High Environmental Sensitivity: Characteristics And Strategies

High environmental sensitivity: characteristics and strategies

Loud sounds and smells, dazzling lights, crowded places… High environmental sensitivity is a response with a high level of stress to certain social, physical and emotional stimuli present in the environment. It is a condition capable of altering our productivity and our psychic balance.

John Dewey, a well-known American pedagogist and psychologist, said that individual well-being always depends on how well we can adapt to our social context. Any alteration, small irregularity or friction, immediately generates psychic and physiological instability in us.

If we feel very hot in the house, we feel bad; so we will try to adjust the temperature to our needs. If walking down a lonely street at night we hear footsteps behind us, we feel a sense of threat; our brain will force us to react: run, keep the cell phone handy or turn around to face the situation.

However, when we talk about high environmental sensitivity, we are faced with a more specific experience. Let’s think of a context in which a group of people (for example work colleagues) is at ease, except one. This person is more sensitive than others to noises, voices, lights or that intangible element on which our emotional life rests.

What are the characteristics of high environmental sensitivity?

It is important to point out that this psychological condition falls within a spectrum. There are individuals with a marked sensitivity to environmental stimuli, others with a higher resistance threshold.

Let’s see the most common features:

  • Discomfort with bright lights, loud sounds or certain smells.
  • Excessive reaction to sudden noises such as a car braking, a slamming door, a falling glass.
  • Feeling uncomfortable in crowded environments; malaise in the presence of several contemporary stimuli (television on, people talking, children playing, telephone ringing…).
  • People who are highly sensitive to the environment are very upset when they hear bad news on the news.
  • They feel anger, sadness, disappointment when they witness or read of facts in which humanity behaves in an unfair or violent way.
  • All these emotions are manifested through psychosomatic processes: headache, fatigue, skin disorders, etc.
High environmental sensitivity - man with fatigued eyes

Strategies for managing environmental sensitivity

What can we do when environmental sensitivity becomes hypersensitivity? The solution certainly does not lie in avoiding the stimuli that produce stress ; we are unable to control everything around us. Can we, for example, lower the noise of street works, force people to stop talking or make room? No. We cannot, in a nutshell, put order in an environment characterized by overstimulation, unpredictability, anarchy.

The answer is not to be sought outside, but within us. It is we who must reduce the impact of stimuli on our mind and body.  To manage hypersensitivity, there is nothing better than working on our emotional and sensory immunity.

  • Identify the stressors and take measures (glasses or screens to protect yourself from light, earplugs if the source of stress is noise).
  • Relaxation techniques and sensory attention. For example, if being in a crowd makes you anxious, focus your gaze on a particular stationary (a roof, a window, a painting, an advertising poster …). At the same time work on your breathing.
  • Establish moments of rest throughout the day. Sometimes 5 minutes every hour is enough to relax the mind. Take a few steps, go to a place where there is silence and you can meditate for a few moments.
  • To avoid emotional contagion, attention must be shifted from the outside to the inside. Get back in touch with your emotions, raise a barrier. Avoid permeability so that nothing can upset your balance, focus on your mental state.

We are all, some more, some less, sensitive to the surrounding environment. The limit, however, lies in the ability to avoid that stimuli affect us too much.

We therefore learn to put adequate filters to this storm of stimuli that can limit our efficiency, our balance and well-being.

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