Do you often get people saying you are too sensitive or you are overthinking? I get it a lot.
Before I encounter the term ‘Highly sensitive person’ or HSP, I often regard my hypersensitivity as my weakness.
I was constantly searching for ‘Why am I so sensitive?’ or ‘How can I not be so sensitive?’. Hoping I can be a ‘stronger’ person and get less affected by others.
Until one day, I came across the term ‘Highly-sensitive person‘. It provides a whole new perspective for me and changed my relationship with my hypersensitivity.
If you are feeling troubled, and want to know yourself better and live a better life, keep reading to know about the common highly-sensitive person traits, and recommend highly sensitive person coping strategies.
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What Should You Know About a Highly Sensitive Person?
Firstly, being highly sensitive is not a disorder nor a diagnosis. It’s just a personality trait. There is nothing you should feel less about. It doesn’t mean your personality is weak or you are not mentally strong.
Highly sensitive is an innate trait, which means we are born with it. In fact, every 1 in 5 could be an HSP, regardless if you are a male or female.
According to research and definition, being HSP means: We have an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. This means we could be more responsive to our surroundings’ positive and negative influences.
Being highly sensitive is nothing uncommon but the term HSP is relatively new.
The term was first coined in the early 1990s by psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron. Since then, the term has been put under the spotlight, and a tremendous amount of discussion on the topic has continued till today. Many famous highly sensitive person or celebrities have opened up about them being HSP which further increases the attention on the topic.
Why Some of Us Are Highly Sensitive?
Here are 2 commonly discussed reasons.
1. Genetic Cause
Highly sensitive is an innate trait that we were born with. According to research from Dr. Elaine Aron, high sensitivity is deeply rooted in the nervous system. The brain of an HSP function differently and processes information and stimuli on a much deeper level.
Researchers have suggested that the serotonin transporter gene – which is involved in the recycling of serotonin, plays a role.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter affecting multiple physiological processes and cognitive brain functions, including our sensitivity and emotions.
This chemical is found in over 100 species of animals, including birds, fish, cats, and dogs. The high sensitivity that carries on from this gene actually protects us in nature, keep us keenly aware of our surroundings, and picks up on potential danger.
2. Our Life Experiences
It was found that 47% of the differences in peoples’ sensitivity are indeed explained by genetic factors. But the remaining 53% of a person’s level of sensitivity is shaped by life experiences.
As the presence of serotonin transporter genes can enhance both good and adverse childhood experiences, many HSPs are more impacted by their childhood activities, especially from their interactions with their parent.
Many of us who experienced childhood emotional neglect might further intensify our sensitivity.
Personally, I grew up with strict family members. In order to not get criticism or upset my family, I am constantly observing their behaviors, emotions, and facial expressions. Being cautious with my behavior and always reacting according to the situation.
Besides only showing the positive sides of me, I hide all the other emotions that I feel might be deemed as weak by others.
Childhood emotional neglect might lead to us being more sensitive, always adapting to the situation instead of attending to our own needs and emotions. We care about others’ reactions and feedback toward us which leads us to neglect our own needs.
Some of us who are more emotional, sensitive, and detail-oriented might even experience many misunderstandings from our seniors and peers by labeling us as ‘slow’ or ‘weak’.
These experiences shaped our temperament or personality in certain ways, and many of us carry it to our adulthood and constantly feel less about ourselves or self-denial.
So, now the big question here is.
Am I A Highly Sensitive Person?
There are many posts and HSP tests out there to find out if you are an HSP. However, I do not think there is a checklist applicable to all.
I see sensitivity as a spectrum. Some of us may have higher sensitivity in certain areas, while others in different fields. Everyone will experience and feel differently. Here are 10 common traits mostly observed from HSP.
1. We Are More Sensitive to Sound/Scent/Taste
We are exposed to many small details others might not pay attention to, including the fabric of the clothes, the texture of the food, and the scent in the air.
Being more sensitive with our five senses could mean that we might be overwhelmed easily with our emotions sometimes simply from listening to music, or more likely disturbed by traffic noises.
We might feel discomfort from overcrowded streets when too much is going on in our surroundings, or from a scent that is too strong.
Since we have intensified reactions to our surroundings, we might also more easily get scared by sudden noise or friends’ little pranks and attacks.
2. We Are More Easily Overwhelmed by Information Overload
I always like to describe my brain as an active scanner. Too much stuff going on at once is just very unfriendly and unduly burdensome for this system up here.
I feel extremely overwhelmed on social media when so many updates and information is thrown right at me and there is no stop button and you just keep on scrolling down and down.
In addition, I can’t multi-task or work well when there is music or even the slightest noise in the background.
We also tend to trap in overthinking in our daily life. Judging the decisions, we made and weighing the pros and cons. Some of us might take longer to make decisions and tend to be perfectionists.
One thing that keeps me free from information overload is having a routine. I set plans and routines in my daily planner to keep myself organized and free my brain from overprocessing.
3. We Suffer More from Difficult Conflicts and Criticism
Negative emotions or experiences could impact us strongly. We might reflect on one negative experience or criticism hard and tend to avoid similar situations.
Sometimes we might be obsessing with one small negative remark a lot, fall into black-and-white thinking, and deny ourselves completely. There are days when there could be millions of happy things happening, but I will obsess over the one bad thing.
4. We Are More Likely to Have Emotional Distress
We might have more emotional fluctuations and distress in situations than non-HSPs, such as feeling more discomfort and upset when we are hungry or more negative when feeling anxious and depressed.
We might even feel more pain and discomfort in the body under some circumstances (Now it reminds me of the time when I threw up while watching a fashion show and had a really bad headache from the bright light and music).
However, also note that we do feel positive emotions equally strong too! We might have more curiosity about things and more excitement when anticipating events we have been looking forward to.
5. We Enjoy Deep Thinking and Find Meaning Behind Things
We enjoy possessing the information deeply and reflect more than others. As we process sensory stimuli and information more strongly and deeply than others, HSPs can also be another name for deep thinkers.
6. We Have a Much More Creative and Imaginary Inner World
Since HSPs think and process things deeply, we often have a rich and complex inner world. This inner world of ours could be really creative, insightful, and blissful.
As a child, we might have a lot of fantasy-based plays, enjoy talking with our imaginary friends, or daydream.
7. Violence and Cruelty Might Lead Us Feeling Unsettled
HSPs may be more affected by certain situations such as tension, violence, and conflict. Exposure to situations like these will leave us feeling unsettled and disturbed for a longer period of time. Many of us might choose to completely avoid content that shows graphic violence.
8. We Are More Observant and More Empathetic
Many of us are the most thoughtful and polite people out there. We constantly consider how are we impacting or affecting others with our behaviors. We want people to be comfortable around us, and we try to avoid situations that are embarrassing and awkward.
When we are caught in situations like those, such as silence in a conversation, we might feel uncomfortable, overthink and analyze the situation deeper.
It is also found that as HSP, our mirror neuron systems are more active compared to non-HSPs. Mirror neurons are the essential brain cells for social interaction and will be fired when we are mirroring another person’s actions.
Having more active mirror neuron systems provides us with a higher ability to empathize with people. This allows us to understand others’ emotions better and attend to their needs.
9. We Tend to Keep Our Social Circles Small
We enjoy deep conversations with a small group of friends as social events might stress us out. It might take time for us to accept people in, but once we do, they will be our long-time close friends.
10. We Have Greater Need for Alone Time
After a long busy day or social events, we sometimes need some private personal time to reduce the stimulation levels. Having alone time can be really comfortable and provides us with a sense of relief. It helps us to regain energy and recharge.
Now we understand more about the traits of an HSP, what’s next? If you identify as HSP too, how should you live better with this personality?
6 Ultimate Highly Sensitive Person Coping Strategies
Remember, we are the captain of our own ship, and we can always adjust ourselves to live in harmony with our emotions and personalities.
1. Understand Yourself More
One way for me to cope with my sensitivity is through reading and getting to know myself better.
For instance, I felt great relief after knowing the term HSP. Not just do I understand myself and my behavior better, but I learned to accept myself and guide my actions in the direction of improving myself and my goals.
I am more patient and gentle with myself now compared to always being in doubt and criticizing myself.
For whatever I can’t control, I let it go. When I caught myself falling into the misery of overthinking and rumination, I start to be more mindful of my behavior.
I also enjoy reading different psychology books, or self-help cognitive behavioral therapy. These helped me greatly! As you learn more about yourself, you will feel calmer inside, and eventually, you will have your own of list strategies for different situations.
2. Have More Positive Self-Talk
Being mindful of our own emotions and behavior, and practicing positive self-talk are very important. We can gain more mindfulness through meditation. There are many guided meditation videos on Youtube that you can follow to practice mindfulness.
The purpose of learning mindfulness is to prevent us from ruminating on our thoughts and bring us back to reality. Once you are aware you are overthinking or overanalyzing, remind yourself and gently bring your attention back to the present moment.
Some of my mantras that keep me calm include “It’s okay, you’re doing great!”, “Ah, it’s my genes leading me to feel this way again.” It helps me to stay in the moment, and focus on my actions instead of my thoughts.
3. Identify Your Triggers
Journaling is an excellent way to get your thoughts, feelings, and emotions out. It is also a great way to keep track of your inner activities and be more mindful.
Have a journal to document what are the emotions you experience every day, and what triggers these emotions.
I have prepared a free printable all-in-one mindfulness journal for our subscribers. It’s a great tool for daily tracking. You can collect yours by subscribing below, or reading more about it here.
If you sense that you are more sensitive and more likely to be disturbed by noise, then you can prepare some noise-reduction earplugs or white noise soundtracks to help you to cope.
Remember to always attend to your needs. If you are easily feeling overwhelmed in a crowded place or by noises, choose an environment with fewer stimulations when you are meeting with people. For instance, a quiet and calm place for meetups. It’s alright to take care of your own needs and say “no” when you need to.
It’s fine to avoid the things that make you uncomfortable. We don’t have to expose to the stuff that makes us uncomfortable just to prove something.
I used to watch many Youtube videos on crime cases. I guess it’s just curiosity, but it actually bothers me a lot in daily life. My brain kept playing all the horror visuals I imagined myself. I felt more frightened every day and started to over worrying and have a lot of catastrophic thoughts. That’s when I know I need to stop watching it for my own well-being.
4. Develop a Hobby or Routine
Most HSPs enjoy high-quality alone time and can regain energy and happiness from having a good time alone.
I greatly enjoy time by myself with a good book and a comfortable environment I set up for myself. I don’t spend a lot of time on social occasions, but enjoy catching up with my small circle of friends or having one-on-one meet up now and then.
As HSPs, we might have a small circle of close friends instead of a large number of friends. Your small group of acquaintances who understands you and are able to have deep conversations with you can be your strong pillar of support.
Find a routine and hobby you love. Just one hobby to do daily for around 1 hour that frees you from all the thinking. It’s a great way for you to reconnect with yourself and calm your nerves.
5. Find Your Way to Restore Calmness
Most of HSPs enjoy nature, as we feel deeply about the beauty in nature’s wonders. I enjoy going outdoors, just to breathe some fresh air and rejuvenate myself with the scent of the grass field and open sky.
Give yourself some deep relaxation in daily life, and find the things that can make you feel calm.
A few common things that make you calm:
- Be in nature and under sunlight
- Meditation or mindful breathing exercise
- Deep relaxation exercise – Here are 5 relaxation techniques you could try
- Aromatherapy – different scents could help you to relax differently
- Bubble baths – adding some candles and bath salts
- A good massage
- Mandala Coloring
- Listening to music – calm piano music or nature music
6. Keep Moving Forward
Even though I encourage you to set boundaries and protect yourself, we also need to know that if we want to continue to develop and grow, we have to face our life positively and not always stay in our comfort zone.
Remember that we have the ability to train our brains to think and react differently. We will not always stay in the same state.
As long as we are moving forward, positive things will come along.
Lastly, as HSPs, we need to learn to think of ourselves first and care for ourselves more. Self-love is the best form of love, and it doesn’t mean we are selfish.
Listen to yourself and attend to your need. We all can turn our personalities into our own superpowers.
Other Resources for Highly Sensitive Person
Highly sensitive person test developed by Dr. Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron
Here are a few additional readings that may be of help:
- “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D
- “Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide” by Ted Zeff
- “The Emotionally Sensitive Person” by Karyn D. Hall Ph.D
- “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” by Judith Orloff
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