If you’re overwhelmed by your emotions, you may be a ‘highly sensitive person’. Taking simple steps to look after yourself will make life easier.

Are you sometimes told to ‘lighten up’? Maybe you wonder why you can’t laugh things off and tough your way through as many of your friends can. Or perhaps you’re physically sensitive, and dislike loud noises and bright lights? If this sounds familiar, you may have a trait known as ‘sensory processing sensitivity’. Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive person (Thorsons, $15.49), refers to those who possess the trait as ‘highly sensitive’. Take our test to see if that’s you.

Description: Are you super sensitive?

Are you super sensitive?

Highly Sensitive?

Tick the boxes that apply to you.

·         I’m easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input.

·         I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.

·         Other people’s moods affect me.

·         I need to withdraw during busy days.

·         I’m easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics or loud sirens.

·         I have a rich, complex inner life.

·         I’m uncomfortable with loud noise.

·         I’m deeply moved by the arts or music.

·         I’m conscientious and try hard to avoid making mistakes.

·         I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.

·         Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, and disrupts my concentration or mood.

·         When I was a child, my parents or teachers saw me as sensitive or shy.

Your score

Nine or more: You’re highly sensitive.

Six to nine: You may still be highly sensitive, particularly if certain statements rang true.

Five or fewer: You may have sensitive traits that show up more in certain situations.

What it means for you?

‘Fifteen to 20 per cent of the population is a highly sensitive person (HSP). It’s a survival strategy – being observant before acting,’ says Aron. It’s not a flaw; your brain just works in a different way. But you may be labeled ‘neurotic’, which can lead to low self-esteem.

Description: Fifteen to 20 per cent of the population is a highly sensitive person (HSP)

Fifteen to 20 per cent of the population is a highly sensitive person (HSP)

Loving your sensitivity

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Your sensitive has many benefits once you learn how to nurture it. First, start to value the fact that you’re highly empathic to others, which makes you a wonderful friend. You’re also skilled at noticing the finer details when everyone else is focused on the bigger picture, so you’re an important team player at work. You’re very attuned to your body and its needs, so you know how to look after your health, and you can appreciate art and music in a way others often miss. And finally, you are also highly sensual and, as a result, make a fantastic lover.

TLC for the highly sensitive person

Take a deep breath: You may fret over things that aren’t that important, which can mean others find you difficult at times. Aron explains HSPs have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can mean you’re over-perceptive to personal threat. An upset involving a friend or partner can seem a bigger deal than it really is.

Check your priorities: You may be ‘co-dependent’ and put others’ needs before your own. ‘There’s a difference between being selfless as a choice and selfless because it’s the only way you feel loved,’ says Aron. A wise person might look at you and say, ‘You’re demeaning yourself for ungrateful people’.

Nourish yourself: Yoga, meditation, walking outdoors and good food are all important. Be careful with anything over-stimulating, from coffee to too much cardiovascular exercise. ‘Some HSPs reach for alcohol, drugs or overspending,’ says Aron. ‘Channel that urge in a different way. Be creative – with you sensitivity, you can produce real beauty.’

Be calm: Keep indoor lighting soft and temperature moderate. Wear sunglasses on bright days, and carry earplugs to wear on public transport. At works, the glare of computer screens can be balanced by taking regular breaks from your desk.

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