Mental Health

9 signs you might be a highly sensitive person (and what that actually means)

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Lauren Geall
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Do you find bright lights overwhelming, worry about making mistakes or tend to ‘catch’ other people’s emotions? You could be what psychologists call a ‘highly sensitive person’ – keep reading to check out nine of the key signs.

Just as hair colours vary from person to person, so too does the way we experience the world – especially for those people who are HSPs, or highly sensitive people.

The term, coined by psychologist Dr Elaine Aron, is used to describe the estimated 15-20% of people who experience the world more intensely and deeply than the average person. 

As a result, HSPs may feel easily overwhelmed and grow emotionally exhausted more easily – but that doesn’t mean being a HSP is a bad thing. In fact, there are plenty of upsides to being a HSP, too, such as an ability to forge deeper and more meaningful relationships.

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If you’ve ever been told you’re “too sensitive” or criticised for taking things “too personally,” you’re probably wondering whether you might be a HSP, too. 

It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but being a HSP can actually be a wonderful thing – and identifying whether or not the HSP label applies to you can make it easier to understand your behaviours and make accommodations in the future. 

While it’s not possible to be diagnosed as a HSP (it’s an innate personality trait as opposed to a disorder), there are a number of common characteristics which most HSPs share. 

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However, not every HSP will experience every one of these signs – while some will experience one or two intensely, others will be affected by a broader range of these characteristics.

Below, we’ve listed a handful of the most common characteristics associated with HSPs to give you a better idea of whether the label applies to your experience. 

1. You’re overwhelmed by bright lights, loud sounds and strange textures

Many HSPs experience sensory overwhelm from one or more of their five senses. For example, a HSP might struggle to be in a room with strong smells or wear clothes made from a coarse fabric.

2. You’re deeply moved by beauty

Because HSPs experience the world around them more intensely than others, they’re also able to appreciate beauty in music, art and nature to a greater degree than the average person. 

A woman looking at the sky
HSPs can appreciate the beauty in nature more intensely than others.

3. You regularly feel a need for downtime

The world is an intense place for HSPs, so they often feel the need to retreat when during busy or overwhelming periods. 

While some need the solace of a darkened room, others will appreciate a private space and some peace and quiet.

4. You’re affected by other people’s moods

Because HSPs are more attuned to the world around them, they’re also able to pick up on the moods of the people they’re with – and end up experiencing these emotions themselves, too. 

5. You avoid anything to do with violence or cruelty

HSPs find violence and cruelty particularly painful to deal with, so they’ll often go out of their way to avoid encountering it – for example, in films and TV shows. 

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6. You struggle with time pressure

Because HSPs are more sensitive to stimulation, they find the added pressure of time constraints harder to deal with. 

This can lead to increased anxiety and feelings of overwhelm when they’re trying to complete tasks under pressure.

7. You have a vivid inner world

HSPs tend to process things more deeply than others, and this means they tend to have a richer, more complex inner life. 

Not only does this mean they are more in touch with their thoughts, feelings and emotions, but they’re also able to daydream and visualise possibilities more easily. 

A woman drawing on post-it notes at work
HSPs are highly conscientious and go out of their way to avoid making mistakes.

8. You’re very conscientious

HSPs hate to make mistakes, and as a result they’re often incredibly conscientious and go out of their way to make sure they’re doing things right. This can often lead to them putting themselves under a lot of pressure.

9. You startle easily

Because the world is more intense for HSPs, things that might not bother an average person can startle them, such as a loud motorbike or siren.  

For more information on HSPs, and to take the HSP test, you can check out Dr Aron’s website.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.