If you’ve ever wondered why you are so sensitive, you may be a highly sensitive person. Find out what a highly sensitive person is, as well as how to live as a highly sensitive person so that you can put your strengths to good use and learn to cope.
I’ve shared with you all before that I grew up being told that I was shy and too sensitive. In some ways, this led me to believe that there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I began to see my introversion and sensitivity as a good thing.
Why Am I So Sensitive and Cry Easily?
I knew that I really did seem to be more sensitive than others. And, it was obvious that I cry more easily than others. I could be in a room of people all experiencing the same thing, but it was often only my reaction to cry.
I’ve learned that I am what some call a “highly sensitive person”, and that it (like most things) comes with some positives and negatives. I have a higher level of emotional intelligence than most due to the fact that I feel so deeply.
This emotional intelligence has some serious benefits when I put it to good use. I am great at critical thinking and making smart decisions. I notice things and people that others miss. And because of that, I’m able to deeply appreciate beauty that other people don’t even notice.
On the other hand, being highly sensitive has its problems. I am easily overwhelmed by too much stuff or too much to do (especially in a short amount of time). It takes me longer to make decisions. It’s also easy for my feelings to get hurt. And finally, it can be difficult for me to control my emotions in an appropriate way at times.
I had to learn what my triggers are so I could minimize those things. My sensitivities are a huge reason why I developed a more minimalist lifestyle. (Check out this article on the blog Simple Lionheart Life to read about why highly sensitive people need minimalism!)
Do you feel like you may be a highly sensitive person as well?
Let’s grow in this together…
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
According to Marwa Azab, Ph.D., a highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone with “sensory-processing sensitivity”. This is something some are born with rather than developed during their lifetime.
Not every HSP is created equal, but there are 4 main characteristics of a highly sensitive person:
- An HSP processes longer and deeper.
- They are easily overstimulated (although what overstimulates them can differ from person to person).
- A highly sensitive person tends to react emotionally.
- An HSP notices (or is sensitive to) things that are very subtle.
As a highly sensitive person, I need longer to think through things and it takes me longer to process and move past an emotion. I am also overwhelmed easily, and I have sensitivities to certain smells, textures, sounds, and bright lights.
And I can’t just experience something and move on. A story I hear, a movie I watch or an uncomfortable experience affects me deeply and it takes a long time to “recover”.
But, I also notice things that others do not (like another person feeling uncomfortable or a change in the environment). I am sensitive to small details that others don’t even realize are there.
How Do You Know If You’re a Highly Sensitive Person?
All of the characteristics I just mentioned are true of all highly sensitive people. However, the way in which each characteristic shows up in a person’s life can be different.
Just as I was, a highly sensitive person is often labeled as overly sensitive or shy as a child. If you were asked, “why are you so being so sensitive?”, or told that you need to come out of your shell or be less reserved, consider whether you are actually an HSP.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Determine If You’re an HSP
Here are some other things to look out for and think back on:
Are you easily overwhelmed?
Maybe you are overwhelmed with clutter around you or too much on your plate like I am. Or, you may find that you need to withdraw often to be alone or relieve yourself of overstimulation.
It makes sense that an HSP is easily overwhelmed since they are taking in so much more than the average person. I love the way Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. puts it:
Noticing so much, feeling so much, and thinking about everything so much naturally means that they also get more easily overwhelmed.”
Do you notice things that others don’t seem to notice?
You may be aware of subtleties around you or more conscientious than others. Also, you may be acutely aware of others’ behaviors (i.e. noticing someone is uncomfortable).
Are you deeply affected by what’s happening around you or to you?
An HSP is easily affected by others’ stories and moods. They often have strong emotional reactions, whether positive or negative. Even more, they can be greatly affected by their own mistakes and failures, having a hard time letting go.
Do certain sensory stimuli seem to bother you more than others?
An HSP can be sensitive to anything that seems to assault their senses. They may be sensitive to pain, certain smells, lighting, sounds, or any number of these.
Do you have a rich and complex thought life?
If you think a lot and need to process alone and in your head, you may be an HSP. A highly sensitive person needs more time for certain tasks and often takes longer to make decisions.
Are you exceptionally empathetic and considerate of others (even if you don’t show it)?
Your attention to detail may lead you to care deeply for others. It also may cause you to have more anger or resentment about situations you feel are unjust.
Are you socially guarded?
An HSP has a greater fear of rejection and worries more than others about what other people think. They often take things personally, and because of this are easily hurt.
They may find it difficult to be themselves as they can be extremely self-conscious. Some highly sensitive people keep negative emotions inside, and others discuss their constant drama often with others.
Still wondering if you might be an HSP? Take this test to find out if you’re a highly sensitive person.
Highly Sensitive Person Problems
I’ve already mentioned many of the signs that someone is a highly sensitive person, but there are more specific signs that can give you some clues.
A Highly Sensitive Person…
- can’t drink a lot of caffeine
- has a sensitivity to bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, loud noises, hunger or pain
- may be easily startled
- notices subtle inner bodily sensations
- is deeply moved by the arts such as a painting, music, or dance
- can be overwhelmed by short deadlines
- has difficulty multitasking
- may have to avoid violent movies/shows or even the news
- has an aversion to change or at least thrives on routine
- avoids overwhelming situations
- has a hard time performing a task while being observed.
- may hesitate to make plans
- reacts strongly to feedback (good or bad), even if only internally
- may cry when inappropriate (i.e. at work) or other emotional outbursts
- gets depressed or burned out more easily
- may get headaches or feel extremely stressed due to a change in circumstance
- struggles with comparison
- has a difficult time letting go of negative thoughts/emotions
Personally, I knew that I was a highly sensitive person when I discovered that I experience most of these signs on a regular basis. Once I knew I was one, I had to learn how to live as a highly sensitive person so that it would no longer hold me back.
How to Live As a Highly Sensitive Person: Coping Strategies
So you’re a highly sensitive person, now what?
There are a number of coping strategies for the highly sensitive person that have worked wonders for me. The strategies needed will differ slightly from person to person, but they are generally the same.
My hope is that you put these highly sensitive person coping strategies into practice so that you can learn how to live as a highly sensitive person. Being an HSP doesn’t have to hold you back in life!
1. Take good care of your body.
Everyone, HSP’s included, need to prioritize taking good care of their physical bodies. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eating healthy food every day. Try to get moving as often as you can throughout the day.
2. Identify your triggers.
The triggers that cause a highly sensitive person to feel overwhelmed or overstimulated differ from person to person. Figure out what bothers you or triggers an emotional response.
3. Reduce intense stimuli around you.
Once you know your triggers, make some adjustments to your environment.
Change the lighting and get darker sunglasses. Avoid loud situations when you can or dull the noise with headphones. Do your shopping at less busy times to avoid the crowds. If you are greatly affected by what you put in your body, limit caffeine and alcohol.
Additionally, give yourself more time to process and get things done. Limit the number of tasks you do at once, or better yet, stop multitasking all together!
4. Schedule downtime.
It’s important for a highly sensitive person to schedule downtime into each and every day. You need this time to recharge, gather your thoughts and decompress.
Have a place where you can go to decompress, whether at work or at home. At work, find a quiet corner of the office or a room that’s not always being used. At home, create a space or nook where you can be alone and comfortable.
5. Accept your thoughts and emotions.
There is nothing to be ashamed of as a highly sensitive person. There is nothing wrong with you. You are simply different, but you are not alone. It’s estimated that 20% of the population is highly sensitive.
Accept that you are sensitive and all that it means for your life (the good and the bad). Allow yourself to fully experience your emotions in a healthy way.
You can try journaling your thoughts and emotions. Even if you don’t choose to write them down, begin to take notice of your feelings of overwhelm or anxiety.
Try adopting a mindfulness practice so that you can become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and eventually redirect them when needed.
It’s only when you become more aware of them that you can begin making any necessary changes and prevent burnout.
6. Improve your relationships.
Once you know your triggers and have put some coping strategies in place, use this knowledge to improve your relationships as well. (If a person is one of your triggers, make sure to set healthy boundaries with them.)
First, be honest with others about both your struggles and strengths. Opening up to people you care about will only help you and grow your relationship. Make sure to stay connected to people who know and get you.
Second, practice handling feedback and criticism from others by asking for it often. It can be really hard to hear negative feedback, and even harder to not internalize it. Remember, what you do is not who you are; learn from the feedback you receive from others and move on.
Third, put your gift of empathy to good use. As a highly sensitive person, you are incredibly considerate of others. Show your empathetic side to care well for others and strengthen relationships. The world needs you!
7. Do what you love.
Surround yourself with beauty, whether it be nature, art, music, dance….whatever. As a highly sensitive person, you are deeply moved by many beautiful things, and it’s more than okay to seek them out!
The last component of learning how to live as a highly sensitive person is to just be you. Do what you love as often as you can. Be creative and use your unique giftings so you can enjoy life and better the world.
Benefits of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
Like I said, the world needs you.
There are so many wonderful things you have to offer as an HSP. Don’t let your differences shame you; put them to good use!
Here are just some of the benefits of being a highly sensitive person:
A highly sensitive person is…
- considerate, empathetic and conscientious
- uniquely creative and gifted
- detail-oriented and observative
- able to appreciate beauty (nature, art, music, other people)
- a hard worker who works well with a team
- a deep thinker and dreamer
- able to see from different perspectives
- self-aware with the ability to improve
- authentic and emotionally brave
If you’re a highly sensitive person, I hope you have also realized how valuable and needed you are. There are definitely some highly sensitive person problems, but there are just as many benefits.
I hope that you put these coping strategies into practice so that you can learn how to live as a highly sensitive person. I want you to live your best life so that the world gets the best of you too.
Don’t forget to stick around to check out the other posts in the “Mental Health Awareness Month” series:
Are you a highly sensitive person? What problems or benefits have you experienced? Share with us in the comments!
Talk again soon,