Have you ever felt bothered by a certain light or noise that others didn’t really seem to perceive?
Do you tend to feel overwhelmed in certain social situations? When making a decision that
might affect others (even if it’s a little thing, like deciding where to take a trip or even what movie
to see), do you find yourself overthinking? These might be indications that you are a highly
sensitive person (HSP).
You respond to stimulus more intensely, you perceive more things around you (or with more
details), you overthink.
What does it mean?
Hypersensitivity (or sensory-processing sensitivity) is a trait some people are born with -not a
medical condition-, much like having brown hair, blue or green eyes. There's a wide variety to
being a HSP, and yet at its core we are just more sensitive than the average population. This
means that your senses tend to be more receptive to the stimuli around you, which ultimately
requires your nervous system to process more sensory information. It could be that your sight,
touch, smell, hearing or taste might feel more “attuned” and you might perceive things
differently, including other people’s energy and emotions.
An acronym that is useful to outline some of the characteristics of highly sensitive people is
● Depth of processing
● Overwhelm / Over arousal
● Empathy / Emotional responsiveness
● Sensory Sensitivity
Depth of processing
We have a high capacity for processing and organising information at a deep level. Because of
this, it might take us more time to make decisions because we are weighing multiple factors. On
the upside, we tend to be very reflective people and we can learn things relatively well because
our brains keep processing things long after they have happened. This also gives us the ability
to “connect the dots” that other people might have missed.
Overwhelm / Over arousal
We tend to respond intensely to things and we are more reactive to stimuli. It coule be that the
fabric of a sweater feels so itchy that you can’t even try it on, or that you get too distracted by a
buzzing sound or an intense light. We can often feel overwhelmed by “too muchness” (to put it
colourfully). This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a lower threshold for stress, but rather
that we are processing too many things all the time, so we might get over aroused more easily
or faster than most people.
Empathy and emotional responsiveness
We feel our emotions very deeply and we are also very aware of the emotions of others. It is
somewhat like “being a sponge”: as a HSP it is common that you “absorb” other people’s
emotions and energy, or that you are more perceptive in emotionally charged situations. This is
important to keep in mind when we approach something that might be challenging for us.
HSP can be incredibly good at picking up on little things that others might discard or not pay
close attention to. This is very useful for identifying connections or when we need to remember
particular details, but it can become overwhelming at times because of how much we are
capturing from our environment. This sensitivity even extends beyond our five traditional
senses; for instance, it includes proprioception (the sense of where we are in space) and
introspection (the sense of our inner self).
Tools and practices
We can think of ourselves (and our nervous system) as a cup. As we are constantly taking in
and processing more sensory information -we are filling up our cup-, it is common that it gets full
rather quickly and we overflow more easily. Since our nervous system regulates our level of
excitement, as HSP we need to train our ability to switch from a “stress-anxiety” mode to a
“calm-tranquility” one, which is rarely a simple task. Considering this, having some focused tools
and practices in mind can be helpful to navigate challenging situations.
In a nutshell
As HSPs we need two basic things:
- Training ourselves
- Having a routine.
- Performing small actions that produce constant well-being.
- Trying to stay in balance.
- Taking care of ourselves
- Taking care of our food and exercising.
- You need sunlight, rest, cleanliness, order, boundaries and & ''seeing beauty''.
- Taking care of our mental health.
Benefits of exercise (or physical activity in general)
Exercise helps us to get out of our heads and allows us to be present in our bodies. It’s a very
powerful tool to feel better not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. If you
devote time to looking after yourself, when you get overstimulated you’ll be able to respond from
a place of wellbeing and fullness as opposed to feeling more drained because you haven’t been
taking care of yourself.
When you get anxious because of a situation or setting, your brain can react in the same way as
when facing a physical threat. For example, it might release adrenaline, as it would do to trigger
a “flight or fight” reaction. However, as most of these situations will not actually require you to
“run from danger”, you will probably find yourself even more anxious if you don’t respond to it.
It is common for calming “mental exercises” to be recommended when dealing with these
situations of high stress or anxiety. However, in many cases it might be more effective to do
some physical activity, which can serve as an outlet for all the built up energy generated by our
state of being alert.
Breathing interacts directly with the nervous system. Calm, relaxed breathing lowers your levels
of stress. It is one of the most powerful tools to manage states of stress and anxiety because it
is always available.
You can try the following breathing exercise (4-7-8). Put on a timer to repeat this for at least 5
minutes: Inhale while counting to 4, hold while counting to 7, exhale while counting to 8.
When you find yourself overthinking, especially imagining possible scenarios, try to pause, take
a deep breath, and pay close attention to your surroundings to identify:
● 5 things that you see
● 4 things that you feel (touch: clothes, blanket, table, floor)
● 3 things you hear
● 2 things you smell
Being in (and with) nature
As HSP, we are highly attuned to nature. A walk in the woods, smelling the trees, sitting on the
beach listening to the waves or looking at the flowers in the park can go a long way for us. This
is a practice that can completely fill us up and revitalize us. Being in nature is a great way to
connect with yourself and with “the little things” that brings us joy.
You might not have control over the amount of stimuli present in your surroundings in everyday
life, but many times the solution might be in trying to place yourself in environments that are
better for you as much as possible.
Embrace sensitivity and reduce overwhelm
Something to always keep in mind: Do not fight your sensitivity, but embrace it. It’s a gift and a
unique way to relate to the world around you. It’s your super power!!
Learn more about being HSP to better understand yourself and your needs:
● It’s “the little things that warm up our hearts and put on the biggest smiles.
● We’re great listeners. We are very attentive, responsive, and empathic
● We’re passionate. We do things wholeheartedly. We tend to put our heart and soul in
everything we do.
● We love building deep and meaningful relationships with others.
● Don’t put off doing things you enjoy. This is a way for recharging your energy. Whether it
is walking in nature, painting, playing with your furry friend, reading or something else,
make sure you get enough of it.
● Schedule time for doing “nothing” (or resting). It took me a long time to understand this,
but taking down time actually goes a long way for a HSP. Staying in and doing nothing
can be exactly what you need sometimes, and you should not feel guilty about it.
● Check-in with yourself and make sure you have enough time for yourself
■ Remember this can look different for everyone.
■ During this time you are doing a lot. You’re allowing yourself to process
all the information you’ve been absorbing so that you can make space for
all the upcoming things.
● If you don’t let the “cup drain” (take this down time), it’s often
common to have an (emotional) overflow because there’s no more
space to hold it in.
● Consciously create a life that supports your sensitivity.
○ This can be a morning routine, making space for your “doing nothing” time,
setting time for a workout, meditating, journaling, having slow mornings, anything
that “feels right”.
Know that you are not alone in navigating the challenges that come with this trait, but also
you’re not alone in celebrating the gifts that come with being a Highly Sensitive Soul.
Here’s the test from Dr. Elaine Aron