A highly sensitive person (or HSP) is an individual who feels as though they have an intense heightened awareness of subtle stimuli in their environment, often picking up and absorbing energy from their surroundings without even realising it, or feeling strong waves of sadness coming from a person with a false smile plastered across their face, or being deeply moved to tears by the simple ebb and flow of the ocean.
Feeling things this strongly can be a truly wonderful thing, mesmerising, magnificent and beautifully raw. But it can also bring problems with it too; empaths often find themselves struggling with overload of information, feeling frequently anxious or overwhelmed due to too much stimuli and feeling the intense ‘heaviness’ of the world around them bearing down on their shoulders. The truth is, we have intricate, deep caverns inside us full of emotion, feeling and intensity that needs to be constantly managed, regulated and expressed if we are to cope at all with the world around us. You might already know this about yourself, you may have had a long history of being accused of being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘shy’, but the truth is, you are simply coping with a huge burden of heightened senses to the world surrounding you, which can be a beautiful thing, but often not well understood by those who feel things less strongly.
Common traits of a HSP are:
- You feel at peace in a calming, nurturing environment that gives you much needed breathing space.
- You feel as though you need a great deal of ‘downtime’ in solitude to replenish your energy reserves and regulate yourself after being overstimulated by the world around you.
- You feel other’s feelings and pick up on subtle energies really strongly, absorbing other’s negativity in a way that you struggle to differentiate it from your true self and own feelings.
- You cannot tolerate any form of conflict, aggression, anger or fighting; this intense negativity throws you completely out of sync and you crave to get out of the situation as quickly as possible to avoid overwhelm.
- Being in crowded places is too much to handle; too much noise, stimuli, smell, people, talking, too many conversations happening at once – your brain just cannot handle so many things to try to process! You much prefer a peaceful and calming environment, where you can be alone with your thoughts and gentle process them.
- A very low pain tolerance; more than likely you will feel pain more deeply than others, and experience strong discomfort at any form of physical pain, whereas some others might be able to cope considerably better.
- You need to have quiet time factored into your day to help cope with the days stimulation – you need to withdraw and retreat to your safe space (such as your bedroom or a natural quiet space outside) to recharge your batteries.
- You tend to avoid negativity in the media or news, as seeing pain and sorrow plastered across the tv really affects you in a very deep way, and can easily lead on to depression, fear and anxiety if you are too bombarded with these type of saddening or emotional issues.
- You find that you are much more sensitive to medications, foods and chemicals than your peers; for example you may struggle with allergies and intolerances to certain foods, or have a hypersensitive reaction to stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol which you find unnerving and difficult to control.
- You often absorb the ailments and illnesses of those around you sub-consciously, for example; if someone next to you is feeling nauseas, chances are you will begin to take on these feelings yourself.
- Often struggle with digestive issues and muscle pain; this is usually stress and anxiety-related, with tension building up in your back and shoulders. We also hold a lot of our tension and emotions in our gut, known as ‘the seat of emotion’, which is where we store our anger, negativity, stress, emotional pain and anxiety, so there is no surprise that if we feel these things more than most, this will affect us in the physical sense as well, through common problems such as IBS, nausea, stomach upsets, migraines, asthma and chest pain.
- You feel constantly exhausted. By experiencing life to such depth as we do, taking on so much emotion and not being able to filter out or quickly process information from stimuli around us, this will very quickly drain our energy resources.
- You feel very sensitive to things affecting the senses, such as loud noise, strong smells, bright lights, temperature fluctuations, disturbing or heavy music, light touch, etc. This can be a wonderful thing as it fuels a strong creative process, however when too much builds up, it can make filtering and processing incredibly difficult and can quickly lead to overwhelm if we are not careful with precautionary measures (such as self regulation, taking regular breaks for recharging, wearing ear plugs, sunglasses, etc).
- You feel overwhelmed when being asked to multi-task or have too many things to get done in a short space of time.
- You are more likely to feel sub-consciously aware of the different energies in our environment, relating to the days of the week, months or seasons of the year.
- You have a very rich, vibrant and complex inner world. Chances are you are very creative, imaginative, thoughtful and deep in the way that you process and think about life and the world around you. This is an incredibly beautiful thing.
- You have a healing heart and love listening to people, caring and wanting to look after others in the midst of their pain. However, this comes with its need of careful management if you are to not become exhausted and drained by their negative energies; it is vital that you learn steps on establishing appropriate boundaries to protect yourself and the person in front of you.
- Chances are you love solitary environments, quiet libraries rather than busy pubs, sitting inside reading a good book rather than going shopping in a giant arcade, taking a peaceful walk by a lake surrounded by trees rather than heading to a popular beach in the height of tourist season.
If any of these apply to you, chances are you are gifted with being a highly sensitive person, creative, loyal, caring and incredibly deep and thoughtful, although it does come with it’s challenges.
The main things I am learning is that self regulation is absolutely key to managing characteristics such as these, keeping yourself safe, balanced and healthy in your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. I write more about this in my article here.
I spent many years completely not understanding or even being aware of just how highly sensitive I actually was, running away from emotions and distracting myself with an intense social life, work and waaaayyy too many activities, and have made myself seriously ill in the process; a lesson that I am desperately learning the hard way now and doing my best to unwind the stress and tension that my exhausted body has been worn down with over years of over-exertion and not understanding the extent of my hypersensitivity.
Take care on your journey