Highly Sensitive People (HSP): What are they and how can you cope as one?
“If I’m not between a three and a seven on the emotional scale, I’m crying.”
Do you remember that line from Kristen Bell when she was on Ellen describing how her husband surprised her with a sloth – her favorite animal – for her birthday? If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the full video.
Sure, the video’s hysterical. And I love, love, love that Kristen doesn’t take herself too seriously.
But there’s another lesson here. One that gets at why Kristen – and many of us – react in certain ways in overwhelming emotional situations. Whether by crying or otherwise visibly showing emotion (along with a ton of other factors), about 15 – 20% of us have a trait (not a disorder or disease) that makes us a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
Are you a HSP?
Do any of these characteristics apply to you?
- You feel more deeply.
- You’re more emotionally reactive.
- Do you often hear “Don’t take things so personally” or “Why are you so sensitive?”
- You prefer to exercise solo.
- You take longer to make a decision.
- You get more upset (than the “average” person) if you make a “wrong” decision.
- You’re extremely detail-oriented.
- You can be either an introvert or an extrovert.
- You work well in team environments.
- You’re prone to anxiety or depression.
- You can be annoyed by sounds or lights that don’t bother others.
- Violent movies or shows bother you.
- You cry more easily.
- You have above-average manners.
- Criticism bothers you.
- You prefer a solo work environment.
As I’ve gotten older, all of these have applied to me. Every. Single. One. So I finally decided to do some research. That’s what I do when something’s bothering me. Research. Because putting a name to something or, more importantly, understanding something better is the key to sorting a matter out for me. As they say, knowledge is power.
The older I get, the more I’ve noticed changes in my emotional state. I’ve gone from the girl that was called insensitive to others’ feelings to the one who is oversensitive to them. I’ve gone from being able to take critique well to having it sting a little more. I’ve gone from barely showing emotions to wearing them on my sleeve. I’ve had episodes of anxiety and depression that I never used to have (but that I’ve since combatted). I never used to cry much…and now I do easily. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more intuitive.
I’ve always been a person that takes time to make a decision, thinking every possibility through. I’ve always avoided conflict, but become more of a people-pleaser of late. I’ve always thought through things more deeply than it feels like others do around me, more mindful than most. I’ve always been more aware of my surroundings than the average person. I’ve always been deeply moved by artistic expression. I’ve always enjoyed working with a team and solo. I’ll cry instantly if I see a physical fight – in person or in a movie.
So again, I saw everything in the list above in me. So I made a choice: I wanted to understand this trait I seem to possess better.
If you’re a HSP
Let’s start with the good. Here’s a great article about why Highly Sensitive People are awesome.
There’s really no bad or ugly, but there are certain ways to cope. As highly sensitive people, we see the world differently than other people. Rather, we feel the world differently than other people. Now that I understand HSP better, I find it a gift rather than an emotional crutch. My experiences in life will always be richer and more profound; sure, they’ll also be more emotionally crippling at times, too.
After doing a ton of reading on the subject, here are the tips and tricks that stood out the best for me:
- Meditate. This is important because it can help you assess what’s going on – and fix it – more quickly. When something feels off – whether you’re mad, upset, frustrated, etc. – a quick body scan can help you figure out what’s wrong.
- Know your triggers. If you’re overly sensitive to the physical world around you – like loud noises or large crowds – do things to either avoid them or work through them.
- Learn how to calm your nervous system. Use exercise and other methods to (literally) calm your body.
- 15 Tips for Empaths and Highly Sensitive People
- Coping Strategies from Dr. Ted Zeff: relaxation and organizational tips from one of the leading therapists on HSPs
- More Coping Tips for Highly Sensitive People: this post outlines specific senses and how to cope in a more physically sensitive way
- Top 10 Survival Tips for the HSP
If someone you love is a HSP
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to link to some really great posts already created on these topics:
- How to Deal with a Highly Sensitive Person: more helpful advice for friends and family
- Letter to Friends and Family of a Highly Sensitive Person: a great letter for friends and family of HSPs; you can either share directly or change to make it your own!
Learn More About HSP
If you’re interested in doing some heavy duty reading, Dr. Ted Zeff and Dr. Elaine Aron both specialize in HSP therapy and have extensive and amazing resources on their websites. I’ve also purchased books from both of them, so will plan on reviewing those once I’ve finished!