This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)
A few weeks ago I had an interesting and slightly obvious revelation: I am a highly sensitive person.
The truth is I have known about the term and the concept for a long time. And I can’t really explain why I actually never considered whether this applied to me.
But while taking this test and reading the questions, I quickly realized that almost every single aspect rang true for me – in fact, some of them to a very high degree.
Being a highly sensitive person basically means that our sensory intake (seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.) is more sensitive than it is for others. In addition to that, highly sensitive people have a rich inner realm of thoughts and emotions.
I am definitely extremely sensitive when it comes to sensory perception. Loud noises are the worst for me. But also, things like wind can make me stressed easily. And when different strong stimuli come together (e.g. wind and sun, and maybe even some loud music or lots of people talking at the same time – let’s not even talk about what big cities do to me!) I’m completely drained in no time.
Other physical things I’ve known are a heightened sensitivity for pain and a strong response to caffeine (which is why I only drink decaf wherever I go).
I would also say that I have a pretty complex inner emotional landscape. This means that I get stressed out easily when I start multi-tasking or I have the feeling that multiple people want something from me at the same time. Or how little changes to my routine can throw me off quickly as well.
On a positive note, and what feels true for me is that I often have the ability to perceive very subtle nuances in things such as food or wine. And that I can dive really deep with art, such as being deeply moved by a film or song.
In one aspect I’m quite different from other sensitive people: I’m generally very extroverted and would never describe myself as shy. I also have no problem performing in front of other people, like when giving a presentation.
However, I do need a lot of time afterward, and I also tend to be by myself and enjoy me-time quite often. I like it best to just be in a dark room without any sensory distractions. This is also why I love going to bed at 8 pm – just to lie there, me and my thoughts.
I scored 21 of a maximum of 27 points in this test. If you score 14 or higher, you are considered a highly sensitive person. Most likely some of these will apply to you as well. In general, one says that about 15-20% of the population qualify as highly sensitive. It’s also possible that you score less than 14 points but that these qualities are so pronounced that you might still fall onto the spectrum.
I want to point out that this is not a scientific test. Being highly sensitive is generally not recognized in science. And of course, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you are fitting neatly into a box, or not.
But it’s helped me tremendously to understand that there’s nothing abnormal about me. And that many other people have similar experiences.
It’s also crucial to recognize that it’s extremely important for me to take breaks from a lot of sensory input.
When I realized that what I had already been feeling on the daily, and what had caused so much stress in my life was an actual thing, I instantly googled what advantages it might have in store for me as well.
Why being highly sensitive can be a real gift
Highly sensitive people can create a feeling of calm in others. They tend to engage a lot with their own inner world and accordingly, inspire others to do the same.
Highly sensitive people are exceptional listeners, and often other people will confide in them about things they might not otherwise share so freely.
The most obvious advantage that being a highly sensitive person can offer is that they are often very artistically minded and end up creating art that touches others in profound ways.
Many famous artists are highly sensitive. Hence, this quote I discovered recently is so on point for me:
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.”
— Pearl S. Buck
What you can do once you know you’re highly sensitive
Generally, you obviously don’t have to do anything. You are perfect just the way you are. But since our daily routines and the world out there aren’t exactly designed for highly sensitive people, these tips might help you to navigate life with a little more ease:
It’s not a general rule that we have to block out sensory input as highly sensitive people. If we are able to deeply explore a sensory experience, it can be a very nourishing experience and truly enrich our lives.
You can experiment with different senses and things such as candlelight, music (which is deeply stimulating for me), essential oils and scents, and soft materials like a fuzzy blanket.
Books are also a great medium to deep dive into another world, and through it eventually find pieces of yourself again.
In a work environment routines and structure will benefit you. It’s helpful to leave your email for the afternoon and to minimize your number of meetings. What is more, I generally recommend staying off social media to everyone, but especially highly sensitive people can benefit from avoiding social media consumption.
What I will change for myself
Now that I understand that I’m a highly sensitive person, I’ll take even more breaks in daily life. Breaks that are solely for me, and time where I can intentionally choose what to do with it based on my mood and needs, e.g. listening to music, and then consciously experiencing it.
I’m also allowing myself to set and enforce personal boundaries. Highly sensitive people often struggle with that because they are good at sensing other people’s needs and often don’t feel well when those aren’t met. In this regard, I really want to find a good balance for myself.
When it comes to daily life, I also want to dedicate more time for creative endeavors. My writing routine has been a goal of mine since I did my annual review. And that time is now.
Are you highly sensitive? Or are you completely lost on what I’m talking about? I’m looking forward to reading your comment!