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Running a Business as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)

Updated: May 1

I first heard the term highly sensitive person (HSP) from my therapist when I was justifying why I had been putting off making a doctor's appointment.

"Well, I moved to a new area, and I don't know how the drive down the mountain will be, what the doctor's office will be like (too bright/too cold), or if the staff and doctor will be kind when I visit." I told her, feeling my chest tighten as I pictured it. "And that's after I've figured out which doctor to choose, and called to make the appointment."

My therapist smiled at me over Zoom, "I think you might be a HSP."

At the time, I didn't know what an HSP was, and honestly, I was a little offended that she would label me a highly sensitive person.

I've always pushed myself to appear strong. I became a business owner at 25 and I worked my butt off to make it happen. After the call ended I stared at my desktop and exhaled.

"I'm not sensitive." I reassured myself, brushing off what I felt was a clear misdiagnosis.

I shared the conversation with my husband later and he chuckled saying, "are you sensitive about being called sensitive?"

I couldn't help but laugh because, I was. See, my family is English. Emotions and sensitivity are not something we show. Instead, we bury it deep down until it rears its head as a random outburst or health issue. That's what we do.

Thinking back on it though, it does make sense. In addition to the inherent stress that can come with running a business with several employees, I willingly chose to put myself in a role that I knew was outside of my comfort zone.

I thought I needed to be the sales person because that was what we needed.

It didn't matter that I felt drained when I talked to people on the phone, or that I felt anxious presenting to my Goldman Sachs Small Business cohort, someone had to do it. So, I forced myself to do it.

This choice paired with deciding to overwork myself every day for several years led to my burnout. I eventually got to the point where I was having daily migraines and I was exhausted.

I questioned if I should even continue in this line of work, or instead run away to Iceland to train wild ponies instead.

I knew that I'm an introvert. I also knew that I get overwhelmed by strong smells, course fabrics, bright or strobing lights and loud noises.

I enjoy creating designs, content, processes, and code. I also love organizing and problem solving when I know that I have time and I'm not rushed. These are the things that bring me joy.

As I considered it more, I decided to read the book my therapist recommended about HSPs, the Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron. Ph.D.

It only took me a couple of chapters to confirm that I seem to indeed be a highly sensitive person.

So, now that I had finally accepted that I'm a HSP, what did this mean for my role in the business moving forward?

Well, nothing had to change overnight. But, I wanted to share a few tips in case they resonate with you and your personality.

Here are my 5 tips from one HSP business owner to another:

1. Find someone whose strengths are your weaknesses

(and vice versa)

Luckily for me, my husband is now an owner of the business, and he has a different personality from me. He doesn't get anxious or drained when he talks on the phone. In fact, he's able to do back to back Zoom calls all day and he loves it!

If you don't want to add a business partner, consider if there's a key role within your business that drains you. Could this role be filled by someone who loves the tasks that come with it?

Picture how much lighter your day would feel if you didn't have to deal with that stress.

You'd probably have more energy to be creative and accomplish the things that have your unique flair to them, right?

2. Plan your week so you have time to recharge

There are a few things I do to help avoid feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by the efforts of the previous week.

First, we now only work 4 days a week, which gives us more time on the weekend for errands, chores, and most importantly, time to recharge.

Next, I've identified what activities bring me joy, and I make sure I work those into my week.

Gardening, hiking, reading, and horse back riding all help me feel balanced. As a result, I end up feeling more creative and filled with energy for the next week.

Finally, I plan ahead. If I know we're going down the mountain to see family, or we are entertaining, I plan time to take a nap, or have some me time. I know I don't operate at the same pace as others, so I stop trying to.

3. Communicate when you're feeling overstimulated

This will most likely often be a work in progress, but I'm finding that it helps to communicate when I'm starting to feel overstimulated.

If the dog's barking, the house smells strongly of something cooked recently, and my husband comes in the room to talk to me about something, I'm probably going to need to call a quick time out.

Once I step outside to change my environment, I immediately feel lighter.

I also find that the people around you who care about you are more than willing to help in those situations if they know what's going on. So, tell them!

4. Embrace the positives of being an HSP!

We've talked a lot about what could be perceived as downsides to being an HSP. But, there are tons of benefits as well!

In my experience, I find that I have a strong attention to detail and I notice things that might be missed by others.

I also find that the things that can be overstimulating to me help me easily empathize and form deeper connections with people.

The fact that we're easily moved by things (art, music, comedy, food) means we're living a rich and fulfilling life. We also enjoy reflecting about life, which is a big part of why we enjoy downtime to think and recalibrate.

5. Don't be afraid to talk about it

My go to when I'm feeling anxious, stressed, or sad is comedy. If I can make a joke about it, or point it out before someone else does, I feel lighter.

As I've entered my thirties, I find that (in addition to being more tired), I care less about what others think about me. So the idea that someone might judge me for being an HSP, or make fun of me kind of just makes me shrug.

Sitting out on the deck with my mini pig, Pickles

Instead, I'm hoping this article will resonate with even just one person. If that's you, I hope that you feel seen and understood.

I'm writing this to say that the fact that the hustle culture and trying to be the "perfect" business owner doesn't vibe with you makes sense to me.

Just because you're a business owner, it doesn't mean you have to fit into a specific mold that other people or society has set out for you.

Talk about your fears, your dreams, and your passions. Do the things that bring you joy.

Celebrate your wins and your failures because it's impressive you had the confidence to put yourself out there and try!

Create the business and the lifestyle you want and I promise you will find your people!


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