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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Hanna

How to Manage Feeling Overwhelmed

We all deal with stress in different ways, and how we deal is based on several factors. These include genetic predispositions, early life experiences and ongoing lifestyle behaviors.

This is actually one of my favorite topics to study and research, because our tendency in the past has been to explore groups of people and share best practices of what’s beneficial for the average or majority.

But when you really look at the data, you find that there’s always outliers who are getting missed. So while this gives us a great foundation to learn from, if we’re really going to make our practices as helpful as possible, it’s important to learn what works for us individually.

One of the areas I see this showing up most is with our differences in susceptibility or vulnerability to stress. Since I personally started struggling with severe anxiety as a young child, this has always been a focus for me. It wasn’t until I learned about research by Dr. Elaine Aron and others looking at stress sensitivity that I realized I wasn’t alone in my struggles. And that I wasn’t broken.

It turns out that 15 - 20% of people have a hardwired, genetically coded sensitivity to stress and stimulation. Dr. Elaine Aron pioneered this research, and now others, myself included, and expanding on her ideas. I share this with you because if you happen to be what Dr. Aron calls a “highly sensitive person”, you may feel overwhelmed much more often than most people. You may not even realize that your brain and your nervous system process stress and stimulation differently. And it’s important to recognize this because if you’re stress sensitive, you’ll need to pay more attention to your daily routine.

It's also important to know that there are many benefits of being highly sensitive, and they don't require you to be stress sensitive at all. In my new course, Stress Mastery for Highly Sensitive People (launching Summer, 2020), I'll be teaching the specific physical and psychological tools and techniques that will enable sensitive people to use their unique states and traits for good.

Because highly sensitive people are also life-long learners. They tend to be very creative and compassionate. And research has shown that when highly sensitive kids grow up in nurturing families where their sensitivity is seen as a strength, they do better on scores of intelligence and really thrive in all aspects of life.

The challenge is, because of our sensitivity, it we are teased or told not to be so sensitive, if we grow up in homes where there is a lot of stress or tension, or if we end up getting too wrapped up in being a perfectionist, we can really overwhelmed or exhausted. And this is where overwhelm can easily shift into feeling anxious or panicky, and if it continues for too long it can cause depression or burnout.

So, if you think you might be highly sensitive or if you’re wanting to learn more about it for someone else, please check out the additional resources on this site and plan to join us for our upcoming course (you can contact us to get on the list).

Whether you’re stress sensitive or not, it’s good to be aware of our differences so that we can really personalize strategies for dealing with overwhelm in the moment, and becoming more resilient to it over time.


LinkedIn Learning is currently offering my course "How to Manage Feeling Overwhelmed" totally free as part of a learning pathway to support the COVID-19 crisis. You can access it here now, and check out the exercise files for the specific Stress Sensitivity Resources.

Also, be sure to join one of our HSP Hump Day Happy Hour chats live on Wednesdays at 4pm pst at (Be sure to check out the Events page on FB to see updated schedule and topics).

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