May 14, 2019
Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?
Find out if you’re a sensitive soul whose brain is wired differently
Photo courtesy of @thornton.geoffrey/Twenty20
By Shelby Deering
writer for The Natural
I’ll never forget when I first spotted the cover of Elaine Aron’s book The Highly-Sensitive Person. I was browsing the mental health section on Amazon, and the title immediately caught my eye. Ever since I was little, my peers frequently informed me that I was “too sensitive” and that I should “stop overreacting.” Crying has always come easily to me, from watching dog videos to accidentally killing houseplants. I’m able to catch the teeniest, tiniest of details. I would describe my brain as a fast-paced, colorful world where words and music come alive and often move me to tears, sometimes out of happiness and sometimes out of sadness. Crowds completely overwhelm me. And emotions are my life.
When I started reading this book, it was as if I was reading a manual about myself, and I suddenly didn’t feel so alone in my overstimulated state. Things that I believed to be personality quirks turned out to be very much rooted in science. Studies have proven that the highly-sensitive brain is wired differently than run-of-the-mill brains, and we carry traits of sensory-processing sensitivity.
Justine Blythe Porges, LCSW, ACC, a therapist and personal development coach specializing in people who identify as highly-sensitive, backs this up, saying, “HSP’s have a more highly-reactive nervous system and show some differences in brain activity in some areas. For instance, studies of the brain have shown a more activated insula which appears to be involved in conscious awareness, emotions, and empathy.”
If these characteristics are ringing a bell with you, read on to find out if you just might be an HSP and learn how to cope with a world that isn’t equipped to be quite as sensitive as you are.
You’re completely in tune with your surroundings
When most people go hiking, they likely only see the trail ahead of them. But when a highly-sensitive person goes hiking, they might see the trail and a butterfly landing on a flower, tiny stones covered with moss, and birds flying overhead. “HSP’s are more highly- attuned and aware of their surroundings both on a conscious and unconscious level,” Justine says. “They are wired to notice and tune into even subtle differences and are much more aware of all of the nuances in their environment.”
You tend to feel a lot of emotions
“[Highly-sensitive people] will likely be the ones crying at commercials and movies, are drawn to art and beauty, and love to be in nature,” Justine says. She explains that overall, HSP’s have a more active emotional limbic system, and that can result in not only being extremely connected to your own emotions but sensing the emotions of those around you as well. Feeling so many emotions can be exhausting, so Justine recommends, “Pause often throughout the day to tune in. Give yourself space to process your thoughts and feelings and realize that you are worthy of taking the time and space you need.”
You often feel overstimulated
The world we live in today can be a very overstimulating place to an HSP, especially with the social media feeds, loud noises, and busy surroundings that can relentlessly bombard us. This sense of overwhelm can be a constant for an HSP. In fact, Justine shares, “Studies have shown a more activated amygdala, which is a part of the brain that activates when a person experiences fear and anxiety, meaning we are more often easily triggered into survival — fight, flight, and freeze mode.”
For me, this sense of overstimulation tends to really kick in when I’m in a grocery store of all places — people reaching over me for things and invading my space, bright lights, loud noises and music, and an overwhelming amount of choices to make. Think of the place where you feel overstimulated the most, and practice Justine’s advice to get grounded: “Learn safe ways to become more connected into and present in your body. Many HSP’s have learned to disconnect from their bodies because of overwhelm and overstimulation. Grounded presence in our body allows us to feel more secure, resourced, and less overwhelmed.”
You have tons of empathy
If you’re a highly-sensitive person, you’re likely a very compassionate person, too. Since you’re consistently picking up on others’ emotions, it can help you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, which is kind of an amazing superpower — but be cautious that you don’t deplete yourself too much from all these feelings.
As Justine says, “In other cultures, this trait is revered for its strengths and capacities, and HSP’s are often the healers, artists, and compassionate and innovative leaders. We have tons of strengths and capacities that are easier to see when we stop comparing ourselves to others and honor how we are intrinsically created and value ourselves, but we need support and encouragement from others who are like us. Seek out community or a connection with someone with whom you feel a sense of belonging and can just be yourself within all of your humanness and all of your HSP-ness.”
Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.