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  • Ruth

Navigating the small business world as a highly sensitive person

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

This past month I finally got my tax in order. I did an audit of my stock. I took a big look at my pricing structure and had a bit of a cry. I changed things up. I spent $299 on an online course (worth it!). I asked for help, drafted a social media strategy and planned for Christmas. I pulled up my boss socks and got it done.

I’m telling you this stuff because working on my business rather than just working in it has been a big challenge for me in 2020. I think I’ve done more ‘boss things’ over the past month than I’ve felt able to this entire year. And I think it has something to do with being a highly sensitive person (HSP).

You may have heard of HSPs. It is believed that 15-20% of people are highly sensitive. HSPs are hypersensitive to external stimuli, feeling everything more intensely. If you’re also highly sensitive, you know that being this way means we have a rich inner life, we are highly creative and are sensitive to other people’s moods. It can also be challenging because we can become too emotionally and physically stimulated. We’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed, are highly sensitive to criticism and are more likely to be troubled by tension and violence than other people. We’re also more prone to mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

I used to hate this part of who I am. For years I tried to get rid of my sensitivity, doing my best to push it down, numb it out, or logic it away. But I’m done with that. I am a creative, intuitive and gentle cry-baby who has more feelings than clothes in my wardrobe, and that’s okay.

It often takes HSPs longer to process things. It’s not because we’re slow, it’s just that we’ve got more GBs of data to get through. We pick up on more things – moods, senses, external stimuli – so it’s going to take us longer to work it out in our minds. The good news is that when we do manage to sift through, process and store all of that data, the information we take away is going to be rich and deep. Our reactions to this new information are also probably going to be more thought-through than someone who isn’t highly sensitive.

Full disclosure: I’m also an empath, which takes the HSP experience further and means that I am prone to picking up on, physically feeling and internalising other people’s ~vibes~. Ouch! Sometimes, I can mix up the HSP and empath experience, but for this post, I’ll do my best to talk about HSP.

This year, my personal life and my health have seen many changes and challenges. Add a global pandemic, a small business and some part-time study on top, and suddenly, business decisions gave me overwhelm. I think it’s taken me nine months to process all of the weird changes in my life, but now that I’m *there*, I feel able to be there for my business. It was like I woke up one day to realise that I’d cleared my internal inbox and I could finally start to work on the things I wanted to. Sweet relief!

But what does this have to do with navigating small business as a highly sensitive person? Here’s how I’ve been trying to work with my HSP brain:

1. Feel your feelings. When you lean into your feelings instead of running away from them, you can start to move through them. Feeling things takes courage, but when you feel ready, don’t be afraid to get vulnerable and work it out. A daily journaling practise has helped me bring up some stuff my subconscious has been artfully hiding from me. 

2. Make hay. When the sun is shining, when you’re feeling driven, competent and creative, get in there and get it done! Tackle that bookkeeping, make the scary phone call you’ve been putting off, assess your long-term goals and plan for the future.

3. When you’re not in your ‘making hay’ season, work on the task that excites you the most. Being a person in small business, you probably have a bit more flexibility to focus on the tasks that are calling to you, rather than running through your task list from A-Z. For me, when I focus on what’s got my attention (or what ‘feels right’ at the time), I am often hyper-productive. Conversely, when I’m pushing or forcing myself to do the task that I don’t feel ready to do, it’s going to take a lot more time and effort for me to accomplish it. 

4. Have a pause strategy. If you’re feeling HSP overwhelm, don’t beat yourself up. Permit yourself to take a break. For me, this looks like:

· Setting a timer and doing all I can to tie up any loose ends in my business in that allotted time. The length of time I dedicate to this depends on the work I need to get done, as well as my current energy levels. When the timer runs out, it's tools down for the next few hours/days.

· Sending an email to my clients to let them know I’ll be uncontactable for an X amount of time. I now have a stock email that I can fill the blanks in and send to a bunch of people without too much fuss.

· Telling my friends that I love them, but I won’t be able to make it to X event.

· Sleeping for as long as I feel my body needs.

· Making a conscious effort to eat foods that makes my body feel good. For me, I find it best to eat a mix of nourishing meals and comfort food. Green smoothies and chocolate, anyone?

· Getting into nature. Usually, it’s a walk up a bush track or along the beach.

I might need to pause just for one day, or it might be a week. I used to give myself a hard time for needing periods of rest, but I know that if I don’t stop, my health is going to suffer. Also, think about all those people who don’t run a small business. They can still take mental health days. And like magic, they also get 4 weeks of holidays each year. You’re not weak for needing time off. Everyone needs time off, especially sensitive people.

Navigating the small business world might look a bit different for HSPs. The more we understand how we’re wired, the better we’re able to make the most of our unique brains, instead of working against them.


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