Highly sensitive people are often considered by others as weak and “somehow odd.” They may be perceived as overly emotional people who are easily agitated by the slightest things. In fact, a highly sensitive person may be irritated by things that most other people do not even notice. In short, highly sensitive people are widely misunderstood. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Scientific research on the subject is beginning to bring more awareness to the subject. [It is important to mention that being highly sensitive is not a disorder. If you are highly sensitive, the section of this article entitled: 15 transformative tips for highly sensitive people will definitely encourage you to be proud of who you are.
Dr. Elain Aron, a psychologist from Mill Valley, CA, is perhaps the number one leading scientist in the area of highly sensitive people. In her book, entitled “The Highly Sensitive Person,” she points out that our genes determine to a large extent whether or not we are highly sensitive. Further research by Chinese scientists highlighted that personality traits such as high sensitivity are the result of specific gene combinations.
“To be of good quality, you have to excuse yourself from the presence of shallow and callow minded individuals.”
Michael Bassey Johnson
It is estimated that approximately 15-20% of people can be considered “highly sensitive.” This means that roughly 1 out of 6 is highly sensitive, no matter if aware of it or not.
The Highly Sensitive Person
In the following, you can find everything you need to know about highly sensitive people. You will also find important information on what it means to be a highly sensitive person.
What does it mean to be highly sensitive?
A highly sensitive person perceives and experiences their environment differently. This means that they are more sensitive to the sounds, lights, visual impressions, and feelings they are confronted with but also to the actions and well-being of other people. Highly sensitive people simply experience all these sensations with a much higher intensity. Unfortunately, many people cannot easily comprehend why sensitive people behave the way they do, which only contributes to a highly sensitive person’s further isolation.
Signs that you are a highly sensitive person (HSP)
It is not too difficult to find out whether or not you are highly sensitive. There are a couple of character traits that allow you to quickly assess if you are a more sensitive being. Here are the character traits and habits of highly sensitive people:
- Vivid emotions, vast emotional landscape. A highly sensitive person experiences a broad spectrum of intensive emotions. They are easily frightened but also easily touched or moved by something positive.
- Difficulty in dealing with criticism. Sensitive people often take criticism way too personal. Even constructive criticism that is well-meant may upset them for hours or days. Along with this comes the tendency to excessively mull over any form of criticism they are confronted with.
- High intuition. Another common trait of sensitive people is their high intuition. Thanks to the incredibly good understanding they have developed about their own feelings, highly sensitive people more easily understand other people’s feelings. They are often capable to “read between the lines” when a person speaks, which allows them to gain great insights about the person’s emotional well-being.
- Tendency to please others. A highly sensitive person does not always place others above themselves. However, they go great lengths to please other people. Criticizing or rejecting others is not something they particularly like, even if that means they have to do something they would rather do not.
- Preference to do specific activities alone. No matter if it’s about exercising on their own, avoiding team sports, studying alone, or a general dislike of being in the center of attention, a highly sensitive person prefers to avoid situations in which they are on the close examination of others.
- Tendency to be a deep thinker. Many sensitive people regularly reflect on various aspects of their own life or life in general. Deep thinking allows them to gain important insights about their life and also allows them to draw courageous strength.
- Difficulty to say “no.” As was already mentioned, a highly sensitive person greatly struggles with rejecting other people. They perfectly understand how it feels to be rejected, which is why they shy away from bringing others in a similar situation. This all becomes even more difficult for them when others express offense or hurt as a result of the rejection. See also: Learn to Say “No.”
- Exceptional team players. You will most likely see highly sensitive people blossom in supportive and good-functioning teams. They can beneficially nurture the team spirit and having such a person in your team can greatly increase its cohesion.
- Highly polite, good manners. It seems as if a highly sensitive person better understands how their actions can influence other people. For this reason, they are usually very polite to others but do also notice quickly when someone does not have good manners.
- Easily affected by other people’s behavior/opinion. This doesn’t mean highly sensitive people are easily offended by other people’s opinions or actions. However, they are highly observant of other people’s behavior and their words or actions can highly affect them – in a positive but also negative sense.
- Tendency to overthink decisions. Sensitive people may also be considered poor decision makers because they take themselves a lot of time to outweigh the pros and cons of a decision. They shy away from meeting a decision too hastily without considering the possible implications and consequences. More often than not, they postpone meeting a certain decision.
Defining the term “sensory processing sensitivity”
We’ve already talked a lot about what it means to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). But what is the underlying cause for such an increased sensitivity?
The increased level of cognitive processing responsible for high sensitivity is called “sensory processing sensitivity.” It is described as hypersensitivity, a form of increased emotional reactivity to external stimuli. Put in simple words, a highly sensitive person perceives the world around them and their inner emotional landscape with greater intensity.
Being confronted with sensory processing sensitivity is not a disorder at all. It simply makes a person more perceptive of internal and external stimuli, no matter if they are big or just slight nuances.
Interestingly enough, research conducted by Belgian scientists at Ghent University found that a sensory processing sensitivity is closely associated with an increased sensitivity of a person’s central nervous system.
This finding allows the conclusion that one of the reasons why sensitive people can at times be overstimulated by their environments is because they are more likely to pick up a wider spectrum of different stimuli with their senses (i.e. nervous system).
The personality trait of being highly sensitive in itself does not reduce the life quality of a person. Being overly sensitive can bring just as many positive outcomes as it can result in negative or disruptive outcomes.
For this reason, it all depends on a person’s ability to cope with their increased sensitivity in a beneficial way. This, of course, leads us to the question what people who are highly sensitive can do to ease many aspects of their lives.
As was already mentioned numerous times, being a sensitive person is certainly not a disorder. It is also not a form of weakness or mental instability. It is important to remind yourself that all these judgments are merely superficial interpretations of people that are used to living in a rough, uncompassionate and dysfunctional environment (or even society). If someone is used to be surrounded by people that are more or less “limited” when it comes to emotional intelligence, thoughtfulness, compassion and their own feelings, it is only natural that they perceive a sensitive person more or less as a weakling.
For this reason, it is important to understand that it is more likely that there is something fundamentally wrong with society, which results in sensitive people being thought poorly of. In fact, you’ll notice that many young children – those that are not yet influenced to a great extent by society – are very sensitive and attentive beings. In this sense, being sensitive and compassionate can be seen as a natural human quality that many people loose throughout the course of years. It’s a natural, inherent quality!
If you are a highly sensitive person, always keep in mind that your sensitivity is an expression of being a more balanced and perhaps even complete human being. It means that you are better in touch with your emotional landscape and the feelings of the people around you. But it also implies that you are not one who has become emotionally numb. Being a sensitive person makes you automatically a lot more compassionate and thoughtful. You may feel much higher levels of understanding and sympathy for other people’s imperfections and their mistakes.
The only thing you need to work on is your ability to handle all the – often times overwhelming – input of the various stimuli from the world around you and the world inside. If you are capable of using the high level of sensibility writable to you in a beneficial way, your overall life will drastically improve.
Learning to use your high sensitivity to your advantage marks an important milestone in your life. It is the turning point at which you begin to perceive your exceptional ability as an important gift instead of something that makes your life miserable.
Here are the tips to better deal with the difficulties of being a highly sensitive person:
1. Consider mindfulness exercises or meditation
Remember the particular study discussed in the above mentioning that the tendency to be highly sensitive is closely associated with a highly sensitive nervous system? Well, as it turns out, meditation is a fantastic way to soothe and balance your nervous system, as scientific research suggests. The researchers found that short-term meditation could alter the interaction of the nervous system in as little as five days.
If you’re not already practicing meditation, consider adding some of these exercises to your regular routine. You will definitely not regret it. See also: How to Meditate.
2. Cut out stimulating foods from your diet
There are many foods known to be highly stimulative or energizing. As an already highly sensitive person, you may not want these foods to further increase your sensitivity. The foods known to be energizing your body and mind are various. In general, try to avoid spicy/fried dishes but also acidic-forming/sugary foods and drinks. Here’s a short overview:
- Soft drinks
- Maple syrup
- High fructose syrup
Noticeable effects will be produced by greatly reducing these foods and drinks from your diet.
3. Adhere to regular routines
Establishing routines and becoming familiar with them can go a long way for every highly sensitive person. It will help you to develop patterns of living that allow you to better cope with a higher sensitivity to external stimuli.
4. Pay attention to what you do before going to bed
It is especially important to consider carefully how you spend your time shortly before going to bed. If you are highly sensitive, it is recommended that you should engage in activities that calm you down at least one hour before you go to bed. Watching television, playing video games or surfing the internet may greatly stimulate you, which can interfere with your sleep. Once your sleep is interfered with, you will be more easily irritated during the day. Even if you’re used to these activities, it can prove to be exceptionally helpful to retire one hour before going to bed during which electronic gadgets are turned off for good.
5. Practice yoga / do a light stretching workout
If you’re looking for activities you can engage in shortly before going to bed, consider body stretches or yoga. These exercises are fantastic to calm your mind and to make your body more endurable.
6. Keep a journal to identify what irritates you
Journaling is a fantastic way to reflect about the external and internal stimuli that cause discomfort or uneasiness. It can greatly assist you in identifying all the various factors that you’re sensitive to. The first step towards learning to better deal with being an HSP is to develop a good understanding of the underlying factors. But why is it so important to identify what irritates you? Let’s have a look at the next tip:
7. Develop plans (especially “if-then plans”)
Planning ahead can go a long way for every highly sensitive person. Once you have identified all the numerous factors that trigger the discomfort (see #6), you can begin developing strategies to better cope with these factors.
There are certain triggers that can be easily avoided. All it takes is to be properly prepared. Yet, there are certain factors that you simply cannot avoid. For these situations, it is important to have so-called “if-then plans” that allow you to better respond to certain triggers.
If-then plans are nothing else but strategic responses to events that are likely to happen. Also known as “implementation intention,” if-then planning creates actionable plans, which allow you to form more beneficial habits and better responses to the triggers you’re confronted with.
The basic structure of these plans is as follows: “If (event) happens, then I will do (response).” For example, “If I am tempted to drink a caffeinated soft drink shortly before going to bed, I will drink a healthy and unsweetened tea instead.”
8. Sneak mini-retreats into your day
Every highly sensitive person can greatly benefit from retreating regularly throughout the day, even if it is just for a couple of minutes. These mini-retreats allow you to center yourself, to relax and to calm down. It could be a five-minute coffee break you take during work somewhere outside the building, or just a couple of minutes of stretching your back and pausing for some minutes at your desk. Be creative and you will see that there are many mini-retreats you can sneak into your daily routine.
9. Have the courage to address what disturbs you
Communication is key! You will often be confronted with people (non-HSPs) who are simply not aware of your sensitivity. As a result, they do something that irritates you without even desiring to cause you any harm. In these situations, it can be greatly helpful to openly address whatever bothers you. So many issues can be quickly resolved if only there are two people willing to talk with each other.
Speak up for yourself, it’s your good right.
10. Schedule a lot more downtime.
Downtime, silence, and solitude can greatly help a sensitive person to regenerate from an exhausting week. If you notice that you are overwhelmed by many of your spare time activities, consider to replace them with less active downtime.
Whenever you identify an activity that somehow seems to bring you, consider to replace it with your life, at least temporarily. Downtime, however, does not mean that you have to lie on your bed for hours. Basically, it can be about every activity that helps you to slow down. Perhaps, you find great joy in strolling through nature or painting a picture. Whatever it is, schedule more of these activities and try to reduce the amount of energy-draining activities.
11. Give yourself more time
Many of the sensitivity issues you are confronted with are in some way related to stress. By taking yourself more time, you can greatly slow things down. If you’re able to avoid rushing through your life, many of the triggers that have bothered you will gradually disappear.
You can accomplish this by setting priorities, which will help you to have more time for the things that are really important in your life.
12. Learn to distract yourself
While it’s certainly true that certain triggers cannot be avoided, you can always draw your attention away from them. The key to this is to learn the skill of distracting yourself. Doing so will help you to avoid pondering for hours over certain things that happened during your day. Say, for instance, you are regularly mulling over certain mistakes you’ve committed. In this situation, it could be greatly helpful to engage in an activity that allows you to forget everything around you.
13. Stop negative self-talk
The way you think can greatly affect many aspects of your life. One of these aspects is how you respond to situations that trigger your sensitivity. In this sense, your inner monologue can be a great enemy, if not guided in the right direction.
Many people don’t even realize that they are continuously talking to themselves in their minds. Their inner monologue is so omnipresent, that they are not even consciously aware of it. Nonetheless, the consequences of negative self-talk are quite evident.
It’s important to start paying attention to the way you talk to yourself, or rather: how your mind talks to you. If you feel like your inner voice is overly critic, consider affecting changes in this area. Try to establish positive and supportive thoughts within you. If something goes wrong, let your inner voice treat you kindly so that it encourages you to keep fighting. Always remember, the inner monologue can greatly uplift you but it can also drag you down.
An important step towards this direction is to think more positively.
14. Change the way you think about difficulties
Your thinking largely determines how you are able to cope with difficult situations. You may not always be able to prevent hardship, but you can always change how you think about it. If you internalize this fact, it does no longer matter so much what happens to you in life. All that will matter is how you’re going to respond to what happens.
Not every setback and not every difficulty is necessarily a bad thing. There are many things in life that happened to you to teach you an important lesson. Once you’re able to discover the reason why certain things have happened, you will be able to identify meaning in your suffering. When this happens, you are no longer the helpless victim of the happenstances of life. Instead, you will become the one who actively seeks for the lessons certain experiences are teaching you. In doing so, you can greatly accelerate your growth as a person.
15. Practice Feng Fu point ice therapy
The following will sound incredibly ridiculous. But it is a powerful way to balance your nervous system. The technique is called Feng Fu ice therapy. Sounds totally difficult, but it is outstandingly easy.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the Feng Fu point is an important pressure point located right where your skull cap is connected to your spine (at the top of the neck). Chinese acupuncturists hold this point in the highest esteem, as it is considered to be promoting overall health and well-being.
Placing an ice cube at this pressure point for 20 minutes twice a day will promote many positive health benefits. Aside from helping to decrease headaches, improving digestion, easing stress or depression, stimulating the Feng Fu point with an ice cube is known to bring balance to the human nervous system.
You may find this idea absolutely laughable. But if you are courageous enough to test the Feng Fu method for at least two months, you will definitely see noticeable results.
The best way is to simply lie on your back while the ice cube lies underneath your neck so that it can touch the pressure point. If you’re a busy person, however, you may find it easier to keep the ice cube fixated with a cap or a hairband.
I hope you enjoyed this article on everything you need to know about highly sensitive people.