Are you highly sensitive?

Young woman looking with strong expression

  • Does chaos and clutter distress you?
  • Does drinking caffeine give you a headache or make you “buzz”?
  • Do you get irritable when you are hungry?
  • Are you particularly aware of and sensitive to loud noises, strong smells and bright lights?
  • Do you immediately have to take off a scratchy jumper or cut the labels out of your clothes because they irritate you?
  • Do you easily pick up on the feelings of others or on an atmosphere in a room?
  • Are you easily overwhelmed?
  • Is it important for you to spend time alone?
  • Is being in a calm, peaceful environment very important for you?
  • Do you dislike multi-tasking, needing instead the time and space to get things done at your own pace?

These are just some of the characteristics of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), a term coined by Elaine Aron, who began her research in this field in 1991. She states that 15-20% of the population are HSPs and that the trait is innate, reflecting “a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting.” (

Aron uses the acronym DOES to summarise the main traits of the HSP:

D – Depth of processing

O – easily Overstimulated

E – Emotional reactivity and Empathy

S – Sensitivity to Subtleties in the surroundings


Want to find out if you are an HSP? Take Aron’s test here:

If you ticked more that 14 out of the 27 statements, then you could be described as an HSP. I scored 22, so this is obviously a topic close to my heart!

If you are or know someone who is an HSP, it is easy to identify what the disadvantages might be. From childhood, an HSP is likely to feel “different from other people”, that they are “over-sensitive” or that there is “something wrong” with them. Other possible perceived disadvantages of being an HSP are:

  1. They find it hard to make a quick decision (they want to get it right).
  2. They believe they need to be perfect before they can begin anything.
  3. They do not do well under pressure.
  4. They are easily overwhelmed physically and emotionally by what’s going on around them.
  5. They feel things deeply.
  6. They worry overly about what other people think of them and are highly sensitive to criticism.

However, viewed from a different perspective, the traits of an HSP can be seen as advantageous:

  1. They think before acting (they need time to process the information they have taken in).
  2. They are conscientious.
  3. They work hard and are good problem solvers.
  4. They are able to pick up on how others are feeling; they are intuitive and empathetic.
  5. They feel things deeply.
  6. They have a strong drive to help others.

The important thing for an HSP is to find a balance in life, so that they do not become overstimulated or overwhelmed. More than anything else, the HSP needs down time on their own in order to recharge their batteries and maintain their equilibrium. For more details on coping strategies for HSPs, see this list compiled by Dr Ted Zeff, a clinical psychologist specialising in high sensitivity:

In addition, energy medicine techniques can greatly help HSPs to become more resilient and to enjoy a more comfortable life. Here’s a simple exercise that can help you feel more protected when you go out into the world – the Zip-up.


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