I was first introduced to the concept of Highly Sensitive People when studying the nervous system during early education to become a yoga therapist. I was immediately intrigued because I felt like I had finally found an explanation for many of the feelings and experiences I have on a consistent basis that it seemed like most people couldn't understand. I remember the elation I felt as my professor explained common signs of a highly sensitive nervous system and have since become passionate about helping other highly sensitive people learn to better understand their unique nervous systems.
Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) were first identified as being quantifiably separate from others by psychologist Elaine Aron. HSPS are individuals who have an increased awareness and responsiveness to their environment, including the subtleties within it due to a nervous system that is more sensitive to stimuli than most of the population. HSPs are typically more aware of external stimuli, including sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory information. They may also be more emotionally sensitive and are often highly attuned to the emotions and needs of others around them. Research suggests that HSPs make up to 20 percent of the population, and this trait is found in people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.
The evolutionary argument and neuroscience behind HSPs is fascinating but in a nutshell, HSPs are the individuals who have evolved to be early warning signs for danger and safety for the rest of the "tribe" or community. These individuals existed to provide warnings, direction and guidance for the survival of their societies as they were able to recognize signs of danger, aggression and safety before others. Researchers have found when stimulating HSPs that their nervous systems are more sensitive to stimuli of all kind when compared to non-HSPs.
Highly Sensitive People are often misunderstood, and the trait itself can be seen as both a strength and a weakness. While they may be more sensitive to their environment and more deeply affected by it, HSPs are also often more creative and have a greater capacity for empathy and understanding. It is important to recognize that being a Highly Sensitive Person is not a flaw or a disorder, but rather a unique trait that comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
Is High Sensitivity a Disorder?
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are individuals with a unique trait, estimated to affect 15 to 20 percent of the population. HSPs are intuitively aware of their environment and the emotions of others, and they may be more easily overwhelmed by strong stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or intense emotions. They may also have a greater need for alone time and be more sensitive to criticism than non-HSPs. Despite this and in part because of this, highly sensitive people often have an exquisite appreciation for beauty, art, music, and nature.
According to an article from Medical News Today "[Elaine] Aron and other researchers treat sensory processingsensitivity not as an illness or diagnosis but as an evolved personality trait that can be adaptive in some circumstances." The adaptive nature of HPS' trait means that they may experience more intense or frequent emotional reactions than individuals who are not highly sensitive, and they also may not. HSPs exist on a spectrum of nervous system sensitivityand some situations that are overstimulating to one HSP may not be to another.
A shared trait is that fact that most HSPs may find it more difficult to manage stress and may need more time to relax and process their environment. HSPs often have a strong sense of intuition, which can be both a blessing and a curse within interpersonal relationships, their careers and their health.
It is important to note that, although highly sensitive people may be more prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, this increased risk does not mean that high sensitivity itself is a disorder. On the contrary, high sensitivityis a perfectly normal trait, and it is not something that should be feared or viewed as a negative. Rather, those who possess this trait should recognize it and use it to their advantage, as it can help them to better understand and empathize with others, as well as to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the world around them.
What’s the Difference Between Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Sensory Processing Disorder?
As stated, Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are individuals who have a heightened sensitivity to stimuli in their environment, often resulting in intense reactions to certain stimuli. This is known as sensory processing sensitivity(SPS), and it is distinct from the neurological disorder, sensory processing disorder (SPD).
HSPs experience SPS to a greater degree than most people, and they may be easily startled, overwhelmed by sensory input, and prone to feeling overstimulated. People with SPD, however, are unable to process sensory information in an organized and efficient manner, which can lead to difficulty with coordination, movement, and behaviors related to self-care and daily activities.
While both SPS and SPD can cause intense reactions to certain stimuli, HSPs are generally able to self-regulate and cope with their heightened sensitivity. Conversely, people with SPD may require specialized treatment and interventions to manage their condition.
What Causes a Person to Be Highly Sensitive?
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are individuals who possess an increased sensitivity to both external stimuli and emotions. Researchers believe the trait to be largely genetic in origin, but early life experiences and circumstances can increase an HSP's threshold of sensitivity or coping mechanisms to overstimulation. The origins of this unique personality type are still not fully understood, but some experts believe that it is a result of a combination of genetics, environment, and life experiences and this combination can determine where an HSP lies on the spectrum of sensitivity.
HSPs often demonstrate an increased sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, and textures from a young age. This can make them easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety even from infancy. In addition to being more aware of their environment, highly sensitive children are often more creative and introspective, engaging in activities that require depth and insight. They also tend to be more empathetic and sensitive to criticism.
As a result of a highly sensitive nervous system, HSPs tend to be more in tune with their emotions, thinking deeply about how they feel and how their actions affect others. They are also highly aware of their surroundings, picking up on subtle changes in their environment.
Is High Sensitivity the Same As Introversion?
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are often misunderstood. While they can sometimes be introverted, they are not necessarily the same thing. In fact, high sensitivity is an innate trait that affects around 20% of the population, and it is more common in introverts. This means that while some HSPs may be introverted, others may be extroverted - it all depends on the individual.
Due to being frequently overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of stimuli in our modern world, HSPS often need more time to themselves in order to process their emotions and recharge which does lend them to be more likely introverts, but it's important to understand that introversion is a personality trait where as HSPs are a quantifiable portion of the population whose major sensory processing system functions differently. Being an introvert is a social phenomenon while being and HSP is a biophysical phenomenon.
How do I determine if I am an HSP?
The best way to determine if you are an HSP is to take the self assessment test here that both therapists and lay people can use to identify HSPs.
HSPs usually have a deep connection to music, art, and nature, as these often provide a sense of peace and comfort in the midst of a chaotic world. They are also often highly emotionally aware and in tune with the feelings of those around them, making them highly empathetic and compassionate. Highly sensitive people often notice things in their environment far before others like scents, sights or sounds and become overwhelmed in situations where others are totally fine (like movie theaters, concerts or loud restaurants). Many HSPs are perfectionists, and they can be hard on themselves when things don’t go as planned. If any of these traits sound like you, it's a good idea to take the self assessment here to see if you do have a highly sensitive nervous system.
What are the Signs?
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are a unique type of personality that have a heightened awareness of the environment and people around them. They tend to pick up on subtle cues and emotions that may go unnoticed by others and can be deeply affected by the emotional states of those around them. HSPs are often more intuitive and empathetic than others and they can be overwhelmed by sensory overload. They may be more sensitive to certain noises, smells, or bright lights and may take longer to recover from stressful situations.
Highly sensitive people often have a rich inner life, and they need time alone to process their thoughts and feelings, which is why many folks associate introversion with being highly sensitive.
Understanding the traits, characteristics, and origins of this unique personality can help HSPs lead fulfilled lives. They should strive to recognize their own needs and find strategies to manage any stress or anxiety they may face. With the proper support, HSPs can find self-acceptance and appreciation for the unique gifts they bring to the world and begin to re-write sensitivity as a positive strength rather than something associated with weakness
Okay, I’m an Hsp — What Should I Know?
The heightened sensitivity that is the determining characteristic of HSPs can lead to them having a lower threshold for stimulation, meaning that they can become overwhelmed more easily than others. If you are an HSP, take time to recognize where your threshold for overstimulation is and become familiar with the signs of approaching overstimulation so you can remove yourself from situations before you become overwhelmed.
Due to the fact that HSPs have a tendency to be more creative and intuitive than the average person, and they often have a rich inner life. As a result, they may find it difficult to separate their own thoughts and feelings from those of others. Beginning a contemplative or meditation practice can be an excellent asset to HSPs in learning to separate stimuli they need to notice and react to from stimuli that is simply negative or unhelpful.
In order to stay balanced and in tune with their environment, HSPs might benefit from making sure they have enough time for self-care and reflection. This could include activities such as yoga, meditation, or journaling. In addition, HSPs may benefit from talking to a therapist or counselor to help them process their emotions and experiences in a healthy way.
High Sensitivity; a blessing and a challenge
Being a highly sensitive person can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they are often incredibly emotionallyintelligent and perceptive, with a heightened awareness of their environment. On the other hand, this can lead to overwhelm and exhaustion from constantly processing so much information. It’s important for HSPs to be mindful of their needs and create an environment where they can relax and thrive.
In order to manage their sensitivity, HSPs often benefit from learning coping skills and engaging in calming activities. It is also important for them to be aware of their own boundaries and to create healthy boundaries with those around them. Self-care is also key for Highly Sensitive People, as it helps them to be mindful of their own needs and to practice self-compassion.
Understanding the traits and characteristics of Highly Sensitive People can help create more understanding and acceptance of this unique personality type. People who are Highly Sensitive often have a unique perspective that can be incredibly valuable if it is nurtured and supported. By creating environments that are mindful of the needs of HSPs, we can create a more inclusive and understanding society.
Coping Strategies and Tips
As mentioned previously, HSPs may be prone to becoming overwhelmed by their emotions or by sensory stimulation, so it is important for them to learn how to manage their emotions and sensitivities in a positive way.
One way to do this is to develop self-awareness, which can help HSPs better understand their sensitivities and how to manage them. This self awareness can enable HSPs to identify what environmental factors are too overstimulating for their nervous systems and what environmental factors can be adjusted to or endured.
It can also be beneficial for HSPs to learn how to say “no” and set boundaries, as this can help protect their nervous system from unnecessary challenges. That being said, it's also necessary that HSPs continue to be exposed to normal stimuli levels to encourage a healthy degree of de-sensitization. It can be tempting for HSPs to opt out of social events and activities to avoid overstimulation but doing this consistently lower the threshold which their nervous system can handle and causes their social skills to atrophy.
HSPs should give themselves time to process information and experiences before making decisions or taking action. Setting healthy expectations for loved ones and having clear communication channels can help HSPs to gain the necessary time they need to think and the necessary space they need to leave overstimulating situations.
By learning and applying these tips, HSPs can learn to manage their emotions and take care of themselves. HSPs have so much potential to guide society in the right direction, but increased stimuli in our modern world makes it harder for HSPs to function. Creating better understanding and support for HSPs will benefit not just those of us that are HSPs but society as a whole.