7 Everyday Situations That Can Make an HSP Feel Overwhelmed

An overwhelmed woman sitting at a desk

Sometimes the mind of an HSP operates like a game of chess: They’re always thinking a few steps ahead to prevent overwhelm.

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are conscious of everything that goes on around them. It’s in their nature. While some “ordinary” situations may be comfortable and routine for the average individual, they can lead to significant internal turmoil for an HSP (including myself). We’re not “weird” or “weak” for feeling this way, we’re just highly sensitive to certain experiences — and that is perfectly okay!

It can be frustrating for an HSP to be perceived as “overreacting” in everyday situations. Someone who is not an HSP may not recognize the intricacies of our emotions, as well as our acute sensitivity to external stimuli. This can contribute to us highly sensitive folks feeling alone and misunderstood, as if our feelings, emotions, and reactions are not warranted.

Here are seven everyday situations that may cause a highly sensitive person to feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. If any of these situations leave you feeling distressed, you’re not alone.

7 Everyday Situations That Can Make an HSP Feel Overwhelmed

1. When plans change at the last minute.

When plans change at the last minute, the highly sensitive person may find their world has been turned upside down. HSPs like knowing what to expect so they can appropriately prepare for what’s coming. We don’t like being rushed

Have you ever overpacked your suitcase for every uncertain situation that may develop on your vacation? Yep, me too. Uncertainty and spontaneity can leave us feeling completely helpless and unsure of how to proceed. When arrangements change without sufficient notice, a sensitive person may have difficulty handling the disruption, only to find themselves rushing to reorganize their day for any sense of predictability.

HSPs appreciate having an established routine, as it helps them feel more in control of their day-to-day life. A simple change in this routine can produce a cascading effect that disrupts the entire day ahead. It is not unusual for an HSP to have several back-up arrangements in place, just in case the original plan doesn’t go as expected. Sometimes, the mind of an HSP operates like a game of chess: We’re always thinking a few steps ahead.

2. When somebody else is upset or crying.

When another person is upset or exhibiting strong emotions, highly sensitive people feel as if they are experiencing these emotions firsthand. We often have the inclination to support or console anyone who is unsettled, which can leave us feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed. Being the ultimate body language experts, we can pick up on these emotions, even if they are not apparent to other people. We are empathetic and highly in-tune with the anger, sorrow, or even happiness of other people. So much, in fact, that we often put the needs of others before our own. It is one of the many qualities of an HSP that is both a blessing and a curse.

3. During an event with large groups of people mingling together.

Large groups of people may overwhelm an HSP, who is generally more comfortable in smaller groups of people with recognizable faces. Extensive social gatherings are noisy and chaotic, which is not the most pleasant environment for us to be in. While we may wish to join in on a lively conversation and meet new people, all the sensory input can be overstimulating. This leaves an HSP drained and exhausted, having to both listen and take part in the conversation, while also trying to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the clamor of people mingling. They may also feel like they are constantly in the way, as they are hyper-conscious of their surroundings.

In addition, HSPs are not always comfortable with unfamiliar faces in a social gathering. They often prefer to meet people one-on-one because they find it easier to connect that way, rather than in a large crowd of strangers. It is challenging for an HSP to feel connected to another individual without deep, meaningful conversation. Generally, large social gatherings are not the best atmosphere to foster this kind of communication. So don’t judge us for slinking away to escape on multiple occasions during the event. We want to be there — we just need to step away, grab some alone time, and recharge sometimes.

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4. Driving in busy traffic.

While driving in hectic traffic may be an ordinary, everyday occurrence for some people, it can be overwhelming for highly sensitive ones. We’re very sensitive to sounds — the deafening noises of cars honking, engines revving, and people yelling out their car window is overstimulating and uncomfortable. HSPs prefer predictability and feeling in control of their surroundings. Being stuck in traffic can make us feel anxious and trapped, as we have no choice but to ride it out (no pun intended). Sensitive people may suggest other people take the wheel when traveling by car. This allows us to slip away to our internal world while tuning out any overwhelming external stimuli (or at least trying our best to).

5. Working in a cluttered, disorganized space.

A highly sensitive person may feel especially overwhelmed in spaces that are disorganized or cluttered. The mind of an HSP is often in overdrive, as it is constantly processing the external environment. HSPs may feel specifically unsettled in a messy environment when they need to focus on a particular task. Every object and speck of dust is a unique distraction for us. While highly sensitive people may not necessarily be neat-freaks, we recognize when our spaces need to be free and clear of any disturbances.

6. Being touched or hugged unexpectedly.

When it comes to being touched or hugged, the highly sensitive person would prefer to be given a fair warning. By anticipating physical contact, like a hug, we are able to mentally prepare for it. Being caught off-guard, just like with sudden loud noises or new situations, can be overwhelming for HSPs. Don’t get us wrong, we love emotional and physical connection, but just let us know when it’s coming so we can really appreciate it.

7. Watching a violent or graphic movie.

HSPs tend to be easily overwhelmed by violent movies and TV shows, as the scenes can be upsetting. While others may be unfazed by violent scenes, an HSP will likely feel uncomfortable (or even panicked) when watching such a show. They may feel their fight-or-flight response kick in and will need to remove themselves from the situation in order to calm their nerves. Sensitive people may also have a physical reaction when watching a graphic movie, such as a headache, stomachache, or a racing heart. Generally, HSPs prefer feel-good movies, like animated ones, that won’t leave them feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Whenever my boyfriend decides to watch the next thrasher film in the next room, I find myself scurrying away to a more peaceful environment.

As an HSP, it is important to remember that your feelings of overwhelm in these situations are always justified. Experiencing the world in such a unique way can be challenging, but you are not wrong for feeling overwhelmed with sensory overload. It is part of your personality, and it is what makes us beautiful, unique, and special.

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