Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? Here’s What You Need to Know

Updated: Jan. 14, 2021

Find out what sets you apart and how to adjust your life to avoid overstimulation, fatigue, and stress.


What does it mean to be a highly sensitive person?

Highly sensitive people have a trait called sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. This trait was discovered and defined by clinical psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD, who first started studying individuals who seemed to be more sensitive to certain things in their environment. Sensory-processing sensitivity causes individuals to notice subtle differences in the world around them more than people without this trait. Highly sensitive people might be especially upset by loud sounds or bright lights in their environment (like ambulances, for example), may avoid watching violent TV shows and movies, or crave alone time during busy, hectic days in order to not feel totally frazzled. In general, highly sensitive people may be easily overwhelmed, especially when exposed to intense stimuli, according to Aron. Not sure if you’re a HSP? Take Aron’s highly sensitive person test on her website.


Being sensitive isn’t a bad thing

Highly sensitive people are often incredibly in tune with their environment. They often notice subtleties in tastes, art, music or smells, according to The Highly Sensitive Person. Additionally, sensitive people are often empathetic since they are more aware of the feelings of the people around them, according to Psychology Today. These are 10 signs you have incredible empathy.


Sensory-processing sensitivity is common

The sensory-processing sensitivity trait isn’t very well known, mainly because it is still a fairly new discovery and has been largely misunderstood. But that doesn’t mean it’s uncommon: An estimated 15 to 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive people, according to Psychology Today. Even animals can posses the sensory-processing sensitivity trait, according to Aron. The trait has been discovered in 100 different species of animals.


But here’s the downside of being highly sensitive

Even though being highly sensitive isn’t a bad thing, there’s a downside to possessing this trait. For starters, highly sensitive people are easily overwhelmed. That means if their environment is loud, they may have trouble focusing. Some highly sensitive people also have trouble with strong smells and extreme temperatures. Being overstimulated may cause fatigue or a feeling of needing to retreat or hide.


Awareness is key

When it comes to coping with being highly sensitive, self-awareness is key. People who do not understand their sensitivities may feel there is something wrong with them. Without awareness of your sensory-processing sensitivity, you cannot adjust your environment in a way that allows you to thrive, according to Psych Central.


Respect your need for peace and quiet

If you’re a highly sensitive person, it’s important to understand that no good will come from ignoring your needs. Without solitude, quiet, and rest, it will be very difficult for you to be your best self. With plenty of downtime, you can be refreshed and ready to spend time being with the people you care about the most, according to The Highly Sensitive Person. Try these tips for carving out more “me time.”


Embrace your creative side

A perk of a highly sensitive person is creativity, reports Psychology Today. Embrace this aspect of your personality by making time to explore your creative side. (Here are things all highly creative people do.) This could mean listening to music, journalling, enjoying art, or treating yourself to a new culinary experience. Take advantage of your ability to notice the subtleties in your life.


Surround yourself with positive people

Since highly sensitive people tend to be very aware of the way others feel and easily affected by criticism, it’s important to be careful about who you spend your time with. Surround yourself with people who will respect your boundaries and treat you with the kindness you need to thrive in your relationships. Watch out for these signs of toxic friendships.