What Is a “Highly Sensitive Person” and Why It Matters in Recovery

What is a "Highly Sensitive Person" and Why It Matters in Recovery

What Is a “Highly Sensitive Person” and Why It Matters in Recovery

Have you been told you are “too much” or “too sensitive?” Do you avoid loud, crowded places and become easily overwhelmed? Do you struggle watching movies or tv with a lot of violence? You may be a highly sensitive person or HSP.

HSP have extra-sensitive nervous systems and respond to the world intensely. This can present challenges in recovery as individuals re-learn how to self-regulate.

What Is a  Highly Sensitive Person?

The term highly sensitive person was coined by Dr. Elaine Aron in 1997 in her book  The Highly Sensitive Person. It s estimated that 20% of the public are HSPs.

There is no official diagnosis for highly sensitive people, and it is important to remember that being an HSP does not mean having a mental disorder. Instead, HSPs have a highly developed nervous system that reacts more intensely to outside stimuli than the average person.

Researchers have created the acronym DOES to summarize traits of highly sensitive people. These traits include:

  • Depth of processing: HSPs tend to engage in deeper levels of processing when making decisions, and this depth of processing is linked to better decision-making abilities. The traits that make HSPs more prone to anxiety may also lead them to take a more thoughtful and deliberative approach to decision-making.
  • Overstimulation: HSPs are often prone to overstimulation. This can be due to several factors, including having a low threshold for sensory input, being easily overwhelmed by strong emotions, or being highly aware of subtleties in the environment. For many HSPs, overstimulation can lead to anxiety, depression, or even physical symptoms such as headaches or difficulty sleeping.
  • Emotional reactivity: HSP are often more prone to emotional reactivity than others. This is because they tend to be more easily overwhelmed by stimuli and may have a lower threshold for triggering an emotional response. HSP may also be more intensely affected by positive and negative emotions. As a result, they may find it more challenging to maintain a sense of calm and balance in their lives.
  • Empathy: HSP are often more in tune with the emotions of those around them and, as a result, may be more likely to experience empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is a natural response to seeing someone in pain or experiencing a problematic situation. HSPs may be more likely to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. This trait can be both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, it allows HSPs to be more compassionate and understanding towards others. But, on the other hand, it can also lead to them feeling overwhelmed by the emotions of those around them.
  • Sensing subtleties: HSPs are often attuned to subtleties that others may miss. For example, they may be more aware of the nuances in a person’s tone of voice or pick up on subtler emotional cues. This heightened awareness can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows HSPs to connect with others on a deeper, more meaningful level. They may be able to pick up on what someone is feeling, even when trying to hide it. On the other hand, this sensitivity can also make HSPs more prone to stress and anxiety. HSPs may feel overwhelmed by all the stimuli around them and may find it difficult to shut off their mind at night.

Self-Regulation Is Crucial

People who are highly sensitive are more prone to addiction because they often struggle with emotional overwhelm. This can be caused by various factors, including difficulty processing emotions, feeling things deeply, and being easily overwhelmed by sensory input.

HSPs may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and escape their feelings of discomfort. While this may provide temporary relief, it ultimately leads to more problems down the road. Without the self-regulation tools, HSPs can be at high risk for substance abuse to manage overwhelming feelings.

HSPs must learn healthy ways to cope with emotions and regulate their nervous systems. This may involve seeking professional help, journaling, spending time in nature, or practicing meditation or other relaxation techniques. Being self-aware of what overwhelms them can also help HSP regulate their nervous system.

To avoid overstimulation, HSPs may need to take extra care to create a calm and peaceful environment for themselves. This may include limiting exposure to bright lights or loud noises, avoiding multitasking, and taking time for regular relaxation and self-care.

By understanding their needs, HSPs can learn how to create an environment that supports their well-being and helps them thrive.

Highly sensitive people (HSP) are more attuned to their environment than others. HSPs tend to be more aware of subtleties in their surroundings and are more easily overwhelmed by sensory input. HSPs also tend to be more emotionally reactive than non-sensitive people. They may startle more easily, feel more fear in response to physical threats, and experience stronger emotions in general. While these traits can be a liability in some situations, they can also be a source of strength. HSPs often have deep empathy for others, and their ability to pick up on subtle cues can be valuable in personal and professional relationships. HSPs are at a higher risk for addiction as a maladaptive coping mechanism. HSPs can learn to limit their exposure to stressful stimuli and develop coping mechanisms for managing emotional reactions. For more information on self-regulation, call Restoration Recovery Center at (888) 290-0925.


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