Opinion: The science of Highly Sensitive People

Mar 15, 2023, 3:00 PM | Updated: 3:37 pm

Highly Sensitive People...

(Photo from article on KSLNewsradio.com, July 27, 2020)

(Photo from article on KSLNewsradio.com, July 27, 2020)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me to “Chill out!” What I didn’t understand as a young person, and now, even though I understand, still struggle to explain to anyone, is that there are some people, about 20% of us, who are highly sensitive people.

This isn’t me being a snowflake. This is science.

Highly Sensitive Person or HSP

Dr. Elaine Aron coined the term 30 years ago. She found that brain scans of HSPs are actually different than scans of non-HSPs.

High sensitivity is something that is found in 100 different species including dogs, monkeys, fish, rats, and even spiders. How many of us have had a beloved dog who seems to know when we’re sick or sad and won’t leave our side? Yep. (HSD – highly sensitive dog)

“You’re not alone”

Let me be clear. I’m not asking for special treatment. I just want to give a shout out to my fellow HSPs to say, “You’re not alone. I cry at commercials, too.” And I want to give a head’s up to everyone else that we may not be the annoying babies you’ve always thought we were, just “working it” or “over the top with all that crying.” It’s a thing. A real thing. Some of you are diabetic or have asthma or insomnia, and some of us are highly sensitive.

Dr. Aron would like HSPs to know that research shows what we experience is innate. We tend to be more easily overwhelmed, and people tend to misunderstand us. Hence all of the “Don’t be so sensitive” comments.

Tips for staying strong

There are things we HSPs can do to stay strong in a world that wants us to “chill out!” Dr. Michael Pluess, a professor of psychology at Queen Mary’s College in London, offers the following advice.

  1. Embrace being sensitive. Think of the times your sensitivity has helped you. (I find people open up to me more in interviews because they sense my sensitivity.)
  2. Allocate your energy. (I say “no” easily and often now to things and events that don’t need me specifically so I can save my energy for when I am truly needed.)
  3. Create more positive experiences. (My husband calls it my “happy list.” When he finds me crying over my crocheting, he’ll gently nudge, “How about you do something from your happy list? It’s not snowing. You could take Molly for a walk?”)
  4. Writing – in a journal, in an email to a friend, or for me, here in this column. Thank you for reading.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View.

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Opinion: The science of Highly Sensitive People