What It Really Means to Be a Highly Sensitive Person

Sensitivity is an awesome thing


Do you find “normal” things that your friends enjoy — like a a loud concert, a busy study hall, or violent images in a movie — overwhelming? Are you super aware of the people and environment around you, so much so that they affect how you feel and behave? If so, you might be a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP — and you’re not alone.

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It turns out that being highly sensitive is actually pretty common. According to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of the book The Highly Sensitive Person, high sensitivity is found in 15 to 20 percent of the population, which means 1 in 5 people feel the same way you do.

If you think you might be an HSP, here’s what you need to know.


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There’s Sensitive, and Then There’s Highly Sensitive

“A highly sensitive person is someone who feels at a deeper level than [is] typical,” says Kryss Shane, a Los Angeles-based social worker and author. She explains that an HSP may become sick to their stomach when watching a gory movie, or cry for an hour after a sad TV storyline.

She also says that being highly sensitive to your surroundings can make it difficult for HSPs to attend events with tons of crowds or lots of lights and sounds, and that HSPs may feel the brunt of an insult for days or weeks, even if the person apologized.

That may sound like bad news, but…

Being Highly Sensitive is Your Superpower 

HSPs can read a room like no other. If you’re highly sensitive, you’re probably the friend who just *knows* when your friend is feeling uncomfortable and will drop everything you’re doing to make her feel good, right?

“Although it can be tough to be an HSP, it can also make life better,” says Shane. “Just as an insult can be felt for a long time, a compliment can be too. One kind word or action can truly make the person’s week.  An HSP can also be the one to notice when someone in a group is upset or being left out, so introverts or outcasts can feel more seen and more included when they’re around an HSP.”

Being an HSP might feel exhausting and isolating at times, but it’s important to remember that being sensitive is actually a gift. In fact, you should see it as your superpower.

As life coach and creator of the GirlLife empowerment series Melody Pourmoradi puts it, “[A] highly sensitive person carries a great degree of compassion for their fellow humans. They are able to feel at deeper levels, making the high points in their lives even more expansive and fulfilling.”

Because you’re extra empathetic, you’re able to resolve conflict quickly since you can easily put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see their side of the argument. That’s a beautiful thing — and a quality of a great leader.

How to Cope

Being highly sensitive can make life a little challenging, but not impossible, especially if you make your #selfcare a priority. To keep you from feeling overwhelmed with the stimuli surrounding you, as well as feeling completely burned out, Shane suggests planning ahead of time.

“Sometimes this means avoiding loud events or wearing earplugs, and sitting far from the stage and speakers,” she says.

“Other times, it may mean wearing sunglasses for longer to lower the sensitivity to a light show at an event. In relationships, it can be helpful to let the person know you’re an HSP and to ask them to keep this in mind during times of stress. This can help the other person to learn and to be aware, which may lead them to rethink their words or actions if they understand the true extent of the impact it would have on the HSP they love.”

Other recommendations to keep you from feeling overwhelmed include:

1. Taking an hour or two after school or work to decompress with little to no stimuli.

2. Using a day planner or weekly planner to keep track of all of your obligations, responsibilities, and upcoming events, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

3. Getting enough good quality sleep.

4. Eating something nutritious (HSPs are known to get hangry!).

5. Making a point to spend time with the people who love and support you most.

Though you might have been called overly emotional, intense, or a “cry baby” at some point in your life, being highly sensitive is just who you are — and it’s a pretty powerful thing. Embrace your sensitivity and use it to your advantage. HSPs make awesome friends, leaders, and lovers.

Keep doing you, HSP — even if that means having a good cry.

Brianne Hogan
Brianne Hogan

Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer in Toronto who loves coffee, cats and astrology. Her byline's been featured on HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Thrillist, among others. Keep up with her on Twitter, Facebook or her blog.