Being A Highly Sensitive Person

Medically reviewed by Kayce Bragg, LPCS, LAC, LCPC, LPC, NCC
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you ever feel the need to lock yourself in a dark room to decompress after a hectic day? Do you tend to avoid watching anything that contains violence on TV or at the movie theater? Have you ever asked yourself, "why am I so sensitive?" If so, you may be what is known as a highly sensitive person, or HSP.

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Highly sensitive persons may run into challenges in certain areas of their lives and can experience social isolation or difficulty with others not understanding how they feel. However, there may be some advantages to this personality type and personality traits. 

Learning how to navigate the world with self-awareness, self-love, and kindness to yourself and others might assist you in feeling more comfortable as a sensitive person while minimizing the impact of any disadvantages.

Definition of high sensitivity

According to the book "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" by Dr. Elaine Aron, a highly sensitive person may have physical and emotional responses to their external environment that can be different than those around them. For example, they may be more prone to sensory input overload or difficulty focusing in or dealing with busy, stressful environments. They may also be more inclined to cry or feel scared in response to an emotional film or book. 

It was in 1991 that Dr. Elaine Aron began researching high sensitivity, which she referred to as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS). Dr. Aron is known most for writing her book named above. The book aims to help people understand what it means to live life as a highly sensitive person, including how to deal with each characteristic involved in dealing with a sensory processing disorder like HSP.

It may be helpful to note that the traits and definition of a highly sensitive person may overlap with the traits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), some anxiety disorders, and some forms of ADHD. A highly sensitive person test is also performed in order to better understand each individual and to find a realistic and effective solution for these areas. Sensory overload, sensitivity to social situations, and needing extra time to unwind may be symptoms of these conditions. If you're considering the possibility of being a highly sensitive person, or you believe you have a highly sensitive child, a psychologist may be of help to you.


Traits of a highly sensitive person

Each highly sensitive individual may or may not have every one of the defining characteristics. It is said that some people will experience a specific personality trait or multiple traits. These traits may be seen as positive and negative influences depending on your perspective or what situation they present themselves in. 

For example, highly sensitive people tend to have, in some cases, difficulty tolerating noisy environments, some to a greater degree than others. They may also find that they startle easily, whereas others may not.

HSPs tend to be hard on themselves, especially about any mistakes they might make. In some cases these mistakes can involve a supportive friend (which due to the sense of empathy that HPSs can have a significant impact on their well being.) However, this impact may help them to prevent making similar mistakes in the future. Another trait listed in Dr. Aron's book is about a need to relax.  After exposure to too many sensory stimuli, an HSP may feel that they need to isolate themselves to "recharge their batteries."

Here are just a few of the common noted traits of HSPs:

  • Sensory sensitivity (sound, vision, taste, smell, or touch)
  • Certain situations feel overwhelming, like those that involve large crowds
  • A feeling of being different than everyone else
  • Being acutely aware of others' feelings or a heightened sense of empathy 
  • Being deeply moved by certain media and crying at sad movies or books often
  • Becoming fearful, angry, sad, or disgusted with ease, depending on stimuli
  • Feeling happy, excited, loving, or energized with ease, depending on stimuli
  • Heightened intuition or deep thoughts about a specific subject or situation

According to, "the key quality is that, compared to the 80% without the trait, they process everything around them much more-reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations. When this processing is not fully conscious, it surfaces as intuition."

A test to determine high sensitivity

Dr. Aron developed a small test to help people determine if they are highly sensitive. Some of the statements included in this highly sensitive person test, (or HSP test) are:

  • Other people's moods affect me.
  • I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed, into a darkened room, or any place where I can have some relief from stimulation.
  • I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.
  • The arts or music deeply move me.
  • I startle easily.
  • When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment, I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).
  • I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.
  • I make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows.
  • Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  • When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.

Depending on how many of the items in the test you can relate to, you may find that you are a highly sensitive person. If you find that you relate, it may be helpful for you to familiarize yourself with how this may impact various areas of your life and to learn how you can maximize your ability to cope, including taking a synesthesia test to determine the extent of your sensory experiences.

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Coping as a highly sensitive person (HSP)

As a highly sensitive person, you can take a few steps in your day to try to reduce the negative outcomes and impacts of the physical or social stimuli you may encounter. This includes stimuli created by the people or environment around you.

  • Get good sleep each night and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Wear noise-reduction headphones or earplugs in environments that involve loud music or sound
  • Avoid forms of media that you regard as negative influences. These can be forms that cause stress, such as violent films or the news.
  • Set boundaries with others when you need space or time alone.
  • Spend time in
  • Limit caffeine intake.
  • Try to complete tasks on your own schedule.
  • Reading peer reviewed studies to glean insight on sensitivity 
  • Have an enclosed or safe space to retreat to when you feel overwhelmed.

Outside of day-to-day life, HSPs may also encounter challenges in love and relationships. It can be more difficult to form deep bonds with others due to the sensitivity they experience. That isn’t to say that establishing deep bonds is impossible; rather, they may experience challenges in acquiring and maintaining them. 

The HSP in love

In addition to the book, "The Highly Sensitive Person," Dr. Aron also wrote The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You, which addresses potential unique challenges associated with highly sensitive people, how it interacts with their nervous system,  and how they behave in relationships. "HSPs have nervous systems that pick up more on subtleties in the world and reflect on them deeply. That means, for starters, they will tend to demand more depth in their close relationships to be satisfied; see more threatening consequences in their partners' flaws or behaviors; reflect more and, if the signs indicate it, worry about how things are going." The book also covers how to meet someone and fall in love if that happens to be something you are interested in, as these situations can also present challenges to HSPs. 

The HSP and career

When planning a career, it may be beneficial for a highly sensitive person to consider their particular sensitivities. For example, roles that require constant direct supervision may not allow them to perform at their best. The average person experiencing high sensitivity may also wish to consider jobs that do not require them to work in an open office environment. These environments often involve being constantly surrounded by large numbers of people and high noise levels throughout the workday, which may be mentally taxing. An at-home job may be perfect for those who work best in a quiet and self-controlled environment. 

Highly sensitive people can also consider how their particular characteristics might be advantageous in specific roles. For example, according to Entrepreneur, eight characteristics make highly sensitive people exceptional business leaders:

  1. Emotional awareness
  2. Empathy
  3. Dedication to fairness and justice
  4. Leadership
  5. Passion
  6. Need for space and time to themselves
  7. Innovation
  8. Generosity

Carefully considering how being an HSP may affect how you perform on the job and how a particular role may affect your health and well-being may be an essential step to take before you choose your career path or your next position.

Online therapy for highly sensitive people

In some cases, sensitivity may be caused by underlying mental health conditions. In other cases, highly sensitive people may seek help to learn new techniques for dealing with stress, intense emotions, and other concerns. Counseling can be an effective way to handle these symptoms.

Although traditional in-person therapy can be beneficial, online counseling has been proven to be effective in treating prolonged exposure to stress. For HSPs, online counseling may provide a sensory-friendly alternative to traditional therapy in an office. It can be done in a familiar and safe environment with an internet connection and digital device.

Some online therapy sites, such as BetterHelp, offer a database of licensed counselors with expertise in various fields. 


Being a highly sensitive person may feel isolating. However, you're not alone. Several coping mechanisms are available, including counselors available online and in-person. If you are interested in starting online counseling, consider taking the first step with BetterHelp.
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