A highly sensitive person (or HSP) is someone who is more sensitive to physical, emotional or social stimuli. Being highly sensitive can be considered a personality trait that comes with its own strengths and difficulties. Here we will look at how to thrive as a highly sensitive person.
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
If you’ve ever been told that you are “too sensitive” or feel things more deeply than others, then you might be able to relate to some of the other traits that are common in HSPs.
High sensitivity can lead to feelings of discomfort or anxiety in situations including noisy atmospheres, busy social situations, or when wearing restrictive or uncomfortable clothing. HSPs may also feel overwhelmed by hectic work or social calendars, when watching intense or violent movies, or by the strong emotions evoked by nature, art, or literature.
Around 30% of adults are thought to have “high sensitivity” traits, which have their origins in both neural and genetic factors. A highly sensitive person is sometimes described as having sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). SPS and high sensitivity have been extensively researched since they were first coined in the 1990s, and it is important to note that this personality trait is not a disorder.
Sadly, in adverse conditions, being highly sensitive can lead to stress and poor health. However, in supportive, healthy conditions, being highly sensitive has many benefits.
Pros and Cons of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
Being highly sensitive has both pros and cons. It is beneficial to learn more about your personality trait so that you can manage the difficulties and take advantage of the benefits.
Benefits of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
As a highly sensitive person, you naturally have a wide range of traits that benefit both you and those around you.
- More Appreciative of Emotion or Beauty
Being more sensitive may mean that you often notice, and therefore appreciate, the small things that others miss. For example, you may see the first blossom petals of spring, or notice the tiniest brushstrokes of a painting. You may feel emotion more deeply by perceiving the subtle beauty all around you. Emotional commercials, films, or novels may move you to tears, as you can truly empathize with what you see.
- Strong Relationships
Although experiencing such strong emotions may be upsetting at the time, having a deep, natural understanding of empathy can be extremely beneficial. When you can intuitively understand others’ feelings, as HSPs often can, you can build a stronger, closer relationship. By understanding exactly how your partner, family member or friends are feeling, you can easily develop deep bonds with the important people in your life.
As an HSP, you will be better in tune with noticing what makes you feel happy, content, or relaxed. You are also likely to pay closer attention to what you have in your life to feel grateful for. From valuing simple delights such as a delicious meal or hearing a beautiful song on the radio, to cherishing your home and family, HSPs often do not struggle to see the good in their lives. This can lead to an overall improvement in feelings of wellbeing and gratitude.
- Excellent Communication
HSPs are often excellent at communicating and picking up on unspoken tension or problems. However, as an HSP you may find it difficult to be assertive. This can cause problems such as anxiety or burnout if you find yourself unable to decline requests for something that might leave you feeling over-stimulated or stressed. Sometimes communicating via the written word, such as by text, email, or letter, can be easier for someone who is highly sensitive.
Those who are highly sensitive are often creative, too. Whether it’s writing, painting, singing, or dancing, creative outlets are often a way to release or express the emotions that are felt so deeply.
Cons of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
Being highly sensitive has many positives, but it can also cause some difficulties.
- Social or Busy Situations
Busy environments or intense social situations such as big parties can feel overwhelming for those with SPS. Talking to multiple people while being subjected to loud music and bright lights can all lead to feelings of stress or exhaustion.
As many HSPs are very sociable, it can be hard to weigh up wanting to see family with not wanting to face sensory overload. It is therefore important to show some self-compassion by setting boundaries. Chances are, you’ll never be the last one left on the dancefloor. However, you could agree to go to a party for an hour or two to socialize, and then head home for some much-needed downtime.
A full diary can feel like a nightmare. Having a full day of meetings or being invited to social events five nights out of seven may make you want to hide in a dark room. Try to stay in control of your diary by ensuring you block out time that’s just for you. This way you can try to avoid burnout. When your diary is too full, you’ll either need to decline further invites or re-arrange existing ones.
- Mental Health
Being highly sensitive can make you feel particularly stressed when there is conflict in a relationship. You may also find it hard to say no to others’ demands, as you will likely feel their disappointment and worry that you have let them down. HSPs tend to be more critical of themselves, too. All of this can lead to low mood, depression, or anxiety.
How to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person
The pros of being a highly sensitive person will likely come naturally to you, but being aware of them may help you make the most of them. However, it is important to protect yourself against the drawbacks of being more sensitive. By putting boundaries in place, you can protect yourself against excessive emotion or stimulation so that your sensory system doesn’t feel overloaded.
You may need to work on managing situations that lead to internal conflict. This may include:
- Being brave enough to say no to demands that will lead to stress or exhaustion
- Avoiding stressors including people who sap your energy, or scary movies that will upset you
- Factoring in breaks before and after busy social events to ‘recover’
- Having a creative outlet for your feelings.
Talk therapy can be an effective way to understand your emotions and feelings. It can be particularly beneficial for those who feel that their sensitive nature is misunderstood or criticized by their friends or family. An online therapist can validate your feelings and support you in using your personality trait in a constructive manner.
Highly sensitive personalities are very common but are not always understood. Having sensory processing sensitivity can enrich your life and the lives of those around you. However, it is vital to ensure you make time for self-care and have personal boundaries so that your emotional health is protected from over-stimulation.
Hannah England is a freelance copywriter with a medical degree. After working as a doctor for several years, she now writes medical and well-being articles. Hannah endeavors to empower people by providing informative content that allows them to make healthy choices for improved physical and mental health. Hannah is part of the LGBT+ community and an inclusion expert, allowing her to write copy that is relevant to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or identity. Hannah lives in a village in the South West of England.Read more