If you’re the person, that wants to crawl under your sheets when somebody criticizes you in a mindless way, if you feel overwhelmed by the world around you, or your way of thinking is different to others - then this article is for you.

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The past 15 years of my life were a rollercoaster ride of emotions. During the battle of various mental illnesses I repeatedly asked myself ‘what on earth is wrong with me’, because I just seemed to slip from one thing to the other. I was overwhelmed by the world around me and often my only wish was to hide in bed and wait for things to get better.
Knowing obviously however that things don’t work out like that. Seeking distraction from those staggering feelings I fled into habits that were very difficult to recover from.

Now in my mid-twenties, I only recently came to acknowledge the fact that I may not have a depression, or an anxiety disorder, or any of the other diagnosed hideous diseases and habits on the list per se, but that I am simply conditioned differently than other people. The habits were supplements - coping mechanisms - for my over challenged mind.

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The term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) was coined in the mid-nineties by the psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron and is defined by a character trait they called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS).

This trait is described as having hypersensitive reactions to external stimuli (like sounds, lights, smells, and tastes), a profound cognitive understanding (meaning the mental understanding through your senses, knowledge and experiences), and a deep and highly reactive emotional life.

So in a nutshell, highly sensitive people are overwhelmed on a daily basis, because their senses are, simply said, over-developed.

To get the picture, here are a few traits a HSP carries:

  • Being aware of subtleties in your environment
  • Being easily affected by other’s moods
  • Wanting to be liked by everyone (and trying to make others feel good)
  • Being overwhelmed by things as bright lights, strong smells, and sounds
  • Being thrown off the track if you have to do a lot in a short amount of time
  • Having to withdraw yourself into a dark room or privacy after a lot of stress
  • Having to plan and structure your life to avoid stress and overextension
  • Enjoying delicate things like art, sounds, tastes, and scents
  • Having a rich and complex inner life
  • Being considered shy and sensitive as a child

Interestingly enough, studies in this field are very young, but research shows that about 15-20% of the entire population carry traits of a Highly Sensitive Person.

There is, scientifically speaking, a rudimentary difference between the terms Highly Sensitive Person and hypersensitivity as, for example, described by the psychologist Shawn Smith. Hypersensitivity can be equaled with emotional fragility, whereas high sensitivity is a biological predisposition and it is traceable in your brain. It comes in different forms, so you might not tick all the boxes I mentioned above.

For example, my sister reacts sharply to scents, whereas I can deal with those. Quite the contrary actually - I really enjoy weird smells. Nevertheless, we both pay attention to them, we both carry traits of a HSP, they are just constructed in different ways.
Others have a really sharp sight, where I can’t count myself in, just to give you an understanding of the different facets.

High sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean emotional instability, you can better translate it with highly developed emotional intelligence. Whereas sometimes, especially when you don’t know what you are dealing with, feeling so much can be quite overwhelming.

So enough talk about generations Y and Z not being able to cope with the world around them but more talk on awareness, please. When the next person calls you “sooo sensitive” because you always “feel so much” and are “constantly so overwhelmed”, don’t take it as an insult but learn how to work it.

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Some tips on coping with high sensitivity:

Use it as your strength

If you stop thinking of high sensitivity as a problem, you come to realize you have a major advantage over other people: You are emotionally smart, sharp and witty and detect small things around you others would never pay attention to. This qualifies you for a lot of jobs you will ace at.

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Find what you are good at

When you start using your sensitivity as your strength you can concentrate on what you are good at. Become a pilot, or a writer, or a chef - there are endless careers that need people with amazing senses. Or use your emotional intelligence to understand and help people.

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Keep away from dangers and take the time you need

Avoid things that agitate you when possible. If crowded or loud situations drain you, take the time to recharge your batteries. It’s okay. Relaxing isn’t lazy, it’s vital for your mental health.
Funny side note: I never leave the house without sunglasses. Even in winter I sometimes have to wear shades because the white light of December irritates me.

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Talk about it

When the world overwhelms you, or circumstances make you sad, don’t hesitate to talk about it. Even if it’s the fourth time this week. Your friends/ parents/ peers will understand.
Sometimes when I talk to someone who isn’t sensitive at all I feel misunderstood and wronged. On the other hand though I think it is helpful to put things back into perspective.
In a perfect world we would surround ourselves with people both highly sensitive and not, so we could feel affirmed and corrected at the same time. In reality birds of a feather flock together. At least from my experience. Be open to both sides of the story.

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And last but not least: Mindfulness

This kind of summarizes all the above. Listen to yourself, take your time, define your own and individual path regardless of those who wrong you. You are beautiful and wise and will find your way in a world that may overwhelm you at times. Go for it!

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Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
- Oscar Wilde