"Too Much": The Highly Sensitive Person's Guide to Emotional Regulation
by Olivia Benson | Thursday, Mar 31, 2022
Have you ever been told you are “too much?” What about being called overdramatic, a hothead, or a crybaby? Maybe you can’t let things go after a disagreement, feel your friend’s emotions as your own, or just cry too much during sad movies. Whatever the case might be, those characterized as ‘ highly sensitive ’ could be labeled as gifted, or as having ADHD, chronic depression, or other mental illnesses. It is essential to note that individuals who fall into this ‘high emotion’ category may be perceived negatively, but are often the biggest sources of empathy and compassion for family, friends, and coworkers. Their sensitivity means they readily perceive, respond to, and anticipate the emotional needs of others.
Despite their strengths, highly sensitive people are often dismissed as “too much,” since their emotions may inhibit the bustling of daily life. Many people—myself included—have been told their emotions and emotional behavior actively interfere with their schooling and work. It doesn’t matter how important your work is, or how motivated you are; emotions can and will get in the way of what you need to do, if left unchecked.
Emotion can be defined as a response that involves bodily arousal, expressive behaviors, and a conscious experience (Myers, 427). When experiencing an intense emotion like fear, a bodily reaction might look like a pounding heart or forehead sweating. Expressive behaviors might include hand fidgeting or a quickened pace of walking, while thoughts may range from “Is this guy following me?” to “Does this guy want to hurt or rob me?” Subsequently, experiencing such intense emotions, especially if frequent, can place highly sensitive people into a completely different category, which gives way to unique problems that impact them greatly.
Emotional regulation would seem like the obvious solution to these problems, yet many people do not know what it looks like in action, much less what it is. Even though most people already execute emotional regulation on a daily basis, highly sensitive people may struggle with it. Due to this, they might have to create a stronger, conscious effort to regulate their emotions for their own well-being.
Though there are many tools and exercises for emotional regulation, they all tend to revolve around the same ideas of identifying, understanding, and accepting emotions as they come, as well as working to better moderate them. In some cases, one must also limiti exposure to cues that cause intense emotion.
So, where does one begin? To start, regulating emotions generally involves the following:
- Accepting an emotion and acknowledging its presence
- Being aware of emotional responses and validating them
- Interpreting what the emotion is telling you
- Increasing space between the initial emotion and the reaction
The first and most important step is grounding . While regulating intense emotion and checking your reactions, it is important to stay grounded in the present moment and not slip into a panicked, ‘autopilot’ state. The most common grounding technique is where you identify:
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
By utilizing all five of the senses, this grounding technique forced you to look
outside your mind and immerse yourself in your surroundings. Choosing numerous points in your environment—especially touch—brings your focus to your physical self and surroundings, rather than the intense, often distressing emotions happening within your brain.
Once grounded, emotional regulation happens much more efficiently, especially in the later steps which require more rational thought. Interpretation of emotions is one of the most essential parts of regulation because our initial interpretation of an emotion may not always be accurate. Additionally, creating space between an emotion and its reaction or impacts may seem counterintuitive as one might associate their reactions with the actual emotion. The difference between them is that the initial emotion involves a less-conscious ‘fight or flight’ response, while a person’s reaction is a more-conscious, strategic level of thinking that uses reasoning.
Contrasting with more commonly internalized emotions like fear or sadness, anger is a huge and often outwardly expressed emotion that requires greater attention in regulation. Catharsis is the idea that releasing angry and aggressive emotions or energy can relieve aggressive urges (Myers, 443). Through fantasy or otherwise, cathartic releases may help clear some of the pent-up rage. But as many people have discovered, this can sometimes only lead to even more rage. Like with many of the other emotions, I used to struggle with anger and felt guilty for feeling it at all. Cathartic releases seemed to be the obvious solution, even though I knew deep down that it wasn’t helping me in the long run.
The true answer is always emotional regulation . Though it requires more attention and effort than merely feeling the emotion and letting it pass, it is more effective in moderating emotions as they arrive, and helping you in the future as more intense emotions come and go. Highly sensitive people are more susceptible to intense emotions that tend to make daily living a bit harder. However, with proper regulation and care, they can gain the emotional intelligence needed to not get choked by their feelings, but to pair emotions with rationality for better life choices and relationships.
Eddins, Rachel. “Emotional Regulation Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions: [7 Skills to
Practice Today].” Eddins Counseling Group, 7 October 2020,
“Emotions, Stress, and Health.” Psychology, by David G. Myers and C. Nathan DeWall,
Worth Publishers, 2018.
Lo, Imi. “Feeling Intensely: The Wounds of Being "Too Much."” Psychology Today, 4
May 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-emotional-