These 21 Things Stress Out Highly Sensitive People the Most

a highly sensitive person feels stressed out

For highly sensitive people, who process stimulation deeply and feel emotions strongly, stress can be intense.

Whether you identify as a highly sensitive person or not, stress is a universal experience. However, as I explain in Sensitive, which I co-wrote with Andre Sólo, about 30 percent of people are wired to process stimulation deeply and feel emotions strongly. These are the highly sensitive people, or “HSPs” for short.

Consider the incessant ticking of a clock or the palpable tension emanating from a stressed colleague — while these might be mere annoyances to some, they can be distracting and unsettling for a highly sensitive person.

I wanted to hear from sensitive people, so I reached out to the followers of Sensitive Refuge’s Facebook page. Here’s what they shared. Fellow HSPs, do these resonate with you?

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Stressful Experiences for Highly Sensitive People

1. Sudden loud or repetitive noises

“A loud noise out of nowhere, like a police car whirring by my home, or annoying repetitive noises, like a ticking clock, can really rattle me. Sometimes wish I lived in a bubble!”

2. Busy social settings, like a party or networking event

“As a highly sensitive introvert, I need plenty of quiet alone time to recharge. Loud talking and music drain my energy and make me feel claustrophobic.”

3. Bright lights

“They give me an instant headache and inability to focus on anything other than how uncomfortable it is.”

4. Crowds (at shopping malls, concerts, or wherever)

“For me, crowds produce some serious overwhelm from the noise and excess energy. Once I cried at an outdoor concert I really enjoyed simply due to sheer overwhelm of the crowd.”

5. “Normal” things that other people breeze through

“I can function quite well in public situations but find myself completely exhausted afterwards. For example, yesterday I had lunch with some friends and then facilitated a book group discussion, after which I came home and collapsed into bed. I struggled to make banal small talk with groups of people, much preferring a deeper discussion with one or two others. I can stand up and give a talk and lead a class discussion, no problem, but then I have to retreat and rest for a whole day.”

6. Having in-laws, friends, or other guests stay at your home

“I love my family, and I can tolerate people in my space for a little while, but if the houseguests stay for more than a day, I get stressed. Picking up on their feelings, having to be ‘on’ all the time, not having my own space to retreat to — it’s too much.”

7. Your own intense feelings

“I get overwhelmed by my own emotions because they can be so intense. It might be love — which is beautiful but sad too — or sadness, anger, etc. It’s hard to explain to anyone just how strong the feelings are, and I just have to let them pass through me. It can be exhausting.”

8. Confrontation of any kind

“It makes me so nervous. I hate hurting other people. My feelings get so intense that I can get paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do.”

9. Hanging out with overly negative people

“Other people’s moods seep into me. I can be having a great day, then BAM, I’m hit with someone else’s negativity.”

10. Endless trivial conversation…

“…especially among coworkers around me when I’m trying to work. It’s impossible to focus — and it’s like, who cares about this or that little thing?”

11. Chaos and disorder…

“…especially in my personal space. I NEED everything organized and clean. I cannot do clutter. I homeschool and I MUST have the house put in order before we start for the day. Otherwise I’m just so distracted by the extra sensory input.”

12. Loud music or TV

“Others seem to need a radio or TV on in the background ‘for company,’ but it drives me crazy. I love shops with no music. I can’t cope with the sound of power tools, lawnmowers, or leaf-blowers — it’s excruciating.”

13. Artificial lights

“I wear a hat most of the time to help shield me from them.”

14. Hosting a social event

Planning a party is my specialty, but the day of said party, I get overwhelmed. I cannot concentrate, people can ask me things and I won’t remember saying yes, I’m in a fog, and then need to take a nap as soon as it shuts down. Too much stimulation.”

15. Strong smells

“Especially from perfume or essential oils. I find them overpowering and sometimes they make me physically ill.”

16. Violence or gore in movies

“Since I’m sensitive to horror, violence, and gore, I miss out on movies and TV shows. Everyone comes to our house to watch Game of Thrones, but I can’t watch it, even though I want to. I can’t watch Criminal Minds even though I love the dynamics of the FBI team; it’s often too gory or scary for me. Many people tell me to ‘get over it’ as though I control how scared or upset I get. After many years of being peer-pressured, I’ve realized that when people leave the movies, they’re not haunted by what they’ve seen, like I am.”

17. When someone is angry (even when it has nothing to do with you)

“When my partner yells in frustration about something he’s doing (like the computer not working), even though it has nothing to do with me, it still upsets me. I feel like running away. It’s unfair to make him stop, because I yell, too, when I’m frustrated — but it still rattles me!”

18. The harshness of the world

“As a sensitive person, sometimes I feel like the world is too cruel, too rough, for me.”

19. Being a “container” for other people’s emotions

“I end up absorbing and holding on to other people’s emotions, which can leave me feeling sad, upset, or drained.”

20. Too many things scheduled at once

“I can usually handle it well when I plan and can see the end. What pushes me to the edge, though, is all the little things that pop up during that time. I’m in it right now… ‘I need you to call me tonight,’ ‘Momma, can I spend the night at someone’s house you don’t know?,’ ‘Momma, I failed my math test and I need tutoring again before the next test this Friday,’ a last-minute dessert to buy for school… and on and on. And now I’m shutting down before my long week is even close to being over.”

21. Processing every little thing so deeply

“Sometimes I feel misunderstood and on the outside of groups because I need more quiet time to work through it all.”

For too long, society has told us that sensitivity is a weakness, when it’s actually your greatest strength. To learn more about this superpower, check out my new book, Sensitive. It was named an Amazon Best Book of 2023 So Far. Susan Cain said, “This important book shines a light on the great power in being highly attuned to the world.” Click here to buy it.

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