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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Navigating Hypersensitivity When We Travel

I had lunch with a good friend over the weekend. She's the kind of friend with whom you can talk about everything and anything. We've been friends for nearly 20 years and have been through the good, the bad, and the ugliest of uglies. She gets me and I get her. 

Our hours of conversation spanned from family catch-ups to the future of education and employment, automation and the global economy to personal idiosyncrasies. 

When you're feeling awry, it's easy to feel like you're the only person in the world that feels that way. You start to wonder if it's normal to think or feel or react in a certain way. 

My friend has two little boys, very different from one another as siblings often are. Interestingly, we discovered that the older of the two, her 6 year old, is indeed, my "spirit animal."  I exhibit many of the same peculiarities in behavior and reaction to stimuli that her little guy does. We both are highly sensitive in areas that others never consider. 

As our conversation continued, we each found clarity as I was able to explain the why of some of her son's reactions and behaviors and I received validation as to why I may have similar reactions to various sensory-based stimuli. While our reactions may not be normal to others, to us, they're normal in how we navigate life. 

Travel can be challenging when you're sensitive. Exposure to poverty or the different cultural norms related to animals, for example, can be difficult for sensitive travelers to process. Sensitive travelers may internalize images, sounds, and smells on a deep enough level to create both a physical and emotional response that can last a lifetime.

For me, I enjoy traveling to places that push me outside my comfort zone, where I can talk to people and listen to their music, eat their food, and use their public transportation. I like living like a local and immersing myself in wherever I go because I appreciate travel as personal development and not only for tourist fun (though there is a time for that as well.)

When I'm feeling anxious, I know how to retreat and recharge; the same is true when I travel. When that happens, I often head outside, taking in the landscape and noticing the architecture that makes a place unique. I may decline certain activities in favor of quiet time one afternoon or explore independently on my own schedule, apart from others. 

If there are cultural differences that are outside my norm related to poverty, the environment, or the treatment of animals, for example, I know that I have the privilege to make choices based on my own circumstances and beliefs. Not everyone has the same level of privilege so I use mine to affect change in ways that make sense to me. 

Sensitive people learn how to navigate life with various strategies, like exposure and grounding. Traveling, even if you're sensitive, is worth it for me, every time. 

Are you a sensitive or highly sensitive person? What strategies do you employ for self care when traveling? 

Not sure if you are a HSP? Here's a quiz for self-assessment. 

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