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Highly Sensitive People: How to Harness This Superpower

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Are you a highly sensitive person? Highly sensitive people are around 20%1 of the population, and 95% of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)2 experience sensory sensitivity. 

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

A highly sensitive person (HSP) has increased sensitivity3 in their central nervous system when emotional, physical, or social stimuli occur. They feel or express positive and negative emotions more intensely than their peers.

Highly sensitive people have strengths and weaknesses. Some might have incredible social skills – like being very in tune with others while also struggling with some unique social challenges.

For example, in the workplace, highly sensitive people might be bothered by the way-too-bright fluorescent lights but be able to pay very close attention to details on a big project. They might also feel more upset emotionally from negative feedback. 

And in personal relationships, highly sensitive people might be naturally compassionate and aware of others’ feelings but become overwhelmed when someone like a friend or partner talks too much. Highly sensitive people might also feel uncomfortable with physical touch or affection. 

Find Out if You’re Highly Sensitive With This Quiz

It may be easier to understand your nature by taking a highly sensitive people test. Read the following statements and see how many feel true to your personality. Checking off more than half of the questions could mean you’re an HSP.

Highly Sensitive Personality Quiz

Fun tip: If you’re curious to learn more about yourself, take our personality quiz to find your top traits in just a few minutes. It’s like this highly sensitive people test but includes questions that address various personality types.

6 Key Signs of High Sensitivity

Highly sensitive people may exhibit these personality traits. If you or someone you know experiences one or more of these, a licensed therapist could help you better identify if you’re an HSP. Here is where you can start:

HSP personality traits

__More intense emotional reactions

When an HSP encounters something that makes them happy, they might cry joyfully while others express their happiness with a smile. You might become very sad after listening to a depressing song or feel uncomfortable long after watching a gory movie.

Research shows that highly sensitive individuals have less robust connections4 in brain regions that regulate emotions, which may be one reason feelings affect HSPs more intensely.

Sometimes these reactions could cause varying social reactions. It makes bonding moments more enjoyable with your favorite people but can also make HPSs a target for people seeking a strong reaction.

When researchers intervened in grade school bullying situations, highly sensitive kids had larger decreases5 in victimization because more bullies paid attention to them before intervention.

__More compassion than others

You could also care more easily about other people than your friends or family members. Making empathetic connections and emotional ties that feel equal to those in long-term relationships indicates you are more in touch with your ability to care about others.

__More likely to worry

Anxiety is often more prevalent6 in HSPs because they respond more strongly to negative stimuli. When others react to something mildly frustrating or vaguely concerning, highly sensitive people may feel anxiety spike intensely. It can also take longer to reduce their anxiety afterward because it takes more calming stimuli to make a positive difference.

__More sensitivity to criticism

Criticism is another negative stimulus that could trigger more intense thoughts or feelings in an HSP. Even constructive criticism might cause sadness, frustration, or self-hatred for someone who experiences emotions intensely.

__More introverted tendencies

When life affects you more acutely, it’s understandable that drawing away from people becomes an occasional necessity. Time alone gives you space to process your feelings, so you’re ready for whatever happens when you step back into social circles.

__More intuition for vibes

If you’re often sensing the energy between people or when you walk into a room, you could be an HSP with more of an intuition for vibes. It may be your brain’s way of seeking potential emotional triggers to protect yourself or understand someone better.

6 Common HSP behaviors

1. Anxiety during conversations

HSPs can feel anxious no matter what they discuss with friends, co-workers, or strangers. The topic doesn’t necessarily matter, and neither do the individuals involved. Trying to communicate effectively and exhibiting social behaviors can increase an HSP’s anxiety.

This may lead to feelings of guilt when it occurs with loved ones. The key is remembering that highly sensitive reactions are instinctual. They aren’t a wrong choice or a character flaw. They’re like any other instinct you may have.

You wouldn’t criticize your instinct to sleep when it’s dark or run when conditions get dangerous. Those are examples of your body trying to survive, which is the same thing an HSP’s brain does by translating emotional or social situations.

Pro Tip: You can learn people skills that make conversations easier with our courses on building confidence on the road to success.

2. Avoidance of social settings

Even if you know what to talk about, introverts can feel uncomfortable in social settings. HSPs are the same way because their emotional reactions are in full view of other people.

The good news is anyone can improve how they feel in social settings with behavioral therapy and techniques provided by a licensed therapist. HSPs who avoid these situations more often than they like can overcome their anxiety or fear with professional help.

3. More irritation with specific lighting

Research shows that visual stimuli increase stress7 for HSPs. That can relate to who or what is around an HSP, including the lighting. The minds of highly sensitive people are always aware of what’s around them, which can affect what you prefer in your environment.

You may have a heightened awareness of light stimuli if you prefer lamps instead of overhead lighting or yellow fluorescent bulbs instead of white ones. You might even spend most of your free time in dim lighting or away from direct sunshine.

4. More discomfort with specific clothes

Fabric is also an external stimulus. HSPs might prefer loose jeans over skinny styles to avoid rubbing the material against their skin. You could opt for cashmere sweaters instead of polyester or feel physically uncomfortable at the idea of static electricity making your jacket cling to you.

5. More exhaustion than others

Managing emotions drains your energy, which can become even more overwhelming for HSPs and their intensified emotions. Researchers found that intense feelings resulted in exhaustion for students in higher education programs. Someone with more sensitivity experiencing the same thing may feel physically exhausted faster than others.

6. More need to recharge after social situations

Exhaustion due to overstimulation may cause introverts and HSPs to need recharging periods. You might crave alone time after meeting a friend for lunch or completing a workweek. Being away from others could rest your mind, so you’re ready to socialize or converse again.

How to Identify a Highly Sensitive Person

1. They are sensitive to their environments

Someone more sensitive to their emotions and how others feel will also be more in tune with their environment. They may try to solve the needs of others before problems arise by adjusting nearby blinds before the sunset shines in their eyes during dinner.

Although it’s easy to become self-critical about this HSP tendency, it’s one of the secret superpowers of highly sensitive people. Their empathetic nature can lead to fulfilling lives focused on service and helping others. As long as they don’t forget to reserve some of their emotional energy for themselves, HSPs can be the most giving, nurturing people in their communities.

2. They’re deeply affected by other people’s emotions

You can identify an HSP by watching how other people’s emotions affect them. If they’re talking with someone sad, they may feel sad the rest of the day. HSPs can also get emotionally rocked by visual media. A gory movie might leave an unsettled feeling that lasts all night, while a romantic TV show could have an HSP’s heart fluttering for hours.

Empaths and highly sensitive people share this in common. They spend energy investing in the emotions around them, so they get personally affected by others.

The well-being of highly sensitive people might be more challenging to maintain with constant emotional and environmental stimuli, but that doesn’t mean being an HSP is bad. It just means your brain works differently than other people’s.

3. They have introverted tendencies

HSPs may identify as introverts for various reasons. They might feel especially drained after hanging out with people or worry about the emotional highs and lows of making new friendships.

A highly sensitive person doesn’t have to be an introvert. They can spend a lifetime learning to manage their sensitivity and have the extroverted lifestyle they love. Management techniques open all kinds of possibilities for HSPs. It makes finding jobs for highly sensitive people much easier and creating a vibrant social life fun.

Watch for common introverted behaviors as you search the characteristics within yourself or others for HSP tendencies. An HSP may claim they love recharging their social batteries or look forward to alone time. They could also prefer working independently or ruminating deeply on their thoughts.

Pro Tip: HSPs can fight self-judgment that leads to shameful feelings about their natural introverted natures. Challenging their thought patterns with positive affirmations makes self-acceptance and self-growth much easier.

5 Things Highly Sensitive People Need

The most important tip is to ask the highly sensitive person in your life what would help them. They likely know themselves and can give you an idea of what they need and how you can support them!

1. More control over their schedules

Intense schedules can overstimulate HSPs. Anxiety and stress become amplified in an HSP’s brain, so being too busy and lacking control over your schedule might make you feel burned out faster than the average person.

Leaving a traditional work schedule could be the best thing for an HSP. You’d set your own timeline, allowing for more space to speed up or slow down according to your energy levels. You could also save time to wind down every night and allow your brain to reset for tomorrow.

Remote jobs for highly sensitive people could provide the positive change of pace you need. Besides being in control of your schedule, you’d also get to customize your environment to eliminate stimuli that would otherwise cause anxiety.

Pro Tip: Working from home also means adjusting your schedule. Consider what you need to maintain mental health by crafting a routine that monitors your energy levels with daily check-ins.

2. A private space to rest

An HSP in college might not thrive in a traditional dorm room. It would mean socializing all day, every day. Highly sensitive individuals need space to rest so their nervous system can relax after being in a stimulating environment or situation.

Being more empathetic is one of the hidden powers of highly sensitive people, but it also requires space to rest the body. A private room like a bedroom or meditation space can improve an HSP’s life. Consider creating a space with dark lighting, comfortable clothing, and peaceful sounds to maximize your recharging abilities.

3. Room to process emotions safely

Feeling emotions more deeply also requires more time to process them. If you’re operating in a full-steam empathetic mindset all the time, you’ll eventually experience burnout that results in physical or emotional exhaustion.

However, processing also requires emotional expression. Crying heavily, laughing through joyful tears, or yelling to express anger won’t happen if you don’t feel safe. Private time is essential to the wellbeing of highly sensitive people. They need to restore their energy and process the emotional work they subconsciously do daily.

4. Loved ones who understand

You’re there to support loved ones experiencing something that causes an intense emotional reaction. HSPs need the same help in their relationships. Friends and family can better assist them by giving them space, handling interpersonal conflict gently, and monitoring their HSP friend for potential signs of exhaustion.

5. A healthy diet

Men’s and women’s health might look different for highly sensitive people. HSPs may need to limit or eliminate their caffeine intake because their bodies have intense side effects8 Anti-inflammatory foods can also soothe their nervous system, in addition to frequent meals that prevent discomfort from hunger cues.

6. Ask them!

Remember to ask them how you can support them.

How High Sensitivity Impacts Someone’s Wellbeing

1. They may have higher amounts of stress hormones

Research shows that feeling stressed affects neuroendocrine responses9, which are how the body produces hormones to regulate stress. They’re for short-term processing and survival, but HSPs may deal with these hormones continually.

Experiencing higher stress or anxiety levels due to overstimulation affects the body with higher-than-normal hormonal production. You may need more alone time to destimulate your body and feel more comfortable physically.

Pro Tip: An anti-inflammatory diet can ease the physical effects of HSP-related anxiety. Talk with your doctor about the best foods for your health needs and your interest in more gentle foods on your system.

2. They may prioritize their mental health more

The average person may only think about their mental health when life is most challenging. HSPs don’t have that luxury. Everything feels more intense, so they often prioritize their mental health more purposefully to manage their wellbeing.

Efforts like journaling, going to therapy, and finding creative outlets can transform health for highly sensitive people. Processing and releasing emotions is a powerful skill everyone needs to thrive through life’s ups and downs.

3. They might change their social dynamics

Feeling overwhelmed with emotions or overstimulated by certain people could cause an HSP to change their relationships. Social dynamics can greatly support or harm a highly sensitive person. Their mental and social well-being are closely connected, so sticking with the healthiest relationships may be best, even if that results in a smaller friend group.

Potential Challenges of Highly Sensitive Natures

1. Increased anxiety

HSPs may feel anxiety in various situations, even if it’s something they want to do. You might get a new job that’s a better fit for you. Even though you enjoy the work and your co-workers, the constant social stimuli and increased responsibilities could intensify your daily anxiety.

Deep breathing exercises before leaving home can mitigate this side effect to feel more calm walking into work. You might also talk with your manager or team members about your current workload. Sharing responsibilities or shifting into a less intense schedule would help you manage your sensitivity and potentially live with less anxiety.

2. Feeling overwhelmed more often

Other people’s emotions and environmental stimuli could add up quickly. HSPs often feel overwhelmed, which is challenging to manage alone.

Highly sensitive individuals can draft phrases to ask for help during intense moments. It may seem awkward to tell someone you’re overwhelmed when they aren’t an HSP, but that could inspire them to help. Your friend or family member might move to a new environment with you, change the volume of their voice, or switch the conversation’s subject.

3. Struggling to understand their nature

If you didn’t know the name of the color red, it would be challenging to describe it. The same issue happens when someone doesn’t know the term for their personality type.

A highly sensitive person will likely struggle to understand themselves if they’ve never heard of HSPs. They may criticize their emotional reactions or physical symptoms when their HSP tendencies become more prominent.

Learning as much as possible about highly sensitive personalities is a great way to understand yourself or someone you love. As you read about symptoms and management strategies, you’ll know how to help an HSP in need.

Changing the environment, sharing responsibilities, and giving them space are just a few ways to support someone’s sensitive nature, even if they don’t know they’re an HSP yet.

4. Feeling offended easily

A downside to feeling emotions intensely is being deeply affected by what someone says or does. If a friend or family member says something unintentionally offensive, an HSP might not brush the comment off. It could sit with them for days, weeks, or even longer.

The best way to handle this situation is to address the comment immediately. Communicating that it seemed offensive allows the other person to clarify their intentions. Explaining what they meant or working through why their comment was rude can be better for HSPs because they won’t have to sit with uncomfortable feelings alone.

5. Overthinking social interactions

HSPs may reflect a lot on interactions they recently had with people. They could worry about how their tone or words came across because they’re more empathetic. Hurting someone with their comments and actions may affect them acutely. 

Overthinking can happen to anyone, so people have devised numerous ways to overcome it. You could accept that your thoughts won’t change and set a timer to delegate space for those thoughts. They won’t seem as intimidating or controlling because you’ve got a new perspective on them besides panic or worry.

HSPs can also challenge overthinking spirals with positive affirmations. If the negative thought is, “I’m bad at conversations,” you could confront that thought with something positive, like:

  • I’m always learning to communicate more effectively.
  • Negative thoughts don’t hold power over me.
  • I am getting better at socializing every day.

As you repeat positive affirmations, they’ll become a core truth in your life. You’ll believe them instinctually and stop negative thoughts from popping up in the future.

3 Advantages of a Highly Sensitive Personality

1. You develop deeper friendships

Increased empathy and creativity are some of the secret superpowers of highly sensitive people. You’ll feel more intense joy when something great happens and be more fulfilled by creative activities that engage with your emotions.

Friendships benefit from these skills because it makes bonding easier. Your friends, family members, and co-workers will feel safe opening up to you because you connect more deeply with them. Lasting relationships have a solid foundation of communication.

HSP natures may thrive in this because they’re more aware of when someone wants to talk about something due to that person’s emotional output.

Empathy and creativity also come together when you dream of things to do with your favorite people. You’ll instinctively match their most significant interests with fun activities, leading to incredible experiences you’ll enjoy equally.

Fun Tip: Sometimes, the best bonding moments for HSPs are low-key activities. While you share a cup of tea or watch a movie, your sensitive nature can recharge even while you socialize.

2. You make more special memories

Memories feel more like treasured moments when they make you feel seen and valued. A sensitive person may feel extra gratitude when someone does something with or for them based on things they love to do.

Researchers found a connection10 between the cortexes responsible for forming memories and regulating emotions. More intense feelings can create stronger recollections. This allows HSPs to reflect on a lifetime of special moments outside traditional remembrances like vacations or lifetime achievements.

3. You appreciate little things more 

Valuing the big and small parts of life is one of the hidden powers of highly sensitive people. Others might need grand gestures or large purchases to feel happy, while HSPs are likelier to love small details.

A kind word or simple surprise might make their whole day brighter. Appreciating little things makes life more enjoyable because you don’t have to work hard to find happiness.

What Causes High Sensitivity?

Research is not exactly sure of the cause of high sensitivity. Genetic and environmental factors likely influence who is more sensitive to emotional and environmental stimuli. There are no current studies to prove these factors unequivocally, but you may be an HSP if a family member identifies similarly.

It goes back to the nature vs. nurture debate. Genes could make someone more of an HSP, but environmental experiences could see you leaning into sensitivities as a survival mechanism. Your brain might absorb emotions more deeply as a protective strategy based on a previous life event.

A therapist could help you answer these questions more specifically. Journaling also sheds light on potential causes in your life on your journey to understanding yourself better.

Takeaway: Highly Sensitive People Have Superpowers

People with highly sensitive natures may deal with more emotional and sensory input but also have secret superpowers. The key is balancing the two by understanding your personality and determining the most helpful management strategies.

Here are a few steps you can take if you think you might be an HSP:

  • Read about highly sensitive people and their tendencies
  • Take our quiz to see if you’re an HSP
  • Journal about your daily experiences to pinpoint your most common side effects
  • Try helpful strategies like deep breathing, avoiding caffeine, or going to therapy

Determining your HSP tendencies is one thing, but enforcing new boundaries to regulate your emotional well-being better can feel intimidating if you’re not used to it. You can always learn to prioritize your needs by putting yourself first and stopping people-pleasing behaviors.

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