5 Reasons Highly Sensitive People Struggle with Consistent Self-Care
Often, highly sensitive people struggle with consistent self-care. It can feel like an uphill battle to stay on track with the basics of taking care of yourself. We hear from clients that they are frequently overwhelmed and don’t know what they should do to reduce overwhelm.
So why do highly sensitive people find it difficult to do what we know is good for us? What are some specific challenges that make it difficult for HSPs to take care of themselves?
In this article, we will look at five common challenges/blocks that get in the way of HSPs being able to practice effective self-care consistently:
1. A core belief that you don’t deserve love and care
Highly sensitive people struggle with consistent self-care because they hold core beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be taken care of.” These internal messages are likely to stem from messages that you received in childhood, such as “don’t be so sensitive,” “you’re such a crybaby,” or “you’re overreacting.”
These messages led to core beliefs that our wants and needs are “too much” and that we need to suppress them.
The foundation of self-care is love and care for oneself. When a highly sensitive person struggles with believing that they deserve to be loved or cared for, it can make the process of taking time out just for themselves challenging.
Embarking on a journey of self-exploration and self-acceptance is the first step in healing old wounds and building a solid foundation for self-care. When you accept yourself for who you are, you can begin to build compassion toward yourself. Over time, you can start to change your core belief to one that recognizes that you deserve love and care.
2. You’re unwilling to let go of the past
One of the reasons highly sensitive people struggle with consistent self-care is because they’re unwilling to let go of their past. HSP’s may feel that by letting go and moving on, they betray themselves by forgetting about what happened in the past.
This belief can happen at a very subconscious level. You may feel that by letting go, moving on, and creating a better life, you acknowledge that what happened in the past wasn’t that bad or that it didn’t count. This belief leads you to hold on to grudges, hurt, anger, and resentment. You’re afraid that by letting go, you lessen the impact of what happened to you.
When you hold on to the past, you treat yourself the same as you were treated in the past. You continue to punish yourself for what happened to you internally.
You can change this pattern by learning self-compassion and self-acceptance and changing core beliefs and internal self-talk.
3. You’re numbing your feelings
Numbing is probably the most common form of self-sabotage for highly sensitive people. You numb to avoid or minimize feelings that are too difficult, that you’re afraid to feel.
It’s easier to scroll through social media endlessly, play video games, take substances, or escape into music rather than take time to face those uncomfortable thoughts/feelings.
But here’s something you might not realize: By shutting, ignoring, and numbing the difficult and uncomfortable feelings, you’re also numbing the good feelings. You’re blocking the full range of joy and contentment that you could be feeling as well.
The way to begin caring for yourself in this area is to engage in regular check-ins. Take daily time to ask yourself: How am I feeling? What do I need? Over time, you will develop a sense of self-awareness that will allow you to recognize your needs.
4. You have poor boundaries
As a highly sensitive person, you want to be there for other people and do things for other people. You don’t want to disappoint people or feel rejected. And so you tend to always show up for people, even if it’s not good for you. When you are constantly giving to others, you don’t leave room for yourself.
If the mere thought of saying “no” to a relative, boss, or friend is anxiety-provoking for you, it’s a sign that you aren’t effective at setting boundaries. And therefore, you’re not good at self-care.
To grow as a person, you’re going to have to work on your fear of disappointing others, fear of confrontation, and fear of standing up for yourself.
5. You think self-care is selfish
As a highly sensitive person, you want to do good in the world and help others. You likely have an internal belief that it’s not okay to take time for yourself because that takes time away from caring for others.
But here’s a hard truth: Not taking time for yourself is selfish.
Not taking time for yourself leads to irritability, overwhelm, and tiredness. And whether you mean to or not, if you don’t take time for yourself, you will eventually push those thoughts/feelings onto others. You will consistently show up for others as the lesser, more stressed-out version of yourself.
Your internal belief system makes you think that taking care of yourself is selfish. But think about what it’s like to spend time with other people who don’t take care of themselves. Do they make you feel guilty for how stressed out and overwhelmed they feel? Do they blame or resent others for their constant need to “be there” for them?
Start by examining the messages you received as a child about self-care. Then, you can begin to learn self-compassion and change the core beliefs that are keeping you from genuinely caring for and loving yourself. Because when you care for and love yourself, you can show up for others as your best self.
Our Favorite Self-Care Practices for Highly Sensitive People
Now that we’ve identified some of the core beliefs that may be influencing how you show up for yourself, you can see how self-care ultimately makes a massive difference in your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. On that note, I want to share some of my favorite self-care practices that have also been proven to regulate your nervous system.
You’ve likely seen all of these tips before – and that’s because they work! Try incorporating more of these simple self-care practices into your daily routine and see how taking a few moments to care for yourself each day can make all the difference.
Get more sleep
Too little sleep can have a significant impact on your health and well-being, especially if you’re an HSP. With a nervous system that is often in overdrive, aiming for at least eight hours of restorative slumber each night is essential to managing stress levels and avoiding emotional burnout.
Create relaxing sensory experiences
For those with a heightened sensitivity to their environment, even the most mundane everyday details can be overwhelming. Yet this same depth of experience also opens up possibilities for deep enjoyment and pleasure in positive sensory experiences. Essential oils, music that soothes your soul, massage treatments tailored to you, or clothes that make every day more comfortable – these are just a few ways you can cultivate more pleasurable sensory experiences.
Drinking tea has a variety of health benefits, and is an ideal beverage choice for highly sensitive people. Think about the last time you held a hot cup of tea in your hand. How did it feel? Grounding? Warming? Comforting? Tea has been used for millennia to calm anxiety and stress, and reduce inflammation. It also helps to regulate sleep patterns, improve digestion, and boost the immune system.
How great does it feel to simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths? When your heart and breath are in harmony, you feel safe. Breathing is a direct pathway to the nervous system and every breath is an opportunity for healing and regulating.
Go for a walk
Taking a walk is one of the best ways to get your body moving and give your mind a break from everyday stressors. Walking has incredible physical and mental health benefits, making it one of the most beneficial activities for highly sensitive people.
Sing your favorite song
A little bit of singing can go a long way! It not only brings joy, but it also stimulates the vagus nerve which triggers our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to relax and unwind.
As they say, there is beauty in creation. From cooking your favorite dish to creating art on canvas, the act of creating something provides us with an outlet for our passions and emotions that help define who we are as individuals.
Connect with nature
Connecting with nature is an essential self-care practice for HSPs, especially when feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. Spending time in nature is more than just enjoyable – it has a plethora of proven health benefits! Taking a walk through the wilderness can help boost endorphins, recharge your batteries, and clear away confusion and distraction. If you don’t have time for a walk or hike, simply putting your bare feet on the ground and letting the sun shine on your face will offer feelings of peace and renewal.
Take a hot bath
Taking a long bath is an incredibly therapeutic activity. You may not have time to do this everyday, and that’s okay – even once a week will bring the benefits you’re looking for. Don’t forget your candles and Epsom salt!
Cuddle your pets
Cuddling your pets is a wonderful way to practice self-care and give yourself some much-needed love. Pets provide unconditional love, comfort and care, and a major oxytocin boost. Studies have suggested that pet owners have lower blood pressure, reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and greater social support than non-pet owners.
If coming home leaves you feeling anxious and unfocused, take a look around. It may be time to declutter your wardrobe or clear out the kitchen. Highly sensitive people are especially impacted by their surroundings; even small amounts of clutter can create unnecessary stress.
Stay true to yourself
Discovering and honoring your core values is essential to creating a life that feels good to you. End the habit of seeking approval from others; instead, develop routines that ignite self-confidence and inner strength without regard for what other people think. Recognize when you are sabotaging yourself, and practice loving kindess, patience and self-forgiveness when needed.
Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Eating a nutrient-rich diet is especially important for highly sensitive people. This means consuming foods that are high in essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that provide the body with fuel to function well and help us better manage stress.
These simple self-care practices cannot replace “doing the work” to address the core beliefs that may be holding you back from taking better care of yourself. However, they are key to showing up each day feeling replenished and energized, enabling you to face life’s challenges with ease and grace.
Want to learn more about how you can turn your sensitivity into your superpower and practice more highly effective self-care?
A dysregulated nervous system could further exacerbate your highly sensitive symptoms. Take our FREE nervous system quiz to find out the exact state of your nervous system, and get a free personalized report detailing what’s holding you back from a more calm and connected life.
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Dr. Linnea Passaler
Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.