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Spring After Winter, Why Inclusivity Matters for Highly Sensitive People

Happy Spring!


March brings a sigh of relief for me with the beginning of spring. It's a sign that longer days with more sun and higher temperatures are on their way. I have learned to appreciate the gradual increase in warm days, as it reminds me that I too can gradually work my way out of my season of rest, reflection, and coziness into my own personal spring bloom.


In March we celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day, which to me seems perfect as spring brings birth and blooms, both of which have long been associated with femininity. This year the theme for International Women's Day was "Inspire Inclusivity." After reading that, I took a moment to think about the work I do and how that applies to my clients and the answer was almost immediate. We live in a society that is not inclusive of the needs of Highly Sensitive People and it needs to be addressed.


Natural Rhythms


Sometimes I feel like as a society we forget that we are part of a larger natural order. Technology allows more people to have lifestyles that are hardly impacted by the changing seasons around us and while this is convenient, it also disconnects us from the natural signals to slow down and rest with winter so that we can be reborn with spring. We also see this disconnect on a daily basis too- no need to wait for the sun to come up to start the day, and no problem if it has gone down since your phone will let you know 24/7 when something comes up at work. So how do we know when to rest? And if there isn't rest, when do we get to have a fresh start? This is a huge part of why we are so stressed, drained, and burnt out.


Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are especially prone to and impacted by burnout. So many of my clients come to me drowning and miserable. Resentful of their jobs, coworkers, bosses, spouses and children. Exhausted and filled with shame and frustration with themselves. Struggling to keep up in this society that no longer follows seasons that include long periods of rest. It only makes sense that so many HSPs struggle with anxiety and depression. In our work together, I remind them that it is natural for our experiences and emotions to ebb and flow. We will have seasons of resilience and seasons of struggle and it's all very natural. We talk about parallels in nature and even in the female cycle since the majority of my clients are women.


Personal Challenges


I didn't discover Elaine Aron's books about being a Highly Sensitive Person until I was well into my career as a therapist. While I don't relate to every trait described, just learning that they had been researched and being highly sensitive was an actual and defined thing was extremely validating. I wasn't alone in the way I think about and feel things so deeply. I'm not the only one who gets emotional over good customer service or other "beautiful things." It suddenly made sense to me why I have always struggled with anxiety and depression, relationships, and even at jobs. We live in a world that doesn't slow down or create space for the HSPs. Those who are not highly sensitive struggle to understand why things impact us so deeply and why we need so much time for processing, rest, and recovery.


People who suffer from anxiety often have difficulty sleeping and with that can come difficulty with waking up on time in the morning. I've always struggled with time management, likely due to constantly being distracted by my rich inner world -another HSP trait. This combo made it hard for me to thrive in traditional work settings. I finally found safety getting into the world of mental health where most settings foster a sense of compassion, and being organized and on time just isn't typically valued as much as being able to listen, empower, empathize is. The new challenge was having to bear witness to and hold space for the pain and challenges of 8-20 people and their families 40 hours a week. Trying to juggle that and just being a human who has relationships, responsibilities, and a life eventually drained me. I finally left county mental health for the world of private practice last year, and after becoming a mom, also started working on implementing better boundaries in my personal life to take care of my highly sensitive burnt out self. It hasn't been easy, and the world we live in certainly hasn't supported or encouraged it. And many of my clients face the same challenges.


The Importance of Inclusivity


If we want to move in the direction of truly inspiring inclusivity for HSPs, the greater population needs to start understanding that being highly sensitive isn't a choice. It is not an official diagnosis or disability, but there is enough research about it for it to be recognized by society at large so we can work on de-stigmatizing it and supporting those who experience it. No more shaming, or trying to "toughen people up," no more statements about getting thicker skin, sucking it up, or trying harder. Instead, let's support healthy boundaries with people and with work. We can work at being mindful of what we say, embracing curiosity, and taking accountability for ourselves and checking our expectations of others. Work places can offer flexible schedules, more paid time off, and supportive working environments. Appropriate staffing would prevent unreasonable workloads, and more time could be allocated to team building, collaboration, and support.


Returning to more seasonal rhythms would be beneficial for the health of all people, not just HSPs. Allowing ourselves to rest and disconnect well before the sun goes down and when it starts to get cold would honor the natural cycles of our human bodies and allow for a fresher start each morning and spring. Providing ample sick and vacation time would prevent burnout and mitigate stress. People feel better and have more mental space to devote to making meaningful contributions to society -also known as work- when they have access to adequate resources and feel like they are part of a supportive and collaborative community. Turning down the volume on the constant and productive grind is something HSPs need and would benefit all of society. Inclusivity of this smaller group would make the world a better place.


As you stop to appreciate the warmer days and blooming flowers, I hope you remember that you can soak in such beauty thanks to the rest that came with winter. I encourage you to join me in advocating for the inclusivity of highly sensitive people, especially women. Vote appropriately, join and participate in your union, advocate for shorter work hours, reduced work loads, appropriate boundaries with work, paid maternity leave, more paid time off, and flexibility for all employees in your work place. Honor the feelings and needs of those around you and take ownership of your community. Rest and disconnect. Who knows how you might bloom.


Happy Spring.




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