One example of overwhelm is if other people’s emotional baggage makes you feel like it’s yours — and it’s heavy for your highly sensitive soul.
When I realized I was a highly sensitive person (HSP), so much more in my life made sense. I was able to look around me and realize I wasn’t totally crazy for wanting things to be done in a certain way (like taking my time with a project vs. rushing through it) or reacting in a specific manner (like getting emotional over a TV commercial no one else is reacting to).
Having my world manageable — and understanding why I react to things the way I do — makes me feel more in control and less stressed. That said, however, there are still certain things that completely overwhelm me as an HSP. And if any of them resonate with you, it could indicate that you’re a highly sensitive person, too.
10 Overwhelming Things That May Indicate You’re an HSP
1. Horror movies? You’ll pass!
Since I was little, movies have scared me. The thought of watching a movie makes my heart palpitate. It is physically difficult to watch anything that has suspense, horror, gore, and violence. Many HSPs find it extremely hard to watch violence, so know that you are not alone if this is also your situation.
Even emotionally charged situations are so cringe-worthy that I hit the fast-forward button, like the time Ross from Friends slept with the girl from the copy place and cheated on Rachel.
2. Having different piles of messes? Definitely not!
I always thought my dislike of messes was due to my Type A personality. But I think it has more to do with the fact that I am highly sensitive. HSPs may find that the junk that collects in the corner — or even the pile of dishes on the counter — takes up valuable mental space and causes anxiety until it is resolved. (We’re already feeling overwhelmed due to all the stimuli around us; we don’t need more!) As soon as I clean such messes up, my sense of overwhelm dissipates.
3. Birthday parties — you have no desire to be the center of attention!
To my highly sensitive soul, the thought of being the center of attention is a horrible concept. I’m not sure who invented it, but it is basically awful. The expectations that come with being the “birthday girl” are impossible to manage, and the whole time everyone is gathered to celebrate me means I have to respond to everyone while taking in and trying to process each individual person’s own comments and thoughts. That sentence is exhausting unto itself to my HSP brain, let alone trying to actually process all of that stimuli being thrown at you as someone who is sensitive to these types of situations. I’d much prefer a nice birthday dinner with one person (or very few).
4. Large social gatherings are unnecessary… and overwhelming.
Related to the no-birthday-parties-for-me point, I feel the same way about large social gatherings. It is virtually impossible to be comfortable in a big room full of people all wanting to share little bits of themselves. I can’t have a decent conversation if I am screaming over a crowd, and I am overwhelmed by numerous people’s need to share. When you are a highly sensitive person, it is extra grating to have so much noise around when having a conversation. It is distracting and makes it really hard to focus. So if I’m going to go to a social event, the smaller, the better. That way, I can give you my full attention instead of all the stimuli around me.
5. Poorly fitting clothes or itchy materials are not your friend.
I have always said that pants that are too short are one of my pet peeves. But it is more than that. When something fits improperly or feels off — like made from an itchy material I just can’t adjust to — my brain focuses on that and can’t let it go, which is quite typical of highly sensitive individuals. It isn’t worth owning the item of clothing when it causes so much background brain anguish. There are better things for us HSPs to spend our energy on.
6. Confrontation and criticism can put your highly sensitive soul into overdrive.
Lots of individuals have issues with criticism and confrontation. But for HSPs like myself, it is exceedingly challenging — our sensitive souls don’t respond well to criticism or confrontation at all.
When I’m in an intense discussion with someone, for example, the entire time, I am playing both sides of the conversation. I’m highly in tune with what the other person is feeling, but at the same time, I’m aware that I’m supposed to be defending my point of view. It means that, no matter what, I leave exhausted and knowing that I just got walked on (since I probably came nowhere close to saying everything I actually needed to say).
7. People’s emotional baggage makes you feel like it’s yours… and it’s heavy.
Just because I don’t ask you about some personal issues you’re having doesn’t mean I don’t care. But every little detail of a situation, or drama, you’re going through makes it hard for me to function in my own life. HSPs tend to intensely feel the emotions of others. What you say gets ingrained into my being and can make it feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. And my own emotional baggage is already heavy enough.
Similarly, office drama and gossip isn’t fun for me to hear either. I don’t want to know what is happening with “Sue in accounting.” It’s challenging and overwhelming for someone who is highly sensitive and can weigh me down for longer than it would for other people.
8. Hearing other people argue rattles your sensitive side.
Not only is hearing people argue awkward, but it is physically hard. I take on their emotions and feel bad for them, whether it’s two people having a disagreement — or several. Suffice it to say, I get overwhelmed by what I hear, even if it is of no consequence. Because we HSPs feel so deeply, hearing arguments actually leaves me feeling mentally drained and physically nauseous (even though it had nothing to do with me).
Like what you’re reading? Get our newsletter just for HSPs. One email, every Friday. Click here to subscribe!
9. Setting boundaries and saying “no” to others’ requests is a constant challenge.
I don’t know how to say “no” to people, and I know other HSPs can probably relate. I also know that boundary-setting is difficult for highly sensitive types: I feel that if I say “no,” I will be letting you down, and I don’t want to make you feel bad. I know I am not alone as an HSP when I say I would rather make myself stressed and put my needs second in order to accommodate you and your request. However, at the same time, all those requests get to be a lot for my sensitive self, so it’s a challenge.
10. Any kind of decision-making is very, very difficult.
There are so many options out there and I want to make sure I chose the best one. Especially when I am considering the little choices, the ones we all encounter every day. Should I go on this vacation or this other one? Should I spend money on a cup of coffee or save for the future? Should I go out tonight or stay home? Every little choice can weigh on my conscience for a long time; I want to make sure I’m making the right decision. It is that perpetual little voice inside my head that governs all these decisions. We all have the voice, but for highly sensitive people, the voice can rule our lives at times and make even these simple decisions seem challenging.
All the ‘Small’ Things Add up
Many of the seemingly small things in this list may seem insignificant. But to a highly sensitive person, they are all huge factors in our everyday lives. And the emotional side of all of these concepts sometimes makes it difficult to manage circumstances that we all encounter regularly.
The bright side is, most of us highly sensitive people manage these challenges without even realizing that we are doing it. We cancel on social events with a lame excuse or leave them with “a headache.” Sometimes, we know we aren’t comfortable, but don’t necessarily know why we are uncomfortable. It is easy to learn how to make accommodations in order to reduce the intensity of the situation. Putting in headphones at work to block out others’ discussions helps to reduce the drama. Or writing a detailed email instead of picking up the phone can sometimes help to eliminate confrontation.
No coping mechanism is perfect, however, and we have all been trapped in situations that are extremely uncomfortable and challenging. Hopefully, with the kind words from someone who knows you well — and some time to decompress from the day or social event that’s given us an “HSP hangover” — you are able to recharge and recenter. That way, you’ll be better able to face it the next time it happens.
Want to get one-on-one help from a trained therapist? We’ve personally used and recommend BetterHelp for therapy with real benefits for HSPs. It’s private, affordable, and takes place online. As an HSR reader, you get 10% off your first month. Click here to learn more.
We receive compensation from BetterHelp when you use our referral link. We only recommend products when we believe in them.