From tearing up when I see a cute dog to overthinking (everything), now I know it’s because of my high sensitivity.
I only recently learned of the concept of a highly sensitive person (HSP). My whole life, I assumed my sensory quirks stemmed from my diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is characterized by symptoms such as excessive worry, feeling panicky, difficulty falling asleep, and/or having trouble concentrating.
But even as a baby, I was “hyper-sensory,” according to my mom. I liked tight hugs, but not light touch. I was very aware of noises, but could sleep through the dull roar of a crowd. I liked rhythmic movement, like that of a swing. And as I got older, I didn’t like to walk barefoot on certain surfaces. Through time and experience, I overcame much of what caused sensory anxiety as a child. But I’m still highly sensitive to many of the same things — noises, touch, and new experiences, to name a few.
As an HSP, I also love to have an answer to things I can’t perfectly explain (just like I’m happiest when everything is put away neatly in its place; I love blank space). So now that I’ve gotten to know what it means to be an HSP, I feel like I’ve finally found a missing link: the common thread that ties all of my quirks together. Here are 10 things I only recently realized I do because I’m an HSP. Who knows? You may realize you do them, too.
10 Things I Never Realized I Do Because I’m an HSP
1. I sleep with earplugs and white noise.
I’ve always had trouble sleeping. Unlike most people, my brain kicks into hyperdrive at night. It listens intently for any new noises, focusing on every house creak, clock tick, siren blare, car honk, and dog bark. I learned pretty early that the only path to an undisrupted night’s sleep is to plug in a fan and wear earplugs to drown out sporadic noise. Plus, HSPs need more sleep anyway, due to our exhausted, overstimulated minds
2. I hyper-fixate on things, like a phone game I’ll play nonstop.
As an HSP, I am very sensitive to what is happening in my surroundings. And more often than not, I find myself stressing over what I can’t control. So, I find positive distractions to distract myself from the negative distractions. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to hyper-fixating on the things that I find self-soothing. I’ll play the same phone game for hours a day, become obsessed with different hobbies for short (yet long) stretches of time, and learn everything there is to know about certain things I find interesting in that moment.
3. I rewatch the same TV shows over and over.
New things are hard for me (we HSPs love our routines). When I don’t know what to expect, I remain hypervigilant… and this is super mentally draining for my highly sensitive brain. I recently realized this is why I don’t like watching new TV shows or movies. When I stick with what’s familiar, I can let my guard down. And a relaxing activity (like watching TV) can remain that way.
4. I get distracted easily in public. Sensory overload, anyone?
Lights. Noise. Music. People moving. Laughter. Shouting. Before COVID-19, I would frequently find my HSP self stressed and in sensory overload when out in public, especially in places like restaurants and bars. I process every little thing that’s happening around me, which can take the fun out of enjoying a night out. My husband would often jokingly snap me back to reality when I’d start to zone out.
5. I have a really hard time during the winter.
As an HSP, my surroundings play a crucial role in my happiness because I observe and absorb my environment on a much deeper level than those without high sensitivity. Limited sunlight and cold temps can lead to a drop in serotonin (the happy hormone). And since HSPs experience environmental changes more deeply, it’s only natural that we would be more sensitive to chemical imbalances in our brain. Luckily, there are ways to survive winter as an HSP, from resetting your sleep schedule to trying light therapy.
6. I cry… a lot.
I think crying gets a bad rap. Many people assume there is something wrong when they see someone crying. But for me, it’s how I process all of the thoughts and emotions I feel as an HSP. During the times I’m feeling especially overwhelmed — and not always in a strictly negative way — crying is cathartic. I almost always feel better after a good cry. My mind feels lighter and I can effectively process my thoughts again. At the same time, as a highly sensitive person, little things can make me cry, too… like puppies. If I’m already in an emotional mood and I see a video of a puppy or baby or something else that is sweet/cute, I will tear up.
7. I overthink things, like everything.
There is an important distinction between deep thinking (which is an HSP strength) and overthinking. Deep thinking can lead to creativity and innovation as we analyze and strategize for the best possible outcome. But HSPs can also be overthinkers. I find that my deep thinking can turn to overthinking when I’m feeling especially anxious or even bored. My mind becomes a tangled web of “what ifs,” roleplaying every possible scenario and negative outcome.
8. I frighten more easily than most.
Among my friends and family, it’s become somewhat of a joke how jumpy I am. I work remotely now. But when I used to work in an office, I had to ask our facilities team to flip my desk setup so my back no longer faced the entrance to my cube because I would jump every time someone approached my desk. It’s common for HSPs to have higher-than-average “startle reflexes” because even in non-threatening situations, our nervous systems are always on high alert. (And forget about watching scary movies or anything gory!)
9. I become wrapped up in other people’s problems and emotions.
When anyone I care deeply about is facing problems in their life, I become consumed by their emotions. This is part of being an empath. We don’t just notice what someone else is facing. We actually feel it. And because it’s exhausting and emotionally draining to watch someone I care about be subjected to such pain and suffering, I become invested in helping them through the issue as if it were my own, often offering unsolicited advice and solutions to their problems. For instance, if my friend is going through a tough breakup or the loss of a loved one, I feel like I’m the one going through it.
10. I avoid conflict at all costs.
There are a number of reasons that could explain why I’m so conflict-averse. Lack of experience successfully navigating conflict, a history of self-esteem issues, and a strong desire to please to name a few. But I think the biggest reason I avoid conflict is that, as an HSP, I truly feel tension in disagreements. When there is conflict in my life — like a disagreement at work — even if it is warranted, I feel physically ill. It can become all-consuming for me, and I struggle to focus on anything else until it is resolved. Plus, our sensitive souls don’t deal with criticism well, either, which is conflict’s cousin.
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How to Tame Your HSP Senses
Since we HSPs tend to process information more deeply than others, I become easily overstimulated by my ever-firing nervous system. This can be exhausting… but I’ve found ways to tame my extra sensitive senses:
- I change the narrative. Instead of treating my high sensitivity as a weakness, I honor the strengths being an HSP has given me. I am empathetic and compassionate. I have incredible foresight. And I pick up on subtleties others often miss. All these traits have helped me in my relationships and in my career.
- I educate myself. There is nothing wrong with being an HSP. In fact, at least 1 in 5 adults is an HSP. And the more I learn about how we are just wired differently, the more I acknowledge that I am the way I am due to the scientific makeup of my brain. I’m not “too sensitive” or “too dramatic.” I just feel things on a deeper level than most.
- I set boundaries (which can be challenging for HSPs). Understanding myself better helps me set healthy boundaries in my life and in my relationships. For example, when a loved one is experiencing a problem, I have become more intentional about lending an empathetic ear… and then taking a step back and allowing them to solve their problem on their own.
- I focus on what I can control… and I give myself permission to let go of the rest. I see things like being jumpy, distractible, and hypervigilant as being out of my control. It’s just how my brain reacts to stimuli. What I can control, however, is how I respond to interpersonal issues caused by my sensitivity. For example, I am actively seeking ways to reframe my perspective on conflict so I can approach disagreements with confidence instead of fear.
- I focus on self-care. I’ll admit, I’m still a work-in-progress in this area. But I have found that when I am intentional about eating well, maintaining a regular workout routine, journaling, and focusing on remaining present, I can turn the seemingly negative aspects of being an HSP (like overthinking) into positive ones (like being creative and introspective). And I’m much happier and more confident.
To all HSPs out there, know that you are not alone: We have some irrefutable strengths to offer to the world. The most important thing to remember is that you are 100 percent perfect the way you are. And, honestly, this world could use more highly sensitive people like us.
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