highly sensitiveGuest article

Stress and high sensitivity: Five steps into your energy balance

The trait of high sensitivity

Sensitivity of the nervous system is a personality trait that varies from person to person. High sensitivity describes a particularly strong sensitivity of the nervous system to internal and external stimuli. It is currently assumed that approx. 20 % of all people highly sensitive (IFHS Institute for High Sensitivity).

Highly sensitive people are born with a particularly strong ability to register and process internal and external stimuli. Through their increased perception stimuli from the environment, which others would not perceive at all, reach their consciousness.

In a nutshell: Highly sensitive people are more responsive to both positive and negative stimuli.

Many highly sensitive people feel this personality trait even if they cannot yet name it. They like to reflect, feel a longing for depth and meaning, have a strong intuition (or a good gut feeling), a strong inner value system and are very conscientious.

They are good with animals and children, they notice subtle stimuli, they are visionaries, and they have a strong sense of the big picture. Through their high sensitivity highly sensitive people often encounter a lack of understanding early in their lives. They feel that not everyone can understand their sensations and often feel alone as a result.

In this way, the sensitivity of others and subconsciously also yourself debased. This often results in a dilemma between their natural needs and what life demands of them. Many highly sensitive people suffer from the external circumstances and the experiences they had in their childhood and youth. sense of having to disguise one's personality or even think they're abnormal.

High sensitivity and stress

A receptive and highly sensitive nervous system is more quickly overstimulated and takes longer to recover, as more impressions have to be processed. As a result, highly sensitive people more quickly fall into a state of Overstimulation and have a increased vulnerability to stress. In many situations the High sensitivity an advantage.

However, the tendency to be highly stressed prevents many highly sensitive people from realizing the benefits of their sensitivity and living a happy and fulfilling life.

The optimal excitation level

Due to the sensitivity of the nervous system, information from both outside and inside the body is received and processed. This information is also called stimulation. Everyone needs a certain amount of stimulationto be optimally efficient and to feel well.

Whereas too little stress underchallenges people and leads to boredom and inertia, too many stimuli and demands pose a threat to physical and mental well-being as well as performance (Yerkes and Dodson, 1908). A long-term high level of excitement without phases of regeneration and recovery is detrimental to health. and can, for example Burnout will result in...


People always feel best when their individual nervous system is exposed to an optimal level of stimulation, i.e. when they are neither bored nor overstressed. It is an essential factor for performance and physical and mental health to move predominantly in this comfort zone.

So the goal is clear: Finding the golden mean.

For highly sensitive people, this is often particularly difficult. For them, other parameters of stimulus regulation and recovery apply than for the average population. For them, lower stimuli and significantly less stimulation than for most of their peers already lead to an optimal level of arousal. This also means that they reach the threshold of overstimulation faster.

Signs of overstimulation

  • Diffuse malaise
  • Noise/ buzzing in the head
  • Tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Upbeat feeling
  • Apparently bad mood for no reason
  • Decrease of cognitive capacity (e.g. confusion or poor memory)
  • Dismissive
  • Irritability
  • Frequent sighing
  • Poor sleep quality
  • sensation of unease
  • Stronger emotional reaction
  • Weepiness
  • Anger (losing temper)
  • Decrease in attention and presence in conversations
  • Mode of functioning without participation
  • Apathy
  • Crying from pure nervousness

Many highly sensitive people are used to being far outside their comfort zone. The modern (working) world offers an enormous abundance of stimuli, which also makes life difficult for less sensitive people. But especially highly sensitive people are often confronted in their everyday life with a overstimulatedwhich is not good for them. However, they have been forced to become so accustomed to the overstimulation that they can no longer tolerate this state of chronic fatigue often perceive as normal for themselves and pass over the signs and symptoms.

It is typical for many highly sensitive people to throw themselves into more obligations or even pleasures than they can handle (I know this all too well from myself). But too much rest or excessive withdrawal is also no solution, because too little stimulation also leads to physical and mental indisposition.

Signs of underexcitation

  • Boredom
  • Restlessness
  • Inertia
  • excessive hunger
  • too much sleep
  • Behavior like a tormentor
  • Daydreaming immersion
  • Dissatisfaction with oneself and life

Highly sensitive people actually need a different pace in many situationsto adequately process the stimuli flowing at them by being able to think about what is happening. However, this possibility does not exist in most situations in our everyday lives. Especially at work, it is often particularly difficult to find a suitable way of dealing with the excess of stimuli and demands.

Sources of overstimulation

  • High intensity (e.g. bright light)
  • Duration (e.g. intensive concentration for weeks, alarm system wailing for hours)
  • Complexity (e.g. selection of many options)
  • novelty (e.g. moving house, meeting someone)
  • Suddenness (e.g. something falls down)
  • From within the body (hunger, muscle tension)
  • Social situations (e.g., being watched, praised, criticized, loved, or pressured).


The last point is the most intense form of stimulus stimulation: we are designed as social beings in such a way that a Most of the brain activity devoted to the interpretation of social signals is: Perceiving details in facial expressions, posture and voice and interpreting the possible meaning of the vocal expression is particularly intense for highly sensitive people, as they perceive more details than other people.

There is no point in getting angry about it, as there is nothing we can do about it, nor is it purposeful to ignore these perceived details, as I have done for a long time.

Five steps to your energy balance

Highly sensitive people (even the extroverted and adventurous ones) absolutely need sufficient breaks and restThe nervous excitement can subside again and energy can be recharged. For this it is important to sharpen self-awareness and to develop a mindful approach to natural needs: What do I need in which situation? What is good for me? Time alone, creative activities, Meditation or Relaxation exercises are some ways to give yourself the gift of time.

Highly sensitive people have a very good sense of their inner sensitivities and needs. However, many have never learned to make decisions according to their inner sensitivities, but according to what is expected of them - often in a context of people with a lower sensitivity. Highly sensitive people may learn to trust themselves and thus give priority to their natural needs. Then they can feel and develop the power of their sensitivity.

Step 1: Mindful self-awareness: recognizing overstimulation

This step is the first and most important on the way to a mindful approach to yourself. Strengthen your self-perceptionby observing yourself in your everyday life:

  • In what situations do I get overexcited and how do I feel then?
  • When am I underexcited and how do I feel then?
  • In what situations am I in my comfort zone and how do I feel then?

Take notes on each of these and then reflect on your own personal Warning Signalsby which you can tell that overexcitement is imminent.

Step 2: Take your own needs seriously

So that you can take good care of yourself and spend more time in your optimum excitation level it is important to look at your natural needs and give them the priorities they deserve. Dare to use your natural needs as the standard for making decisions. Orient yourself to yourself and not to others.

Get in touch with your needs:

  • What are you longing for?
  • What's good for you?
  • How can you take good care of yourself?
  • If anything were possible, what would you like to do?

You're worth taking care of. You may say no and trust in yourself.

Step 3: Identify energy thieves and energy sources

Reflect on your energy balance and your Self-careby finding out more about your energy thieves and energy sources.

  • What situations, activities, relationships and places drain your energy?
  • What situations, activities, relationships and places give you energy?

Step 4: Keep an eye on energy levels

Self-care means being mindful of yourself and your energy. Only if you take good care of yourself and keep an eye on your energy level, you can be there for others. Use your inner energy barometer as a scale for your planning and life design.

  • What costs you how much energy?
  • When is it time to retreat and relax?
  • How much time do you spend alone? How much with others?
  • In which situations do you go beyond your limits?
  • How much energy do you give to others and how much do you keep to yourself?

Step 5: Consciously plan energy filling stations

Think about how you can spend more time in your comfort zone. Your personal warning signals will tell you that you are off-center. Take yourself and these signals seriously. Your needs are the access to your well-being area. Now you "only" have to make the decision to consciously make sure that you spend as much time as possible in this area.

  • Plan your everyday life consciously so that you stay in your energy balance: How much time do you need for yourself alone? After which days do you need to relax because there are many energy thieves at work?
  • Keep an eye on your energy levelConsider in your weekly planning shorter and longer moments in which you can recharge your energy and find inner peace.
  • Over the course of the week, consciously experience your sources of energy. Even if it is only for a short moment. Enjoy and notice how you charge up.
  • Think about how you can remind yourself to refuel regularly. Maybe with a reminder in your mobile phone or with a symbol.

This article is a guest contribution from Henrike Heier.


I am a psychologist, holistic coach and highly sensitive myself. In my work I connect highly sensitive people with their true self. I support you in understanding your rich and intense perception and in finding a self-determined way of dealing with yourself. So that you can recognize your gift and live your potential.