Highly Sensitive Person: The Superpower You Never Knew You Had
If you every been called sensitive, you might be surprised to learn that there is a scientific term called Highly Sensitive Person or HSP. This is not a diagnosis, it has been deemed by scientific research as a genetic trait, attributed to a highly sensitive nervous system, also known as a sensory processing sensitivity. Through brain imaging, scientists have found that the region of the brain responsible for sensory processing and empathy has differences in the brain activity of an HSP vs non-HSP. A large percentage, 15-20% of the population are HSP-so clearly, this is something a lot of people experience.
This adaptive trait has a number of advantages, due to the ability for deeper processing, awareness and often increased empathy. As an HSP you may pick up on things other non-HSPs do not. For example, because of a heightened sensitivity to external stimulation, you may be able to pick up on more subtle cues from those around you, such as noticing the change in body language, from the tapping of a knee to the change in someone’s voice. So, it’s great! Being an HSP is sort of like a superpower, but just like Superman has Kryptonite, as an HSP you have to be mindful of what you take in so that you don’t get overstimulated.
Four tips for nurturing yourself as an HSP:
- The basics: Everyone can benefit from a healthy amount of sleep, nourishing food and decreased stimulants, but HSP’s benefit even more due to their increased sensitivities. Research shows that HSP’s can benefit from regular meals/snack to ward off crashes.
- Moderate your consumption of media: As an HSP, violence and graphic content can be particularly overwhelming due to the increased depth in processing of external stimulants. Everything from how you curate your news feeds on social media platforms to what movies you choose to watch on a Friday night.
- Give yourself extra time: From the time it takes you to make decisions, to the time you take to wind down after a long day. HSP’s require more time due to the ability for deeper processing of information. Allowing yourself time for preparation and for decompression will allow your nervous system the opportunity to quiet, keeping you more calm.
- Cultivate a routine: Change can be more overwhelming for HSPs, even positive changes. Create a routine that involves meditation, outdoor or other aesthetically pleasing environments, and the space to be minimally stimulated regularly to minimize the effects of overstimulation and a rapidly changing world.
If this introduction has you wondering, am I an HSP? There’s a self-test you can take here, on Elaine Aron’s site, the original researcher of HSP. Remember this is just a tool to one aspect of your personality. If you’re looking for a place to unpack this and understand yourself or a loved one more, a therapist can help. Contact Gateway to Solutions to discuss more.