For nearly 30 years, Dr. Elaine Aron has conducted research on high sensitivity and highly sensitive persons (HSPs). Also called Sensory Processing Sensitivity, this is an innate biological trait that has been observed in over 100 species. While this is not a new trait, only 15-20% of the population are HSPs, and the experience of being one is not always well understood.
Dr. Elaine Aron has identified four traits HSPs have in common: Depth of Processing; Overstimulation; Emotional responsiveness and Empathy; and Sensitive to Subtleties. In a fast-paced, high-stimulus environment like NYC, these traits can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm and an inability to cope with stress.
With its loud sirens, crowded subway trains, and always-on pace of life, NYC was not designed with HSPs in mind. As a HSP living in NYC, I’ve learned through my own experience the challenges of being a highly sensitive person here, and I’ve developed a few strategies for how to thrive. I offer them here:
Accept that you can’t do everything.
NYC has so much on offer, it’s easy to have a full calendar booked every hour of the day. HSPs may find it overwhelming to have a packed schedule, and may benefit from pacing themselves, prioritizing activities, and committing to fewer obligations.
Honor your specific needs for rest and downtime.
In fast-paced cities like New York, it can be common and expected for workers to skip breaks and work long hours. To the extent that you can, be firm about taking a lunch break and scheduling breaks between meetings, to allow yourself extra time to process and transition between tasks. On the weekends, resist the urge to overbook yourself with many social activities, and be selective about social commitments so you have plenty of time to rest and recharge.
Reduce sensory overload.
For most people living in NYC, sensory overload is a part of life, but you can take steps to reduce your exposure. For example, when commuting on the subway, bring along earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. See if you can work out an arrangement to work from home, travel during non-peak hours, or otherwise reduce your time in loud and crowded spaces.
Embrace the aspects of NYC that support you.
HSPs generally feel deeply, are empathetic, and find nourishment in the arts. Take advantage of opportunities to enjoy art, music, theater, and seek out like-minded community groups where you can reflect and express, such as reading groups and creative arts groups.
Identify places in the city where you can take a quick break to feel replenished. Find a quiet room in a museum or library, a favorite park bench, or other spaces where you can go for a break when you’re far from home but need to recharge.
Experiment with pace and space, and feel free to go against the grain.
One day walking around in New York, I noticed I was walking quickly, not because I was in a rush, but simply because everyone around me was walking at a breakneck pace. I realized in that moment I wasn’t actually in a rush, and could choose to slow down my pace. This gentle shift felt like a huge breakthrough in how I choose to move through the city. You may wish to experiment with taking technology breaks, blocking off your calendar to do nothing, and other experiments.
Try therapy in NYC.
HSPs thrive with ample time to reflect, and can benefit from therapy.
Would you like to work with a therapist who gets what it’s like to be highly sensitive? While no two HSPs are exactly alike, I understand some of the challenges that can go along with being highly sensitive, and I love working with fellow HSPs. Schedule a consultation today.