Changes And The Brain Of The Sensitive Person


What a year 2020 was. In whatever field you’re working in, you’ve probably experienced several major changes in your work life. These changes may seem to have a more profound impact on HSPs. It’s because of the way your brain is structured.

COVID-19 And Change

The effect of the worldwide pandemic is unprecedented. In every aspect of our lives major changes took place. When you or a loved one got ill, this probably has been a very challenging time for you. Let alone when you’ve lost someone. In this blog I want to talk to you about the changes in your work life and why these changes are so challenging to adapt to for highly sensitive people.

Whatever kind of work you do, your daily routine probably has changed. Perhaps you’re working in the hospitality industry and are not working, working less or perhaps working under different circumstances. When you’re working in healthcare you might had to work extra hours, or worked under stressful conditions. In the field of education your routine probably changed as well. In fact, most people have experienced changes that affected their working routines.


With every change, new rules, lack of socializing, HSPs need more time to process things compared to a non-HSPs. And that takes a lot of your energy. We know that the highly sensitive brain is more aware of subtle details in the environment and processes this information more deeply. When the world around you changes you’ll need time to take everything in. That is why HSP need more time to adjust to new situations. It’s the main reason why HSP like daily routines, because a steady routine provides structure to your day. When you follow your routine you don’t have to think about other options that aren’t that important, and it gives you more opportunity to think about the things that do matter to you.

At first you may feel somewhat adrift when your routines change. You’ll often feel restless and your thoughts start piling up in your head. A lot of HSP don’t understand why they feel this way. Introducing new routines can give you the peace of mind you need to deal with the outside changes.
For example; when you don’t need to commute to work anymore, you can take a walk each morning before you start your workday. When your lunchbreak isn’t what it used to be, try to create a new lunch routine. And when you’re at it, implement a moment of rest.


HSPs need more rest. In challenging times likes these you have definitely recognized this. Because your brain is busy noticing all these subtleties and processing them deeply, you become more easily overwhelmed. The best way to prevent this from happening is by taking regular microbreaks.A break will help to lower your stress hormones.

When the level of stress hormones is too high for too long a time you’ll probably start to feel exhausted, have more headaches, experience muscle strains, indigestion, infections etcetera. It is your body’s way of communicating that it needs to rest. HSPs are known for needing more rest, but taking less. Their loyalty to their work, feeling responsible and not wanting to burden their co-workers, although incredible qualities, prevent them from taking the necessary breaks. So they go on. And on.


The highly sensitive brain reflects on past and future events more deeply. When you examine the involved brain area (the Default Mode Network) of HSP, you’ll notice that it shows more activity. This last year the worrying-circuit in your brain probably made a lot of overtime.

When things change the brain of HSP is producing images about what might happen next. What if this is the new reality? What will happen to the sector I work in? What are the consequences for the people working there and for the customers or clients? What will happen if people lose their income? What will become of …. This ongoing association of thoughts steals away a lot of your energy. Which makes rest even more important. And it affects your emotional well-being as well.

Intense emotions

We’ve all been feeling more stressed and anxious than we normally do, but for HSPs these feelings have been more intense than ever. Partly because of what we’re feeling ourselves and also because of what we’re taking on from others.

One important aspect of the highly sensitive brain is that it’s very good in tuning in at the feelings of others. The empathy brain areas are activated more strongly. Research shows that in identical situations an HSP will feel their emotions more strongly than others. Not only the negative ones, but also the positive feelings.

In a time when people’s lives are turned upside down, emotions may overwhelm you on a daily basis. If you’ve experienced this as well, please know that you’re not alone. HSPs worldwide are feeling shaken up. Don’t suppress your emotions. At least not for too long. It will only increase your stress hormones. Instead see these emotions for what they are: signs that there’s something going on in your life that needs your attention.

Research shows that emotions tell us what we deem important and they magnify the situation we’re in. That information is used in our decision-making. Both in the contents of our thoughts, in the depth of processing and in the link to our unconscious goals. It turns out that the more intense our emotions are, the more motivation we have to achieve those unconscious goals. Thus, emotions play a role in our judgment and decision-making. We’d better use the gift of feeling this much. Emotions are there for a reaso

In Summary, Tips You Can Use

Whatever you have experienced this last year, you’ve probably felt the impact of the pandemic in several ways. You might have experienced more stress and very intense emotions. Your experience is amplified by the way your HSP brain operates. Your brain needs more energy to deal with this new situation. So take your time to rest and, be gentle with yourself.
Self care is no luxury, rather a prerequisite in these turbulent times. Here are my top tips:

  1. Make room for uncomfortable emotions ~ find a safe outlet
  2. Stop obsessive thinking ~ write your thoughts down so you can let them go or find activities to clear your mind
  3. Don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders ~ learn to discern what is inside your circle of influence and what is not
  4. Create (new) routines ~ when your regular daily schedule is disrupted, create a new one. Simple things like a daily walk, a set time for breakfast/lunch or a weekly games night will help to regain grip on your life and ease the stress
  5. Find meaning ~ HSPs like to do things that mean something, to society or their family and friends. Remember that the small things, like being a good listener or caretaker or volunteering, are equally meaningful
  6. Relax ~ HSPs need more rest. Plan extra relaxing activities to help lower your stress hormones. Taking a nap or staring out the window also qualify as an activity
  7. Exercise ~ it does wonders for your body and mind. There’s no need to become an Olympic athlete, short daily moments like walking, cycling, etc will keep your blood pumping and muscles moving.

Image: Gemma That’s Her Business – Unsplash


About Esther Bergsma

Esther Bergsma, MA, is a frequent speaker on High Sensitivity in the Netherlands. She is an author, trainer, scientific researcher and expert on High Sensitivity. She wrote three books on the subject. Her book about the brain of the Highly Sensitive Person is now available in English. Check it out here. Esther wants to create awareness about the trait from a more scientific angle. She speaks for medical professionals, psychologist, teachers and managers. Last year, she conducted international research to gain awareness on the trait of High Sensitivity in the workplace. 5500 Highly Sensitive Persons from over 20 countries participated and the results are as important for HSP as for employers. Connect with Esther through her website which she created as a place for HSPs to meet, learn and share. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram. Check out her research here.

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