A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or someone known to have high “sensory processing sensitivity” (SPS) is effected by emotional and physical stimuli at a level beyond that of the average person. The term and concept of the Highly Sensitive Person was coined by psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron in 1996. That year, Dr. Elaine N. Aron published her book on the subject, “The Highly Sensitive Person,” which will be covered by the PsychEd Book Club this month so be sure to join in on the discussion!
It’s important to know that this is not an illness, if anything, we like to think of it as a bit of a superpower. It is an innate trait that some people have and others do not and those who have it know how much it can come in handy. It’s estimated that around 20% of the population has high SPS or is an HSP. HSP’s have actual differences in how their brains process and respond to stimuli. An HSP is more likely to notice subtle details in things and be more reactive to positive and negative stimuli. Most HSP’s have been called or thought themselves to be “too sensitive” at some if not many points in their life. Let’s just clarify right now, there is no such thing as being “too” sensitive.
The Tell-Tale Signs of a Highly Sensitive Person
There are many different behaviors and signs that suggest someone might be a Highly Sensitive Person. Among HSPs, there are some traits that show up commonly across the board. If you’ve already thought you might be an HSP and you relate to any of the traits below, you might be right!
Common Experiences of Highly Sensitive People
- Easily overwhelmed by stimuli such as loud noises, large crowds, or violence in shows and movies
- Emotionally affected by others moods because it they have a higher awareness of others feelings and also have a higher need to people please and avoid conflict
- Feeling a need for downtime, especially after busy and hectic days that felt overwhelming
- Thinking deeply and emotionally about things such as the arts, nature, and their life in general
- Being moved by “the little things” and feeling intensely grateful for what you have
- Acute awareness of subtle stimuli
How To Cope If You Are A Highly Sensitive Person
A lot of people live with high SPS and never come to learn that they have it. Oftentimes people just assume that they or people they know are “overly sensitive” and while they may not adjust their lives in any way, they might make adjustments without ever realizing it. High SPS can show up for people in different ways. An HSP might have a lot of pent up stress and tension due to the constant overwhelm that comes from being overstimulated. HSPs may also be more emotional and sometimes reactive in response to certain situations where others will not. There are things that HSPs can do if they want to lessen the impact that high sensitivity can have on their life. The following tips may help you cope if you believe you’re an HSP.
6 Quick Tips For High SPS
1. Avoid situations that are filled with more stimuli when you can. Go out when traffic is light and go shopping when the crowds are gone.
2. Don’t watch content that will be triggering to you.
3. Allow yourself adequate time for rest and relaxation. After work, you can skip happy hour if you need and go take some time for yourself to decompress.
4. Regularly Practice journaling and meditation. These can both help get your feelings and emotions out of your head while also helping to calm your mind from the overwhelming factors of the day.
5. Increase your interaction with nature and art. The things that do fulfill and reward you should be plentiful.
6. Be aware of your own internal voice. High sensitivity to those around you can be hard enough, tune into how you talk to yourself and be kind to yourself.
What does all this mean for Highly Sensitive People
Although there has always been a negative connotation with the idea of being “too sensitive” and having high sensitivity, the trait is not a negative one. There are many positive and special things that come with being a highly sensitive person. For instance, HSPs often have very close and meaningful friendships and relationships as well as having a more meaningful view of life. Having an eye for the little beauties in life goes a long way. HSPs can often sense other’s subtle mood shifts and respond to them. Because of their heightened sensitivity, they can also often hear, smell and feel things long before others can and decipher those things more accurately. Though high SPS has its difficulties, those who have it can cope with it’s cons as well as benefiting from many of its positive impacts. To learn more about what it means to be an HSP and how to recognize, live with, and embrace the trait, join PsychEd book club this month on June 19th for a rich discussion of Elaine N. Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person”!! Additionally, there is a brief online test we’d like to recommend that you can find here, have a look and then meet us at the book club to discuss!
Just for fun, we thought that we would share that there are 2 members of the ARC Counseling and Wellness team who identify as HSPs. I bet you can’t guess which two! Here’s a cheat…check out the @psychedbokclub Instagram account.