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Are You Overly Sensitive?

Posted 03-10-2014 05:15 PM by ChristaIB
Updated 04-16-2014 12:34 PM by ChristaIB

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Do you cry easily? Do you find loud noises overwhelming? Do you take a long time to make decisions? Do you daydream a lot? Do you have difficulty multi-tasking? Have people described you as being high-strung, emotional or over-sensitive? If you have experienced any of the above, you could be a highly sensitive person.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

The term “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) was first introduced by clinical psychologist Elaine Aron, Ph.D., in the early 1990s. Highly sensitive people make up approximately 20 percent of the population. People tend to view them as self-centered, overdependent, and attention-demanding fiends. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

Highly sensitive people experience the world differently than the rest of the population. They tend to be more aware of subtleties in their environment, which makes them easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, both mentally and emotionally. This high sensitivity can also make them over-cautious when approaching new situations, because they have to process more information.

In today’s fast-paced world, being an HSP can be seen as a disadvantage. In reality, highly sensitive people are imaginative and intuitive problem solvers who can see the bigger picture and have a depth of understanding that allows them to connect with others. Once they learn to cope with their unique sensitivity, it can become a blessing instead of a curse.

Coping with HSP

Learn Your Limits. Not all highly sensitive people are alike in terms of their tolerance for stimulation. Some are fine with loud noises but can’t stand visual clutter. Others could be the opposite. There can even be contradictions within the same person. You might not mind loud construction sounds, like jackhammers, but feel unnerved if someone drives by with the bass on their car stereo set too high.

Learning about your own limits and which stimuli you can tolerate not only helps you avoid and manage those triggers, it also helps you to be more aware of why you feel discomfort in certain situations.

Have a Plan. Sure, it might seem easy to just avoid overwhelming situations; but unless you seal yourself in an ivory tower, you are going to have to deal with them sometime. The better option is to have a plan for when you know you will be in an overwhelming situation, and options for working around it. For example, suppose you are going to a family dinner in a loud and crowded restaurant. You can make a deal with yourself that you can leave after an hour, or that you can go to the bathroom for some quiet breathing breaks every 20 minutes. You can try to work around a difficult situation like this in advance by suggesting you meet during non-peak hours, or reserve a private room.

Be Organized. Highly sensitive people don’t always handle change well. They can also become overwhelmed when presented with too many tasks and options at once. For example, if you wake up knowing that you have a long list of errands for the day, it could make it difficult to get started. One option is to organize and prioritize all of your daily tasks, and focus on one task at a time. By doing this, you can get everything done without getting overwhelmed or experiencing anxiety.

Evaluate Your Situation. If you find yourself being overstimulated and stressed out often, perhaps it’s time to take stock of your life to determine what is causing the discord. You might find that you need to make changes to restore order. Perhaps you like your apartment, but it’s in a loud neighborhood; or, perhaps you like your boss and co-workers, but your fast-paced job leaves you exhausted every day.

Take "Me Time" and Set Boundaries. Sometimes you need a break from the rest of the world. This could mean taking a weekend trip to a remote mountain cabin, or 20 minutes with some noise-cancelling earphones and your favorite show tunes. This could also mean that you sometimes have to say "no" when other people want a piece of your time, or speak up when a situation is becoming overwhelming.

Being an HSP is not a mental illness or a sign of weakness. It simply means that you experience your surroundings more intensely than others. Learning to cope with your sensitivity will help you reach your full potential and avoid conflicts with others.
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