Highly Sensitive People – 4 Ways To Stop Emotional Snowballing

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Highly Sensitive People   4 Ways To Stop Emotional Snowballing

Your heart pounds, you begin to tremble, your chest constricts, pain shoots through your core, your mind blurs …  and all this, simply as a response to a threat, insult or even a simple tone of voice.  Highly sensitive people frequently live life on the brink of emotional snowballing, a term I use to describe a situation where emotions get out of control, and quickly become out of proportion to the situation at hand.

Just think of a small snowball rolling down a very steep hill – it becomes larger and larger and rolls faster and faster very quickly.  Form many highly sensitive people, this emotional turbulence is a fact of life.  But why?  As Elaine Aron pointed out in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, “most of us are deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions”. In fact, you could say that most highly sensitive people are simply excellent chameleons to the emotional landscapes around them.

This can be good news if everything is peachy bliss, but many times, highly sensitive people find themselves absorbing the poisonous negativity around them.  You could say that the highly sensitive person’s problem is taking things too personally.  But it’s much more than that.  The highly sensitive person is deeply affected by any highly stimulating situation, whether physical, mental and emotional.

In a sense, you could say they feel everything at a more extreme level than the non-HSP person.  While this can make life a lot more profound for highly sensitive people, it can also make interpersonal relations very bitter indeed.

Below you will find 4 techniques I have found useful in preventing emotional snowballing.  I’m a highly sensitive person myself and hope these will help quell the tidal waves of emotion when they roll your way.

Highly Sensitive People – 4 Techniques To Stop Emotional Snowballing

Although these techniques appear to be very common-sense and obvious, remembering them and putting them into practice is easier said than done.  My hope is that they will implant a seed in your mind that you can carry away with you and remember, when the time comes to deal with any emotional strife that comes your way.

Highly Sensitive People   4 Ways To Stop Emotional Snowballing

1.  Seek out a quiet, empty spot to cool down.

As I mentioned before, highly sensitive people suffer a lot at the hands of hyper-arousing and stimulating situations.  The best thing to do when you become aware of the symptoms of emotional stress is to remove yourself from the situation.  Excuse yourself, or simply walk away from the person or people that are causing you harm and find a deserted, empty place.

I say deserted and empty because the least stimulating, the better.  You need to make time to re-cooperate and soften the violent sensations inside of you.  I find that the bathroom is usually the best place to go, especially when the lights are out and everything is muted and dim.

2.  Focus on something that made you happy today.

If nothing made you happy today, try the past week, or you could think about the best thing that ever happened to you.  I find that focusing on something positive helps break the cycle of negative emotions that begin to quickly increase inside.  It also helps remind you that life wasn’t always as painful as it seems in the present moment, and helps give you perspective.

If you have had a bad run in with a specific person in particular, you can also try thinking of the last time you enjoyed being in their company.  Did they make you laugh, did you share something nice together, were you excited to talk to them?  This works especially well with family members and close friends who have upset you.

It’s good to remember that everyone has bad days once in a while, and they aren’t necessarily angry at you – in fact, usually they aren’t.  They are simply reacting to their own bad feelings and taking it out on you.  Once again, this technique of focusing on a past positive experience works well after you’ve sought out a quiet and empty spot to re-cooperate.

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3.  Listen to, or watch something upbeat. 

The biggest mistake that I made as a highly sensitive person was to listen to melancholic, dark music when I felt emotionally strained.  Although it’s nice to feel as though others can relate to the way you feel through their music, this is not a healthy way to deal with emotional turmoil.

If you’re primarily an auditory learner like me, listening to happy music is one of the best ways to stop emotional snowballing.  Try listening to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bob McFerrin for starters!  If you’re primarily a visual learner however, the next best alternative is to watch a comedic movie that will allow you to relax and break out of the negative cycles of emotion.  Have a list of comedy movies at hands, just so you don’t loose time frantically scavenging for one.

4.  Remember that this too will pass. 

This philosophic approach to preventing emotional snowballing for the highly sensitive person, is a powerful way to transcend your emotional strife and look at life with a birds eye perspective.  Think of everything good and bad that has ever happened to you.  All of it has passed by and has been replaced with something different: the good with the bad, and the bad with the good.

Life is a constant flux, and a wax and wane of good and bad.  If everything was always good, we would find life boring and we’d take it for granted.  In this way, the bad moments in our lives can even be seen as necessary and beneficial – they provide a contrast for the good so we can appreciate it even more fully.

So just remember: when you are close to an emotional snowball, remember that this too will pass.  Like everything in your past, it will perish and be replaced with something else.

 If you have any suggestions for fellow highly sensitive people, please share them below.  As they say, sharing is caring. :)

Photo by: Davi Ozolin

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  • Lupe

    Great article. I don’t think I’d ever survive without tip #1. We HSPs definitely need our space to calm down and recenter ourselves. I realized this just today after having such a hectic day (running around doing errands then going to work,only to find out we’ve all been laid off),I felt a cacophony of emotions (sadness,bitterness,anger,all at once). After retreating to a quiet dark space (my room) for a few hours,my head is a lot clearer and my body feels a lot less fatigued.These techniques are definitely essential for HSP survival.

    • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

      I’m sad to hear the news Lupe … but happy to hear that you have good coping mechanisms to support your mental and emotional well-being. This time in your life will be hard, but it will eventually pass like everything does. My very best wishes!

      • Lupe

        Thank you Luna.

  • Carrie

    It’s comforting to know that there are other HSP out there in this world that can be quite harsh at times. This morning a customer said some hurtful things to me about my small business and I took it very personally, because I work so hard and take pride in what I do. With a few pointy words, she made me feel dreadfully inadequate. This pretty much incapacitated me for most of the day, I was irritable with my wonderful husband and am left with an awful headache as the day ends. I am sure the customer had no idea that she would have this effect on me, and most people would probably get over it quickly. Next time this happens I will try use some of your tips, thank you for putting this helpful information out there and for making me feel less alone as a HSP.

    • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

      It is my pleasure Carrie. Also remember that what people say to you, and how they behave is often a reflection of how they feel INSIDE about themselves, and so they project it onto others. It is hard to make another feel inadequate unless you feel inadequate and insecure yourself.
      Best wishes!

  • Zane

    Luna, i can strongly identify with this article!!! Thank you so much!! It’s so amazing how much we share in common! I always listen to upbeat music and watch upbeat videos. I love watching comedic videos and cartoons and TedTalks to make me feel happier. I listen to Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles on a daily basis. I sit in my room with the cool air on in solitude to relax. I always try to focus on the positive. Luna, you’re one of those rare people whom i can strongly identify with. A major life challenge of mine was identifying with my peers and i always felt a sense of alienation with my peers. Fortunately, this website, and my college experience helped me find my own niche. Some songs i listen to constantly are “The Boxer,” by Simon and Garfunkel, “With A Little Help from My Friends,” by the Beatles, “It’s all too Much,” by the Beatles, “The Sound of Silence,” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen and lots of other music. I constantly listen to “Sgt Peppers.” This article is a very accurate representation of my personality!

    • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

      Haha, I love Bohemian Rhapsody as well, I also appreciate artists from that era like Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure and Adam and the Ants. :)
      If you can strongly identify with this article, you are most definitely a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), which I personally found both enlightening, and also helped me to discover ways of soothing myself when life gets too overwhelming. Seems as though you have many of these coping mechanisms in play already, which is a good sign.

  • Anna

    I added this article to my favourites :) so I can always return to it when I am having a rough day… right now I am feeling overemotional and overwhelmed and most people probably don’t know because I am good at keeping up a front. I guess most people would tell me I am overdramatic and not understand. And I cant blame them, really.
    Anyway, I am definitely guilty of the sad music part, haha I pretty much ONLY listen to sad music, which is not always the best idea, especially if I am feeling like this.
    Oh one more question, is it normal for a HSP to sometimes feel like no one really cares about them and understands? Like, no one really understands me enough to REALLY care. Idk I just feel like that sometimes.

    • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

      It makes me happy to know that this article can be a source of comfort, that is wonderful Anna!

      Everyone, no matter who or what they are, experiences these feelings of not being truly cared for or understood in their lives. You are certainly not alone. Your sensitivity may make you dwell on these feelings more than others, which is why it’s important for you to develop solid self-love. Sol wrote this wonderful article on the topic a while ago: http://lonerwolf.com/involution-self-love/

      Thank you for sharing!

  • Marina

    hai Luna,
    I huv read ur article and attended the test. it was very much helpful. I mostly do such steps to make my mind positive. but my problm is my anger which is uncontrollable. it really hurts others. I even think abt suicide that time. what will I do? pls send me helpful suggestions.
    bye.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      Hello Marina,

      Anger usually stems from deep sadness which you haven’t yet faced or acknowledged.
      My recommendation is to spend some time in solitude, discovering what has made you sad little by little. Involution is the evolution within yourself, and there are elements of Involution which can help you get started: http://lonerwolf.com/7-paths-of-involution/
      I hope this helps.

      -Luna

  • Betty

    Besides all the other problems being an HSP creates, one is knowing that I could never be a therapist. I’d love more than anything to help people, but I know that no one could ever respect me if I’m crying too. :-\

    At the same time I wonder how much seemingly emotionless therapists could ever really understand someone’s pain. Sigh.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      Hello Betty,

      Sometimes the truth hurts and disappoints us. You could try to start an online therapy practice online where you don’t come in face-to-face contact with others – this is just an idea.

      -Luna

  • Kelly

    There are many factors that determine how being highly sensitive affects a person. If the person has been a childhood victim of emotional and/or physical abuse, that make any relationship much more difficult. That person may be consumed by feelings of inadequacy, guilt and shame, and be critical of others as well as suspicious of everyone’s motives. They may be unable to accept suggestions and unable to completely trust others–even their romantic partners. Best advice–avoid such a relationship.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      Most definitely Kelly. Highly Sensitive People tend to react in much more extreme ways, both physiologically and emotionally to stress and abuse. It is up to the HSP, like any person, to take the necessary measures to heal themselves. Sounds as though you might have got into such a relationship judging by your comment?
      -L

  • Lori

    My whole life I have been sensitive. It was really bad when I was young but I didn’t figure it out until a couple years ago when I bought the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron PHD. I have still not read the book through because it makes me so emotional I can’t stop crying. It is too real.
    I worked in a health dept. special health care services and as a section 8 housing specialist. I was so drained by negativity that last year I ended up losing my job of 22 years. I don’t think I will ever be able to hold down a job again.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      Hey Lori.

      Thank you for sharing here. I’m sorry to hear that you lost your job of 22 years, wow. For a HSP that must have been shattering. However, there is hope. Many HSPs have discovered that working in simpler, more autonomous jobs (sometimes night shifts, to avoid the daily drain), have significantly impacted on their energy and happiness levels. You may find this list helpful: http://lonerwolf.com/jobs-for-introverts/
      I wish you all the best Lori. Remember that by changing your thoughts and perspectives, you change your world.
      -L

    • Christine Oosthuizen

      @Lori,

      I remember how, after discovering the same book, I felt such relief, that I often had to put the book down and first pinch myself, that I am not imagining what I have just read. After reading the book, an overwhelming feeling of relief that I am not mad came over me.

      Aletheia Luna and Sol, thank you so much for this website!

      • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

        Thank you Christine ^_^

        -Luna

  • Bea

    Sometimes I hate being a HSP. I think I inherited it from my mother, who is in every other aspect very different from me. I don’t know how she deals with it, but for me is exhausting. Sometimes it makes me appreciate art and nature more, but in my everyday life it’s just overwhelming. I actually am a calm quiet person who likes tranquility, but everyday is an emotional rollercoaster. And for ridiculosly little things, like a smile or the lack of one. Of course is nice to get dramatically happy with a random smile, but it’s awful when you get all depressed and worried and anxious when somebody doesn’t ask how your day was, when they usually do. Minor things in the day that drag me up and down emotionally. I don’t think it shows at all, because I’m very careful to hide this emotions, but sometimes I think it’s too much. At least once a week I cry, either from joy, or sadness, but I get really emotional. I’m still wondering if it’s normal. I don’t get depressed or anything, just what this article explains, I feel every emotion like a hunderd times stronger. I have managed to appear always calm and tranquil (wich is why some people in my family have a hard time believing I am that sensitive) but I can’t seem to control them inernaly. I guess I just wanted to let this out here…

    • http://lonerwolf.com/sol Sol

      Hi Bea!

      It is beautiful to know there is people who are willing to open themselves because it really helps others in the same situation.

      From my experience and observation with HSP, it is often very difficult to get others to understand the over emotional reactions or sensitive to things that moment people don’t react to.

      To some extent, HSP is somewhat controllable in the sense that you feel the intense emotions, but they don’t grab such a strong hold over you. With Luna for example, when I notice her higher emotional center kicking in and manifesting itself, I make her aware of it. I ask her to sit down and observe these emotions rise within her, but not let herself be dragged by them. Another thing that helps is labeling them, creating a mental box where you label the boxes as “Thoughts” or “Emotions” and visualizing that feeling within you, imagining yourself placing that feeling within one of these boxes.

      This disassociation or lack of identifying yourself with them proves very helpful when you feel overwhelmed and flooded with such sensations and feelings.

      Give it a try, and let me know how this works for you :)

    • Anna

      OHMYGOSH YOU JUST DESCRIBED MY LIFE IN THIS PARAGRAPH. Literally. Wow, it is crazy how similar I am to this description! It is very good to see I am not the only one, wow. I mean usually people just tell me I over react and stuff and that I am overdramatic (which I am really not), I am rather shy and calm and quiet, like you…
      I want to hug you right now for posting this comment <3 I feel like crying a lot too, I guess from holding in so many emotions. But I have this thing where I can only cry when I am alone… Which I barely am. So sometimes I get very overwhelmed from that…
      I know exactly how you feel and it is SO SO good I am not the only one out there, Bea! HSP UNITE!!! :) Or something like that, haha!
      I honestly want to screenshot this comment! *hugs and kisses*

  • http://NA Russell

    I never knew this existed. As with all new psychological theories, I expect a lot of people will scoff at the idea of this mental characteristic, but those of us who identify with it will be glad someone is finally figuring it out! I’ve always been told I’m overly sensitive and take things too personally all the time. There are times I am left in tears at the sight of a dead animal on the side of the road. A couple of weeks ago I hit a deer. Everyone was asking if my vehicle sustained a lot of damage. This time (second time I’ve hit a deer) no damage was done, but I beat myself up for at least two days for killing an innocent animal even though there is nothing I could have done to avoid it. Emotions getting out of control, and quickly becoming out of proportion to the situation at hand? Almost every time my computer at my job freezes while it’s figuring out what it wants to do, my heart begins to pound, I begin to tremble, my chest constricts, and I just feel this pressure building inside me which sometimes results in an outburst of anger heard by several co-workers down the hall. I’m lucky enough to work at a place where people are understanding, but I’ve often feared these types of reactions were going to really hurt me in some way at some point. Either way, thank you for the article.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Luna

      Russell, I can really empathize with these emotions. Snowballing is especially hard when you live with many other people. On one hand, you don’t want to hurt them, and greatly desire to be a source of harmony, on the other, it’s hard to repress the feelings that build up inside of us. This is why I also like to exercise daily at all costs; not only does it tire me out, but it makes the lives of the people around me more serene! I hope the other suggestions above make some kind of difference in your life. Warm wishes, Luna

    • Lori

      Oh my god! I was the same way! Every time I would see a dead animal on the road I would be devastated! Especially if it was a domestic. I kept thinking this is so ridiculous.
      One day, out of the blue, I decided to say a prayer for the spirit of the animal. Now whenever I see an animal on the side of the road, I say the mantra “May you spirit find peace on the other side”. Then I imagine their spirit happily soaring away.

  • Valentina

    Nice article. I am a highly sensitive person as well. One thing I cannot control is that when my superior tells me I’ve done something wrong or that something is wrong, even if it’s not my fault, I immediatly run away and burst into tears. It takes me some time to get over it. Even if is a small matter I have always this reaction and I can’t even answer to the matter. It makes me really angry at myself, because normally I am a very strong person, except when it comes to talking to superiors and other more important people.

    • http://lonerwolf.com/ Luna

      I really feel for you Valentina, and I hope that some of these suggestions help make a small difference in your life. I had an incident at work with an older woman months ago who for no reason at all, went absolutely agro at me for the tiniest mistake. I couldn’t bear being at work for the rest of the day, and was struggling so hard to hold back tears, and put on a “normal face”. It was just so painful. Since then I’ve managed to make a lot of progress with my emotions using some of the techniques I shared. They seem so obvious, but they took such a long time for me to figure out, and put into practice! In the end, I think admitting to yourself that you hurt deeply and easily (and embracing it!) is the truest sign of strength and courage. From there, you can relinquish all the unrealistic ideals and expectations you set for yourself and nurture your vulnerabilities in a more healthy way.
      Abrazos Valentina, and best wishes