What it Means to be Highly Sensitive
High sensitivity is a normal trait found in roughly 20% of the population, so it’s quite common. The proper term for this trait is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity or SPS. The brains of those with SPS function a little differently than those without the trait. Nearly all animals have demonstrated this trait, including dogs, cats, fish, and horses. Even insects can have the SPS trait.
If you or someone you know is a highly sensitive person, understanding this trait can be helpful. There’s no known “cure,” and there’s no need for one. One out of five people have the SPS trait. It doesn’t require treatment, but learning how to manage it can be useful in certain situations.
Highly sensitive people often share a set of traits:
- Cry easily. You know the type. They cry at commercials. They cry when overstressed or uncertain. While crying is nothing to be ashamed of, highly sensitive people are often embarrassed by how easily they can be brought to tears.
- React more strongly. It’s common to “overreact” when you’re highly sensitive. Things that upset the average person upset a highly sensitive person a lot. All emotional reactions are stronger and can seem excessive.
- Make decisions more slowly. Highly sensitive people are committed to making the best possible decisions. They painstakingly go over every detail and consider all the possibilities. It can take a significant amount of time to get it right. Be patient when they’re making a decision.
- Are more self-critical. Highly sensitive people are highly self-critical. They know how to beat themselves up. Anything less than perfection can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment.
- Care about the details. The highly-sensitive notice everything. No detail is too small to make note of.
- Are more annoyed by stray stimuli. Whether it’s a squeaking noise in the car or a stray pebble in their shoe, highly sensitive people are less able to ignore annoying stimuli. Highly sensitive people are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by things that barely register in the awareness of the average person.
- Take criticism poorly. Even mild criticism can elicit a strong emotional reaction in those that are highly sensitive. Make an effort not to over-react if you’re highly sensitive. Give yourself time for your emotions to return to normal before responding.
- They are easily overwhelmed by time pressure. When there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time, they can become bogged down by their anxiety very easily.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, do you feel relieved to have a better understanding of yourself or someone else in your life?
There are many things you can do to mitigate the potential negative effects of the SPS trait:
- Get enough sleep.
- Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. You don’t need additional stimulation.
- Spend time in relaxing environments each day. Create your own space.
- Avoid spending too much time in noisy, highly-stimulating environments.
- Give yourself enough time to complete tasks.
- Take the time you need before reacting to any emotional upset.
Be understanding of any highly sensitive people in your life. Remember that the condition is genetic. Asking someone with the SPS trait to be less sensitive is like asking a 25-year old to be taller.
A highly sensitive person might not be the person to take to a weekend rock music festival, but you’ll never find a more attentive listener.
There are advantages to being highly sensitive. Being observant and detail-oriented can be a valuable trait in the right setting. Make the most of what you have to work with and you’ll find life to be more fulfilling.