Are you easily overwhelmed? Meet the highly sensitive person

Are you easily startled by loud noises? Or do you consciously avoid violence on TV? Do you feel overwhelmed in crowded places?


Or feel your emotions deeply and intensely. Do you feel the impact of alcohol and caffeine more strongly than your friends? Then chances are you are a highly sensitive person (HSP).

What is a highly sensitive person?

The concept of HSPs came about through the research of Elaine Aron in the mid-1990s, curious to understand her own experience of feeling ‘othered’ and different. What she learned was that a small percentage of the population (around 15-20%) have a brain and nervous system that is more perceptive to external and internal stimuli. This sensitivity is said to stem from there being more blood flow in the areas of the brain that process emotions, awareness and empathy

What causes high sensitivity?

There are various factors that can contribute to a person developing HSP tendencies, such as environment, genetics and formative childhood experiences. 

Humans are not the only species to have this trait, in fact, it has been recorded in at least 100 other animals. Studies suggest that the trait has evolutionary benefits that increase the likelihood of survival because naturally, HSPs are more aware of their environment and perceptive to potential threats or harmful situations. 

We know that sensitivity is passed down through the generations, so if it exists in your family chances are higher that you will be an HSP. But it’s also true that a lack of empathy growing up from primary caregivers or traumatic experiences can result in the trait developing and carrying into adulthood. 

Signs of being a highly sensitive person

Typical traits might include:

  • Being overwhelmed by loud noises or bright lights.
  • Craving some alone time after a busy or social day.
  • Feeling things intensely.
  • Spending a lot of time in your head with your thoughts.
  • Attuned to delicate tastes.
  • Moved by art and beauty.
  • Seeks to spend time in nature.
  • Agitated by plans changing.
  • Easily rattled by having too much to do

If you’re reading this thinking I relate to lots of these, why don’t you explore The Highly Sensitive Person Quiz?

The advantages of being a highly sensitive person

Whilst this trait is not a new discovery, it has been misunderstood. The word ‘sensitive’ typically holds (in Western cultures at least) negative connotations of being weak, socially inept and highly emotional. But the truth is, there are numerous benefits of being sensitive that pave the way for insight, intuition, empathy, concentration and more. 

HSPs have an innate ability to process information and make sense of past experiences. This benefits twofold: on the one hand, they reflect on past events to serve them when making a decision and they learn from mistakes in order to avoid making similar eros in the future. Their conscientious nature makes them well-mannered and considerate, aware of other people’s needs and emotions. 

Being right-brain dominant and attentive to detail results in a person who is highly creative and appreciative of art and beauty. Their work tends to be meticulous, striving for the highest standards in all that they do. 

Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate.

Anthon St. Maarten

The challenges of being sensitive

Like with many things in life, there’s a fine line, or delicate tipping point in which a trait shifts from being empowering to one that rapidly descends into overwhelm, panic, fatigue, depression and a physical toll on the body.

As you’ve probably already gleaned from reading thus far, HSPs are prone to feeling overwhelmed, panicked, anxious or depressed if not careful. 

Since an HSP’s nervous system is more perceptive to its surroundings, it’s only natural that its batteries are depleted a little more quickly than a non-HSP. This can lead to frustration in the sense that it feels hard to keep up with the demands of a busy life. After a hectic day at work, the last thing an HSP wants to do is go for work drinks (or drinks with anyone for that matter). Their capacity is likely reached and time is needed to recharge. Yet, saying "no" is not an easy thing for an HSP who hates letting people down. 

An HSP can pick up on subtle cues that often get missed, whether it’s a facial expression, tone of voice or energy in the room. They often feel a responsibility to ensure that everyone is happy, even at the cost of their own needs.

Negative criticism can be a real blow to an HSP who will likely sit with this for some time after the event. On top of this, HSPs tend to be their own worst critic, setting unattainable standards of perfection and beating themselves up when they inevitably fall short. Being watched at a task, whether it’s your boss at work or your partner in the passenger seat, can trigger serious anxiety and impact performance. 

Making mistakes is painful, and something to be avoided. Embarrassment can haunt them for weeks, months, or even years. 

Learning to thrive as a highly sensitive person

As you can see, there are many amazing qualities of being a highly sensitive person that with the right care and environment can help you thrive. Yet if you don’t learn to take care of yourself and your needs, it can hinder you from living with authentic alignment. 

Perhaps the first and most important step is learning to view your sensitivity as your superpower. It’s not a pick-a-mix. Ask yourself, would you get rid of all the perks of the trait to have none of the challenges? I know what my answer would be every time. Without acceptance or seeing it as a gift, you will be in a constant battle with it. 

Learning a variety of relaxation techniques for different situations is a must, whether it’s a 15-second nervous system release or a 20-minute breath-work practice. Recognising and acknowledging your limits can take time, but ensuring that when you are nearing your edge, you take extra time to recharge and balance. 

And of course, finding a therapist or coach that you can talk to if you want to understand yourself better and turn your sensitivity into the superpower it truly is. If you want to find out more, book your complimentary discovery call today to see what life could look like if you were to show up fully as your beautifully sensitive self.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London SW6 & Lymington SO41
Written by Alexandra Taylor, Holistic Life & Mindset Coach for Women
London SW6 & Lymington SO41

Alexandra, is an experienced Integrative Coach supporting her clients in overcoming their inner critic and reaching their full potential. She helps people to make the changes that they wish to make so that they can lead happier, healthier and more balanced lives.

Show comments

Find the right business or life coach for you

All coaches are verified professionals

All coaches are verified professionals