As far back as preschool, I can remember being in a room full of other kids and not just observing but sensing everyone’s emotions. Little did I know that being overly empathetic would be both a blessing and curse my whole life.
My oversensitivity drives me batty at times, and sometimes I feel that I’m alone in the world with my heightened awareness. But, I’m not. Elaine Aron, Ph.D., a research veteran in the field of psychology, calls this level of awareness “sensory-processing sensitivity” and put together this self-test.
If you think you’re more sensitive than the average person, you aren’t alone. Read the signs below (or take Aron’s test) and if you find yourself nodding or saying yes to the questions posed, you might be a highly sensitive person. If you are, keep reading. I’ve included a few of my personal survival tips. Maybe they can help you too!
Eight Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. You Have Trouble Sleeping: Do things like light streaming through a crack in the shades keep you from falling asleep or do you wake up easily when you hear cars driving down the street or your partner snoring?
2. You Startle Easily: When people unexpectedly turn a corner in front of you, do you jump?
3. You Get Hurt Easily: Are you especially sensitive to sarcasm? Do people say things like, “Don’t be so serious,” “You’re too emotional”?
4. You Feel Anxious in Crowds: Do you get tense when you’re around a lot of people? Does it bother you when people bump into you or stand too close?
5. You Have a Sensitive Nose: Can you tell if a person hasn’t showered? Is wearing much perfume or cologne? Or if there is a broken toilet three blocks away?
6. You Experience Highs and Lows: Do you have a dramatic emotional response to the sight of the sun setting? A child playing? A sad movie? Are you able to cry tears of joy and pain?
7. You Have Trouble Making Decisions: Does it take a long time for you to make a decision? Do you change your mind a lot? Do you get anxious when you have too many options?
8. You Dread the End of Things: Are breakups incredibly difficult for you? When you lose a job or get turned down for something, does it feel like the end of the world?
How to Recharge If You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. Breathe Deeply: When you’re in a highly emotional state, close your eyes and take a very deep breath, filling your lungs. Hold it for a moment, then exhale deeply through your nose.
The action of breathing deeply cuts down the release of cortisol, the stress hormone that can raise your heart rate, make your stomach feel queasy, and make you sweat.
Deep breathing also initiates a relaxation response: Your heartbeat slows, your muscles relax, and you tamp down the “fight-or-flight” response that excess cortisol can trigger.
Avoid Energy Vampires: If there are people who are overly sensitive to others’ energy and feelings, then there are also people who feed off that empathy.
Don’t be a doormat. Avoid people who are always in a bad mood, blame others, or who spread gossip and negativity. Each of us has a certain amount of energy available to us and when that energy is gone, it makes you more vulnerable to emotionally traumatic experiences.
Seek Positive Stimulation: There are many times when feeling emotions deeply can be a gift. Take advantage of your sensitivity by fully absorbing the energy of positive, stimulating situations.
Get Real: David Foster Wallace said it best: “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”
Learn to brush things off. When someone is rude or inconsiderate to you, their behavior says more about them than it does you. Let your sensitivity be the cue to turn your focus inward and control the thoughts that cause you pain and discomfort.
Stay Physically Healthy: Being sensitive can put a lot of stress on your body and mind. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, nutritious food, and exercise. When you’re rested, sharp, and fit, you’ll be better prepared to engage with the world.
With a little bit of practice, you can turn your extra sensitivity into a superpower to help you heighten your intuition, and enrich your life and the lives of the people around you.