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How to Navigate Life as a Highly Sensitive Person

If you are a highly sensitive person in this hustle and bustle world of ours, you will find yourself reacting negatively to loud noises like sirens and crowded bars, shy away from violent movies, or do your best to withdraw quickly from overly busy environments. Your behavior might seem odd to yourself and others, many of whom might have told you to “don’t take things so personally” or “you’re just being too sensitive.”

Take heart – you are not alone in this world. Dr. Elaine N. Aron (author of The Highly Sensitive Person), who first addressed highly sensitive people in 1990, estimates that between 15 and 20% of our population is made up of highly sensitive people (HSPs). HSPs come from all walks of life and can be found as either introverts or extroverts.

Let’s take a look at some common traits of the highly sensitive person and then address some ways HSPs can thrive in a busy, loud world.

Common Traits of Highly Sensitive People

Highly Sensitive People have unique gifts and personality traits meant to help them survive in hostile environments. Are you highly sensitive? The following traits are adapted from Dr. Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person scale:

  1. HSPs become overwhelmed when they have too much to accomplish – highly sensitive people struggle to stay to task when they are juggling many different things. Their anxiety level rises and, as their stress level increases, the have more difficulty being productive.
  2. HSPs find noisy environments to be too chaotic – they don’t work well in open office spaces because they are overstimulated by sights, sounds, smells and activities around them.
  3. HSPs grow angry when they are hungry – hunger often makes a HSP struggle to function well and they find themselves becoming increasingly irritable and frustrated.
  4. HSPs perform poorly when under observation – the highly sensitive person does their best work in solitude. When put in a high-stakes situation, such as a presentation or speech in public, their performance deteriorates under pressure.
  5. HSPs recognize other people’s discomfort – they recognize the needs of others, like lowering the volume on the radio or dimming the lights, if the other person is struggling. It is easy for a highly sensitive person to sense when others are feeling overwhelmed or agitated.
  6. HSPs are deeply moved by the arts – they find that expressions of creativity stir up their emotions.
  7. HSPs avoid violent movies and video games – highly sensitive people become overstimulated by violence and horror.
  8. HSPs become uncomfortable around loud noises – they have a lower threshold for noise compared to others. Noisy fireworks displays, blaring sirens, or loud rock concerts are usually avoided by HSPs.
  9. HSPs retreat when things become too overwhelming – a highly sensitive person often needs quiet time to recharge, especially after a long day or a very busy week.

Highly sensitive people tend to be more conscientious than their fellow man, more emotionally reactive, and feel more deeply. They also can be very creative and extremely detail oriented, often noticing details that others overlook. HSPs avoid team sports and prefer to exercise alone.

Psychologically, the highly sensitive person is more prone to depression or anxiety, most especially if they’ve had a lot of past negative experiences. They tend to weigh every outcome when making a decision, which results in the HSP taking longer to come to a decision. Should they make a poor or bad decision, they feel it more deeply because their emotional reactivity is higher.

If you feel that you have a good number of the above traits, you can take a self-test here to determine if you might be a highly sensitive person.

Navigating Through Life as a Highly Sensitive Person

Highly sensitive people have unique needs for thriving in our hurried and loud world. Here are some of the things you might need:

  1. A quiet space – HSPs need time to decompress in a quiet space, especially after a day of crowded malls or high-pressure situations, which wreak havoc on a highly sensitive person’s nervous system. Also, a private place within a home is needed to allow the HSP to retreat and recharge.
  2. Friends who understand their emotional nature – the highly sensitive individual may cry frequently or express what they are feeling, like anger or happiness. They need people in their lives who can appreciate their emotional nature.
  3. Time to accomplish things – highly sensitive people like pondering all of their options before making a decision and enjoy a slower pace of life. They are averse to busy schedules and rushing around to different events.
  4. Regularly spaced meals throughout the day – HSPs often get angry and upset when they are hungry. Having regularly spaced meals throughout the day will help the sensitive person’s mood and concentration.
  5. Sufficient sleep – lack of sleep makes an HSP’s life almost unbearable. The sensitive person needs enough sleep daily (usually more than seven hours) to soothe senses and process thoughts and emotions.
  6. Time to adjust to change – transitions for highly sensitive people can be very challenging. Even positive changes like starting a new relationship or moving into a nicer home can be overstimulating and require more time for a HSP to adjust.
  7. Nature and beauty – spending time in nature or a clean, tidy, nicely decorated environment helps the HSP to remain calm.

Being highly sensitive is not a disorder that needs to be fixed. It is a unique personality trait that carries a multitude of positive characteristics. If you are highly sensitive, you can navigate life successfully by keeping an awareness of your needs and taking proactive steps to avoid over-stimulation.