12 signs you’re a highly sensitive person

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.

What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality test from our partner Personality Hacker.

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.

Are you a highly sensitive person? Try our free quiz, which is based on Dr. Aron’s research.

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


  • Livia says:

    I found out about Highly Sensitive People through you website, so thank you! It made me understand more about myself and one of my sons. I can relate to all of them except the first one.

  • M. says:

    Great article. I relate to pretty much all of them. 🙂 I’m also quite sure, I’m highly sensitive. I have a lot of the signs, but sometimes I wonder if it’s my lack of self-confidence that’s affecting me. Like, maybe I just can’t cope with pressure properly. But if I happened to be HSP, then I’d love to know how to cope with this.

  • Lailah says:

    Literally every single one of these describe me. Even though I rarely show my emotions I feel very deeply. I wonder if this coincides with fear of rejection since I deal with that a lot.

  • Man oh man, does that describe me. I don’t have any question that I am an HSP. Violent movies don’t really bother me, but I hate watching nasty sports injuries, for example. Loud noises only bother me when I’m tired. But other people’s feelings? Wow, yes. They kill me, and I can read them, even through text messages.

    Thanks for the post, awesome stuff.

  • Rachel Reedent says:

    WOW. This is literally my entire personality put into words. I’ve always felt extremely shy and introverted, but I guess I’m actually a sensitive person. <3 this post rocks

  • Holly says:

    By the end of this story I was simply stunned. Everything written in this story is me put into words. Wow

  • Madeleine says:

    I am all of these and it felt like I was reading my personality on the page. This also explains, at least for me, why I’ve never felt like my OCD diagnosis was correct OR why the meds I took for it seemed to change me and not just treat symptoms! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  • Lily says:

    I’ve never felt so understood than by reading this article. I can’t believe there are so many others out there like me. ?

  • Matt says:

    I’ve always been a HSP and an introvert which no one seems to understand. They believe that I’m messed up, have issues, I’m anti-social, suffer from some kind of disorder or depression. Which I know it’s none of, and I’ve told and explain this to as many people as I can, but everyone I know seems to believe if I don’t live life like them, I’m not living life properly. I live just fine, my relationships work out just fine, I work and have a job just fine, as fine as anyone else who lives on this planet. I have a full social life with many friends and I enjoy social interaction, and yet I’m still messed up because one day out of a full week I just want to stay home and relax, but no, that me having psychological issues. Everyone I know thinks this of me including my family who just refuse to understand and wish I lived life like they did growing up. For someone who is HSP and an Introvert this extra pressure can be hell, and although I’ve learned to control myself, a lot of the times I honestly wish I could lose it just to put all the ignorance in place, but at this point I’ve grown tired of even explaining who I am to people. There’s little to no respect that I’ve found for someone like me.

  • Teena says:

    I too am an INFJ and HSP. All of the traits described here are me, except I have just the opposite (or close to opposite) of #7. It is possible that when I was very young, I was physically very sensitive though. My survival skills are very strong and I believe I may have developed what I call a blessing and potential curse. When I first became aware of this gift of “high pain tollerence” not actually being that at all, was after giving birth naturally to my 3rd child and only natural (not C-section or use of any pain medication) with no pain. After recalling the entire home birth from beginning to end, and what everyone was doing throughout my home, I watched the birth video. This is when I discovered I had an out of body experience when the pain became very intense. Over a period of several weeks following this discovery I had recalled numerous times I had these expierences but did not realize what it was. I had always called it high tolerance for pain, I was able to trace it back as far as 6 years old during a very emotionally traumatic time in my life. It began by connecting with a my mother who had disappeared purposefully while I slept at night. I wet the bed almost every night. It was very upsetting because I had no connection to wetting the bed. I also began sleep walking. This occurred many times throughout my childhood.

    I am now 50 years old.

    This is an area I have yet to identify with other people.

    Thank you for this wonderful site and for giving us a place to not feel so weird or misunderstood.

  • Merd says:

    I am an HSP INTJ, is this wierd? I have a trusted source in real life which diagnosed me as HSP. I took tests about being an HSP. I’m an average HSP and a female INTJ. I don’t think I have seen anyone like me-for now. Anyone who can relate with me? 😐

  • Ri says:

    I am an extremely introverted child, and have always been. I notice details that no one cares about and I prefer being alone. Now I know that I am not as weird as I think I am, and we must embrace our strangeness. Every small leaf or story intrigues me deeply, and my classmates often think I am very shy and reserved. Well, I am. I love being alone and having time to just sit and…think, and observe. I don’t prefer hanging out with my friends too much, my mind is always full of vivid and wacky thoughts. I am very sensitive, and someone else’s feelings have a great impact on me. I don’t speak much, I write poems and songs to talk about sad or things that make me depressed to myself. I feel it is the only way I can let my thoughts out because they often overwhelm me. I love being amidst nature and dim places. Not that I’m a gloomy person, but that makes me feel myself. I guess I will always be the same, and that is me.
    The world is a magical, intriguing place, and when you observe it, a little bit of beauty is revealed under every nook and cranny.

  • Malika S says:

    This is a description of me. Interesting.