Highly Sensitive Refuge

8 Signs You’re Highly Sensitive and High Sensation Seeking

There’s a lot of growing awareness around high sensitivity these days, but what about high sensation seeking? Hold up, isn’t that pretty much the opposite of sensitivity — loud and clear? Wouldn’t highly sensitive people (HSPs), who get easily overstimulated by their surroundings, want to avoid extra sensations?

High sensation seeking (HSS) means a strong tendency to seek out new, intense, or complex experiences — and even a higher willingness to take risks in order to get them. In other words, high sensation seekers are drawn to things that will give them a new feeling, sensation, or type of experience.

It’s not necessarily bungee jumping and sweaty mosh pits, though. For highly sensitive people, HSS feels like a constant balancing act (and compromise) between the two traits: sensitivity and sensation. And those two traits aren’t mutually exclusive, either. (Hey, we humans are pretty darn complex.)

Yes, this means it’s completely possible to possess both traits of high sensitivity and high sensation seeking.

Dr. Tracy Cooper states in Thrill: The Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person that around 30 percent of HSPs are also HSS. And this combination comes with a unique mix of traits that many people consider to be opposites — even though, for you, they’re natural.

So how do you know if you’re one of the rare highly sensitive people who are also high sensation seeking? Here are eight signs that you might be both HSS and HSP.

Signs You’re High Sensation Seeking and Highly Sensitive

1. You burn out. A lot.

…and sometimes you can’t pin down why. Your energy comes in bursts, and you’re constantly craving novelty, like moth to flame. It’s an engine running on its own agenda without a steady pace.

For you, planning chunks of time to recover from all the stimulation is key to balance. And it might be a lot of time — perhaps a day or two, or even a week in dire circumstances.

2. Creativity is your middle name.

It could be dancing, oil painting, screenplay writing, instrumental remixing, glassblowing — essentially creating something out of nothing. You get antsy when your energy can’t be transferred to some sort of outlet, which is why it’s natural for you to gravitate toward creative activities to release that inner tension.

And since you always want to try new art forms, you tend to gain experience in a lot of them, as long as you can break through the initial fear of failure with each new medium.

If this sounds like you, you’ve probably noticed that your thoughts tend to spiral out of control at times. So, it’s handy to keep a notebook or app to jot down those ideas as they come (since they vanish just as quickly!).

3. You have (seemingly) contradicting interests and hobbies.

Roller coasters? Bring it. Rock concerts? Yes, please. But you also have interests in more solitary activities, such as crossword puzzles or hiking. This really gets some heads turning. You simultaneously seek the thrill and the deeper meaning in whatever you anchor your heart to.

4. You (and others) question your introversion.

HSPs can be either introverts or extroverts. However, when it comes to HSPs who are also HSS, Dr. Cooper writes that a whopping 90 percent of them are introverts(!). This adds another layer of complexity to your already unique blend of traits.

For example: being completely alone for too long without the right amount of stimulation can drain you just as quickly as a house party. If you’re an introvert, this can feel like the imposter syndrome on steroids. (Note: it is also possible to be an extrovert and HSP/HSS; it’s just exceedingly rare.)

After all, adventure is fun. People are fun. But questioning the validity of your introversion is not so fun, from feeling stuck in an awkward ambivert stage to starting to wonder if there’s something “wrong” with you (spoiler alert: there’s not!).

It’s okay if you’re an extroverted introvert, even if it doesn’t always make sense to others. Just remember that you do need that alone time to recharge, no matter how much fun the next adventure may sound.

5. Mood swings are the norm.

If you’re like me, you may have tried to cover it up with some excuse like crummy weather, a crazy workload, or (in my case) PMS. But if you’re HSP and HSS, there’s a good chance you move quickly through emotional highs and lows.

Why? Well, the environment plays a huge role in how people perceive their mood. Since HSPs notice their environment more than other people, they’re already highly attuned to any changes around them — and they’re a sponge for other people’s feelings.

But when you’re HSS as well, you actively seek out even more new sensations and experiences. Which means all of that environmental input on your emotions is changing constantly. And no surprise: it can lead to some pretty hefty mood swings — that even you don’t see coming.

6. Sometimes your intensity scares people.

When you’re in — you’re all in. Your passion projects can make time fly by without you even realizing that brunch is now out of the question and the sun is setting (oops). It’s pretty common for others to comment on your “piercing, wise old sage” gaze.

Your intensity can show up in the form of bold risks, rebellious actions, and an all-around tenacious attitude (I certainly do this), which can sometimes be written off as “too much” by other people.

But it can also be incredibly powerful. The world is often short on individuals who are willing to go 110 percent on something, or truly give their all for the projects and people they care about. Intensity can also mean that you go “all out” on behalf of friends, combining your intensity with your HSP empathy to help them through difficult decisions and situations. You can be the secret turbo-charge that your friends know they have on their side.

7. You avoid boredom like the plague…

Lazy Sundays are a straight-up no-go in your books. You’ll nibble upon the newest crazy conspiracy theory online or throw yourself into a last-minute friend meet-up to keep the bland feeling away.

Likewise, when you finish a great book or TV series, you’d rather not revisit it, because you’re already on to what’s next! Mundane, monotonous tasks seemingly drain your energy in seconds, and you go to great lengths to avoid them (which can fuel burnout — see #1).

8. …but you walk the tightrope between boredom and overstimulation.

Every. Single. Day. It’s a heck of a tango, but you wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

Even so, there are days when it spirals out of control. You often wonder how others can plan out a schedule with equal amounts of fun and work, or set their focus on one particular career with laser-precision. Instead, you’ve been taking the path less traveled since you were in diapers (your parents might have pointed it out).

For the HSP/HSS, life is experienced several notches upward, as if you have the world’s volume turned up. Someone else’s 3 could be equivalent to your 9. As for someone else’s 9… well, that’s off the charts.

This will definitely result in some soaring highs and deep lows, but remember: it’s not a choice — it’s a trait that’s with you for the long haul, although you can mange your lifestyle to lessen overstimulation and overwhelm. And it can be a powerful advantage.

When you embrace this undeniably quirky mix, you can open new doors that may seem impossible to many. Buckle up, remember to maintain your balance — and enjoy the ride!

(Note: if you think you might be high sensation seeking, you can take Dr. Elaine Aron’s self-test here and find out.)

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