43 Self-Care Practices for the Highly Sensitive Person
When I posted this photo and caption last Saturday, I had no idea it would touch so many people! For those of you that missed it, here is what I wrote: “As I get older, I realize how my external environment affects my inner life. I'm a highly sensitive person -- I always have been. My parents are too, and they went to great lengths to create a home environment that was beautiful, serene & restorative.
Because I grew up like that I never realized how chaotic sensations caused chaos in my spirit. Incidentally I married a boy who is as sensitive as I am. Both of us are messy by nature. It’s taken some time to connect the dots, but now we know for sure that our happiness in part stems from having a home that feels like a sanctuary. Lots of light, clean sheets, plants everywhere, lovely scents wafting thru the air (cookies or lavender mostly).
Keeping it clean & lovely is one of my biggest challenges. But now I see keeping my space glowy as an act of self care, and so I try & think of it as an environment cleansing -- sweeping out old energy so my vibrancy has space to flow. Anyone else out there highly sensitive? Raise your hand & tell me your favorite self care technique!!!”
I often feel very peculiar as a highly sensitive person (HSP) with all of my particular needs and sensitivities. But the thread of comments I’ve received over Instagram and Facebook on this subject has been incredibly heartening and illuminating: I’m not alone. I mean... we’re not alone!
First of all, I just want to say: I've never seen being highly sensitive as a debilitating or negative disorder. It is generally considered to be a normal personality trait, with both negative and positive consequences. And contrary to popular belief, around 30% of HSPs are extroverts.
HSPs are certainly more sensitive to negative experiences. But they are also more sensitive to positive experiences. Our lows are low, our highs are high.
Yes, HSPs tend to be more vulnerable, emotional and overwhelmed. But we also squeeze a lot of juice out of life!
HSPs respond with heightened positive emotions regarding delicate sensory experiences. They often gravitate towards work and play that allows them to explore refined arts like fine-art photography, fine culinary arts, traditional ceramics, floral arranging, gardening with heirloom plant varieties, working with textiles like silk or linen, dancing, composing music, herbalism and herbal medicine-making, illustration, film acting, creative writing, painting, wood-working.... you get the idea.
HSPs also tend to have a lower pain threshold. On the flip-side I notice that my highly sensitive friends and I share a relatively high body awareness, noticing when something "feels off" in our systems. Most highly sensitive people that I know are also keenly aware of their physical and mental health, and thus tend to be healthier overall.
It's no wonder I write a special diets food blog! Eating plant-based is one of the ways I have learned how to heal digestive stress and promote physical and mental well-being.
A lot of very self-aware people shared some wonderful self-care tips in the comments on my instagram post. But more importantly there were many people who commented saying that they resonated so deeply with the caption, and never realized that they must be highly sensitive too.
I feel like it’s taken me my whole adult life so-far to accept that I’m not like other people. Not only am I an introverted artist-type and INFP (less than 2% of the population). But I’m borderline empath (and increasingly psychic). I feel all the feels.
Recognizing my sensitivities has helped me to accept that I have to do a lot more self-care than 80% of other people in order to feel good.
That's the nature of being highly sensitive. We take in a lot of information, and so we're easily overwhelmed.
Because of this I have learned that it is so important to see self-care as a necessity, not an indulgence. If you struggle with feeling guilt regarding taking time for yourself (I'm looking at you, mamas) try to remember that self-care ultimately makes you a happier, healthier and less stressed human. And when you're happy, you can bring you're A-game to life.
The following is a comprehensive list of my self-care tips, ideally suited for highly sensitive people (but appropriate for anyone looking for a little more chill-out vibes in their life). This list includes all of the tips I received from comments on the instagram post.
43 Self-Care Tips for Highly Sensitive People
- Take time to recharge and restore every day with quiet alone time.
- Make friends with fellow highly sensitive persons who can empathize with your needs. Most of my friends in “feeling” careers are HSP — visual art, music, counseling, herbalism, holistic nutrition, healing arts, yoga, non-profit, etc.
- Make art. Even if it’s bad art. Even if you haven't picked up a pencil to draw in ages. Do it for you.
- Make your home your retreat. If you don’t feel relaxed when you walk in the door, do a scan of your environment and take note of items that cause you to feel distressed. Take care of them (e.g. bills), move them to a permanent home out-of-sight (e.g. cat litter box), or get rid of them (e.g. sweatshirt you stole from your ex).
- Keep external stimuli to a minimum. Avoid having the radio or TV on in the background as you go about your day. Avoid absorbing too much media (both positive and negative).
- Put your phone on “do not disturb” mode. Screen all of your calls. Ignore texts until you’re actually ready to deal with them. Any time I am trying to be present with my work or play, I put my phone somewhere far away where I can’t check it. It’s amazing how much happier I am without my phone around!
- Embrace minimalism. Keep your home, wardrobe, and schedule pared down. Yep, even your schedule can become minimalist!
- Do the KonMari method. Keep items in your home that you truly love within eyesight. Embrace the things that serve you and say goodbye to the things that don’t.
- Fill your home with low maintenance plants. Not only do they clean the air, but they make your home feel alive and vibrant. Especially necessary for urban or desert dwellers. I really like jade plants, snake plants (also called viper’s bowstring hemp), ivy, aloe, pothos, philodendron, schefflera (umbrella tree), cacti and air plants. I also have a fig but she’s finnicky.
- Reduce clutter. Give important items specific spaces to live. This keeps clutter from taking over surfaces (e.g. get a dish for all of your rings, a basket for bathroom cleaning supplies). Cull junk immediately. Trash papers you don't need as soon as they enter the house.
- Keep a few inspiring books or magazines in the bathroom. I typically read spiritual books, poetry and fiction. Even if you prefer non-fiction, read something just-for-fun. It transforms using the bathroom into a moment for recharging your creativity batteries.
- Invest in one or two salt lamps. You know, those big chunks of pink salt with little bulbs nestled inside. They provide a similarly restorative sensation to time spent at the beach or by a waterfall, increasing oxygen flow to the brain. They help cleanse the air, and provide a lovely soft pink glow.
- Take baths. I’m not much of a bath person myself (I get overheated easily). But when I have access to a beautiful tub (like once a year) I fill it with lavender epsom salts, surround myself with candles, put on some instrumental music and settle in with a good indie magazine like Taproot or The Sun.
- Do self-massage. Warm your body up in a hot bath or sauna. Or use a heating pad on any areas of the body you’re massaging. Rub your skin down with coconut, grapeseed or raw sesame oil. Use a fascia massager to break up tight fascia. I do this for my shoulders, neck and jaw a couple times a week. I’ve taken to making Sundays my day for whole body massage using this fascia tool (I do 30 minutes total). It’s my absolute favorite self-care activity (next to cooking and baking bread… and buying plants).
- Drink tea. Invest in some tea blends that make you really happy. Yogi’s lavender vanilla is a favorite. And this witchy blend from Ginger Tonic Botanicals is great for chill-out vibes during my work day (the mugwort gets my inspiration juices flowing).
- Eat dark chocolate. The really high quality kind, not the candy kind. Chocolate is one of the most powerful foods on the planet, did you know? It’s packed with antioxidants and thousands of flavor and aroma compounds. Which makes it particularly excellent for HSP as it is a strong, positive sensory experience. I have a square around mid-day and after dinner, most days.
- Make cooking and/or baking time for play. I know not everyone loves cooking and baking as much as I do. But for me, it’s a full-body sensory calming experience. The tactile element is very soothing for me, as are the taste and smell elements. Kneading bread dough is one of my all-time favorite therapeutic activities. Cooking/baking are great fun to do with your partner or a friend as a one-on-one social activity that’s actually restorative and explores positive sensory expression.
- Open the window and let fresh air come into your space. Especially after it rains.
- Waft lovely scents around your home, work-space and car. I spray rose water or this cardamom / rose spray, both of which I bought at Whole Foods. But in lieu of that I often simply shake a single drop of my favorite essential oil onto the floor — the scent naturally spreads, without any fancy tools. I love this "stress away" blend and this "peace & calming" blend. Single essential oils like lavender, sandalwood, orange and mint are also great. You could also use a diffuser with essential oils. It doubles as a humidifier, so I will put my face right over the steam and take a few deep breaths any time I need a momentary refresh.
- Play soft instrumental music. Because I use Spotify for my yoga classes, it thinks all I like to listen to is chill-out music and mantras. My Discover Weekly list is usually pretty on-point with HSP appropriate jams.
- Create space around bedtime. Turn off all of your electronics an hour before bedtime. Take that hour to journal, read, meditate, draw and/or stretch.
- In the evening, light beeswax candles. They have a long burn time, smell sweetly of honey and cleanse the air.
- Decorate with soft natural textures. Cotton or linen pillows and sheets, smooth pottery and natural fibre blankets help to create an organic-feeling environment. If you're sensitive to touch, this is super important! You'll always feel at ease if the textures you brush up against in your home are soft on your skin.
- If you play music, keep your instruments within arms reach in your living room or whatever space you hang out in the most. You’re much more likely to pick them up when you need them if they’re right there.
- Make your bed every morning. I never bought into this until recently. Why make the bed when it’s going to get messed up that night? But lately Logan and I have been doing this every day and it makes the bedroom feel so much more peaceful and put-together. Even if there’s clothing all over the floor… ha!
- Clean the sink at night. Walking into a clean kitchen with no dishes in the morning feels so good. It’s really starting the day off fresh.
- Burn sage, cedar and/or palo santo. I burn these to cleanse my space (and my body), freeing myself of negative energy and filling myself with sacred, healing vibrations. The strong-smelling smoke from these natural plant incenses provides clarity and emotional well-being — especially before spiritual work like meditation, prayer, tarot-reading or simply having a heart-to-heart with a loved one. I am very sensitive to scents and prefer palo santo above all for its sweet spicy aroma.
- Wake up earlier than everyone else to take in the peacefulness of morning quiet. Especially important if you have little ones! Use those sparkly early morning hours to fill yourself with peace.
- Do a short yoga routine or exercise in the morning. This is a great wake-up routine and it really helps to bolster your spirit to deal with the day. Even doing simple yoga stretches in bed for a few minutes before you get up feels amazing. If you're just starting out, Adriene Mishler has amazing video tutorials for all levels on her youtube channel.
- Sip hot water with lemon OR warm water with apple cider vinegar in the morning. It’s great for getting your digestion going, especially if you have a sensitive digestive system.
- Breathe intentionally. Learn how to do deep belly breathing and incorporate it into your day to day life to reduce anxiety and promote wellbeing.
- Spend time in nature. At the very least, get out for an ambling walk once a week. Walking (especially amongst plants) helps to calm the mind and spark creativity!
- Rub essential oils on your wrists, temples and crown. I use mint for headaches and wakefulness. I use frankincense anytime I need some extra courage, resolve or grounding energy (so… every day). I like lavender when I’m in stress-out mode as its naturally sedative.
- Meditate. Meditation helps us to simply be with ourselves. It’s an invaluable resource for getting to know the unconscious patterns of our minds. And it helps us to become less reactive and more compassionate towards ourselves and others.
- Hug your dog! Or your cat / parakeet / rabbit / baby goat. Animals provide simple, loving connection and don't ask too much of us. Thank goodness!
- Take refuge in a skin routine. This is as much about caring for your skin as it is about creating a routine around going to sleep and waking up. It could be as simple as splashing water on your face or as intensive as the oil-cleansing method (which is what I do). I use grapeseed oil as my base oil and macadamia oil as a moisturizer post-cleansing. And then I splash my face with rosewater. It’s not as fancy or expensive as it sounds, trust me.
- Go for a long drive with some new tunes. I love driving with the windows down on country roads.
- Take yourself out on a date and buy yourself a tiny treat. Go to a toy store and buy yourself some stickers. Go to the botanical gardens and get a botanical print from the gift shop. Check out a fancy paper shop and buy a nice writing pen. The options are endless. But the idea is that you go somewhere that inspires you, and you treat yourself to a little something.
- Invest in soothing art or a tapestry for your living space. Most of my art is botanical or earth-themed in some way. And it's also all muted tones (no bright colors or intense patterns). I tend to be attracted to nature themes, like water / ferns / deserts. Even if I can't immerse myself in nature, they make me feel more at ease. Keep prints of places or themes that take you to your "happy place."
- Lay down with your crystals. If you have small crystals, you might place them on any areas in your body that need some extra attention. My throat and jaw need the most attention, personally, so I would place them on my heart, throat and lips. I would do this while meditating or doing breath practice work.
- Take time twice a year to completely cleanse your space. Get rid of any items you’ve acquired that no longer speak to you. Throw away notes from ex-lovers. Get rid of that giant bin of popcorn your aunt gave you for Christmas. Sweep, mop, scrub, spray. Light incense. Fill the house with flowers. Rearrange your furniture and art. Create a clean slate so you can move forward as who you are, not who you were.
- Learn to process. It’s inevitable that you will become overwhelmed. There’s no amount of preventative self-care that will eliminate the chaotic nature of life. Meditation, prayer, exercise, journaling, making art, taking walks in nature and therapy are all amazing processing tools. I exercise and write an informal journal most days. Exercise helps me process emotions that manifest as physical sensations. Journaling is my way of wringing out all of the muddy water of my subconscious as soon as I wake up.
- Bring acceptance and awareness to dis-ease. It’s easy to let tension and discomfort overtake our minds. Try actively working to let it be when feeling uneasy. That is, notice the emotion or sensation and sit with it without judging it. Try to find the location of that emotion or sensation in the body. Notice its nature, and see if you can sit with it gently, compassionately until it transforms, shifts and perhaps dissipates.
Special thanks to the following folks for offering their tips on instagram and Facebook that inspired this post: @allisonrosecast / @withhealthandgratitude / @theclevercarrot / @sugarfreesundays / @meganleilani / @ruthq_nutrition / @jadeliketherock / @bubba.and.bean / @eatingbirdfood / @rachetad / @wholeheartedeats / @unsweetened.caroline / @boiledmango / @goldenrodhillsrevival / @greenerheals / @kfernandezmata / @niamhmbrowne / @melissanutrition / @finisgreenkitchen / @theatillberg / @karlcooks_ / @_heydear / @courtlynnewest / @endlesslygrey / @verilymystyle / @dundas9 / @nutritiontoheal / @yoga.barbie / @miaaa_k / Eileen Barnett / Patrick McCafferty / Kelly Moody / Poppy Hudson / Shaina Green / Phoebe Lapine / Stasia Renaud
Do you have a unique tip you'd like to add to the list? Or perhaps you have a requests for a post you'd like to see on WFFF? Leave me a note in the comments! Or you can send me an email at hello (at) willfrolicforfood (dot) com -- xoxox Renee