Do you feel everything intensely? Feel like your emotions hit deeper and stronger than others’? Wonder “Why am I so emotional?” You may have the superpower of being a highly sensitive person — an HSP, for short.
Feeling too emotional? You might just be “highly sensitive”
This is not just some random term. Research has been done on the trait of being a “highly sensitive person,” and there are specific neurological and biological signs of being a highly sensitive person, or HSP.
HSPs have more brain activity in sensory and emotion-related brain regions, which explains why they are so in touch with the world around them (and why they sometimes have to shut it all out).
Highly Sensitive People can face a lot of judgement for both feeling and expressing their emotions. They’re especially likely to be stigmatized as dramatic or overly emotional, which completely misses the value HSPs bring to any relationship or task.
Highly sensitive people are more insightful and empathetic to the world around them, and are highly impacted by others’ moods.
Since HSPs are more detail oriented, they also see things that others may not see at first glance.
They are pros at navigating power dynamics, and at bringing emotional and self awareness to their daily interactions.
Being an HSP creates abilities that are rare and highly sought-after. But being emotionally intense and observant can also feel a burden at times. Because HSPs process information deeply, they are more likely to feel stressed.
HSPs have more brain activity in sensory and emotion-related brain regions, which explains why they are so in touch with the world around them and why they sometimes have to shut it all out.
They often end up ‘answering to’ everyone around them, because they value the emotions and needs of others.
These traits can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout for HSPs, but on the other hand, emotional sensitivity creates some major superpowers, if you will.
Wondering if you’re an HSP? Check out some standout signs below:
1. You hate timed tasks and pressure
No one loves a time crunch. Whether it’s a timed quiz or a split-second decision, time pressure can trigger feelings of anxiety. But HSPs can be even more emotionally reactive to time pressure due to an increased awareness of what needs to be done, how best to do it, and the ripple effect of their own performance.
Timed tasks can overwhelm HSPs, because they see the steps to achieve perfection and feel it’s within their grasp. They care deeply about their work and how it impacts others, so a lack of time to tweak and edit can also make them feel inadequate.
Whereas most people just say “Eh, I tried my best!” HSPs think: “Wow, I could’ve done even better if I just had more time.”
2. You’re often/always emotionally exhausted
Since HSPs are constantly processing information on a deeper level, they are more prone to emotional exhaustion.
Highly sensitive people don’t just hear what others say. They also hear the emotional implications of what’s said – and of what’s not said. This hypervigilance to verbal and nonverbal social cues can make it hard for HSPs to grapple with their own emotions – it’s all so complex!
Because they view emotions so in-depth, HSPs may find themselves shutting off their emotions entirely, just to cope.
3. Change is overwhelming
Once HSPs find a routine that minimizes their stress, they stick to it. They feel safe knowing what’s going to happen and that it won’t cost huge amounts of emotional energy. This also allows them to maintain their capacity to hold space for others.
Changes in routines or relationships can cause flares of new emotions, overwhelm, and serious discomfort.
4. Conflict hurts
HSPs feel tension in relationships more strongly than others. Even slight changes to power dynamics and nonverbal cues of conflict are taken very seriously by highly sensitive people. They feel greater emotional intensity, and sometimes report feeling physically ill during conflicts.
This demonstrates the strong link between mind and body that gives HSPs their superpowers in the first place. HSPs may learn to avoid conflict altogether to avoid feeling negative emotions intensely.
Still not sure if this applies to you?
If any of the above resonate at all, try this checklist. Count out how many of the following HSP statements you can say “yes” to:
- I have a low pain tolerance
- I’m very aware of other’s moods
- I get upset easily
- I’m often seen as shy or quiet
- I tend to avoid chaotic environments
- I withdraw from chaotic environments
- I notice small things that others don’t
- I’m more attuned to sensory stimulus (lights, smells, sounds)
- I hate feeling pressure while working on something
- I have many inner thoughts and emotions
- I’m easily surprised by sudden, loud noises
- I like focusing on one thing at a time
- I self-reflect often
Who are HSPs?
HSPs are more common than you think, with 20% of the population genetically predisposed to more intense empathy. It’s not all in your head either! fMRI studies show physical evidence that HSPs are more reactive to emotional stimuli. This means you’re more sensitive to your environment than others around you.
You’re certainly not the only one who feels like this, and more importantly, you’re understood in this struggle. When you feel like nobody understands the way you are, or like your different abilities aren’t valued, remind yourself of all the highly successful, highly sensitive people.
Famous highly sensitive people
Elton John, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Elanor Roosevelt, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson are just a few popular people with whose outward personas line up with the highly sensitive personality.
Abraham Lincoln, Princess Diana, Glenn Close and Katherine Hepburn are a few more big names that possess(ed) traits of an HSP.
How can HSPs cope with their superpower?
Being an HSP is draining. Without healthy coping strategies, HSPs can quickly fall to unhealthy mechanisms that only worsen their issues.
Look for these triggers, and try these coping mechanisms:
Highly sensitive people can manage the difficulty of emotional intensity by learning about potential triggers and coping mechanisms. This way, HSPs can cope with their struggles without shutting off all of their emotions.
High stress environment
Excess stress can flare up anxiety and emotions. HSPs can be sensitive to exams, arguments, or split second decisions. Not everyone is the same, and learning what environments stress you out can help you cope.
Practice some breathing techniques! Using these techniques when you’re feeling calm can make them more accessible when you’re feeling anxious. Your body learns that this is go to mechanism for relaxing physically, and then mentally.
Lack of sleep
Even one night without sleep can alter your mood. For HSPs, a lack of sleep can cause them to be more emotionally sensitive.
Set a routine sleeping schedule! 8 hours is a great benchmark to aim for, with a consistent bedtime. It may be fun to stay up late, but a regular schedule will help you get more sleep and regulate your mood.
Depression and anxiety
For HSPs with depression and anxiety, balancing these many emotions can be exhausting. Depression can cause HSPs to react more negatively to events, while anxiety can rack up more and more stress.
Be mindful of your struggles! Ignoring these symptoms may only make things worse. Learning about your struggles and prioritizing your mental health will help you understand why you may be reacting more to certain situations than others.
Diet and exercise
A poor diet and inconsistent exercise can impact our mood. Whether it’s guilt over unhealthy eating or lack of endorphins, bodily health has a greater effect on our emotional reactivity than we may think.
Consider setting an exercise schedule that works for you! This can be anything from taking a walk outside to lifting weights at a gym. Part of healthy eating and exercising is detangling why we feel shameful eating certain foods over others, and how this impacts our mental health!
Big life changes
Moving homes, the death of a family member, or a big fallout with a friend can all be triggers for our emotions. We may be more sensitive after an event while we are still trying to process what happened.
Remember to reach out for support from trusted friends when something happens. Suppressing these emotions can cause them to manifest in ways we don’t realize! So having peers who understand your struggle and can validate your emotions is really important.
How do I find others like me?
Looking for more HSPs like you? 20% means 1 in 5 people – there really are a lot of emotionally-in-touch people out there!
Try finding them at Supportiv’s anonymous chats – where supportive people come to give and get support through struggles nobody in real life understands.