Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) is like having your internal dial turned up a little more than other people’s dials. You notice small details that others miss, and certain situations impact you more than they impact others. Your sensitivity is your greatest strength — it makes you perceptive, compassionate, and wise — but it can also be your greatest challenge. You do things to protect your sensitive system, and other people may not realize the real root of your actions.
(What’s an HSP? Check out our complete explanation of high sensitivity.)
Here are 27 things you do that may be directly related to your high sensitivity. Not everything on this list will be true of every HSP (we’re individuals, after all). Read on to discover how many are true for you.
Things You Do Because You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. In a loud, busy place — like a bar, restaurant, or party — you may shut down and zone out because you’re overwhelmed with sensory input. You leave these events earlier than others do, or more likely, you don’t go at all.
2. You change the TV channel when a commercial about hunger or animal abuse comes on. You avoid reading, listening, or talking about these subjects. It’s not that you’re indifferent; quite the opposite. You’re deeply moved by suffering and cruelty, so much that it can be physically painful for you to talk about. No one enjoys being reminded of suffering, but for you, the effects are magnified. But it’s your compassion that can lead you to act in a big way.
3. You have a particular morning or bedtime routine; doing things the same way every day brings you comfort. Change can be quite stressful and overwhelming for HSPs, more so than for other people.
4. When startled, you jump — as sky-high as a frightened cat! Your significant other or roommates have learned not to sneak up on you. Why do HSPs startle so easily? When your nervous system is already “turned up,” even a small amount of added stimulation can activate your fight or flight response.
5. You immediately become quite stressed and anxious when someone raises their voice at you. Dealing with conflict — even minor disagreements — can overstimulate HSPs. In school, when the teacher scolded another student, you felt it deeply yourself, even though you’d done nothing wrong! As an adult, when there is tension in a close relationship, you may feel physically unwell and have trouble sleeping or eating.
6. Even when complete strangers are fighting (like a couple seated near you in a restaurant), you get nervous and uncomfortable.
7. You become very stressed when you have to finish something before a deadline. Yes, deadlines are stressful for everyone, but for you, it’s much worse. That’s because HSPs tend to be sensitive to time pressure. Timed tests in school or a long to-do list at work can leave you feeling panicked and shaky.
8. When you fall in love, you fall hard. It feels like your whole world is changing. This can be exhilarating, so much that it’s overwhelming. Any changes — even good ones! — are processed deeply by the HSP’s sensitive system.
9. Due to your heightened empathy, you absorb other people’s emotions. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between your emotions and those belonging to someone else. Being an emotional sponge can be exhausting (here are some tips to stop absorbing emotions as much and get your energy back.)
10. When your significant other is stressed, you get stressed, too. When your child is unhappy, you feel low, too. It’s all due to #9. People don’t realize that when you’re trying to cheer them up, you’re trying to make the bad feelings go away for them and for yourself.
11. A normal day at work can be utterly exhausting. So much noise, so many demands. Sometimes, when you come home, you head straight to your bedroom, where you turn the lights low and relax in silence; it’s what’s needed to calm your overactive senses.
12. You have a very strong sense of smell. Good smells invigorate you; bad smells make you smangry. When someone wearing strong perfume walks into a room, you may have to move away; the smell overpowers your already ramped-up senses.
13. Similarly, you love certain foods and have a strong aversion to others, again due to your heightened senses. Perhaps berries are too tart, seafood is nauseating, and dark chocolate is divine. Other people question your food preferences — “if only you had salmon cooked this way!”
14. Like many HSPs, you’re very sensitive to dips and spikes in blood sugar. When you’re hungry, you’re really hungry, and you get irritable and unfocused.
15. Caffeine, alcohol, and even prescription drugs can have a strong effect on you. You may limit their use, and in some cases, avoid them altogether.
16. When other people are physically uncomfortable, you know exactly why. The lights are too bright, the layout is claustrophobic, the chairs are hard. You notice little things that other people miss. However, you may avoid bringing them up; you don’t want to complain or seem like you’re “too picky.”
17. You are deeply moved by beauty. Beautiful art, surroundings, music, words, or thoughts. You may cry, feel an immense sense of fullness and awe, or feel you have stepped outside your physical body. Other people don’t seem to be as affected as you — and you don’t understand how they are not.
18. Due to your vivid inner world and rich imagination, you have intense, life-like dreams (and nightmares).
19. You have a lower pain tolerance than others. A headache really hurts; a muscle cramp feels like a vice. You’re strong, and you’ve learned to manage your pain — but if only others knew what you were going through.
20. You often turn down social invitations — even if you’re an extrovert. It’s not that you don’t love your friends. You’re not a people-hating hermit. Rather, as a highly sensitive person, there are many nights when you simply can’t add more stimulation to your already overstimulated mind and body. Going to a crowded restaurant, bar, or party with a group of people would put you over the limit. You crave close relationships, and yes, you still want to be invited. But there are many times, for your mental and physical health, when you have to say no.
21. Malls and stores can be sensory overload. You know exactly when the grocery store is busy, and you avoid going at those times. It’s simply too much noise and activity for your system.
22. You’re always trying to get the volume just right — on your music, on the TV, in your headphones. One click upward or downward makes a big difference to your comfort level. You’re always wrestling (or wanting to wrestle) the remote away from your significant other or kids to adjust the noise. A loud volume isn’t just annoying, it’s physically painful.
23. You’re extremely observant of other people. As an HSP, you’re wired to see people as the brightest “objects” on your radar. You notice a flicker of affection in your friend’s eyes when you mention a new acquaintance. Your child’s tone of voice tells you that he’s hiding something. You sense buried stress in your partner when you bring up a certain topic. Hardly anything escapes your observant eye. Others are baffled that you read and understand people so well.
24. You need plenty of sleep. For you, sleep is not just a form of self-care; it’s also a way to soothe your overwrought senses and process your strong emotions. You might be the one in your family who is “militant” about bedtimes. Because when you don’t get enough sleep? Everything. Is. Awful.
25. You easily get flooded with emotions. As an HSP, you feel things deeply, both the sorrows and joys of life. This can result in flooding, which is another term for being mentally or emotionally overwhelmed. Symptoms of flooding include trouble focusing, sudden anxiety, feeling like your brain is “overheating,” and more. That means, in tense or emotionally charged situations, you may “freeze up” or shut down. Here are some tips to deal with flooding.
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26. You have trouble saying no. You don’t want to disappoint anyone. Sometimes you push yourself too far for other people. Sometimes you sacrifice too much. No wonder HSPs suffer from burnout, exhaustion, and overwhelm.
27. You seek meaning in all that you do. For the highly sensitive person, life isn’t about just getting up and going to work. It’s not about acquiring the most “toys,” money, or gold stars. Yes, HSPs want to live the good life too, just like anyone else, but they are deep, big-picture thinkers as well. From their career to their relationships to their conversations with friends, they seek a strong sense of purpose in everything they do. They want to help others and make a difference. They lead with compassion. They inspire. They heal.
HSPs are exactly what our world needs right now.