I’m An HSP – Are You? Dealing With Being A Highly Sensitive Person

September 17th, 2012 by Laura Longley

For the majority of my life I have had to deal with anxiety. Frequently this anxiety didn’t seem to be attached to anything in particular. My pattern was that I would wake up in the morning (or sometimes in the middle of the night) and have “that feeling.”

Some of you who also experience anxiety may understand what “that feeling” is without me explaining. The way this anxiety manifested for me began physically. I’d wake up and immediately my heart would be racing, my breath rapid and shallow. This would evoke a response of dread, a literal shuddering and a gasp, and the thought “oh no” in my mind.

I’d then begin searching for the source of this anxiety, which unfortunately had the effect of continuing the anxious feelings.

What I came to understand several years ago, thanks to both my therapist, and a friend who practiced EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), is that this anxious feeling was frequently not attached to any real fear or threat. That it was a habit my body had gotten in of a feeling a certain way, and an addiction to the chemicals that are created by feeling anxious.

As I understood and embraced this idea, my anxiety that was not related to a real situation was reduced considerably, but did not go completely away.

Recently I was reminded of the concept of being a highly sensitive person (HSP). A few of the identifiers of an HSP include:

  • I am easily overwhelmed by bright lights, crowds, loud noises or strong smells.
  • I startle easily.
  • I need to withdraw from the world after a busy day because I’m exhausted or overwhelmed.
  • Other people’s moods affect me.

I first heard of this idea of HSP a year or so ago. I thought it was interesting, but did not relate it to myself at the time.

Then about a month ago I was at a three day mastermind group with four other people. At the end of the first full day I was completely exhausted. I went back to my hotel room and cried. Later that evening when we met for dinner I mentioned how spending all day with others wears me out.

My mentor, who was leading the mastermind group, mentioned that this was because I take on the energy of others, and that I needed to learn how to protect myself from that.

As I thought about this, it made a lot of sense. When I made my career change from working in software development to becoming a counselor five years ago, I noticed a significant change in my social habits.

I am an extrovert. I’ve always had a busy social life – until six years ago, when I began grad school. Since that time I have become much more of a homebody, and frequently don’t wish to do anything in the evening on a weekday. I am exhausted by the end of the day and just want to “veg out.”

I now saw that this behavior change is a reaction to taking on the energy of the clients I had seen throughout the day, and allowing them to drain me of my own energy. This is one of the characteristics of an HSP.

When I returned from the mastermind group, I contacted an acquaintance and colleague who specializes in highly sensitive people. I have had a couple of sessions with her and have learned a few tools to help me keep my own energy and not take on that of others.

As frequently happens, in the past few weeks I’ve also come across several other people who offered additional tools for keeping myself contained.

The biggest “a-ha” for me in this process has been the understanding that when I feel anxious, the majority of the time it is not my own fear I’m feeling, but someone else’s. I am still learning and practicing the ways I can let go of that which is not mine, but having this understanding has been very freeing.

Over the past several days I have had an extremely heightened anxiety level, for no apparent reason. Yesterday a friend of mine suggested that I am feeling the fear of people around the world related to the violence that is happening internationally.  This has been all over the news in the past week and stirs up fears not only in those directly affected, but in others who are witnessing this violence through the media.

For many years I have chosen not to read or listen to the news, so I was unaware of what was happening. I learned just enough about the situation to understand that as an HSP, yes, I probably was being affected by this huge energy field of fear in the world at this moment.

I cannot control these external events any more than I can control events that directly affect my life. The best I can do is to acknowledge that I am an HSP and learn how best to mitigate the impact these situations have on me.

There is an upside to being an HSP:

  • I tend to know things without knowing how I know them.
  • I am aware of subtle energies in my environment.
  • I have a rich, complex inner life.
  • I am highly intuitive

I value these gifts and would not choose to give them up. They have served me well both in my personal life, and in my professional life. My intuition and sensitivity to others are what make me an excellent counselor and coach. Therefore, I just learn to manage the more uncomfortable aspects of being an HSP.

Are you an HSP? Do you feel anxious for no apparent reason? Do many of the indicators I mentioned here apply to you?

If so, then I encourage you to learn how to manage the downside, and embrace the upside. Statistics say that about 10%-15% of people in the world are highly sensitive. Being an HSP is a gift to be shared.




4 Responses

  1. Lucy says:

    i feel vendicated i have finally found out answers to things that have concerned me for many years, I have always been able to feel energy from spirits and hav always thought i was nuts or slowly going nuts. After my last 6 wk study and research i have finally find out this difference i have feared.

    Thank you

    • Laura Longley Laura Longley says:

      I’m so glad that you’re finding that you’re not alone, and that you found this post helpful, too. As an HSP, I can tell you that recognizing and understanding this aspect of yourself goes a long way toward finding ways to be easier in the world. Wishing you all the best! Laura

  2. Maria says:

    Wow, wow, reading this is like reading my own thoughts. Thanks for writing such wonderful helpful and honest article. I am just starting to understand that I am a Highly Sensitive Person. Your article is just amazing. Thanks

    • Laura Longley Laura Longley says:

      Maria, I’m so grateful that you got value from reading my blog post. I wish you the best in finding ways that work for you to reduce the stress that can come from being an HSP – and to embrace the gifts it also brings to you! Laura

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