Recently, being an empath has become a talking point in online communities, portrayed as a superpower that allows empaths to “absorb” negative energies from others. What most people misunderstand, however, is that the ability to pick up on someone else’s emotions actually falls on a spectrum.
Empaths are especially sensitive to the feelings and energies of others, and belong to what we call highly sensitive people (HSPs) — or those who have overwhelming sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what HSP is, key identifiers for this trait, and a few care tips for people who think they’re an HSP.
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are thought to make up roughly 15% to 20% of the population. Historically, being highly sensitive may get one labeled as neurotic or hysterical — you won’t find either term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V (DSM-V) used to diagnose mental health concerns. Rather, high sensitivity is an inborn temperament or trait.
Being an HSP means you process more information about the world around you than others do. You’re observant about subtle changes or overlooked connections: a shift in the weather, faint noises, or brewing social tensions. HSPs easily get over-stimulated because their brains are processing so much, and cannot be turned off.
Of course, this means they easily pick up on emotional cues as well. Some experts consider all empaths to be HSPs, but not all HSPs are empaths. Empaths are particularly sensitive to feelings; HSPs are open to all kinds of sensory input. Being an empath sits on the far end of a spectrum. They’re followed by HSPs, then people who have strong empathy but aren’t HSPs. At the end of the spectrum are people who have empathy-deficit disorders, such as sociopaths, narcissists, or psychopaths.
Signs You’re an HSPHSPs are likely to feel over-stimulated in a world that isn’t designed for finely-tuned nervous systems. Extravert-centric cultures aren’t designed with the wellbeing for highly sensitive individuals in mind. HSPs often find their situation oppressive, leading to anxiety, self-blame, depression, panic attacks, chronic fatigue, and pain. Some signs of high sensitivity include:
- You avoid violent movies or shows because they unsettle you.
- You are deeply moved by beauty, no matter where it’s expressed.
- You’re often overwhelmed by sensory stimuli like noisy crowds, bright lights, hot/cold temperatures, strong smells, or uncomfortable clothing.
Despite the challenges of being an HSP, you can also consider high sensitivity as a gift that adds richness and complexity to life. Rather than a curse, well-managed high sensitivity can even feel like a superpower that lets you sidestep errors, process information in depth, and utilize your intuition to the fullest.
HSPs often enjoy meaningful personal relationships and a great appreciation of life. They’re attentive, with superior listening skills, so they’re easy for others to approach. And with their enhanced sensory perception, HSPs experience the world with rich sensory details. They can sense subtle nuances in textures, scents, flavors, colors, and sounds, which allow them to take greater joy in life’s simple pleasures.
If you suspect you’re an HSP, you may need to learn how to manage areas of your life where sensitivity gets in the way. Highly sensitive brains can get rattled by uncomfortable situations, leading to behaviors like emotional outbursts, withdrawal, or procrastination.
Before managing high-sensitivity, it would be helpful to consult with a medical professional first — just to make sure you’re not confusing this trait for other conditions or mental health concerns. Alongside doctors and therapists, advanced nursing practitioners can help you better understand HSP. Some nurses specialize in mental health assessment, diagnosis, and management, so they can provide patients a well-rounded check-up of the body and mind. They rule out other concerns to ensure you get the right support. Some care tips to consider are:
Finding peace in nature: People naturally benefit from spending time in nature, but HSPs are especially drawn to natural and remote environments as a calming space away from sensations, sounds, and emotions. Take quiet, soothing walks through gardens or sit under trees to help you recharge.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation: HSPs can decompress with mindfulness and meditation, as these practices help them process and recover from what they take in. Try to do a “body scan” by lying down, then paying attention to your energy from the feet up.
Undergoing neurofeedback training: A highly sensitive nervous system can benefit from neurofeedback training, which measures a person’s brain waves and provides them with a feedback signal to help the brain function more efficiently. With neurofeedback training, HSPs can feel calm and regulated in response to overwhelming stimuli.
For more information on neurofeedback training, contact us at Beaverton Neurofeedback today to learn more.
This post was submitted by Charlotte Gail for beavertonneurofeedback.com