How Creative Practices Can Help You Explore Your Highly Sensitive Nervous System

So, you’ve figured out you’re a highly sensitive person…what do you do next? If you’re looking for a foothold as you explore and reshape life through the lens of sensory sensitivity, I recommend doing so with some creative practices. Don’t worry if that term sounds scary and alien. It doesn’t have to be, I promise!

I’ve worked with many highly sensitive people who wouldn’t see themselves as creative. Maybe you’re the same. Perhaps you see creativity as something for other people. If that’s the case, I’d like to politely challenge that assumption. It’ll be worth it.

Develop a creative practice as a highly sensitive person

Our Relationship With Creativity Evolves

When we were young, we naturally processed our discoveries about the world using our child-like creative spirit. We might have developed unique forms of creative expression as our subjective sense of self emerged.

But as we engage with others, we absorb and integrate stories about what we should and shouldn’t do to fit in and be safe in the social context. This gradually impacts our relationship with our creativity, sometimes all but extinguishing it, which can be especially true for highly sensitive people.

Those higher in biological sensitivity naturally invoke the “pause to check” before acting; scanning the world around, within, and between for signs of safety and signals of danger. If strong messages indicate it’s unsafe to express ourselves creatively (risking judgement, criticism, ridicule, etc.), the autonomic nervous system shapes around protection patterns to divert us away from unnecessary vulnerability. Over time we suppress our creative impulses.

This is precisely why I see creativity as a key to coming home to ourselves and exploring the world through the lens of our innate sensitivity. Creative spirit is the fuel that propels us. It’s our lens and compass for navigating the world. It helps us attune to who we are and how we see things. It can speak to us, with us, and through us.

Have You Ever…

  • Solved a problem
  • Chosen what to wear
  • Taken a detour
  • Comforted someone in a time of pain
  • Adapted to an unwanted change
  • Taken a photo
  • Booked a vacation
  • Written a letter
  • Cooked a meal
  • Given a gift
  • Spent a day on Earth as a human

Well then, you’re creative!

Or, put another way, you have the capacity for creativity in thinking about, approaching, and responding to life.

Creative practices can help us explore and embrace our sensitivity in this noisy world. This is why I love assisting people to identify and play with low-stakes creative practices to reframe their stories in light of their sensitivity.

The increasing psychologisation (and therapy speak) of everyday life in mainstream consciousness over recent years is valuable when it provides awareness and language to help us face particular challenges. But it can also hinder us, especially when it leads us to pathologise, label, and categorise everything we encounter.

Creative play practices transcend the desire to control through intellectualisation, allowing us to explore ourselves, the world, and our future desires without burning out through overthinking.

How Building a Creative Practice Can Help Highly Sensitive People

Creativity is not a one-size-fits-all thing. It’s not something you do once and be done with it. Instead, it is how we are naturally oriented to sense, process, and express things.

Attuning to creativity does not require us to start from scratch. It’s something we already do all the time without necessarily realising. So, as we reframe our understanding through the lens of sensory processing sensitivity, we can become more aware, curious, and intentional in our relationship with our innate creativity.

Sensing The World

What kinds of things do you notice? When you’re out and about? Meeting new people? What catches your attention about this place, person, or process? How might you play with it like putty in your hands?

Our creative spirit is like a flashlight that points to elements of the world around, within, and between us—inviting us to notice. The sleeve of our attention gets caught on particular thorns of information, stimulation, and sensation.

This is where we find the headwaters of creativity. The trickle at the source of the river that we want flowing through our lives.

Processing The World

The highly sensitive nervous system is constantly scanning the world for signs of safety and signals of threat. It might feel impossibly noisy because it takes in a lot of information and processes deeply. Like the soundtrack of a movie, this noise impacts how we engage with the world around us. Alertness infuses anticipation, making self-fulfilling prophesies around the limiting stories we believe about ourselves, other people, and the world more likely to seem (or come) true.

Creative practices give us access to deeper awareness and familiarity with these stories from our defensive autonomic states (sympathetic flight/fight and dorsal shutdown). Using creativity, we can gently explore these inner landscapes without falling into them. This gives us insight into the cues and triggers that tend to lead us there, and we can gently reshape the patterns and pathways around them over time. This gives us creative tools to help us return to safety and connection more quickly when a defensive autonomic reaction is no longer required.

Expressing Ourselves

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

This quote reminds us that voice is about the taste we leave in the world around us. It’s a reminder that, although words matter, the most impactful part is how safe our nervous system feels in the presence of the person saying it. The nervous system remembers even if we can’t articulate why we think a particular way. If we help someone feel safe, their nervous system won’t forget.

We might think of our creative voice as the sound we make with our life and leave in the world around us.

Creative practices shape who we are and our capacity for new possibilities and surprising responses. The creative practice isn’t about what we produce; it’s about deepening and expanding our capacity to hold ourselves, one another, and the uncertainties of life.

Combining our explorations of sensitivity with creativity and play gives us practical and concrete ways to think about life. Creative exploration changes how we see; it shows us what truly matters and gives us access to meaningful ways of holding and responding to a noisy, uncertain, and overwhelming world.

What Next?

When I first learned what it means to be a highly sensitive person, I used a creative practice to reframe my experiences through the lens of sensitivity. I talked about this in a presentation for the HSP Awakening Summit in October 2023. Watch the video here. You can download the Gentle Rebel Reframe package below.

If you’d like to explore this stuff with me and other sensitive souls, I’d love to welcome you into The Haven. Join us here.