Do you prefer quiet, calm environments? Do you worry—sometimes more than you should—about other people’s feelings? Do you find yourself reflecting on things more than most people and needing extra time to make decisions?
If so, you might be a highly sensitive person. This means your nervous system processes sensory information differently, making you sensitive to your environment. Loud noises, bright lights, large crowds, busy schedules and chaotic environments overstimulate you. Most days you cope just fine, but other days you become overwhelmed or stressed in situations that aren’t stressful for others.
High sensitivity is not uncommon: one in five people have this trait, which means that too many people have it for it to be considered a disorder, but not enough people have it for highly sensitive people to feel understood by the majority. Growing up, you may have been told to “toughen up” or “stop being so sensitive.” As an adult, you may struggle with anxiety or depression, or frequently have low energy or trouble sleeping.
Many highly sensitive people are unusually intelligent or creative. Musician Alanis Morissette is a self-professed highly sensitive person. In the new documentary, Sensitive: The Untold Story, Morissette tells Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, “I spent most of my life thinking how I was a problem for people. My lifestyle was not very conducive to care for the HSP (highly sensitive person) for a really long time. And so I would just go through moments of having meltdowns and breakdowns. I’d go a month or two really hard… and then I would crash.”
Sound familiar? Maybe you, too, are highly sensitive. Here are 12 signs that you are. You may not identify with every sign, but the more signs that seem to describe you, the more likely it is that you’re highly sensitive:
1. Change is unsettling. You have a routine and you like to stick to it. Major transitions—even if they’re positive—like moving, beginning or ending a romantic relationship, changing jobs, or starting school shake you up. It seems to take you longer than other people to adjust to new situations.
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2. You get stressed when there’s too much going on. When you have a lot to do in a short amount of time, you feel overwhelmed. If your weekend is busy, and you don’t get enough time to yourself, you feel exhausted and out of it.
3. You’ve been called shy, reserved or introverted. Most people don’t know what high sensitivity is, so it’s often mislabeled. In reality, many highly sensitive people are introverts, but about 30 percent are extroverts. Introverts and highly sensitive people share many characteristics, such as needing alone time to recharge, but the difference is highly sensitive people are more sensitive to the world around them (physical surroundings and emotions), whereas introverts feel drained by socializing.
4. You notice details others miss. You particularly notice beautiful things, like the way the evening sunlight strikes a brick wall to create an intriguing texture or a particularly satisfying harmony in a song. If other people are uncomfortable in an environment, you can pinpoint what needs to be changed—maybe the chairs are too hard or the music is too loud. You’re probably tuned in to people, noticing even subtle shifts in their mood. The downside is, because you notice more, you’re more likely to feel stressed when things are new, chaotic or intense for too long.
5. You become overwhelmed in situations that many people regard as normal. Large crowds, sudden sounds, bright lights and strong smells may bother you. Although you can deal with these things for a time, you usually can’t wait to get away.
6. You reflect on your experiences. At the end of the day, you replay conversations or events in your mind, analyzing them for meaning or thinking of ways to do things better the next time. You think deeply, considering the big picture and what it all means. You’ve been accused of overthinking things or worrying too much.
7. Your body is sensitive. You’re more sensitive to pain than the average person. When you get hungry, you have to eat right now or you can’t function. Some highly sensitive people are strongly affected by caffeine—just a little makes them jittery and shaky.
8. You avoid overly violent or gross movies, TV shows and images. They’re hard for you to deal with.
9. You feel emotions deeply. Sometimes your emotions—both good and bad—are so powerful that you wonder if you can bear them. You usually do, though, sometimes not even showing those emotions outwardly. Many people just don’t realize how strong you really feel.
10. Other people’s moods affect you. You have a hard time brushing off other people’s feelings. If your spouse or co-worker is in a bad mood, suddenly you are too. You empathize with others easily, even people you don’t know well, like the victim of a crime you hear about in the news or a stranger in need of help.
11. You need alone time. Some days after work or school, you have to just shut out the world. You relax at home, maybe in bed or on the couch, in a quiet, darkened room. This sensory deprivation calms your overstimulated system. If you don’t get enough downtime, you feel stressed and exhausted.
12. You’re unusually creative or intellectually gifted. You learn new things quickly. You’re intuitive, and sometimes you just “know” things without knowing how or why you know them. You have a complex inner world, a rich imagination and vivid dreams. To you, daydreaming and letting your thoughts wander is not a waste of time, but the way your mind works best to solve problems and think of new ideas. Your ability to reflect and think deeply, along with your awareness of the little things, gift you with unique creativity and intelligence.
Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. –Anthon St. Maarten
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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert