance or anxiety. But it’s actually from feeling overwhelmed and it’s the only way this person can control the situation.
Many kids who are labelled “bad kids” are actually suffering from a sensory disorder, and they are really just overwhelmed kids. It’s sad really, because what they need is help to process this overwhelming world around them, not to be punished.
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?
I just think education is key. I would love to see more taught about special needs in school. Especially with all the kids who have different needs these days. Helping kids understand the different challenges everyone faces will help them and others in the school setting, but this will also carry with them through to adulthood. So, we definitely need more awareness and education. Articles such as thing one are so great to help get that word out.
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 If You Love Or Are In A Relationship With A Highly Sensitive Person. Please give a story or an example for each.
This is where I shine! I’ve got some great tips for anyone who loves a highly sensitive person.
- Anxiety Management. Highly sensitive people are full of anxiety. Sensory issues go hand-in-hand with anxiety. Many people don’t understand this. Especially when dealing with children.
If a child is bombarded with endless stimulus, they will feel overwhelmed. Think of it this way. If my son is at an appointment with his psychologist, where we might be able to tune out all the external stimulus, like the paintings on the walls, or the hum of the streetcars outside, or how many pieces are furniture are in the room, a highly sensitive person has all this stimulus coming straight at them. (They have astonishing memories for details). So, instead of being able to focus on the conversation at hand, they become so overwhelmed with stimulus, this creates overwhelm, which ultimately leads to anxiety.
Anxiety management is crucial in highly sensitive kids or even adults. That’s why I created an anxiety kit for kids, and a worry journal for adults — to try to help kids and adults understand what’s happening in their bodies and to develop effective coping strategies. Coping strategies for highly sensitive people are SO important.
- Identify triggers. Triggers for everyone will look different, for some its clothes, for some it’s loud sounds and for others, it might be emotional regulation issues. So learn your loved one’s triggers and then, make adjustments for them. I’m triggered by social over-stimulation, my son is triggered by clothing, over-stimulation and loud noises and emotions. Now that we’ve identified our main triggers, we can try to prevent the triggers.
My son struggles with socks, so instead of battling about socks every day, I found seamless socks designed specifically for kid’s who have these issues, and they have changed our lives!
When my son is having play-dates, I know the meltdown is coming, at some point, he will become overstimulated. So now that I know this, I can take him for sensory breaks to a quiet room for ten minutes and let him regulate. We’ve also learned that my son can’t control his anger, so we’ve done a ton of work on anger management — like take breathing breaks and counting when we feel upset.
There will always be times when you can’t prevent the sensitivity trigger, and that’s where developing effective coping strategies from point 1 above comes into play.
- Practice mindfulness. Yes, mindfulness will change your life. That’s a big statement I know, but it’s true! Mindfulness is the secret key to overcoming many of the negative aspects of being highly sensitive.
Mindfulness can teach you to calm your body when in overdrive, tune into the present moment, sort out your thoughts and sort out the ones that are pulling you down.
As mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn states, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
When my son was three we started practicing mindfulness, ultimately we started slowly incorporating a few exercises each week, and now I find him counting on his own when he’s angry, talking to his anxiety bully and much more.
Mindfulness is helpful for kids and adults, and although the exercises might look different, it’s ultimately accomplishing the same goal, to make you aware of what’s going on around you and to make you aware of your reactions. There are tons of mindfulness resources out there for you to explore, whether for yourself or your kids.
- Sleep is essential.Highly sensitive people’s nervous systems are often on overdrive, for this reason, it’s so important to get adequate sleep. There isn’t a ton to say here, except its helpful to learn how much sleep your body needs for your age (there are handy charts for kid’s needs) and be sure to set a routine that allows this amount of sleep. We’ve created a super fun bedtime routine. We say positive affirmations at bedtime, do one breathing exercise, keep a super consistent routine, use a weighted blanket (great for sensory issues) and use timers.
- Give adequate downtime. Give your loved one loads of downtime! When I go to a party, it’s like I have a social hangover for the next few days. I need solitude to recharge my batteries. Being in busy settings drains a highly sensitive person, so allow oodles of downtime without getting upset. And if it’s your child that is highly sensitive than ensure you are steering your child towards downtime, use sensory breaks and/or try not to overload their schedule. They can’t regulate their own emotional bucket at such a young age so you need to do this for them.
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 love to get Mindfulness into our schools. It’s such an important skill that will help kids not just today, but for the rest of their lives.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
I’ve really enjoyed being here!
Author’s Note: This series is unlike the other series that I have written for Authority magazine. Unless you are a sociopath (and those of you who are, know who you are) you have a sense of empathy, and generally sensitive (whether it be to others’ feelings or your own). At Authority, we wondered about those people who were unusually highly sensitive and the issues they face in the workplace and in life, but most importantly the strategies they employed to keep their sensitive nature without it becoming a barrier to social or work life. We reached out to both highly sensitive people and professionals who help highly sensitive people to survive and thrive. As such, you will notice that I asked different questions of individuals than I did of professionals. I hope you will find their stories as helpful and inspirational as I did.