Could your social media profile read, ‘Feel tired often, reluctant to spend time with a lot of people and startled by loud noises but great memory, an appreciation for beautiful things, and seemingly unbounded empathy’?
If your answer is yes, you could be a Highly Sensitive Person (and yeah, you can go ahead and paste that on your bio).
Thankfully, you can enjoy all the good bits of being highly sensitive— while learning to manage the more inconvenient ones. All you have to do is learn to trust and accept yourself and meet your needs with a few simple tools.
One of those tools is (you guessed it) reflexology: an ancient Chinese medicine technique that uses self-massage (or, you know, regular massage) to shift energy, recharge, and heal your relationship to your body.
What is a sensitive person?
Before getting into Reflexology, let’s assess what exactly is a sensitive person? Let’s start by clarifying— all humans are sensitive. We are all aware, we all perceive what’s going on around us and we are, indeed, all affected by it.
So what defines a sensitive person? As you might guess, it is a matter of degree. If you find yourself reacting to your environment, your inner world, and other people more strongly than everyone you know, you might realise something’s going on.
There’s a good chance you are a highly sensitive person (HSP). No worries— it’s an entirely normal trait that makes you experience more acute, noticeable physical and mental responses to stimuli than other people.
Researchers think HSP (or sensory processing sensitivity) is determined by your genes and is not a disorder. The estimated percentage of HSP is about 15% to 20% of all humans.
But what are the key traits of the highly sensitive person? Check them out— does this sound like you?
- Your brain does a lot more processing of every detail around you than the average person, which can leave you feeling overstimulated and exhausted. This is what causes you to get so tired so fast when you’re in a crowd or a charged environment.
- Your mind has a greater depth of processing— your physical brain gets all fired up when receiving information (more than the average person, when presented with the same information), leading to more energy spent and forming a repetitive loop (processing the same information over and over). Results: on the downside, you get easily overwhelmed; but the advantages can include better memory and artistic instinct.
- Your senses pick up on more subtle details, as your entire nervous system is always more alert. This is why you’re more aware of annoying smells, sounds, and distractions than your friends or colleagues. It’s also what allows you to perceive beauty and nuance more intimately.
- You are emotionally reactive or have unusually high levels of empathy. We’ve stated that your nervous system perceives everything in depth— this leads to a more pronounced swing in your emotions according to the negative or positive stimuli you’re getting from your surroundings.
This is why a lot of HSPs are also empaths: you register the slightest hints of emotion in the people around you, internalise them, and react to them as your own. All happens in one fell swoop, so you might not be able to tell the phases apart.
Bonus: you’re insightful, good at helping and listening to people, and can form deep connections. Negatives: absorbing that many emotions tires you out, you need more downtime than others, and conflict upsets you oh-so-much.
What the sensitive person needs.
Because of the extreme levels of stimulation your brain is getting from your surroundings and your interactions with people, you, a highly sensitive person, are exhausted.
The worst bit? Because our society is built for the majority (aka the non-sensitives), you might feel like you stick out like a sore thumb. You might even blame yourself for not living to what you’ve internalised as the ‘normal’ standard (‘Bailing out on a party again?’, ‘I really should be doing more for this cause’, ‘I should be able to do everything my friend does’, etc.).
But the truth is— nothing’s wrong with you. This is the way your DNA made you. For the highly sensitive person, self-love and self-care simply mean accepting you have different needs sometimes:
- Space and time to wind down and practice living at a slower pace.
- A way to calm down your overactive nervous system, feel at home in your body, and take good care of your physical container.
- A nurturing connection with nature.
- People who understand your pace and needs are different and are willing to work around that to protect you and spend time with you.
What is Reflexology? The basics.
Reflexology is the practice of working to heal one area of the body through massaging (or simply applying pressure) a troublesome point in a different area.
Reflexology is based on an ancient principle of Chinese medicine, the flow of qi or energy throughout channels in the body, connecting different (apparently unrelated) organs and tissues. This energy is also related to your mental health, your mood, and your emotions.
For example, if you are stressed (because of, say, a conflict situation or a crowded space), your energy channels become blocked and imbalances develop in your body. Then you end up feeling tired and maybe even get ill from the exhaustion of your systems.
Reflexology acts by sending energy from the pressure point, through the body’s channels, until it reaches the areas of blockage and shifts the imbalance. Ultimately, reflexology restores the energy flow in all your body and mind.
It boosts your mood and minimizes the stress and anxiety you accumulate through the day.
So why is reflexology so good for highly sensitive people?
- By practising reflexology on yourself every day, you create a ritual safe space to calm down and sift through your sensations and emotions— then you can separate your own energy from all the other energy you collected through the day.
- As a practice that reconnects mind, body, and energy, reflexology gets you back in your body after exhaustion that causes dissociation (feeling disconnected or out of your body).
- It reduces anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the part responsible for relaxing your fight-or-flight mode) and lowering bad stress hormones.
4 Reflexology techniques for highly sensitive people.
So far, so good— but where do you start? The three key areas for reflexology are feet, hands, and ears. Here you can find the pressure points that are linked through energy channels to all other areas of your body.
If you want to work to clear the energy in any particular area, you can explore one of the many available complex reference charts (check out this one by the UK Association of Reflexologists).
But if you want to ease the flow of energy, get rid of stagnancy, and bring balance back into your highly sensitive life, you’re still well off working in a generalized way. Remember to trust the truth of your own feelings and sensations— they’re your greatest gift!
1. Earthing and grounding.
Get in touch with nature and balance your energy at the same time by simply taking off your shoes and going outside. Why: the Earth is charged with restorative, negatively charged free electrons that can pass into your body and balance out your charge if you walk barefoot on soil or grass.
First, check the area is safe and free of any debris. Then, set your shoes aside and take a few deep breaths, clearing your mind from the worries and repetitive thoughts that are clouding it. Take some steps on the earth focusing on the sensations in the soles of your feet. Observe the feeling of your body’s weight shifting as you walk.
Continue to breathe deeply and do this for 10 minutes. Finish by sitting peacefully and massaging the foot areas that call to you with some oil. You’ll feel energised, calmer, and grounded in your physical presence.
2. Play it by ear.
Before sleep or whenever you get an overload headache (all sensitives have been there!), nothing more relaxing for an overprocessing mind than a thorough ear self-massage.
When you’re winding down after a stressful day, rub a few dots of relaxing herbal oil on your fingers and thumbs, and start massaging both your ears with long, upwards strokes.
When you feel circulation heating up the area, you can work applying pressure in a few specific reflexology points: apex (the highest point of the ear) for migraine and tension relief, ear gate (right in front of the earlobe’s start) to release jaw tension and ease relaxation, and ear shemen (one centimeter below the apex) to soothe your anxieties.
Use your middle finger to apply pressure on each point from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, also focusing on taking deep inhalations that expand your belly. You might even fall asleep before you finish your practice!
3. Get some first-hand experience.
For a quick, use-as-needed reflexology technique you can perform anywhere, focus on the hands. As a sensitive, your biggest everyday problem is likely an overload that merges into agitation.
Whenever you’re stressed and feel the signs of a shut-down coming on, go for reflexology on the union valley webbing between your thumb and index finger.
Start by placing your palm down in front of you and using your other hand to apply pressure on the bottom of the webbing area (thumb of the opposite hand on top, index on the side of the palm). Massage in small circles and focus on your breath.
This is the perfect time to add an affirmation to your practice— our favourite, ‘I am safe, strong, and resilient’. Repeat this with each exhale, counting five breaths. Relax.
Remember your truth.
No matter what reflexology technique you use, remember that being a highly sensitive person is a gift, not a curse. You can practice these simple techniques in your daily life to come back to yourself and create a physical safety net that’ll always catch you. But most importantly, pay attention to your sensations and intuition— they know what healing you need today.