Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) comes with its ups and downs. For me, when I learned that I embodied the HSP trait, everything just clicked and made sense for me. I was thankful that I finally had an explanation for why I experienced the world in the special ways that I did (and still do).
What Does Being Highly Sensitive Mean?
According to psychologist, Elaine Aron, being a highly sensitive person is an innate trait that 20% of the population has. This trait is something some of us are born with, not something we learned!
Those of us who are HSPs have a greater awareness of subtleties and process information very deeply. We are highly sensitive to sensory stimuli. While this may sound really beneficial (and it is!), it also tends to leave us prone to stress and feelings of overwhelm.
Research has proven that the brain of a highly sensitive person differs from that of non-HSPs. Not only does our brain differ, but our nervous systems tend to be overly excitable causing us to have high emotional reactivity and a low tolerance of sensory stimuli.
I Can Relate
We tend to have heightened awareness of our inner emotional states and bodily sensations (oh so true!), which often causes us to be super sensitive to pain, hunger, and caffeine.
I am very intolerant to caffeine. Even the slightest little bit gets my body buzzing and I feel like I have ingested amphetamines. I shake, tremble, sometimes sweat, and simply HATE how it makes me feel.
What stinks is that I LOVE chocolate (a form of caffeine), so this is a tough one for me. Moderation is key and I have to ask myself, “Is the temporary love for the taste worth the after effects it will leave me with?”
Likewise, when I feel even the slightest bit hungry, I cannot concentrate on anything else. My husband has seen my mood drastically change after I haven’t eaten in a while. I am all-consumed with the sensation of hunger if I don’t do something about it. I literally cannot focus on anything else.
And pain, I can attest to this sensitivity. I feel everything in my body. EVERYTHING. While most people take pain medication without blinking an eye, I have to stop and pause to consider the ramifications of taking medication. Why?
My body’s nervous system is SO sensitive that most medications create adverse side effects in my body. Sometimes the side effects are worse than the presenting symptom!
Having experienced this one too many times, I have learned that my body prefers holistic healing methods so much more! They seem to be gentler on my system and leave me feeling better in the long run.
So perhaps you’ve wondered if you are a highly sensitive person. Or maybe you have a child who displays HSP characteristics? Maybe you are a boss or co-worker with a highly sensitive person in the workplace. Knowing the signs of this personality trait can be really helpful in meeting their needs and respecting who they were born to be.
Signs that You Might be Highly Sensitive
1. You’re exhausted from absorbing others emotions.
This is my daily existence. I am constantly absorbing even the most subtle energy changes and emotional “output” of others to the point of exhaustion. It’s quite commonplace for a highly sensitive person to enter a room of people and immediately sense the energy and moods present. If we are not careful, we can take on those other emotions and get overwhelmed and exhausted.
2. You dislike loud noises.
You might be thinking, doesn’t everyone hate loud noises? The answer is, NOPE. Highly sensitive people tend to startle at loud noises causing their nervous systems to go into a tizzy. Likewise, what might not be loud to the average person is usually too loud for highly sensitive people.
Last year, for my bachelorette party, I went to a dance club with my girlfriends. I love dancing, but I hate loud music. After about 20 minutes of being there, I had enough and wanted to leave.
I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer since my friends were having so much fun, so I stayed longer. Big mistake!
By the time we left, my entire body was vibrating. Literally, vibrating. My nervous system was shot. When it was time to sleep that night, my body was so overstimulated, I couldn’t sleep.
I ended up getting physically sick (shaking, intestinal distress, headache, etc.). I didn’t honor my highly sensitive trait by going to that loud club.
3. Hearing, seeing, or learning about something violent or cruel is very bothersome.
I don’t know a single highly sensitive person who chooses to watch the nightly news or gory movies. Why? Most of the content is negative, sad, and depressing. HSPs have a very hard time processing this type of content without feeling the intense emotions around it or even getting physically ill.
4. You avoid conflict at all costs.
HSPs tend to avoid situations where conflict is involved because we feel the tension and heightened emotions very deeply. In more cases than not, highly sensitive people become “pleasers” or “passive pleasers” as a way to avoid conflict. Passive pleasers simply means that we stay quiet as a way not to conjure up conflict.
5. You feel misunderstood.
Because most of the world is made up of non-HSPs, it’s easy for us to be misunderstood or mislabeled. We might be called “shy”, “anxious”, “aloof” or even “snobby” because of our nature.
While many HSPs are introverts, about 30% of us are extroverts. Nonetheless, each HSPs requires a great amount of downtime, “me” time, and personal inner reflection time, which is often misunderstood.
Sadly, while HSPs retreat to find time to recharge and discharge energy, we often are labeled anti-social while we are pursuing self-care.
6. You have a vibrant inner life.
Our inner worlds are rich and very active due to our deep processing abilities. HSPs tend to have very realistic dreams and HSP children tend to engage in imaginative play, daydreaming, and sometimes attach to imaginary friends.
7. You probably don’t like deadlines.
Most highly sensitive people prefer to have flexible schedules with very few time pressures. Time pressure = stress for HSPs.
As a student, I hated timed tests. In fact, I underperformed on those types of tasks regularly despite my knowledge. Doctors gave me the diagnosis of test anxiety. However, if you gave me a project or writing assignment with time flexibility, I excelled.
8. You think very deeply about life and just about everything.
One of the biggest characteristics of HSPs is the ability to process information deeply. You can expect a highly sensitive person to reflect on their daily lives and everything around them routinely. Journaling and meditation are great tools for the highly sensitive person to use in this process.
Unfortunately, HSPs can be prone to anxiety because we tend to overplay events and dialogues in our minds.
9. You thrive on predictability.
Familiarity is far less stressful to a highly sensitive person because routine tasks lack stimulation. In general, there is less change which is preferred. While highly sensitive people can handle change, they do best having enough time to prepare for the change.
10. You are sensitive to stimulants.
Um, YES, me me me! Highly sensitive people already have nervous systems turned way up, so stimulants are simply TOO MUCH for our bodies to handle. Likewise, while alcohol is considered a depressant, most HSPs have very low alcohol tolerance. I, personally, have NO tolerance for it.
11. You’re aware of your blood sugar levels.
Most HSPs are keenly aware of when their blood sugar levels drop. We get hungry very intensely (some get “hangry”) and need to balance our sugars before our body starts in a downward spiral.
12. Beauty moves you.
Highly sensitive people are known to be emotionally reactive to stimuli, and this includes beauty. Whether it’s a piece of music, art, a tasty meal, a certain aroma, or sentiment, you are likely to be very moved by it. Many times, a HSP is confused why others don’t seem to be as moved by beauty as they are.
13. You’re highly perceptive.
While not all HSPs are empaths, many are! Because you notice what many others miss, others often see you as perceptive and insightful. One of your greatest gifts to the world is your wisdom and compassion.
14. Your environment can make you or break you.
Environmental stimuli can either be very joyful and peaceful to a highly sensitive person or it can be highly irritating. For instance, spending time in a crowded space or near something that has a strong aroma can be very challenging for a HSP. Whereas, spending time in a lowly-lit room with soothing music can enhance a highly sensitive person’s experience.
Traveling, while fun and exciting, can be challenging for highly sensitive people because it often comes with a lot of new stimuli. At times, our senses get overloaded and we react with exhaustion or physical symptoms. It’s important for HSPs to be given plenty of time to “recharge” in a quiet space without additional stimulation.
15. You’re curious.
You’ll often find highly sensitive people questioning life and seeking answers. Many HSPs are creative in their thinking and care to look outside of the box. They often have powerful intuition and perception which leads them to seek deeper meaning in things.
This is absolutely how I approach life. I use my intuition and perception to guide me, but I often feel under stimulated in mundane conversations because I’m hoping to dive deeper. I love finding out the “why” to questions in my mind.
Being a counselor has been a great career for me because it has allowed me to ask those deeper questions, use my intuition and perception, and heighten others’ awareness as a result.
16. You need your own space.
Highly sensitive people desperately need a lot of alone time to recharge and re-balance after being out in the world with others’ energies. Both introverted and extroverted HSPs will attest to needing that time and space to be by themselves (introverts a lot more!).
In this space, it is wise for the HSP to reduce or eliminate any extra stimuli and find a soothing self-care routine to engage in. This might simply mean laying down in a dark room, or it might be finding soothing music and lighting to calm your senses.
For me, my go to relaxation and rebalancing space is in a warm shower. Usually I turn the lights off or light one or two candles and I just let the water wash over me. This helps me “cleanse” energies away and rebalance my body.
So now that you know more about being Highly Sensitive, what can you do about it? How can you embrace all of those special qualities in yourself or how can you support someone you know who might be highly sensitive?
Making the Most of Your Sensitivity
- Reduce the amount of stimuli in your environment.
- Use your creativity: write, dance, draw, paint, etc.
- Embrace who you are! Loving your sensitivity and all of the gifts you possess allows you to thrive in this world.
- Limit the number of tasks you take on at any given time.
- Consider journaling, meditating, or speaking to a counselor to get your deep thoughts out.
- Be aware of your own bodily sensations and take action if you feel like you’re reaching a state of overwhelm, anxiety, or burn out.
- Share your disposition with others. The more you can educate others, the easier your time will be to do the things you need for yourself.
- Set up a soothing self-care routine to help you recharge and discharge energy.
- Plan ahead of time, if possible, for travels, events, and work. Predictability = less stress.
- Set boundaries for yourself. Choose relationships that help you feel good and supported. Distance yourself from anything that feels “overwhelming, toxic, or draining.”
So there you have it! The life of a highly sensitive person in a nutshell! To learn more about the wonderful world of highly sensitive people, I would recommend you check out Elaine Aron’s book: “The Highly Sensitive Person” and Julie BJelland’s ebook: The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person.
This book offers clinical research and background on this personality trait and it also has a quiz you can take to see if perhaps you, too, are a highly sensitive person!
I hope you enjoyed today’s post about being HSP. Since learning this about myself, I have a better understanding of myself and the world around me.
So much was put into perspective about how my body was experiencing the world and how it reacted in turn. I’m so thankful to have this insight and I hope this becomes a great resource for you as well!