4 Tips For Highly Sensitive People To Be Less Reactive To Life’s Ups & Downs

A roller coaster, representing the ups and downs of life that can be hard for a Highly Sensitive Person to manage

Life is filled with ups and downs for everyone. Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) tend to feel ups and downs even more intensely than people who are not Highly Sensitive. Tips to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs can help.

Reactivity isn’t a bad thing. It can make life more stressful, though and is considered a core challenge to being an HSP.

For anyone, reactivity is especially common when feeling overstimulated. Too many things are happening at once, and your whole system is overloaded. It makes sense why someone may respond by reacting quickly or in a way you’d not otherwise if you were in a state of calm.

Highly Sensitive People have stronger reactivity to external and internal stimuli. Examples of external stimuli include noise, light, or course fabric. Internal stimuli includes things like hunger, fatigue, or pain.

The tips to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs are definitely NOT a suggestion that there is something wrong with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Or that something about you is broken and needs fixing. You’ve likely heard those kinds of messages — “you’re toooo sensitive” — outright or insinuated by others for years. That is not what these tips are about.

Bottom line: As a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re genetically predisposed toward overstimulation and reactivity. As a result, you’re prone to have strong reactions to things. That is just what it means to be Highly Sensitive. And there is definitely a silver lining.

First, an example of Reactivity:

Let’s say you and a friend are wading in the ocean. The water is cold, so it takes you a little longer than your friend to walk in up to your knees. You’re enjoying the sound of gulls and happy children. The warm sun on your skin feels phenomenal, and you’re in the here and now. Deep in thought. And feeling calm and centered. Ahhhhh. It is great to be alive!

You peer into the clear ocean water to look for sea creatures. There are hermit crabs, starfish, and minnows swimming by. You start writing a book in your mind about hermit crabs and the way they go about choosing the shell they call home.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, your friend splashes the cold, salt water in your face and laughs. You freeze momentarily. Then anger surges through your body. You have an impulse to scream. But you squelch the scream and leave the water, ignoring your apologetic friend. You may even notice tears in your eyes while you are simultaneously stomping to shore.

Your nonHSP friend is perplexed by what she considers to be your overreaction. She was only being playful, after all, and being splashed is ‘no big deal’. You, on the other hand, need to sit in the shade by yourself and ‘chill’ for a few minutes. Your entire nervous system feels out of sorts. Doing anything else feels non-negotiable. There is no faking it til you make it.

The hardest part of having the High Sensitivity trait is managing emotional reactivity. Especially when your mind becomes so overstimulated with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

But there are ways to manage and ride the roller coaster. 

Here are other examples of Reactivity/Overstimulation triggers for HSPs:

  • Chemical smells
  • Too many items on the to-do list
  • Being late
  • Unexpected traffic
  • Cancellation of a planned event/appointment
  • An appliance, mobile device, or your vehicle malfunctioning
  • A dripping faucet
  • Being observed
  • Power outages
  • Unexpected visitors
  • Favorite food/drink being discontinued
  • A task taking much longer than expected
  • Transportation delays
  • Lights that are too bright
  • Doing a task under time pressure
  • A loud or gross smelling hotel room
  • The hum of a fan

These examples seem benign. And they can be But they can also be a source of ‘too muchness’ for HSPs. Especially if the things accumulate, and there’s a straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Whether a last minute change in plan–or you are splashed in the face with cold, salty water– reactivity is your system’s default mode.

While you can’t exactly alter your DNA and change this about your nervous system, there are other ways to navigate.

This is where tips come in handy for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs.

Consider these 4 tips:

1. Tip #1 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive: Awareness:

Aka Be familiar with your Reactivity/Overstimulation triggers.

Pay attention to how being an HSP affects you and your day- to- day experience of life.

The more self-aware you are, the more agency you’ll have over choices available to you.

As you become familiar with how you roll, you’ll have a sense of what sets you off, why, and when.

Self–awareness puts you more in the driver’s seat. You can choose to head off overstimulating situations before you become reactive. Sometimes just knowing what could set you off can be helpful. (Which does not mean you ought to be on edge the whole time.)

Knowledge is power.

2. Tip #2 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive: Acceptance:

AKA Recognize that the trait has plusses and minuses.

There are so many aspects to being an HSP. It can be a superpower. Even reactivity can be a superpower. For example, if you’re watching a sunrise, your reactivity may cause you to become tearful. You re “verklempt” by the beauty of the sun’s rays and the start of the day.

Tips for HSPs to manage the ups and downs of life with less reactivity

Accept all facets of being Highly Sensitive. The hardest feature as an HSP to navigate is the reactivity to surprise, novelty, or aversive stimuli. Just knowing that is helpful.

Have self-compassion for yourself and your built in reactivity.

3. Tip #3 for Highly Sensitive People is to Anticipate:

AKA Certain scenarios, people, and feelings are more likely to cause you to be reactive.

But, not all HSPs react strongly to the same stimuli. (That is often due to the way nature and nurture affect development.)

You may for example find loud music enjoyable if you’re listening to it on your earbuds. But at a concert or in the car it’s too much. Someone else may prefer to listen to music at a concert and not just on their earbude. Anticipating the possibility of (or the equivalent of) nails on the chalkboard can provide you with some cushion (a soft, pleasant- to- the- touch- fabric kind of cushion, of course!). It may also provide an opportunity to have a conversation in advance to let others know you may be taking breaks and not to worry if you do.

4. Tip #4 is Self-care:

AKA Self-care is important for everyone, and a key tip for Highly Sensitive People to navigate life’s ups and downs with less reactivity.

HSPs feel things intensely. That includes our own or others’ emotions, the beauty of nature, or the stinging pain of a hangnail. Crowds, noises, and small talk can be hard to take.

Because of the extra stress we may be navigating and internalizing every single day, we have to treat our tender sensitivity as if it were a friend or loved one.

Speak in a caring tone to yourself, especially to the part that is prone to reactivity. Allow yourself to take breaks/time-outs. Schedule down time each day. Allow your units of energy to replenish.

Mindfulness exercises can be helpful. Examples of useful practices include deep breathing and body scans, as well as yoga and meditation. These are practices, not ‘perfects’.

Make note of how using any of the tips helps. Also note which ones need tweaking. Are any unhelpful?

Reactivity and overstimulation are known to cause stress, and stress contributes to physical ailments, including headaches, back pain, joint pain, insomnia, GI problems. A host of psychological challenges too. Such as anxiety, depression, and low self esteem.

Awareness, acceptance, and anticipation of situations that are more likely than not to cause reactivity is important.

Empower yourself by considering your options for how to proceed. Do you confide in a friend who will also be there, asking for their support? Or do you mention you may need to leave early? Do you make a promise to yourself to recognize when early signs of reactivity occur and then from there decide how to proceed?

Understand the indicators that extra rest or self-care are needed.

However you choose to handle the reactivity from life’s ups and downs, simultaneously recognize the many blessings and gifts that go along with being a Highly Sensitive Person.

You have those too.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA whose passion is to help HSPs thrive!

Why Are Some People Highly Sensitive & Most Aren’t?

A woman who appears to be a Highly Sensitive Person leaning against a fence watching horses

Ever wonder why some people are Highly Sensitive, but most people are not?

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are born that way. Highly Sensitive.

High Sensitivity is not a disorder. Nor is it an attempt to be dramatic or to get attention. It’s a trait in the same way eye color is a trait.

HSPs’ nervous system is calibrated differently than non HSPs’. The way HSPs process social, environmental, emotional, and physical stimulation is more intense and at a deeper level than people without the trait. It is biological.

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ve likely been called “too sensitive”, at least a thousand times. And advised more than a few times to “have a thicker skin” or to “lighten up.” (If I had a nickel for every time these comments were made to me….)

You may be among the 15-20% of people who is Highly Sensitive if, among other features, you tend to:

  • Notice nuance and details
  • Get stressed out or annoyed in chaotic environments – and need to retreat somewhere quiet to regroup
  • Feel rattled when there’s a lot to do in a short period of time
  • Find that you’re unable to watch violent movies or television shows – it’s just too disturbing
  • Experience peace and awe in nature
  • Need plenty of sleep, consistently, in order to function
  • Are prone to getting hangry

The High Sensitivity trait, which occurs equally in males and females, is a result of a combination of genes. In fact, scientists have discovered at least three different genetic combinations among Highly Sensitive People. The gene variants include different configurations of the following neurotransmitters:

  • Serotonin Transporter
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine

Let’s look at these in more detail.

1. Serotonin Transporter and Highly Sensitive People:

Serotonin transporter is a chemical that transports serotonin out of the brain. HSPs have a variant of this gene (officially called 5-HTTLPR).

The 5-HTTLPR gene variant increases sensitivity to surroundings and is associated with learning from experience. The presence of the gene enhances the effects of both good and adverse childhood experiences.

This may explain why childhood experiences–positive and adverse–impacts wellbeing so much for a Highly Sensitive adult. For better or worse, HSPs’ childhood experiences affect them more than does the childhood of a person without the trait.

2. Dopamine:

This neurotransmitter is known as the reward chemical.

If you have a sensitive nervous system, you don’t need much to feel “rewarded” by external stimuli. Chaotic, noisy, loud environments exhaust rather than excite you.

Let’s just say you don’t exactly get the same kind of dopamine hit that your non Highly Sensitive friends gets at a rock concert or other loud venue.

The same Dopamine variant is also relevant in understanding why HSPs feel more rewarded by positive social or emotional cues.

3. Norepinephrine and Highly Sensitive People:

Norepinephrine helps the body with the stress response.

And there’s one variant, common in HSPs, that boosts emotional vividness. If you have it, you tend to experience emotional aspects of the world intensely. You may also have more going on in parts of the brain that create internal emotional responses to experiences.

Most HSPs respond more strongly to emotions than do non-HSPs. In addition, they often notice emotional nuances where others don’t pick up on anything.

If you’re Highly Sensitive, this gene variant may be at least partly responsible. And it directly drives the level of empathy and awareness you have for others’ feelings.

Evolutionary Benefit

So if 15-20% of a population has something in common, such as High Sensitivity, it is not considered a disorder. The rate is a lot of people in total but still uncommon enough that HSPs often report feeling weird or different.

HS has been found in at least 100 species, including fish, horses, fruit flies, and chimpanzees.

Highly Sensitive People and HS animals pick up on more environmental cues, recognize things that others don’t, and make wise decisions in new settings. They don’t rely on routines, which non HSPs and non HS animals tend to do.

There is definite survival advantage to being keenly aware of your environment.

In general, people who take the time to notice environmental cues before making a decision come out ahead — even with a high cost to doing so. HSPs’ sensitivity means they make better and better decisions over time.

So, here is the key point: If the rate of High Sensitivity were 100%, everyone would notice nuance and details. No one would have any advantage. That could explain why HSPs are about 15-20 percent of the population rather than 90, 95, of 100 %!

No more wondering why no one else thinks things through the way HSPs do. HSPs are able to see things others don’t see and feel emotions others don’t feel, That in and of itself creates value.

Further, HSPs feel positive things and negative things more intensely. Highs can be joyous, and lows can be horrible. For the survival of our species, only a subset with those features could exist.

The world needs diversity of all kinds, including people who are Highly Sensitive. And people who are not.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist in MA who enjoys helping HSPs thrive. Contact her here.

5 Tips For Happily Navigating Life As A Highly Sensitive Person

A woman siting on the steps of a porch demonstrating ways to happily navigate being a highly sensitive person

What is the #1 most important thing to know about how to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person? That’s an easy one to answer!

To happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) you must first and foremost recognize you have the trait. Dr Elaine Aron, a pioneer in the HSP field, says that knowing you have the trait AND understanding it are absolutely essential to benefitting from it. Pure and simple.

No worries if you’re feeling overwhelmed about this whole HSP thing. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand what it means to be Highly Sensitive. And you will then discover your own joys.

The scientific name for High Sensitivity is sensory processing sensitivity. When you identify that you are in fact one of the 15-20% of people with the High Sensitivity trait, you have the ticket for optimal navigation. The ticket doesn’t mean your navigation will be easy. But it will provide for a richer, more meaningful life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Sensory processing sensitivity is present at birth. You may as well learn to leverage the many benefits of the High Sensitivity trait. After all., like eye color, it’s part of who you are.

The four pillars of High Sensitivity include (aka what it means to live life as a Highly Sensitive Person):

Depth of Processing:

  • You tend to spend time reflecting.
  • And you take your time thinking through decisions.
  • Naturally you take in a lot of information around you and within you – without effort or intent.
  • You’re aware of subtlety and nuance that others simply are not.
  • And have strong intuition.
  • HSPs process everything MORE by relating and comparing present moment to past experiences and observations.
  • And you contemplate all options carefully.
  • You have more brain activation in a part of the brain called the insula.
  • The insula is responsible for our awareness of what is going on inside and outside of us.

Overstimulation:

  • You notice a lot in all situations.
  • You’re aware of details others aren’t.
  • You may feel people’s feelings, even when they don’t feel their own.
  • Because of all the stimulation, you’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed.
  • Because of all you notice, remember, hear, see, manage, and process, of course you’re more likely to feel overwhelm, and sooner.

Emotion responsivity/Empathy:

  • Your positive and negative emotional reactions are strong.
  • You’re in tune with other people’s emotions.
  • Empathy is purely natural for you.
  • You may even feel people’s energy field.
  • HSPs uniquely respond to pictures with a “positive valence” – especially if they had had a good childhood.
  • Vantage sensitivity” is the fancy phrase referring to HSPs’ tendency to benefit a disproportionate amount from positive conditions and interventions.
  • More active mirror neurons explain why HSPs naturally read emotion and have automatic deep empathy.

Sensitivity to subtleties:

  • Your senses are highly attuned because of how you process sensory information.
  • The attunement is not due to “bionic” hearing or sight, but rather to the way you process input from your senses.
  • Brain areas are very active when HSPs perceive things because of complex processing of sensory information.
art news GIF
Remember the 6 Million Dollar Man? Or the Bionic Woman?

What are 5 tips to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person?

1. Recognize you’re an HSP. Understand what being a Highly Sensitive Person means so you can enjoy life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

This is essential so you can reframe certain messages you’ve likely heard a million times. Messages such as being “too sensitive”, needing “to lighten up”, or having your feelings invalidated, downplayed, and dismissed in other ways.

You’re not too sensitive. You’re “just right” sensitive. And/or maybe the other person is not sensitive enough. Or even insensitive. Or how about “too insensitive”?

Total. Game. Changer.

2. Awareness of subtleties means you can access and enjoy simple pleasures in life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

These hydrangeas are my favorite! I took this photo in Chatham, MA. Chatham is known for their Hydrangeas!

For example, see all the gorgeous shades of lavender and pink in each Hydrangea? Beautiful! How about the differences in shape of all the blossoms? What you naturally see, people without the trait do not naturally see.

3. You can use your ability as a Highly Sensitive Person to tune into nonverbal cues strategically. Such as to assess someone’s trustworthiness.

While you don’t exactly have Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) like in the movies, you do have a sixth sense. You are aware of nonverbal cues and all kinds of subtleties. Trust your gut instincts.

4. Incorporate time to unwind after tasks, events, and times of day in your life as a Highly Sensitive Person. Consider downtime as an obligation to your nervous system.

Without sufficient time to recalibrate, your nervous system will be fried. And recalibration time can be as short as 1 minute, but preferably longer.

Downtime is kind of like lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser between courses of a fancy meal. It gives you a break from sensory stimulation, You can refresh in order to enjoy the next course. Just like your taste buds in the sorbet example!

For downtime ideas, you could pick from a hat. Write a bunch on pieces of paper and then close your eyes and pick one. You could choose from coloring in an adult coloring book, doing a word search, listening to a favorite song or track, taking a walk, or just going outside in nature and taking a few cleansing breaths.

5. Pace yourself. Avoid rushing! Savor life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Tune into yourself to determine what you need. Make the time to give yourself whatever that is, to the extent possible.

Try to resist any pressure to go with the pace of a crowd. If you go at the crowd’s pace, you’ll quite possibly become overstimulated. Remember, you take in soooo much more than people who are not Highly Sensitive.

So now you know the number one most important thing about being an HSP is understanding the trait. And allowing the trait to serve you well. Because it will.

Carpe diem!

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a private practice psychologist in MA. One of my passions is teaching HSPs to access their inherent, exquisite ability to thrive. Contact me to learn more!

Unexpected Challenges and Joys Of Being Married to a Highly Sensitive Person

Sillhouette of a couple dancing together in the front of a large moon.

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Or married to a Highly Sensitive Person? Either way, you’re a lucky duck! Especially when you understand what being an HSP means. Certainly the more you know about High Sensitivity, the more ease you’ll have navigating unexpected challenges. And enhancing unexpected joys.

Don’t worry if you’re feeling frustrated or confused about your spouse’s High Sensitivity. Once you understand what it is, you’ll be able to identify and will also discover all the joys of being married to someone who is Highly Sensitive.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

An HSP’s nervous system is hardwired to process subtleties and notice details others often miss.

Dr Elaine Aron literally wrote the book on HSPs. She and her husband have conducted extensive research since the 1990s with HSPs.

The only way to definitively determine if someone is an HSP is a brain scan. Using questionnaires is more practical and common. Approximately 15-20% of people are HSPs, with an equal distribution of gender.

High Sensitivity has four main features, present from birth and throughout life. The acronym “DOES” is a handy way to remember the core characteristics.

The four characteristics of an HSP include:

D: Depth of Processing:

"The Thinker" statue

Depth of processing is at the core of High Sensitivity. And is central to the challenges and joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person or Highly Sensitive.

HSPs process just about everything deeply, thanks to the insula. The insula is part of the brain that increases self-awareness and perception.

You can’t see depth of processing externally. But, you can definitely notice it indirectly. Such as when your HSP spouse is deep in thought. Or responding strongly to something happening nearby.

Here’s another way to think of depth of processing: Everything HSPs experience leaves “residue”. The residue may be in the form of thoughts, feelings, impressions, bodily sensations, or memories.

HSPs deeply experience the negatives and positives in life. Stress and fatigue naturally result. Deeply experiencing life can be tiring, even when life is filled with lots of positives and good things!

“Pause and reflect” is standard operating procedure. (Aka deep processing) A slower transition between tasks is common.

O: Over-arousal/Overstimulation:

A black and white photo of a woman appearing overstimulated

HSPs react to what happens in the environment and then deeply process it. Reactions include observations, reflections, and feelings.

Overstimulation is likely because of all the deep processing. And can quickly lead to over-arousal. Things become “too much”.

High arousal levels affect cognition. Maybe in the form of poor concentration or suddenly blanking on words. Or becoming tongue tied, especially when you’re put on the spot. And then feeling tense or anxious.

HSPs become over-aroused and overstimulated more quickly than Non-HSPs. High levels of input can be exhausting.

E: Emotional responsiveness/Empathy:

black and white photo of two children walking with arms around each other

From the first moments of life, HSPs experience emotions intensely. Even as young children, HSPs have deep empathy. They are the children who insist on bringing the spider outdoors instead of flushing it down the toilet. They can also tell when a classmate feels sad, and may feel compelled to offer comfort.

HSPs tend to respond more emotionally than Non-HSPs to the same situation. This is true whether the things are good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.

Brain studies demonstrate that HSPs’ mirror neurons are more active than are Non-HSPs. This explains why capacity for empathy is so intense.

S: Sensitivity to stimuli/Sensory awareness:

an open hand immersed in what appears to be a shallow river

A personality trait called sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS, is present at birth.

HSPs are born with SPS. That is why Highly Sensitive People respond strongly to internal AND external stimuli.

Examples include hunger and pain, noise and light. HSPs for instance are more likely to feel the uncomfortable effects of getting too hungry. They tend to feel pain more intensely than Non-HSPs too. Their response to things like sounds and light in the environment also tends to be greater.

What are unexpected joys of being a Highly Sensitive Person?

1. They’re thoughtful and conscientious, with a commitment to do things the right way. They can be quite principled.

2. HSPs are intuitive and perceptive. They naturally pick up on nuance, micro-expressions, and nonverbal cues.

3. Creativity and imagination are common among HSPs. Vivid dreams and a rich inner world are too.

4. HSPs are emotionally responsive toward people and animals. They’re caring and have lots of empathy.

5. Most HSPs are spiritual and feel a connection with nature.

6. Everyday beauty and joy are deeply moving to HSPs.

7. HSPs notice little things that others miss. Like the cloud formation that looks just like a happy smile.

HSPs thrive in environments –and relationships — conducive to their DOES needs. Perception, empathy, creativity, and spirituality prevail when HSPs thrive. (This is called vantage sensitivity.)

What are unexpected challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person?

  1. HSPs are prone to ruminate, feel overwhelmed and have a hard time making decisions.

2. Transitions are difficult and take longer.

3. HSPs often feel misunderstood, different, weird, and/or lonely. The world isn’t set up for HSPs.

4. HSPs tend to feel guilty if they prioritize their needs.

5. They perform worse when observed.

6. HSPS are more prone to anxiety, depression, and sleep deficits.

7. Effects of lights, noise, scents, and textures are amplified for HSPs.

HSPs don’t function as well in overstimulating environments. Why? They feel anxious, ill at ease, depressed, irritable and have trouble concentrating. Challenges prevail over joy.

What are typical challenges and joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person?

The same HSP qualities can be a challenge or joy, expected or unexpected — depending on context and perspective. This is true for both the Highly Sensitive Person as well as the spouse.

Here are four challenges of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person:

  1. HSPs need time to recharge their battery. Especially at the end of the day, after a social event, or even upon the start or end of a vacation. Takingtime to process, rest, and restore each day is a necessity. Not simply a luxury.

    Non-HSPs aren’t likely to consistently need to take time to process, rest, and restore. Their “battery” tends to remain sufficiently charged.

    The difference in need for downtime can create a challenge if you don’t recognize and honor each other’s needs.
  2. HSPs can rapidly go from feeling totally in the mood, i.e. sexually turned on, to shut down.

    HSPs have the capacity for intense passion and pleasure. They can be super in tune with their own experiences of ecstasy and seamlessly join with yours. However, one seemingly “minor” (but not minor to you) remark can shut down the whole scene, just like that. Especially if she feels rejected or unfavorably compared to.

    An unexpected noise, the doorbell or phone ringing, or the kids’ voices can cause her to lose interest. And……it is over.
  3. The ‘thin skin’ of HSPs means they’re vulnerable to hurt feelings. “I’m just joking” comments sting HSPs. And the sting lasts. There is no “just get over it”.

    You may lament that you have to think before you speak, or that at times you’re walking on eggshells.

    Further, you may have such thoughts as “Why is she soooooo damn sensitive?” or “I was just kidding. She really needs to find a way to take a joke” Or how about “I don’t even know what I said to upset you.” (Which can make her feel even worse.)
  4. Hunger and low blood sugar levels quickly become hanger. Feeling tired and ready for bed easily turn into utter exhaustion. The need to eat and to sleep are non-negotiable.

    So telling your HS spouse to just wait a couple hours and you’ll grab a meal is not going to work. She WILL become hangry – irritable, out of sorts, and even mean. The same thing happens when she is tired. As an HSP, sleep is central to her well being. She can’t skimp on sleep without negative effects.

    And, she probably knows from experience that having snacks with her is essential!

Here are four joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person:

  1. When HSPs have downtime after a period of stimulation, they recalibrate their nervous system. Their creativity, humor, silliness, and best self shine. They go from being a wilted flower to bright and perky.

    The joys that ‘stem’ (pun intended) from their replenishment remind you that her High Sensitivity can be a beautiful thing!
  2. HSPs deeply experience sexual pleasure. When they feel sexual desire, you become the recipient of stuff dreams are made of! Being present to the delight she is feeling in her body and in yours is a turn on that’s unlikely to get stale.
  3. Sincere compliments and everyday thoughtfulness go a long way. Her love language often includes all five! HSPs are loyal and love deeply.
  4. When an HSPs system is well balanced physically, you know it. She functions best when she has had enough sleep, is properly nourished and hydrated, and has had time in nature. The formula for optimal functioning is simple and consistent.

The gifts HSPs bring to the world – and to your relationship – are meaningful and unique. Especially if keeping the High Sensitivity trait in mind and openly communicating.

You’ll minimize/avoid inevitable pitfalls by remembering that your Highly Sensitive spouse’s brain is fine tuned to notice and interpret just about everything around her — including things you say and do. Even when you may not be aware of what you are saying or doing. Or mean anything personal by it.

Keep in mind that HSPs are not deliberately monitoring your every move. Although it can certainly feel that way if you’re unfamiliar with “DOES”.

Your HSP spouse processes information on a deep level. She sees multiple connections between things in the world. And she profoundly cares about people, the environment, and social issues. Her everyday experience of sounds, sights, tastes, fragrances, and touch is intense. All of this is her nature. At most, she may be able to override her DOES for short periods of time. And will likely require a longer period thereafter to recalibrate.

Exploring and understanding the unexpected challenges and joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person is an investment in your relationship. And in the quality, depth, and meaning of your own life.

Your HSP spouse has superpowers. Understanding the High Sensitivity trait benefits you, your spouse, and your relationship. And beyond.

I would even say to the moon and back.

Hi! I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in the Boston area specializing in helping Highly Sensitive People thrive. Click here if you’d like to learn more about working with me.

4 Things Most People Don’t Know About Being A Highly Sensitive Person

A woman facing a waterfall surrounded by woods, appearing to reflect.

A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is used to hearing “you’re too sensitive”. If you’ve been told this, you’re probably aware of experiencing things more intensely than other people do. And of reacting more strongly to everyday things in life that others don’t even see, hear, feel, or notice.

Non-HSPs may feel annoyed or confused by an HSP’s (your) reactions. Especially if they don’t know that what is really going on with you is “HSP overwhelm”. Or even what I call an “HSP hangover.”

Confusion and frustration as a Non-HSP add fuel to your believing something is wrong with you. That you’re just weird.

1. A main feature of being a Highly Sensitive Person is to feel things deeply.

To have a heightened awareness of and responsiveness to the environment- be it others’ moods, physical features such as light or temperature, or subtle details. Everyday environments can be overwhelming because of how your nervous systems reacts to sights, sounds, emotional cues, and other stimuli. Everything is more vivid. As if in high def.

2. There is nothing wrong with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Or with being a Non-Highly Sensitive Person.

High Sensitivity is an innate trait, not a disorder. About 15-20 percent of the population are HSPs, with an equal male to female ratio. The trait is present in over 100 species. Research continues to identify additional species who also have highly sensitive.

It’s a real thing.

Being in a minority, HSPs experience life fundamentally differently than does the other 80-85% of the population. The world is set up for the 80-85%. Stimulation levels are designed for people without the trait.

Non-HSPs may characterize an HSP’s behavior and emotions as “too much”. As in the HSP is “too sensitive”, takes things “too personally”, and needs to “lighten up”. Can’t she take a joke?

In reality, the HSP isn’t too anything. She is just right. Even if her behaviors and emotions are different from yours as a Non-HSP.

The problem isn’t being a Highly Sensitive Person. The problem is the misunderstanding of the trait.

To learn more about being an HSP, check out Dr Elaine Aron’s seminal book.

3. HSPs have unique wiring.

HSPs’ brains are different. We naturally process information on a deep level. HSPs also see nuance and subtle connections. We care about people and social issues in a profound way. That is just how an HSP’s nervous system works.

The Highly Sensitive Person’s brain has been referred to asthe most powerful social machine in the known universe”.

Here are three reasons why :

  1. HSPs have more active mirror neurons in their brain

    Mirror neurons help a person understand what other people are feeling. HSPs naturally recognize and feel others’ pain because of how active their mirror neurons are. An HSP’s brain is super adept at empathy, awareness, and attunement to emotions.

    HSPs really listen to what people are saying AND pick up on subtle details such as tone, facial expression, body language, and gestures.
  2. Highly Sensitive People respond differently to dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward and pleasure center.

    The HSP dopamine system doesn’t respond the same way to external rewards as a Non-HSP’s. Typical external rewards such as a job bonus, being part of the ‘in crowd’, or receiving a work promotion just don’t mean as much. HSPs are not as pumped by the things that drive and excite non-HSPs.

    This is part of what allows HSPs to hold back and be thoughtful and observant while processing information. It also likely prevents them from being drawn to the same highly stimulating situations that end up overwhelming them.

    If you’re an HSP, and you just don’t find yourself interested in attending a loud party or taking risks, you have your dopamine system to thank.

    3. Your HSP superpowers are located deep within your brain in an area called the insula. Among your superpowers are heightened sensory and emotional processing, greater self awareness, and deep empathy.

4. Without HSPs, the human race would not have survived.

Humans have survived because of HSPs’ responsiveness, awareness, and attention to subtlety. An HSP is more aware than a non-HSP of opportunities (e.g., food, mates) and threats (e.g., predators, competitors) in the environment. He is therefore well prepared to respond to a range of situations.

Remember, an HSP processes information more deeply than a non-HSP. And she learns from experience, which she then likely applies to subsequent situations. Compare this to a non-HSP, who may be inclined to impulsively respond and with less recall from previous experiences.

On a fundamental survival level, we have HSPs to thank for our mere existence as a species.

(Thank you, HSPs!)

Why does this matter?

The world is not set up for sensitivity, cautiousness, reflection, or pondering.

Society in general has difficulty dealing with high emotions. People accuse others with intense emotions of making too big a deal out of things. And label feelings as inappropriate or wrong.

Deeply experiencing the world around you is a blessing. You don’t need to keep feelings under wrap or pretend not to have them. Nevertheless, you, like all HSPs, deserve for others at least to be receptive to how you operate.

We all want to be understood. To have better, more effective communication. More thoughtful ways of approaching our concerns, fears, and worries. We seek validation, love, patience.

HSP or not.

I am a private practice clinical psychologist in the Boston area. To learn more about thriving as a Highly Sensitive Person, contact me here.

How To Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person

The image of a woman jumping for joy on a beach, representing a Highly Sensitive Person thriving

Learning how to thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) makes a world of difference. And a difference in the world. Sounds cheesy but is true.

A Highly Sensitive Person scores high in Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), a genetic trait associated with perceiving things up to ten times more intensely than other people. Research suggests 15% or so of the population has SPS. The trait occurs equally among males and females.

High Sensitivity has 4 key components.

Keep these 4 dimensions in mind when thinking about how to thrive in a world that is not always supportive of a Highly Sensitive Person.

  • Depth of Processing: you think deeply and process deeply too.
  • Overarousal/Overstimulation: you can get dysregulated or overwhelmed easily (but this makes sense due to depth of processing).
  • Emotional Responsiveness/Empathy: you are prone to feeling highs and lows. Also, you are naturally caring and compassionate.
  • Sensitivity to Subtle Stimuli: you tend to notice details. You are also more likely to react to sensory stimuli such as a tag in your shirt, a dripping faucet in the other room, or an odor others don’t smell.

Being Highly Sensitive is not a disorder. Nor is it a euphemism for being thin-skinned, too sensitive, easily offended, or unable to take a joke.

That being said, HSPs may feel slighted more easily than people without the trait. However, HSPs also tend to be more easily delighted, appreciative, moved by nature, and motivated to help humanity.  

black and white photo of an angelic girl bending over to smell a flower

HSPs suffer more in unsupportive environments and do extremely well in supportive ones, especially in childhood. This is known as differential susceptibility.

Differential susceptibility suggests that the four pillars (“DOES”) of High Sensitivity can make a difficult childhood that much more difficult for HSPs than for peers without the trait. However, in an environment that is supportive, HSPs fare even better than peers without the trait.

Dr Elaine Aron, who literally wrote the book on Highly Sensitive People in the 1990s, believes HSPs thrive under the following five conditions:

  1. Knowing the trait is real
  2. Reframing the past with the new understanding of HS
  3. Using the reframed understanding to heal past wounds
  4. Developing a lifestyle aligned with the trait
  5. Meeting other HSPs

Being Highly Sensitive is not easy, even though in many ways is a gift.

Think of the benefits for HSPS who endorse the above five conditions: Intuition, empathy, creativity, perception, insight, and love of nature to name a few. Wow!

Thriving or not, HSPs use a lot of brain power in everyday life due to depth of processing.

More specifically, HSPs notice (e.g. see, hear, pick up on) subtle things other people don’t. We naturally make connections between past, present, and future. We integrate internal and external experiences. HSPs are naturally equipped to do all of this because of a part of the brain of an HSP that is particularly active, called the insula.

Certainly, processing information deeply and making connections from what we notice and sense is a great strength. The downside is that we become depleted more easily because of all of the demands  

Embrace your exquisite sensitivity to discover depth, meaning, and emotions that are unavailable to the 85% of people without the trait of High Sensitivity (HS).

As an HSP, how do you manage exhaustion before the point of having nothing left?

You must know yourself. Meaning be aware of your basic needs for hydration, nutrition, sleep, rest, being outdoors, and alone time to recalibrate your nervous system.

Take downtime each day. Find ways to incorporate quiet moments, daily.

A collection of pretty teacups to represent the necessity for self care

Engaging in self-care along the way helps a lot and is what I call a ‘non-negotiable’. Dr Aron takes a short nap everyday as a way to energize. She also walks daily and has a meditation practice each day.

Your forms of self care may look very different. What matters is that the ways you care for yourself replenish energy and help you feel at ease. Your self care is likely different than someone else’s. And that is just fine.

Self-care is the secret sauce. As in essential for a Highly Sensitive Person to thrive.

Finding ways to reduce the amount and intensity of information your brain naturally processes is also helpful (along with ways to replenish what’s depleted). But be sure the techniques feel right. They will be different from what other people are doing, and that is perfectly fine.

I am a MA clinical psychologist passionate about Highly Sensitive People discovering and embracing their gift of High Sensitivity, and helping them to thrive! If you know or even suspect you are an HSP, and would like to learn more about embracing your gift, you can contact me here.

The Highly Sensitive Person And Anxiety: Why HSPs Are Prone To Anxiety

A woman's hands are holding a cup of tea, suggesting she is using the warmth of the cup as a way to manage anxiety as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Highly Sensitive People are born with a genetic trait called sensory processing sensitivity. Basically, that means they have a super responsive nervous system. As a result, a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is, typically, shall we say, well acquainted with anxiety.

Let’s define anxiety, talk more about HSPs, and then discuss the overlap.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a combination of fear and stress. It is a normal, common emotion.

Think of anxiety as a form of worry, uneasiness, and/or nervousness.

Our ancestors’ anxiety helped them to fight off danger, such as animals, and to run for safety. 

Anxiety helped to keep them alive by activating the fight-or-flight mechanism. The same mechanism is still in place today in our brain. It prepares us for action and orients us for safety’s sake.

Without the safety mechanism of anxiety, humans would not have survived.

These days, fight-or-flight activation can easily be a ‘false alarm’. No longer are there lions or their equivalent chasing you. The threat in the present is more benign, like having a first date or arriving late to an appointment. Much less is usually at stake than being attacked by a ferocious beast. But, our nervous system doesn’t distinguish. 

So, all of us — Highly Sensitive People and people without the trait– can actually thank anxiety for the evolution of our species. 

Something else important to know about anxiety is that it manifests in your mind AND body.

Anxiety shows up in the form of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations – whether you’re a Highly Sensitive Person or not.

Let’s take the ferocious beast example to illustrate how anxiety manifests.

A large, scary, growling animal is coming toward you. You think something like, “Oh s**t! He is going to eat/hurt/maul me.”! You feel fear. Your body goes into fight or more likely flight mode. Your heart rate and pulse increase, preparing your body to RUN like the wind!

Anxiety is helpful. It protects you, Highly Sensitive or not, from danger.

Let’s use a first date example to illustrate how anxiety can be not-so-helpful.

You’re scheduled to meet a blind date at a busy, crowded Starbucks. You arrive early. Immediately, you start to think about the miserable blind dates you’ve had, the zit on your chin, and the stain on your shirt. You feel awkward, nervous, and overwhelmed. Your body is sweating, and your heart is beating louder than a drum.

Your blind date approaches you, and he looks older than he does in his profile photos. You feel extremely anxious, you bolt for the bathroom (flight, as in fight-or-flight), and stay there. After awhile, you leave the bathroom, hoping he will be long gone.

In this case, the anxiety was not as helpful.

This blind date example illustrates how a Highly Sensitive Person’s nervous system might respond to a similar type of scenario. (A person without the High Sensitivity trait is less likely to respond as…. strongly.)

What is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

An HSP is someone born with a trait that has four key features, summarized by the acronym, “DOES“.

  • D stands for Depth of Processing:

    Highly Sensitive People process things deeply. They reflect more often and intensely. Especially on their own internal workings, relationships, and decision making. They make connections in their mind that other people respond to by saying they never thought of it that way.

  • O stands for Over-arousal/Overstimulation:

    The five senses of a Highly Sensitive Person respond intensely and easily. Certain smells, sounds, or textures are overwhelming – sometimes in good ways and sometimes not.

    Crowds, bright lights, and loud noises can also be overwhelming – usually in the negative sense of the word. They can activate the same ‘fight or flight’ response we spoke of at the beginning of this article. As a result, they’re likely among the first in certain environments to feel overstimulated. (Hi, Starbucks example.)
  • E stands for Emotion responsivity and Empathy:

    Highly Sensitive People feel emotions intensely. They also worry about the health and welfare of vulnerable people and animals. When they see a flower that reminds them of a loved one, for example, they become sentimental.

    Sometimes HSPs’ empathy is so strong that they can feel others’ emotions – even when the people themselves do not feel the emotions.
  • S stands for sensory sensitivity:

    HSPs notice details and nuance. The moment-to-moment changes of a setting sun, a subtle shift in facial expression, or the sound of the wind as it picks up speed are all things HSPs naturally notice. Their senses are highly attuned, and their experience of life is very rich.

HSPs are anxiety prone because they process thoughts and feelings deeply. Because of how deeply they experience the world, they’re more easily and quickly overstimulated. (Hello, Starbucks example.)

Overstimulation and anxiety feel similar in the body.

In the Starbucks blind date example, the HSP felt anxious relatively soon. She arrived early, giving herself time to (over)think and judge herself and her appearance. The crowded and loud setting frayed her nerves. It was tooooo much. She also likely felt others’ emotions and the dynamics within the coffee shop. She probably felt nearly depleted and taxed before her date even arrived.

The E, emotionality, also put the HSP at risk for anxiety. What if he didn’t like her? What if she spilled her coffee? Who was going to pay for whom? (Can you say AWKWARD?!)

The S, sensory responses, are anther way HSPs are inclined to feel overwhelmed. Their response to loud sounds, such as sirens, is more intense because of their hardwiring. So is the tendency to feel overwhelmed and ill-at-ease in a crowd. Or not to like bright lights, rambunctious scenes, or other social situations with people they don’t know.

Consider how easily and naturally the HSP felt overwhelmed and anxious at Starbucks. So many emotions to process, factors to consider, and ideas to evaluate…

You can see how things (e.g. sounds, situations, dynamics) that may seem benign or neutral are anything but for an HSP.

Living with the High Sensitivity trait means there are a lot of ‘extra’s’ in life. At times that can mean life feels extra stressful. As an HSP, you may feel extra anxiety, sooner than someone without the trait. But that is ok!

It just means you have extra incentive – aka ‘good’ obligation — for your own self care.

Know yourself. Be curious about the way “DOES” shows up for you.

Anxiety does not have to be a bad thing. Especially when you know why you are feeling it. And, how to live your life in a way that optimizes your unique attunement and experience of the world.

I am a private practice psychologist who works with women and men interested in learning how to use their HS as a gift and how to find the humor when it is not.

The world benefits from what HSPs have to offer.

9 Things To Recognize About Your Spouse If You’re Married To A Highly Sensitive Person

Chill looking man with daughter and hound, appearing to be interested in learning more about his wife with High Sensitivity

If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you’re a lucky spouse.

Why? Because your partner is one of the universe’s deep feelers and thinkers. And “noticers” of subtleties.

Maybe her uniqueness attracted you. Or her deep reflections, appreciation of nature, and delight in delicious food. Regardless, there are unique things to recognize about your spouse if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person.

First, keep in mind that all Highly Sensitive People are not exactly the same. Any one description isn’t a “one size fits all”.

So what is High Sensitivity (HS)? It’s a trait, present at birth, in about 15% of the population. As much as eye color is a trait you’re born with, so is High Sensitivity.

HSPs have a unique hard wiring. Their nervous system is highly attuned and ultra responsive.

Some people consider the trait a Super Power. It certainly can be!

By the way, half of Highly Sensitive People are male. Men with the HS trait often have a history of being bullied or teased as kids. Throughout life, they’re likely to keep their high sensitivity on the downlow. Makes sense!

After all, sensitivity in our culture is deemed natural for women and not so much for men.

Certain challenges are somewhat predictable when you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person– whether two HSPs or an HSP with a non-HSP. Many advantages are also available if you understand the HS temperament. The ideas below are primarily referencing a marriage with an HSP wife and non HSP husband.

Here are nine things to recognize about your spouse if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person:

1. Intensity:

From sights, to sounds, to emotions, Highly Sensitive People experience life more intensely. Why? Because their nervous system is genetically designed that way. As a result, HSPs experience positive events VERY positively (and negative events more negatively than someone without the trait).

The enhanced intensity means she derives extra delight from sensory pleasures.

Sunrises and sunsets, the smell of the ocean, the sensual feel of velvet. Ahhhhh! And her turbo charged nervous system can be highly responsive when aroused.

Being married to a Highly Sensitive Person means you too can experience natural pleasures in life more easily, often, and fully.

2. Quirkville:

HSPs are more easily overwhelmed by external events and may therefore at times feel broken. This is due to the combination of their nervous system’s makeup and cultural messaging.

Experiencing life more intensely and being judged for something that’s just inherent in who they are can create of a lot of wounding.

This is very important to be aware of if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person.

Unfortunately, cultural values of dominance and overt power have led many HSPs to incorrectly believe they’re flawed, that something’s wrong with them. (In contrast, in Japan, where cultural values are different from those in this culture, HSPs are held in high regard.)

Especially if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, knowing this about her is important. You know she’s not damaged or a weird-o. (And, anyway, sometimes, weird is a compliment. No clone concerns there!)

Encourage your Highly Sensitive spouse to express her quirkiness and nerdiness. And laugh alongside her at her puns and sense of humor.

3. Introversion/extroversion:

At times HSPs are mislabeled as “shy,” “fearful,” “introverted” or “timid.” In reality, being an HSP means she engages in close relationships on a deep level. And she experiences the world in a very acute way. Life is filled with a lot of “extra’s”. At different times she is an Old Soul, and other times a Late Bloomer.

Approximately 30% of HSPs are extroverted. They thrive on social activity and become energized in exciting social situations. Extroverted HSPs walk a thin line though between getting the social interaction they crave without entering into overwhelm.

4. Words matter:

HSPs process words, thoughts, and content deeply.

Case in point: Among others, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Celine Dion, Mozart, and ee cummings are HSPs.

If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, your particular expressions of love are super important to her. She’s likely the type to save cards, notes, emails, and texts in which you profess your love.

Tone and posture matter do too:

Be mindful of your tone of voice and body language. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you already know that she has a ‘sixth sense’; that she may intuitively seem to know how you feel.

She will recognize when what you say and how you say it aren’t aligned.

5. Conflict avoidance:

HSPs tend not to do well with conflict. Actually, most prefer to avoid it.

As the non HSP spouse, you’re probably more adept at arguing and comfortable dealing with things head-on.

Your HSP spouse is more likely to withdraw from, rather than address, a conflict. 

If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you already know that at times she prefers her own company- i.e. to spend time alone. This may especially be true after an intense discussion. And may be a necessity rather than a preference.

Don’t take this personally. Having time to regroup means her nervous system is back to baseline. She’ll feel more content afterward. And have a longer fuse.

Ideally, you two generally communicate with each other in a way that doesn’t create or escalate to conflict. Let’s be realistic, though: Conflict is inevitable in relationships. Discover methods (at times other than in the heat of the moment) to minimize conflict. After all, you are on the same team! Consider using humor, writing, or even “time-outs”.

6. Tendency toward Overwhelm

All of us have an optimal level of stimulation and arousal. A zone where we’re neither bored nor overwhelmed.

HSPs have a more narrow window of optimal stimulation. Therefore, your HS spouse tends not to enjoy crowds, noisy restaurants, or a lot of commotion. These kinds of settings become overwhelming, sometimes immediately. (If your spouse is an extraverted HSP, she enjoys social environments but can suddenly become too overwhelmed to stay.)

Her threshold for overwhelm is probably lower than yours.

Remember, she naturally takes in a ton of stimuli. As a result, some alone or quiet time is needed for her nervous system to recalibrate.

Maybe, for example, she needs to retreat to a quiet, dimly lit, comfortable place such as the bedroom, to recharge. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, expect that she will need down time in her daily life.

7. Social activity parameters

Reiterating the propensity for overwhelm is important. Even if redundant.

Your Highly Sensitive spouse is unlikely to enjoy large gatherings, such as sporting events. Or loud social get-togethers, like a tail gating party. And forget about small talk at parties. No thank you. These forms of stimulation frazzle her nervous system.

When she has had enough, she has had ENOUGH. Time to go! Not “oh one more drink.” or “In five minutes.” This isn’t personal. It is her biology.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is euan-cameron-ev53AQOSAXs-unsplash-1024x683.jpg


8. Decision making

Because of the depth of processing, HSPs may take longer to make decisions.

They consider pros and cons, all possible outcomes, and risk-to-reward ratios before coming to a final decision.

If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll learn to be patient if you’re not already. Keep in mind that what may appear to be indecision is in fact just her way of processing the options.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is letizia-bordoni-IZGNcO_8CDg-unsplash-645x1024.jpg


9. Contagion Effect

If you are married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll discover an increase in your creativity, kindness, and warmth. Your HSP spouse is likely to bring out the best in you, especially if you’re familiar with the trait.

You may become more inclined to notice subtleties and nuance after spending time together. And to be aware of other people’s goodness in a way that you hadn’t been before.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is olivia-hutcherson-irR3XM9mmKE-unsplash-1024x683.jpg

If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, understanding your spouse empowers you both to create a glorious, thriving relationship. One in which both of you feel known, loved and safe. Where you’re comfortable being your true selves. You understand one another, respect each other’s wiring, and communicate well.

As with any marriage, finding the balance between what you need and what your spouse needs is key.

No marriage is perfect. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re in for a lifetime of sensory pleasures, a deep sense of connection, and a meaningful life together.

I am a private practice psychologist who enjoys helping Highly Sensitive People access their superpowers with confidence and ease. I tend to have a pun or two to share along the way. #canthelpit

How To Manage Being A Highly Sensitive Person In A Highly Unsettled World

The words "But how do I get through the next 8400 seconds" on a piece of paper with a woman reading while drinking coffee, suggestive of a highly sensitive person managing in a highly unsettled world

The world will always be unsettled. One of the best ways to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in a highly unsettled world is to change the way YOU think of the High Sensitivity trait. By thinking of the trait differently, you’ll interact more effectively in the world. And maybe even feel empowered along the way.

Being a Highly Sensitive Person means that your nervous system is innately wired to attune to subtleties.

You’re creative, empathic, inquisitive, and a deep thinker. That’s just how you are. Your eyes are brown, blue, or whatever color, and your nervous system is wired for high sensitivity. That is you.

And you are among the 15 percent of the population born with the High Sensitivity trait.

Learning what being a Highly Sensitive Person means will help you make the most of the trait. And see it as the gift it is.

There are four general categories that comprise High Sensitivity:

  • Depth of processing – Whenever you take in information, you really TAKE IT ALL IN. And not just what is on the surface. Nuance and details are on your radar. Feelings, thought, observations, sights, sounds, opinions…..
  • Over arousal – As an HSP you take in tons of information, feel what others are feeling, and have senses that are very responsive. So of course you’ re prone to feel overstimulated more quickly and intensely. There is just so darn much to think, feel, do, especially because you’re also linking past, present, and future to the moment. And the practical with the philosophical.
  • Empathy – due to more mirror neurons, you easily feel what other people are feeling. You have a deep understanding of people and their emotions.
  • Sensory sensitivity – your senses are calibrated in a way that what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch feels ‘extra’. Your senses are extra alive.

The four core features are interrelated.

What makes managing as a Highly Sensitive Person so challenging is the second feature on the list – over arousal. What might feel like a little thing (e.g. crowds, a hectic schedule, loud music) to others can feel like a lot to you.

Makes sense! Especially if you consider how the other three categories naturally promote a sense of over stimulation.

In other words, you take in, analyze, consider, and process a lot. So much more than could be captured by a list. What you take in includes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As well as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Memories, speculations, present moment experiences. All of it. And more.

And, we know that nearly all human traits have advantages and disadvantages, depending on circumstances. High sensitivity included.

Why not optimize your trait? Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King did, and their contributions enhanced meaning in life for us all.

Here are the top five ways to manage as a Highly Sensitive Person in an unsettled world include:

1. Set boundaries

Because of your capacity for empathy, you are inclined to agree to requests. You avoid disappointing or hurting another person, even at your own expense.

You prefer to do what is requested rather than risk the possibility of a conflict. Hence, setting boundaries may not feel ‘right’.

Here’s a tip: When setting boundaries, practice being more direct. Instead of beating around the bush, be clear and to the point. For example, let’s say your friend suggests a movie and asks if you’re interested in seeing that movie. Your inclination may be to go along with his decision, even if you don’t want to see that movie. So rather than saying “I’m not sure I want to see that movie”, you could say “I would prefer to say this movie”.

2. Include daily down time to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person

Your built-in radar is constantly processing a ton of input. That is exhausting! To prevent burn-out, you need a reprieve. So take time each day to replenish your energy. Maybe it’s spending time in nature. Or quiet time with low lighting and a comfy chair. Or just having a few minutes alone and without any demands on you. Do each day what you need to do to recharge your batteries. Even if it is only for a few minutes.

The High Sensitivity trait is real. So are your needs for downtime. Build in breaks during your day will make taking care of yourself easier to do.

3. As a Highly Sensitive Person, please manage your environment AND have a “ME” place

Your environment has a much bigger impact on you as a Highly Sensitive Person than is the case for people without the trait. In fact, Highly Sensitive people are both more likely to become physically ill and to develop depression, and/or anxiety in stressful environments. The fancy term for this is differential susceptibility.

The good news is you also do even better in calm environments than people without the trait.

Your priority in your home and work environments is to reduce overstimulation to the extent possible.

What does a calm environment look like for you? Maybe it is whatever area is most free of clutter? Or wherever your dog happens to be? Or maybe just in your bedroom, alone.

What does a special refuge look like to you?

It could be a designated area in your home or yard, with some of your favorite things. (Hopefully no social media.)

You may think of some exotic getaway when you think of a peaceful place to recharge. Actually, having a reprieve that you can access in your everyday life is more important. Maybe it is the living room recliner. Or a quiet spot near the window overlooking the backyard.

So guess what: Nothing fancy is needed to create an HSP sanctuary of your very own.

4. Get enough sleep

Everyone needs sleep. But Highly Sensitive People more than just ‘need’ sleep to restore mind and body. It is as important as breathing!

Because you feel deeply and absorb so much, your nervous system is primed to feel frazzled and overstimulated. Which then leads to emotional and physical exhaustion.

High quality sleep is the best way to restore and reset your nervous system. It is an essential ingredient to replenish.

Tips to get a good night’s sleep include having a bedtime routine, prioritizing your bedtime, and minimizing screen time and other forms of stimulation at least an hour before bed.

5. Get outside each day to manage being a Highly Sensitive Person

Highly Sensitive People have a sense of connection with nature that defies words.

Walking through a green space can actually facilitate a meditative state – for anyone. This is especially helpful to you as a Highly Sensitive Person because it offsets the inevitable stimulation you feel. AND spending time strolling through green space can facilitate creativity. Which you as an HSP have a lot of.

But the superpower is a superpower only if you think of it that way.

And only then can you deliberately leverage your High Sensitivity as a foundation to launch from.

And it is sooooo easy to instead deem high sensitivity as anything but a source of thriving. Especially because you have probably heard at least a million times that you are “too sensitive” and “need to lighten up.”

You don’t need to do anything. Just be you.

I am a psychologist in the Boston area dedicated to helping people, HSP’s especially, feel empowered to live their best life. Through all the ups and downs that life offers, HSPs have special gifts to make the world a better place for us all. Please contact me with any questions.

How To Live With A Highly Sensitive Person When You’re Sensitive Too

A neatly kept kitchen with a bowl of fruit and a vase with a flower on the counter suggest roommates have figured out how to live with a Highly Sensitive Person when you're sensitive too

Whatever your age or relationship status, living with another person has its ups and downs. For Highly Sensitive People, living with anyone can be especially challenging – for either or both parties. You may think that you would automatically know how to live with a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) when you’re sensitive too. That may be true — sometimes. But it is a big assumption. Let’s unpack it.

As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you were born with a unique inherited trait.

The genetic trait causes you to feel emotions intensely and to think deeply. You absorb more information than other people do, and you process it in a more complex manner. You’re also highly attuned to your physical environment, including sounds, sights, air temperature, and tactile sensations. You naturally notice more quickly than others do when something changes or is askew. Details that are not even on anyone else’s radar are blaring to you. Another thing you automatically pick up on are people’s feelings. Even when they themselves may not recognize their own feelings.

As an HSP, you are more easily stimulated. At times this translates to feeling overwhelmed, either in a positive way (e.g. awed) or not so much (e.g. prone to tears). Your nervous system is calibrated in the same way as the other 15% of the population who are born with the High Sensitive trait.

And that calibration means your system is more finely tuned and responsive at lower levels of stimulation.

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person and live with someone else who is sensitive, you two likely ‘get’ each other. Especially if you are both familiar with the trait. But to assume rainbow-and-butterflies-roommate bliss when you are a Highly Sensitive Person and live with someone who is also Highly Sensitive is quite possibly a setup for storms – with no rainbow.

What are the challenges of living with a Highly Sensitive Person when you’re sensitive too?


1. Lack of knowledge about High Sensitivity creates misunderstandings.

Scenario: You are a Highly Sensitive Person living with someone who is sensitive too, but in a different way. Downtime when you get home from work is non-negotiable, and you require quiet time before you interact with your roommate. Unfortunately, your roommate does not realize that your need for quiet time has nothing to do with her. She perceive you are being aloof and standoffish. S Because she works in a job without much social contact, she wants to cook dinner together and enjoy it with you. The minute she walks through the door your home is no longer the quiet refuge for a battery recharge.

Suggestion: Educate yourselves! Learn more about Highly Sensitive People. Blog articles, websites, podcasts, and books are a great source of information. Maybe start a book club, where all the reading is relevant to the High Sensitivity trait.

Roommates and couples may find the resources especially helpful.


2. Incorrect Assumptions about High Sensitivity lead to unnecessary ill will.

Not all Highly Sensitive People are the same. You might for example be one of the 30% of HSPs who is extraverted, and your sensitive roommate may be introverted. Or because one of you is male, you (and he) assume he isn’t a Highly Sensitive Person. In fact, 50% of Highly Sensitive People are male.

3. HSP qualities of empathy are associated with conflict avoidance.

As a Highly Sensitive Person living with someone else who is sensitive too, you are both likely to avoid disagreements, hard topics, and any type of conflict. Unfortunately, this is not healthy for either of you or your relationship. Strengthening self-advocacy skills by practicing with each other can help your relationship and interactions with people in all areas of your life.

4. Families with a mixture of HSP and non HSP family members should keep all temperments in mind.

Among families there are different configurations of High Sensitivity. For example, a child who is a Highly Sensitive Person may live with family members who are also sensitive, and with some who aren’t. In such a situation, making sure everyone respects each other’s quirks, temperament, and preferences is an ongoing process.

How to live with a Highly Sensitive Person when you are highly sensitive too is no different from when any two people living together. The same codes of conduct apply: Respect each other; Be kind; Cooperate/Share; Don’t hold a grudge; and Keep communication open.

The good ol’ Golden Rule applies whether you are a Highly Sensitive Person or not.

I enjoy helping Highly Sensitive People create a life of balance and joy – Especially people who have been told over and over again that they are just too sensitive.