What It Means To Be A Highly Sensitive Person

When most people are asked to join a group of friends at a bar or crowded restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night, most 20- or 30-somethings don’t even hesitate to say yes—it’s a given, they’re going. But when it comes to me, more often times than not, I politely decline. Why? I don’t like loud environments, bright lights hurt my eyes and I can’t stand too many things going on at once. (I need my weighted blanket just thinking about it). Now, I know what you are thinking, and no I am not antisocial, nor am I an extreme introvert. I’m just a highly sensitive person. highly sensitive person

What is a highly sensitive person?

Often referred to as an HSP, highly sensitive people make up roughly 15 percent of the population. No, HSP’s are not necessarily people that are extra sensitive in the way you are thinking (insert image of your friend who always sobs at the end of a romantic movie here). Being an HSP is not as simple as being an overly emotional person. HSPs are often categorized by the following characteristics:
  • Aware of changes or subtleties in their physical environment
  • Becomes overwhelmed very quickly
  • Easily affected by other people’s emotions and moods
  • Holds a deep appreciation for art, music and nature
  • Hypersensitive to external stimuli
  • Exhibits high emotional reactivity
  • Indecisive
  • Takes criticism to heart

What it’s like to be an HSP

An HSP is someone who is extra sensitive to external and internal stimuli and is also someone who is also probably thinking just a little bit more about, well, everything! Holistic Healing Coach Syanna Wand (also co-founder of tallow-based beauty company Amara Marie), says, “Sensitivity is a trait that exists on a scale. All of us are sensitive to one thing or another to some degree. HSPs are sensitive to it all. Imagine something that bothers you (cigarette smoke, for example) and then imagine being that sensitive to ALL the lights, noises, smells, tastes and people around you in that same way. It’s not easy living in a body like that!” Take me for instance. Physically, certain fabrics or textures drive me crazy (don’t even get me started on bras). Unexpected emails overwhelm me and joyous occasions like a wedding celebration send me straight off the dance floor and over to the side of the room where I can take a quiet moment. If you are anxious about an upcoming medical appointment, I can sense your trepidation and know something is off. Certain song lyrics or pieces of writing can make me emotional and that comment you said to me last week (err, last month), yeah, I’m probably still thinking about it. While some of these behaviors may resemble antisocial behavior or odd quirks, it’s neither. I simply have a lower tolerance for external and internal stimuli that my nervous system can’t process all at once. Wand goes on to explain, “Often, friends and family of sensitive people get really annoyed at their loved one for being the way they are, but what they are missing is that it’s not a choice. HSP’s can no more control their sensitivity than a person can control their eye color.”

Tips for interacting with an HSP

“Learning to love an HSP is not about getting them to change, because they can’t. It’s about learning how to work with their nervous system in a way that supports their low tolerance levels so the beautiful parts of their sensitivity can shine through,” explains Wand. “The next time you find yourself getting frustrated with the HSP in your life, remember it’s hard for them too, and see if you can work together to make the experience your having a little less intense. For an HSP, some simple grounding contact like a hug can go a long way.” If you are friends with an HSP, live with one, love one or work with one, here are a few tips so you can better interact with them in a way that is more conducive to their sensitive systems:
  • Minimize bright lights, loud noises and strong smells. This one may be difficult to do at times, but bright lights, loud noises and strong smells can be incredibly overwhelming to HSP’s. If you work with an HSP in an open office floor plan, consider avoiding office playlists that could be disrupting your HSP coworker who doesn’t care for extra loud music throughout the work day.
  • Support their grounding rituals. Most HSP’s have learned how to best reset their energy. For me, it’s long walks in nature. It’s helpful to give HSP’s their space when they need time to reset and get grounded. If they invite you to join, go for it, but also don’t be offended if they need some solo time.
  • Take no for an answer. When an HSP needs to reset their energy, forcing them to go out can be massively draining, so if you’ve asked an HSP to join you for a night out and they’ve said no, respect their answer and simply let it be. Nothing is wrong, we aren’t antisocial or boring, we are simply recharging.

Tips for living as an HSP

If you are an HSP, here are a few tips I found helpful in navigating a world in a highly sensitive system:
  • Avoid artificial stimulants. Stimulants like alcohol, caffeine even sugar can actually affect HSPs more intensely so use them sparingly.
  • Get grounded. Whether it’s a long walk in nature, meditation or yoga, find something that gets you grounded and helps you reset your energy.
  • Know there’s nothing wrong with you. The chaotic cacophony of the world we live in can prove challenging for HSPs, but that doesn’t make us defective. Just because you may prefer a night in over a night out doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, so accept and honor your feelings.

You’re not weird, you’re just an HSP

During this journey, I’ve learned being an HSP doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. I just process sensory data more deeply than others—which has its drawbacks, but also holds many beautiful and unique advantages. Wand sums it up best: “Being an HSP can prove challenging in a modern world that is not set up to support sensitive people, but by learning that sensitivity is not a deficit, but rather an inherent trait that makes you unique, special and in need of gentleness, you can learn to embrace and make shifts to your personal world to more closely match your own unique needs. That’s how we move from disempowered sensitives to empowered ones; by seeing, exploring and, eventually, owning our sensitivity in all its glorious complexity.” The next time your friend politely declines an event that sounds exciting to you, perhaps reconsider your plans and see if they want to do something else. Mocktails and hygge anyone? If you think you may be an HSP, take this free online assessment or you can connect with Syanna here.

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About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.