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How to survive as a Highly Sensitive Person?

Updated: May 31, 2019

This post is not only for those that consider themselves a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), but also for those that would like to learn more about how we tick and what we need to thrive in the corporate world.

It was about three years ago, when I listened to a podcast that explained the character trait of a highly sensitive person. And my world was forever changed. Because all of a sudden, everything made a little bit more sense to me, I finally understood "what was wrong with me".

For the past 33 years of my life, I always wondered why I felt different, why I felt so intensely every emotion, and also every story that I heard from others, why I was never a fan of big groups and party gatherings, why I always felt extremely exhausted at the end of the day and needed more than 9 hours of sleep to recover, why I had so much trouble falling asleep and disconnecting, why caffeine and alcohol had such an intense effect on me, and why I could always relate to others easily.

A highly sensitive person has an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli (Wikipedia); the personality trait is called sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS).

High-Sensitivity is largely genetic and involves several unique differences in the brain. It is seen in people with a difficult childhood and can be developed with age. It is scientifically proven that, for an HSP, the part of the brain that processes emotion, awareness and empathy has an increased blood flow. In easy terms, they FEEL - a lot.

About 15-20% of the population has this higher cognitive function and unlike some preconception, 30% of HSPs are extroverts. Yes, that's right. Don't confuse the HSP trait with introverts. While there might be some characteristics that are similar, there are very specific differences. Let's look at this.

HSPs vs. Introverts

Characteristics of Introverts

  • Affects 30-50% of the population, and is a well-studied personality trait

  • People that tend to be more quiet, reserved and introspective

  • Focus on internal thoughts and have a lot of them

  • Prefers minimally stimulating environments

  • Enjoys spending time alone, including doing work

  • Don't always feel easily overstimulated and quickly stressed out

  • Can be less in tune with people

  • You can be an introvert without being an HSP (and you also can be both)

The biggest difference: HSPs have increased sensitivity, not just emotions, but different types of sensory input. HSPs are really in tune with people and feel easily overstimulated and quickly stressed out - Introverts don't necessarily feel like that. You can be an introvert and NOT having that sensitivity to light, smell, taste, touch, temperature and sound. As an introvert, you might not pick up well what other people think or feel - so being an introvert doesn't mean you have that emotional sensor that HSPs have.

How you know you are an HSP

HSPs can feel more, they are prone to absorbing stress (not only ours, but those of others), they feel anxious and overwhelmed easily - because their nervous system has the ability to take more in, they need longer to wind down, switch off and disconnect.

  • You are coping with increased sensitivity to light, smell, taste, touch, temperature and sound

  • You are feeling overstimulated quickly

  • You are absorbing stress and negativity of others

  • You are feeling things intensely (watching a violent movie)

  • You are experiencing emotional hangovers

  • You are feeling isolated and lonely

  • You are experiencing emotional burnout

  • You are reacting strongly to caffeine, alcohol and other drugs

  • You are not a fan of big gatherings and groups

  • You are feeling better in small cities than in large ones

  • You tend to go quiet in big groups and bloom in 1:1

Stress Management Tips for HSPs

Get to know your HSP traits:

  • Which senses are the ones that affect you the most (sound, sight, taste, touch)?

  • Create a list of locations that strengthen you and that rob your energy

  • Create a list of people that give you energy and that rob your energy

  • Practice to recognize first signs of sensory overload

[GENERAL] How to reduce stress as an HSP:

  • Know your boundaries and communicate it

  • Manage your time wisely: be ok to cancel plans when you feel overloaded, balance alone time with people time, don't plan too many things in one day

  • Self-care and practicing mindfulness is absolute highest priority

  • Set check-in reminders on your phone

  • Request time-out if you feel overwhelmed

  • Create your own safe space (at home, it could be a piece of furniture or a room; at work it could be decorating your desk with plants and pictures from your loved ones)

  • Recharge your batteries by going for walks in nature or going on a solo-trip

  • Be mindful: how is your breathe (typical for HSPs is holding your breathe), check if you are tense

  • Have small rituals, for example walk barefoot on a regular basis (it grounds you)

  • Be smart about managing your time (mono-tasking vs. multi-tasking)

  • Reduce social media time

  • Sleep a lot (the more senses you use, the more sleep you need)

  • Learn how to not identify with other people's emotions

  • Think before responding

  • Manage energy efficiently

  • View difficult people as your teachers


  • Noise-cancelling headphones (I love Bose!)

  • Earplugs for sleep

  • Relaxing Music (I love this Spotify playlist)

  • Find quiet places to relax and recharge

  • Switch everything off and enjoy silence


  • Take regular breaks to close your eyes

  • Wear a sleeping mask

  • See lots of green

  • Limit device time


  • Take a bath

  • Get a massage

  • Get cuddles from loved ones

HSPs in the workplace

HSPs are crucial in the workplace for many reasons:

  • Have an incredibly high emotional quotient (EQ)

  • Build rapport, listen well and empathize with others

  • Are extremely organized and good in structuring details

  • Can process a lot of input and can come up with solutions

  • They care - about work, about relationships, about results

  • Aware of subtleties: see things that other people are not

  • Have a strong perception with lots of ideas for improvement

  • Love to work with people, make a difference and be of service to others

How you can use your HSP trait to your advantage:

How it can make you stand out in a positive way

  • See list above :-)

How you can sell it as a great asset for your team

  • Communicate your unique skill set, educate your team and what comes easy to you and offer your help! People don't know until they know, it' s a gift - share it with others

  • Share your unique challenges with your manager and discuss what you need to thrive, it's nothing to be ashamed of and can not only put your mind at ease, but also put yourself up for (more!!) success

  • Study what you notice and learn as an HSP, and offer a "Strengthening your EQ" training to your team

  • Working with difficult stakeholders and internal teams - you know how to connect with them and move past differences to get work done, offer advice to team mates or take on the challenge yourself becoming a valued team member in the process

  • You are a brainstorm mastermind, you can take in a lot of information and help give structure to it - if there is a complex project that someone needs to tackle, you should go for it! (but make sure to manage your stress levels regularly to not burn out!)

  • You are an intuitive visionary, able to see the big picture - isn't that what your company is always highlighting and rewarding?!

The downsides:

  • Take feedback easily to heart: one critical comment can shake us for days

  • Experience a heightened stress response (e.g. being in a noisy common workspace, being surrounded by negative, stressed out people)

  • Lower threshold for conflict and office politics

  • Need to feel real connection

  • Will request other people's approval before making a decision

  • Need more self-care to wind down and disconnect

  • Have trouble falling asleep because of overstimulation

Tips for HSPs when working with other people

  • Adjust your attitude: be a guide to your co-workers

  • Don't try to fix others

  • Don't feel responsible for someone's progress, people change on their own timeline, not yours

  • Find three obvious differences between you and the person you work with

Tips if you are working with an HSP:

  • Don't undervalue them, we quickly put a "too sensitive" stamp on them, while they present unique gifts and talents that you can work with if you know how

  • Don't try to fix an HSP

  • Keep them in the loop, the more they know the better they can help

  • Be gentle when giving feedback

  • Have their backs (HSPs thrive on trust and relationships)

  • Put them into roles mentioned in the section "How you can sell it as a great asset for your team"

Further reading:

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