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What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

Do you often wonder if you are ‘too sensitive’? Are you constantly noticing subtle changes in your environment that others often miss? Do you find yourself becoming easily overwhelmed by physical stimuli such as noises, strong smells, bright lights or rough textures? Would you consider yourself to be an intuitive and empathetic person?

If so, you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). The central nervous system of a HSP is innately more sensitive compared to others, meaning they detect and absorb significantly more physical, emotional and social stimuli on a deeper level. A HSP is usually creative, insightful and compassionate however, they are also more vulnerable to stress and burnout as their nervous system is more prone to being overwhelmed compared to non-HSPs. Whilst it is neither a diagnosis nor condition, it is useful to understand the unique strengths and challenges associated with this personality trait as it is believed to present in around 20% of the population.

The characteristics of a HSP can be summarised into four defining features, categorised by the acronym “DOES”.

D is for Depth of Processing
A HSP absorbs vastly more information from their surroundings than others, due to a heightened sensitivity in their central nervous system. They will also filter and analyse the data on a deeper level, often subconsciously which means they will usually require more time to process and respond to information. This increased level of cognitive processing often leads to higher levels of intuition and insightfulness as HSPs will spend more time weighing up decisions, reflecting on previous experiences and having deeper conversations with others.

O is for Overstimulation
As a result of trying to take in and assign meaning to everything happening around them, many HSPs will often feel overstimulated and require time alone to cope. When over-stimulated, their nervous system will try to shut down more in response which can lead many HSPs to experience brain fog, nervousness and irritability. It is common for HSPs to become stressed when they are feeling overwhelmed.

E is for Emotional Reactivity
A HSP is also more sensitive to emotional information including facial expressions, body language, and changes in tone. They are usually very empathetic as they are able to feel the pain others are experiencing. As a result, a HSP will often avoid watching violence in the media or horror movies, due to having strong emotional reactions. On the other hand, having a high level of empathy can lead to stronger interpersonal relationships and a greater appreciation of beauty.

S is for Sensitivity to Subtle Stimuli
Due to a hyper-awareness of their surroundings, HSPs are often particularly sensitive to sensory stimuli. For instance, loud noises, strong smells, chaos, clutter, bright lights or cold temperatures can be picked up very easily and cause great distress.

Whilst there are many positive qualities associated with being a HSP, experiencing the world on a deeper level can be exhausting as you are more prone to over-stimulation. There are several self-help tools you can implement to reduce the stress associated with over-stimulation:

  • Investing in devices such as sunglasses, headphones, ear plugs which can minimise sensory input.
  • Setting up a low stimulation area in the home such as a dark or quiet room with no clutter to utilise when you are over-stimulated.
  • Listening to your body and making time to recharge with quiet and alone time.
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Seeking psychotherapy to better understand your sensitivities and triggers, and to develop tailored coping strategies.

If you are interested in exploring online therapy to learn coping strategies and techniques tailored to your personal situation, Positive Mind Works can help. Our team of experienced psychologists would be happy to see you for an initial 20-minute appointment ($19) to discuss your needs or alternatively, you can book a full session. To learn more, give our friendly reception team a call on 1800 327 477 (AU) or 0800 327 477 (NZ) or click here to book online.

Izzy Seddon

Isabella Seddon
AU Counsellor

To book with Isabella, please contact 1800 327 477


Guest Post By PMW Counsellor Isabella Seddon

Izzy is an Australian counsellor who has completed a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours). She adopts a warm and empathetic approach to therapy and has a particular interest in anxiety-related issues which stem from her experience working on an anxiety helpline. Other areas of interest include, self-esteem issues, Relationship difficulties, Mood issues, Motivation issues, Impulsive behaviours, Stress management, Emotional dysregulation.

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