It can be hard to make a choice. People who are highly sensitive, however, may experience this stress on an entirely different level. In this Verywell Mind article, Mindpath Health’s Zishan Khan, MD, offers tips to not get overwhelmed.

Decision-making can be difficult for anyone, but for people with a high level of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), or highly sensitive people (HSPs), there can be an added layer of stress.

Because HSPs’ brains are wired differently, the way they process information and come to a decision is different from people who don’t have high SPS.

They take more time making decisions and can feel overwhelmed when asked to make a particularly tough one.

Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

An HSP is someone who has a central nervous system that is sensitive to physical, social, and emotional stimuli. An HSP may startle or feel overwhelmed easily, can read people’s facial expressions well, and absorb and feel others’ emotions.

They often need quiet and relaxing atmospheres to recharge after an outing or a particularly draining experience.

Making decisions as an HSP

About 20% of the population are HSPs. HSPs tend to think about everything very deeply and have higher levels of SPS, making them more sensitive to stimuli both around and inside them.

SPS varies by individual and measures the sensitivity of the central nervous system. It affects how someone responds to physical, social, and emotional stimuli.

Research was done to study how HSPs make decisions and how it differs from the rest of the population. The results show that HSPs like to think thoroughly about a situation before coming up with a solution or decision.

HSPs performed better when they were able to make decisions using the deliberation method, where they could use their natural thought process to think through the problem and come to an ethical decision.

Why making decisions can be difficult for HSPs

Anyone can have difficulty with making decisions, but HSPs have a higher chance of struggling. HSPs not only react intensely to external stimuli, but to internal stimuli as well.

They tend to bring their own emotions and perceptions into every situation, and making decisions can take more time and effort.

Zishan Khan, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, says that HSPs tend to put more weight on decisions than others do.

As a result of using more energy to make decisions, flooding can occur in HSPs, where they feel overwhelmed by certain things others may not be bothered by.

Flooding is very similar to sensory overload, when one or more of the five senses get overstimulated.

Flooding can be emotional or mental, and overwhelming stimuli can include strong scents, loud noises, bright lights, intense emotions, and important or tough decisions.

COVID-19 affected decision-making

Decision-making is about assessing the balance between risk and reward. Our brains consider consequences, rewards, and any potential risks. We usually think through these elements quickly, but when it comes to an HSP’s brain, things may take a bit more time.

On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic made that balance between risk and reward harder to determine. Things that weren’t considered “risky” before the pandemic suddenly are, and the stakes are higher.

According to the American Psychological Association, 55% of people said that they experienced more difficulty making daily decisions since the start of the pandemic, and 54% said they experienced more difficulty with major decisions.

Tips for making decisions as an HSP

Take your time

Thinking slowly and carefully about a decision can be helpful for an HSP. A decision made in haste may lead to more regret.

Take the time to write up a list of the possible consequences, the pros and cons of a decision, or any risks involved.

If a decision has to be made in a limited amount of time, try not to pressure or rush yourself, because the stress of a deadline may make it even more difficult to come to a decision.

Know your needs and values

Self-compassion is important for HSPs, and it can be helpful to talk to yourself like you would talk to a close friend.

Sacrificing your own needs can lead to unhappiness, and balancing your needs with others’ needs is key. Try not to feel guilty for your decisions, and trust that you have thought them through and are willing to commit to them.

Remember that it’s not all-or-nothing

For an HSP, making a decision can sometimes feel like a be-all and end-all situation. The good thing is, for the most part, that isn’t true.

HSPs should try to remind themselves of that fact, advises Khan.

If you’re stuck between two choices, you can try to think of a compromise between choices or come up with a backup plan to put yourself at ease.

Talk it out

HSPs can overthink things, so it can be helpful to get another perspective.

Approach someone you trust and talk about what is making it difficult to decide on something. Talking with someone may help you see from a different point of view, and can also help you come to a decision by just discussing it out loud.

Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.

Zishan Khan, MD

Frisco, TX

Dr. Zishan Khan is board-certified in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. Dr. Khan primarily treats children, adolescents, and young adults suffering from ADHD, anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues that often keep them from reaching their full potential. He works with patients of various cultural and professional backgrounds, helping people improve their lives and conquer their struggles. He prides himself on ... Read Full Bio »

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