Are You An HSP-HSS? How To Balance Your Conflicting Needs
Could you be an HSP-HSS?
Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP) who hates repetition and is easily bored? Do you crave new experiences and even – gasp! – adventure? Do you often feel compelled to push your sensitive self way beyond your limits and then suffer the consequences?
If any of this sounds familiar, you might be a highly sensitive person who is also a high sensation seeker. Or HSP-HSS for short.
What Is An HSP-HSS?
High sensation seeking is a personality trait – just like high sensitivity – but it’s kind of its opposite.
According to Tracy M. Cooper, Ph.D., author of Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, sensation seeking “can be thought of as a greater willingness (and openness) to approach new stimuli and new situations.” According to Cooper, high sensation seeking manifests itself in four ways:
- Thrill and adventure seeking – think physical thrills, like snowboarding or roller coaster rides.
- Experience or novelty seeking – traveling, trying new restaurants and the like.
- Disinhibition – being open to breaking social conventions and getting a little wild. 😉
- Boredom susceptibility – easily getting into an understimulated state.
And as crazy as it may sound, a person can be BOTH highly sensitive and high sensation seeking. As a matter of fact, Cooper points out that about a third of HSPs are also HSS.
If you are wondering whether you could be an HSP-HSS, you can take a test here.
My Personal Experience As An HSP-HSS
Full disclosure: I actually don’t score quite high enough to qualify as an HSP-HSS according to the test. But I’m pretty sure I would have in my younger years. My favorite hobbies used to include horseback riding and downhill skiing, and at age 17, I left my native Finland to spend a year overseas as a foreign exchange student. And to top it all off, I didn’t always make the safest of choices when it came to entertaining myself. 😉
I have mellowed a bunch since those days though and apparently that’s not uncommon for sensation seekers. According to Cooper, “sensation seeking tends to peak early in life then taper off as we age, except for the boredom susceptibility, which remains fairly constant throughout life.”
And that matches my experience to a tee. At age 43, I consider roller coaster rides to be a form a voluntary torture, but geez, I still can’t stand repetition and I get bored really easily.
So here are a few ways I’ve learned to navigate these competing drives and balance my conflicting needs.
How To Balance Your Conflicting Needs As An HSP-HSS
1. Accept Both Sides Of Yourself
Our personalities can be complex and we don’t often fit in neat boxes. We can have competing preferences and conflicting needs.
And that’s okay.
You are allowed to be wired exactly the way you are. You are allowed to have one foot on the gas and the other on the brake.
You are allowed to have complicated preferences with a gazillion caveats. You are allowed to want to gallop through the woods, but only with a helmet on and with a reliable horse.
You are allowed to confuse those around you. You are allowed to want to party one day and then isolate yourself the next.
You are allowed to be whoever you are.
You are also allowed to be sad that you can’t fully be either. That you won’t ever be all-in for adventure. That you won’t ever be content with complete quiet either.
But after you are done being sad, I hope you resolve to love both sides of yourself and to make the best of it. 🙂
2. Schedule Self Care First
In order to make the best of it, you have to cater to both sides of yourself – the sensitive side and the sensation seeking side.
And through an excessive amount of trial and error (I guess I’m a slow learner 😉 ), I’ve come to the conclusion that the sensitive side needs to be taken care of first. This is because when the sensitive side collapses, everything collapses.
So self care comes first, before anything else. And by self care, I don’t mean candle-lit bubble baths, although those are nice too. I mean BASIC self care. Sleep. Exercise. Home-cooked meals made with nutritious whole foods. Time set aside for recharge and relaxation.
If you find these basics slipping off your radar, literally pencil them in your planner and make them into non-negotiable appointments with yourself. Schedule basic self care first and then schedule everything else in your life around it.
3. Schedule Stimulation But Not Back-To-Back
When it comes to taking care of your sensation seeking side, the key is to schedule stimulating activities so that you have plenty of time to recover in between.
And I wish I could give an exact formula for “plenty of time” but I can’t. This varies from person to person, and based on my own experience, it even varies over time.
One rule of thumb that I have found that works pretty well for me is to double the time. If I go out with my family for a day, then the next day needs to be a quiet day at home. If I go for a week-long vacation in a big city, then I’ll need the following week to be quiet with minimal activity.
But you may need less or you may need more. The best thing to do is to keep learning about yourself and your limits. And don’t expect it to be an entirely smooth process either! We are complex human beings living complicated lives. To avoid getting frustrated, it’s best to go into it with an expectation of slow progress and some missteps along the way.
It’s also helpful to have someone in your life who is familiar with your limits and can remind you to pace yourself. I have a tendency to get excited and try to pack too much stuff into my schedule, and my husband has learned to reign in my plans when necessary. The “you know that’s gonna make you crash” comments are annoying in the moment, but something to pay attention to anyway. 🙂
4. Prioritize Ruthlessly
But what if your sensation seeking side still feels like you are “missing out”?
Well, one thing I have found that helps a bunch is learning the art of prioritizing ruthlessly. Given that you must take care of your sensitive side, you only have so many hours left for sensation seeking. To avoid feeling like you are deprived, it’s best to use those hours judiciously. If you can’t do everything, what do you want to do the MOST?
In order to have capacity for people and activities that are MOST important to me, I have learned to drop people and activities that I only feel lukewarm about or that I actually come-to-think-of-it don’t want to do at all. I don’t entertain acquaintances. I don’t go to events I’m not super psyched about. I don’t go shopping in crowded fluorescent-lit supermarkets when I can just as easily order everything online.
In other words, I don’t waste my stimulation quota on things that are not meaningful to me.
5. Indulge In Quiet Novelty
There are also ways to avoid boredom and satisfy your desire for novelty in quiet, non-stimulating ways. You can learn new skills. Read books. Take online courses. Pursue an art or craft. Connect with ONE quiet friend.
The idea here is to stimulate your mind without overstimulating your body.
In my own life, I now do work (this website) that gives me the mental stimulation I crave without excessive stress. But I’m also the queen of side passions that are mostly quiet and solitary in nature. I have pretty in-depth knowledge and experience in a random assortment of subjects, like long-distance running, permaculture gardening, nutrition, whole-food cooking, interior design, and zero-waste living.
You may have completely different interests, but the point I want to make is that when you let yourself indulge in whatever subjects happen to appeal to you, your main problem becomes not boredom, but finding time to do everything you love to do.
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