Highly Sensitive Person (HSP): Symptoms & Coping Strategies

Being a highly sensitive person can come with lots of misunderstandings. Many people describe highly sensitive individuals as weak, overly feminine, or unable to overcome their problems with persistence.

However, there is so much more to an HSP than what first meets the eye. Such people often have psychological changes in their brains. This leads to increased emotional sensitivity.

If you are an HSP,  you may be thinking: if my sensitivity comes for neural change, is there anything I can do about it? Or, will I just have to accept my heightened sensitivity?

Luckily, there are steps you can take to overcome your sensitivity.

In this article, we will discuss what makes a person highly sensitive, how sensitivity affects your life, and what you can do to stop it.

What Is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

Highly sensitive individuals have a heightened sensitivity to stimuli, which results in them having more emotional responses to said stimuli. This is a neurophysiological and chemical change that occurs in the brain.

Some individuals seem to be predisposed to sensitivity given their genetic makeup, while others acquire it through their environment. Some say that highly sensitive individuals have a sensory processing sensitivity, too.

Some people associate sensitivity with weakness and lack of persistence. However, highly sensitive people often cannot control their sensitive reactions. They feel more intensely than other individuals.

In addition, sensitivity does bring some benefits as well. For instance, they are more likely to give positive feedback to the entire team. In addition, sensitive people love more deeply in relationships.

Studies on highly sensitive people date back to the 1990s. The people who first coined the term, Elaine and Arthur Aron, created a text detailing their work. Since then, new studies have been published even recently to further understand this phenomenon.

Some questions that still remain partially unanswered include: how does someone become highly sensitive? Is it an overall benefit or drawback to life? And, most importantly, what can you do about your sensitivity? Research has come closer to answering these queries, but new science is still developing.

How Do You Know If You’re an HSP? (Signs & Traits)

Individuals with heightened sensitivity still have unique personalities and character traits. However, there are a few key signs that could indicate you are highly sensitive, besides taking the test.

A few of these signs include:

  • Consistently being told you are overly sensitive – While this is not always a sure-fire way to determine your sensitivity, others around you may give you a more objective outlook on your sensitivity. If you are told you are overly sensitive consistently and by many individuals, this is a sign of being a HSP.
  • Overthinking – Highly sensitive people are prone to overthinking. If even the smallest decisions cause you to overthink and slightly panic, you may be an HSP.
  • Not enjoying violent movies and avoiding violence in general – HSP value calmness over thrill, and this is especially true when it comes to avoiding violence. Even violent shows can have a huge impact on highly sensitive people.
  • Being easily overwhelmed – Are you easily overwhelmed by loud noises, large crowds, intense work schedules, parties, and daily meetings? If so, you might be a highly sensitive person.
  • Needing alone time – Highly sensitive individuals tend to be introverted. They need their space to be respected. Being constantly surrounded by people brings them stress and anxiety.
  • Having a need to take regular breaks – While most people need to take occasional breaks from time to time, those who are highly sensitive would need to take them more often. This is so because stress affects them more.
  • Having a hard time letting go – Highly sensitive people find it difficult to say no to others. They do not want to hurt another person’s feelings, even if it makes themselves suffer. This could lead to poor habits in the long term.

Types of Highly Sensitive Person

Every highly sensitive person has unique characteristics that set them apart. However, you can generally classify HSP into three distinct groups: those with aesthetic sensitivity, ease of excitation, and sensory threshold subtypes.

Some people experience habits from more than just one of these subtypes, though. In fact, highly sensitive people have a unique blend of each of these groups fueling their sensitivity.

The key is to find out which one is dominant.

Aesthetic Sensitivity (AES)

This subtype of HSP is especially interested in beauty and nature. Art and music are needed by such individuals to enjoy a full life. They are moved by beauty in a way that other HSPs are not. In fact, beauty is synonymous with peace and happiness in the mind of someone with aesthetic sensitivity.

When someone with AES enters a typical office environment, they may become unmotivated and develop bad workplace habits. This is so because beauty and aesthetically pleasing environments are needed for these HSPs to thrive. Those with AES often decorate their homes and workplaces, listen to soothing music, and create art as an outlet and to overcome stress.

Low Sensory Threshold (LST)

Having a low sensory threshold makes an individual especially susceptible to being overwhelmed by stimuli. Bright and/or flashing lights, loud noises, unpleasant tastes, uncomfortable clothes, and so on can bring genuine stress to those with LST. When experiencing these stimuli, this type of HSP tends to react very negatively and panic.

If you have a low sensory threshold, you need to find an outlet to distract yourself from the stimuli. In addition to this, ensure those around you are aware you have a LST. Then, you will be less likely to encounter these stressors and more prepared when you inevitably do. Try meditation or listening to calming music, for example. Experiment with different techniques to take your mind off of the sensory overload.

Ease of Excitation (EOE)

If you classify as the ease of excitement subtype of HSPs, you can become easily overwhelmed. Workplace demands, such as large projects or deadlines, can cause you extreme stress. In addition to this, even internal senses of hunger or fatigue can contribute to your stress. Ease of excitement can lead to bad work habits and lack of achievement in some people, or mental exhaustion in others.

A fast-paced and demanding environment with a hectic schedule is not the best setting for someone with EOE. If you have EOE, ensure you focus on self-care, sleep enough, take a lunch break at work, and avoid stress as much as you can. Your blood sugar may influence how severe your EOE is, so pay attention to it, but being aware of your stressors is even more crucial.

Impact of Being an HSP

When you initially think of sensitivity, you may only think of the negative side of this characteristic. After all, most people use ‘sensitive’ as an insult rather than a compliment.

But, it turns out there are many benefits to being a highly sensitive person as well. For instance, you can find beauty in even simple objects and love people deeply, leading to more meaningful relationships.

Of course, there are also downsides to being sensitive. Being an HSP could be an overall positive or negative impact on your life, depending on how you use your sensitivity.

In short, below are a few common advantages and disadvantages of being an HSP.

5 Common Advantages

At first glance, being overly sensitive does not sound like a positive trait. Being an HSP comes with numerous important benefits, though.

Some of these advantages include:

  • Being able to empathize with people – Individuals are able to connect with you on a deeper level if you can empathize with them. Being able to empathize also leads to a greater understanding of each other’s problems so you can better help others.
  • See deeper purpose in tasks – When a highly sensitive person works, they want to feel a deeper purpose. This deeper purpose makes their work more fulfilling and leads to them being more happy and productive in the process.
  • Can work extremely well on your own – Most HSP are introverted and prefer working in calm environments without a large team. This can be necessary for some jobs and leads to increased efficiency. Other people may need constant interactions and stimuli, but this is not necessary for HSP.
  • Having a sense of intuition – When evidence is limited and it is tough to make a rational decision, some people may panic. Not the HSP, though. They have a strong sense of intuition which guides them, even when decisions are difficult to make.
  • Attention to detail – There is a good reason for evolution favoring highly sensitive people: they can spot environmental changes others simply cannot pick up on. This leads to individuals being more careful and accurate in their work.

5 Common Disadvantages

As with any personality trait, being highly sensitive also comes with several downsides.

Some cons you should be aware of are:

  • Stressed more easily than others – Many things can overwhelm a highly sensitive person, ranging from conflicts to large crowds or even sensory overload (loud noises or bright lights, for example). This could limit your career opportunities and lead to a decline in leadership skills.
  • Being overly critical and prone to comparing yourself – HSP may develop a negative attitude as a result of over-comparison and becoming hyper focused on one’s flaws. This leads to self doubt and seriously negative mental health side effects.
  • Difficulty letting go – Once a highly sensitive person develops an attachment to someone or something, it is difficult for them to let go. They may suffer through negative experiences simply because they were once loved by someone, for example
  • Time management can be a struggle – HSP need plenty of time to produce their best work, and deadlines can cause them unnecessary and extreme stress.
  • Taking feedback too personally – HSP have a tendency to take every piece of feedback to heart. They may find it difficult to hear constructive criticism or even career advice in general. HSP may view negative feedback as an attack in their character.

How To Cope & Overcome HSP

As a highly sensitive person, it can be difficult to cope with and overcome stress. However, it is possible. You need to understand your own stressors and be honest with yourself.

For instance, do not put yourself in stressful scenarios whenever you can. You may be tempted to apply to a high paying stressful job, but in the long run, your mental health will suffer.

Even if you find a job that is relatively stress-free, you need to find ways to minimize sensory overload. Create a list of your top stressors. Then, find ways fo avoid them or lessen their impact. One of the best ways to do this is through distraction mechanisms.

HSP tend to enjoy art and emotional expression. Find a way to bring music into the workplace and at your home. Whenever you feel stressed, play some music, take a break, or create some art.

Try to incorporate more positivity and positive habits into your life, too. Schedule fun experiences with friends, and try new things to show yourself change is not necessarily bad. This could also help you cope with some of your stress and overcome some of your bad work habits.

While working in your own is great at times, it is also crucial to have a support network. Before committing to a romantic relationship with someone, explain your troubles and try to connect on a deep level. See if he or she also understands and cares for you the same way you care for them.

It is okay to let go of someone in a relationship if you are not meant to be. This way, you will avoid pain and heartache in the long run.

Bonus: 3 Amazing Highly Sensitive Person Books

1. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive when the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron

Dr. Elaine Aron and Dr. Arthur Aron are the individuals who coined the term ‘highly sensitive person’ and performed revolutionary research on this population. In this text, Dr. Elaine Aron discusses what it means to be highly sensitive, the secret powers of highly sensitive people, how you can harness these secret abilities, and even how to raise a highly sensitive child.

The book outlines ways to lead a fulfilling life as someone who is highly sensitive as well. You will learn to reframe past negative experiences and explore your inner thoughts about your sensitivity. Although it was published in 1997, this book is still the go-to resource for learning about sensitivity.

2. Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World: How to Create a Happy Life by Ilse Sand

Highly sensitive people have unique struggles in today’s fast-paced, constantly changing, and insensitive world. Ilse Sand created a book specifically written for highly sensitive individuals. She recognizes these unique needs and experiences. While you are constantly told to be strong and persistent, Sand explores why this ‘stay strong no matter what’ mindset is toxic and unhelpful.

Instead, she offers real solutions to dealing with sensitivity problems. These including learning to appreciate your sensitivity, finding calmness, and suggesting inspirational activities. If you want to learn how to socialize as a highly sensitive person and/or how to overcome low self esteem (among other common HSP issues), this book is for you.

3. The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff

Written by an MD, this book poses the question: can you be a resilient and strong HSP who is fully open and authentic at the same time? According to Dr. Judith Orloff, the answer is yes! Dr. Orloff provides valuable coping mechanisms in this book, which can benefit almost every HSP. She will teach you how to build resilience in every facet of your life, including your career, romantic relationships, friendships, parenthood, and more.

You will also get assessment tools to further understand your type of empathy and subtype of HSP with the purchase of this book. You will learn how to overcome negativity and energy ‘vampires’ like narcissists, the best tips to raise empathetic kids, how to deepen relationships without stress, and ways to avoid sensory overload.

Feel free to take a look at the list of best personality tests online.

Highly Sensitive Person FAQ

Is HSP a mental illness?

No, HSP is not a mental illness or a medical condition at all. It is more of a personality trait. Often, highly sensitive people are described as having sensory processing sensitivity. There are neurochemical and genetic changes that occur in someone with SPS or who is an HSP.

However, your doctor cannot diagnose you with either of these conditions. They are also both not listed in the DSM-5. But, traits associated with HSPs and SPS are often present in those with mental health conditions such as autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Is HSP bipolar?

No, bipolar is not the same condition as being highly sensitive. Bipolar is a mental health condition, while being highly sensitive is a personality trait. That said, being a highly sensitive person can impact your mood and sometimes leads to bipolar-like symptoms.

Being highly sensitive is a common trait for those with bipolar. However, this does not mean that being highly sensitive causes bipolar or vice versa. But, being a highly sensitive person with bipolar can mean that overstimulation triggers and exacerbates your bipolar symptoms.

Are you born highly sensitive?

Being highly sensitive can come from several factors. Most people believe that this trait is developed as a result of both genetic and environmental factors. For example, those born with the 5-HTTLPR gene mutation are more likely to become highly sensitive.

However, the risk of becoming an HSP is increased significantly if you are born into an unstable family that does not provide you with needed love, support, and attention. As such, one can say some people are born predisposed to high sensitivity. However, it is ultimately the environment that plays an even more significant role.

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