Spoon Theory and Highly Sensitive People

When you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) one of the biggest things you will notice is that you can get over-stimulated more easily than the average person.

This is for two reasons…

  1. You notice more and process information more deeply than other people.
  2. Your nervous system is more sensitive than average. (What’s moderately stimulating for the average person is highly stimulating for an HSP.) 

Stimulation can come from the outside or inside (loud noises, bright lights, lots of people talking at once vs. pain, muscle tension, hunger, anxious thoughts) and it wakes up the nervous system.

If you notice more than other people and you take allll that information in and deeply process it, of course, you’re going to get over-stimulated more easily! 

So do we need to live in a bubble or something?


No, not unless you’re just really into that. 😉

Everyone benefits from a moderate level of stimulation or excitement during the day….

  • Too little and it’s boring.
  • Too much and it’s overwhelming.
  • Find that Goldilocks level of stimulation though and things feel juuuust right to enjoy and get things done.

Everyone also has a shutdown point when they’ve had enough stimulation and they’re just DONE.

HSPs just hit that point sooner since they’re taking in so much more – it’s like data overload after a point.

Does that mean HSPs can’t go out and enjoy themselves? Of course not!

Here’s a common scenario though…

We go out for dinner with friends and truly enjoy ourselves. We are able to handle the four conversations going on at once at the table, the overall chatter in the room, the clanking of plates and silverware, background music etc, and not really be overly bothered.

At least not at first. We ‘put up with’ all of the stimulation on a conscious level and enjoy the evening, but all the while it’s wearing us down whether we realize it or not.

It might hit us all of a sudden and we go from having a great time to DONE and ready to be alone to decompress in a quiet place.

Introverts and HSPs both can relate to this! 

Spoon Theory

Because of this, I think HSPs could benefit from learning the “spoon theory” for managing their energy and stimulation levels, similar to people with chronic illnesses.

Please know that I don’t say this to make light of chronic illness AT ALL. Also, note that being highly sensitive is NOT an illness or a disorder.

But what I like about the spoon theory is how Christine Miserandino so eloquently explains how those with chronic illness have to manage their limited energy throughout the day by making it something very tangible and real. (A spoon = energy you expend.)

When you only have so much energy (spoons) available each day, you have to plan ahead and use your spoons wisely. You have to consider how draining an activity will be for you and the impact that will have so you don’t run out of spoons before the day is done. 

And while HSPs have more ‘spoons’ than someone with a chronic illness, I do believe we have less than the other 80% of the population that’s not highly sensitive.

We have to make sure we’re using our spoons wisely and if we find ourselves running out, we have to respect that and give ourselves time to recover. The good news is that as an HSP we can recover those spoons with proper self-care.

Here are a few tactics to handle overstimulation…

  1. Take frequent breaks throughout the day.
  2. Try to lessen the sensory overload. Put in earplugs and/or close your eyes for a bit if you’re able. Remove yourself from the situation when/if possible.
  3. Get outside for a while. Nature is healing, especially for HSPs.
  4. Water as a cure-all: Stay hydrated, soak in the tub, walk by the water.
  5. Spend enough time alone each day.
  6. Get plenty of sleep. (I can't stress this one enough!)
  7. Move your body. Literally, shake out the energy.
  8. Give yourself some grace.
  9. Deep breathing. When we're stressed we tend to breathe too shallow.
  10. Learn to set and respect your boundaries and what feels good for you.

As HSPs we benefit from a little extra care and planning. It doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be out in the world enjoying our lives. 

It just means that we need to mind our spoons more than the other 80%.


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