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Signs that you are experiencing Sensory Processing Sensitivity, and a Metaphysical Survival Kit

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Do you frequently feel exhausted and overwhelmed during or after interacting with others? Have you ever felt just fine, even upbeat, only to find yourself experiencing feelings of sadness or anger out of nowhere when you are around other people? Do you ever have trouble figuring out which emotions come from within you, and which belong to others? These are common experience of Empaths, Highly Sensitive People, and those experiencing Sensory Processing Sensitivity.


Sensory Processing Sensitivity, or SPS, is a biologically-based trait characterized by increased awareness and sensitivity to the environment. SPS is a relatively new term that generally describes the mechanism by which Highly Sensitive People (HSP) process the world around them. HSP refers to someone who has increased sensitivity to physical or emotional stimuli. Though not all HSP experience SPS, it does seem that most do. Similarly, while not all Empaths are HSP, most seem to be.

The term ‘Empath’ used to be thought of as a mostly fictional term to describe people with some kind of supernatural ability to perceive the emotions, mental state, and even thoughts of those around them. While there is still a spiritual connotation associated with the word ‘Empath,’ the colloquial definition of the term has been modernized in the last few years to describe someone who is overly aware of the emotions of those around them. Generally, someone who could be described as an Empath, could also be described as an HSP, who could usually also be called a ‘person experiencing SPS.’

Some signs of being affected by SPS include:

  • Being able to process greater depth of information- For instance, recognizing that if an acquaintance is unusually quiet, they are having a bad day.

  • Having increased emotional reactivity and empathy- In example, you have noticed your acquaintance is having a bad day, and you feel very sorry for them, and inexplicably like your own day has turned sour.

  • Having a greater awareness of subtleties in the environment- You notice and are potentially bothered by things others don’t give a second thought, and this intensifies when dealing with strong emotions. For instance, while in the company of your moody acquaintance, you begin to notice how unflattering the lighting is, or how the music choice seems more sad than normal, or how the space is less organized than usual.

  • Being overstimulated easily- This happens when your mind takes all of the details of the scene around you at full value, and continually adds to them, leading to often extreme discomfort. For example, since being around the unhappy acquaintance, you’ve noticed more and more things around you that make you uncomfortable. As much as you try to ignore some of them, it’s all you can think about, and you begin feeling very distressed.

While the link being an Empath and being a Highly Sensitive Person is tangible and undeniable, there are some intangible points to make when discussing what makes a person an Empath. There is also quite a bit of difference between having empathy and being an Empath. Many believe that Empaths are able to sense and absorb subtle energies around them, therefore able to connect more deeply to other people or even animals, even without much information. Research on these topics is limited, especially considering the amount of interest.

Some common traits attributed to Empaths include:

  • Absorbing other people’s emotions or stress

  • Becoming easily overwhelmed

  • Getting anxious or physically ill when people yell

  • Preference for small groups (or towns over cities)

  • Accurately picking up on subtle changes in tone, facial expression, or body language in other people

  • Requiring lots of alone time to replenish

As you can see, there is a definite overlap in traits between a person known as an Empath, and a person experiencing SPS, including HSPs. More research is needed to truly understand what these terms mean, and what people experience within these descriptions. One possible explanation for these sensitivities is the recent discovery of what scientists call “Mirror Neurons.” These neurons are thought to be partially responsible for how we interact with others, and some people are thought to have more, or more active Mirror Neurons than others. This discovery may lead to more concrete explanations for the existence of Empaths.

There are definite pros and cons to being a Highly Sensitive Person or Empath. Some of these include:

Pros:

  • Ability to forge strong and deep relationships

  • Strong intuition and ability to develop heightened lie detection

  • Life experiences are intense; Good days are REALLY good

  • People generally feel very heard and understood by you.

  • Feelings of intense compassion and people and living creatures

Cons:

  • Difficulty setting emotional boundaries; sensitivities are easily manipulated.

  • Frequent feelings of being drained and exhausted, particularly intense or difficult interactions.

  • A tendency to self-isolate as a means of recovering from overwhelming interactions

  • People, often strangers, have a tendency to “trauma dump” on you.

As you can see, and perhaps have personally experienced, the cons often affect individuals negatively on a daily basis, making life very difficult. I personally recall my mother letting every new teacher know at the beginning of every school year that I was “very sensitive,” hoping to save us all the trouble of my frequent, tearful meltdowns. While there are dozens of possible explanations for my over-stimulation as a child, and now as an adult, much of what I have written about here resonates deeply for me. If you’ve read this far into this blog post, I don’t doubt that you relate as well, and are hoping to find some solutions for yourself.

Metaphysical Protection and Coping Mechanisms for Empaths, HSP, SPS

  1. Boundaries: This can look like setting time limits on your interactions, reducing frequency of social events, or even giving certain topics an “off limits” status in specific situations. Being able to say “no” when necessary is perhaps the most important tool when setting boundaries, next to learning to recognize your own limits so you can plan accordingly.

  2. Visualizations: Many find it helpful to visualize a shield or protection spirit. This technique can work anywhere it is needed. If you feel yourself becoming uncomfortable and potentially absorbing negativity around you, you can ‘throw up a shield.’ Often, this is easier to do when working with a crystal. Amethyst, for instance, attracts peaceful energy while offering protection from negative energy. You could begin by visualizing a lavender glow around the amethyst that grows outwards to surround yourself, almost like a bubble of protection.

  3. Define your needs: Many Empaths and HSPs find themselves constantly overwhelmed, even by people they love, including close friends, family, and romantic partners. Other times, we don’t feel that we are receiving the amount of support we need after an especially tough day. It’s important to clearly define not only your boundaries, but your support needs as well. Maybe you need your friend to ask permission before dumping their bad day onto your shoulders, or maybe you need your partner to be a bit more gentle with you when you’ve had a long week. Speaking up for those needs saves us so much trouble in the long run, and can be incredibly empowering.

  4. Aromatherapy: Many would be surprised by how much good a few drops of Lavender oil can do.One way this can be helpful in a pinch is by first applying Lavender, or any other preferred calming scent, to pulse points or your third eye. Then, begin slowly taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, while visualizing yourself inhaling only peace, and exhaling the excess negative emotions you’ve picked up from those around you.

  5. Talismans: Sometimes visualizations aren’t easy, which is why we have included a list of various protective crystals in this post. Many feel more secure and guarded when they are wearing their trusty Black Tourmaline Pendant, have their Selenite gallet in their pocket, their Hematite ring on their finger, and their Rose Quartz bracelet on their wrist.

  6. Earthing: While the term “Earthing” refers to the specific practice of going barefoot to fully connect with the Earth’s energy, any time spent in nature is extremely valuable for Empaths and HSPs. Quiet reflection in a beautiful meadow, a slow stroll through the woods, or wading into a river or creek are all activities known for cleansing and recharging the soul.

  7. Alone time: For HSPs and Empaths, solitude is gold. It’s important to schedule enough of this for self care, otherwise, we may end up isolating in an unhealthy way later.

  8. Ownership: If you find your mood suddenly changes when you are around a particular person or place, try stepping away to make sure that those feelings belong to you. IF stepping away for a short while helps, then a mantra might help remind you those negative feelings didn’t originate with you. “It doesn’t belong to me” is helpful for me.

  9. Smudging: No matter how you choose to smudge yourself, the most important aspect to this tip, and many of the others, is the symbolism. Some commonly burned smudges include sage, rosemary, and sweetgrass. Ideally, you would have a vessel to hold your burning smudge bundle, such an abalone shell, and a well-ventilated area in which to perform this ritual. Light the smudge bundle and envision the smoke to be a powerful auric cleanser (it is!). Generally you start by slowly and carefully waving the burning smudge bundle in loose, circular motions around your body, from top to bottom. While you do this focus on the mental picture that the smudge is cleansing your aura, removing the negativity and bad vibes you may have absorbed. The ritual is complete in a few minutes, or when you feel like the smoke has done it’s job.

  10. Don’t take yourself too seriously: While SPS, and being an Empath or HSP can definitely be emotionally exhausting, it’s important to remember that the anxiety you feel is temporary. While it likely feels so very big, in the grand scheme, those feelings are fleeting, and can easily be replaced by more positive ones if we allow it.

Crystals for Empaths

  • Black Tourmaline: Protects from negative energy absorption, grounds

  • Clear Quartz: Re-energizes and clears stagnant energy

  • Smoky Quartz: Detoxes your environmental energy

  • Shungite: EMF and negative energy protection

  • Selenite: Cleanses and revitalizes your aura

  • Amethyst: Protects and calms your emotions

  • Lepidolite: Calms intense feelings

  • Rose Quartz: Heals negative feelings and helps attract loving energy

  • Hematite: Deflects negative energy and grounds

  • Labradorite: Psychic protection from Energy Vampires

  • Larvikite: Increases patience

  • Fluorite: Stabilizes aura and strengthens boundaries

  • Black Obsidian: Protects your energy and dispels negativity

  • Rhodonite: Protects emotional balance

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