Highly sensitive people (HSPs) get easily stressed out by stimuli because they’re born with nervous systems that are extra sensitive. Being a highly sensitive person isn’t a sickness or a disorder. In fact, according to Dr. Elaine Aron, about 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive, and this trait occurs naturally in over 100 species, from fruit flies to cats to primates. HSPs have many incredible gifts, such as being especially empathetic, creative, compassionate, and self-aware.
Because high sensitivity isn’t very common, many HSPs feel alone and misunderstood. High sensitivity is often mislabeled as shyness, anxiety, or introversion (even though both introverts and extroverts can be HSPs).
For many people, discovering that they’re a highly sensitive person was the key to understanding many of the things they’d struggle with their entire lives. Are you an HSP? Here are 23 signs of high sensitivity. The more signs you relate to, the more likely it is that you’re highly sensitive.
Signs That You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. You startle easily.
When people sneak up on you, you jump as high as a frightened cat. Just seeing your roommate or significant other walk into the room when you weren’t expecting them can set you off.
2. You need to spend plenty of time alone, even if you’re an extrovert.
Solitude calms your overactive senses. After a busy day, you may withdraw into a darkened room or some other place where you have privacy. This is a key trait of all highly sensitive people, whether they’re introverted or not.
3. When you read or hear about violent things, you have a strong negative reaction.
Reading an article about animal abuse or a particularly brutal crime, you may get sick to your stomach and have to click away. You will probably struggle to get the grotesque images out of your mind for days or weeks afterward.
4. Similarly, when you experience beauty, you have a strong positive reaction.
Looking at art, being in nature, or just noticing the way the sunlight strikes an object really moves you. You may find yourself overwhelmed with happiness, unable to put into words how much something has affected you.
5. You’re very sensitive to sounds.
Highly sensitive people often have a deep reaction to sounds and music. Certain pitches really irritate you, and loud sounds grate on your nerves. Likewise, your favorite song can send you into a zen-like trance or completely overhaul your mood for the better.
6. Strong smells hit you harder than others — even nice smells.
For example, you may not eat certain foods because of the way they smell (for me, it’s seafood). Or, you may have to leave the room because someone’s perfume is overpowering your HSP senses.
7. When you were a kid, you were very picky about the clothing you wore, basing your choices on how things felt.
You may not have worn clothing made of itchy fabrics like wool, “footie” pajamas that covered your feet, or leggings, tights, or pants that tightly hugged your waist. Your parents may have had to cut the tags out of your clothing because they scratched you. You may still do these things today as an HSP adult.
8. You’re highly sensitive to deadlines and time pressure.
You feel extremely rattled when you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. You hate having to do things quickly, without enough time to process your thoughts.
9. When you were a kid, your parents or teachers called you “shy” or “quiet.”
Sure, you may not have been the first to speak up, but these labels missed what was really going on with you — that because of your high sensitivity, you often felt overwhelmed in social situations, which made you clam up or withdraw. Even extroverted HSPs will often scope out a social situation from the edges before moving into the group.
10. You get overwhelmed in “busy” places like bars, clubs, concerts, parties, and festivals.
Even classrooms and offices, where there is typically a lot going on, can be too much for a highly sensitive person. You might not notice right away that you’re being drained; rather, your energy is slowly leached out of you, then you suddenly crash.
11. You have a rich inner world.
You have vivid daydreams (and nightmares). And there’s always a lot on your mind.
12. You’re always searching for meaning, whether it’s through your relationships, religious beliefs, or world view.
You’re not content with living a shallow life. Rather, you have a strong desire to live with purpose and feel part of a greater whole. And your high sensitivity means you process things more deeply than others might. For all these reasons, others may see you as spiritual and wise (whether you agree with that label or not).
13. You notice things that others miss.
Your sensitive ways are sometimes like an extra sense. You might pick up on the way your friend’s voice sounds slightly flat even though he says he’s doing fine. Or you might be the first to notice that a store you and your friends pass every day has put up a new sign.
14. You feel more “porous” than other people.
You seem to absorb more from your environment than other people do. The vibe of a room, other people’s moods, and the weather seem to affect you more than they affect others. These things “get into” an HSP more easily than they do others — almost like you’re a sponge for the environment around you.
15. You cry easily.
You may weep from joy, sadness, or stress. Male HSPs may not always want to show this publicly, but are generally emotionally sensitive as well.
16. You seek meaning in your romantic relationships.
Many HSPs don’t do casual dating, one night stands, or flings — or they swear off them after a few bad experiences. They become deeply attached to the people they let into their lives, and it would be too painful for them to begin a relationship knowing it had an end date.
17. You often think about the deeper meaning of life.
Why were humans placed on this planet? How did life begin? What does it all mean? These aren’t exclusively HSP questions, but we slip easily into contemplating them.
18. Times of transition are difficult for you.
Even positive changes — like starting a new job, moving to a better living space, or beginning an exciting new relationship — can overstimulate you. Your high sensitivity means you seem to take more time than other people to adjust to new things.
19. Similarly, when something is ending, you may have trouble letting it go.
Whether it’s a relationship, a job, or a chapter in your life, you think deeply about its significance, and you don’t just “move on” as quickly as other people seem to.
20. When you’re very hungry, you have a hard time concentrating — and your mood plummets.
You seem to be especially sensitive to dips and spikes in blood sugar levels. Similarly, caffeine may have a strong effect on you.
21. If someone is watching you do something, you may become so nervous and shaky that you actually do it worse.
You might perform your job perfectly well every day, but as soon as your boss observes you to evaluate your performance, it’s too much. You find the attention to be overstimulating, and you make mistakes that you would never make on your own.
22. You take great pains to arrange your life in a way that keeps you from being overstimulated.
For example, you don’t plan many social activities for the weekend, or you avoid going to the grocery store when you know there will be lots of people there. This helps you avoid sensory overload.
23. You seem to need more sleep than others.
If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, it seems almost impossible to function the next day. For highly sensitive people, sleep is one of the best ways to calm your frazzled senses.
Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?
There’s no question that being highly sensitive can be overwhelming at times — and for many of us, it even seems like a liability at times. But highly sensitive people also have gifts that don’t come naturally to others. We notice things others don’t, we sense things that others miss, and we often draw connections that allow us to understand people, events, or society on a very deep level. And many highly sensitive people are artists, musicians, writers, and other types of creatives because of it.
More Highly Sensitive Person Resources
- What It’s Like Being a Highly Sensitive Introvert
- 27 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You’re an HSP
- 12 Things a Highly Sensitive Person Needs
- What to Do When You Feel Overstimulated and Overwhelmed
- 16 Small Difficult Things About Being an HSP
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