What Corona Taught Me About Work Life as a Highly Sensitive Person
Realizations from working during a pandemic.
I’ve always gotten very emotional over certain things and felt embarrassed about not having control over my feelings in certain situations. In a working environment, it’s always been difficult for me to receive feedback, not because I don’t believe that it’s true or that I could benefit from it, but because unwillingly I take it as a reflection of myself and my personality. Development feedback sessions at work are especially tough because no matter how minor development points are raised, they make me feel like the worst person ever and an absolute failure. I know this sounds dramatic but it’s the way I feel.
It was about a year ago that I first heard about Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) traits and I recognized myself immediately. The traits include for instance extreme sensitivity to light and loud noises, being easily overwhelmed or stressed, feeling emotions more intensely and needing a lot of down time for yourself. On the upside, according to research, HSPs tend to be more empathetic, which is a great trait to have for work and personal relationships. There are many more upsides to being an HSP but I won’t get into them now. If you’re interested to find out more, Elaine Aron who has studied HSPs since the beginning of the 90s provides lots of resources on her website.
The realization that I’m an HSP has maybe been the biggest revelation in my life. Reading more about the characteristics and personality traits, I understood that they originate from biological differences and are not abnormal, in fact around 20% of the population are HSPs. This has made me feel less ashamed of tearing up every time I had a moving thought, saw a video of a puppy being rescued on Instagram or receiving negative feedback. This blog post really helped me understand some of my personality traits as they relate to HSPs.
One trait of HSPs which I fully attest to, is being overly sensitive to other people’s feelings and easily absorbing them. This, along with being easily overwhelmed in social situations, do affect me in my day to day work life. Being employed in a large company and having multiple stakeholders does not make matters easier. I would be extremely nervous in meetings, analyzing my body language as well as others’, which often leads to not paying 100% of my attention to what the speaker was saying. In social situations, for instance grabbing coffee in a kitchen with my colleagues, I would analyze their body language and what they are saying as well as overthink what I should say to avoid embarrassment to the point where I wouldn’t say anything. This would leave me feeling like a failure and snooze with nothing clever to say.
I would regularly feel absolutely drained after work and have no energy to do anything. I could barely make the cycle home and would fall on the couch as soon as I got home, only to get up to go to bed. But since mid March when the global pandemic took a turn for the worse and everyone at my company was sent to work from home, I discovered a new side of myself.
Winning back one hour of my time in the morning not obsessing about my outfit, my hair and my makeup because of my eye for detail and need for perfection, I could concentrate on things that made me feel good. I built a solid morning routine around enjoying the first coffee in bed, meditating for 10 minutes, going for a short walk to get some fresh air and sun on my face, and finishing off with a short work out or stretch. The routine has made me feel better than ever not only physically but psychologically. My energy levels are up and I don’t feel like falling to bed directly after work. I also don’t make plans to meet friends after work every day, because let’s not forget I still need a lot of down time to myself.
Working from home and being absent from the office environment has not only boosted my confidence but more importantly, eliminated 80% of the stress and anxiety I would normally feel in the office. I do still get slightly nervous speaking up in meetings but being at home and not trying to interpret everyone’s facial expressions and body language every minute of every day helps me keep my anxiety and stress at bay. Now I also feel less pressure to be productive after work to meet people, go out to restaurants and end up feeling like a loser if I don’t, because I’m no longer physically in this environment where everyone is constantly going out to do the next cool thing. Now I only do what I really feel like doing; maybe take a walk after work, call a friend or just nothing, and I’m okay with it.
To all my fellow HSPs out there who are also struggling with stress and anxiety, I would like to leave you with this: find things that make you feel more secure and confident and try to build a daily routine around them. If, and I realize this is not possible for everyone, you can change the environment you’re working in to avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety, do it. And lastly; the world keeps moving at an extremely exhausting pace for HSPs and it will not slow down. If making plans every second of every day and posting all the cool things you do on Instagram doesn’t make you feel good but overwhelmed and anxious instead — don’t do it. What will you lose? Most likely the feeling of exhaustion after a week of forcing yourself to do things you don’t necessarily want to do at the moment. What will you gain? Probably more energy, more confidence by saying no and most importantly: feeling good in your own skin once you understand where your limits are, what makes you happy and most importantly, that you are allowed to say no and feel good about staying home.