The Highly Sensitive Person

Elaine Aron has studied the highly sensitive person (HSP), an easily overaroused and overwhelmed individual who is sensitive and often anxious. Aron believes that evolution has favored the careful, reflective style that tends to accompany the highly aroused individual, and not high arousal itself. If understimulated and sometimes impulsive people like those with ADHD, live by the mantra, “Ready, Fire, Aim,” sensitive, reactive, easily overaroused HSP individuals have a strategy of observing carefully and reflecting before acting: “Look before you leap,” but probably even stronger than that, more like “Think long and hard, explore all the angles, before you leap. And maybe don’t leap, perhaps take it a small step at a time.”

When humankind functioned as nomadic hunter-gatherers, more impulsive, underaroused action-oriented individuals probably were the first to find food. Once humans developed agriculture and began living in settlements, it is likely that overaroused, more reserved, less action-oriented, less impulsive individuals, would survive preferentially. Easily overaroused individuals would be better able to detect and warn of potential danger, better monitor animals and other humans, and more able to pass along cultural wisdom.

A number of the strategies in my new book, Reclaim Your Brain—How to Calm Your Thoughts, Heal Your Mind, and Bring Your Life Back Under Control assist HSP individuals with calming their overstimulation. Here are some strategies that may be particularly helpful for HSPs:

  1. Accept your feelings of being overwhelmed; don’t fight them. They, too, shall pass.

  2. Rewrite your negative story of being flawed or defective because you become overwhelmed so easily.

  3. Reframe your coping style as not lack of coping ability but rather a different way of coping.

  4. Remind yourself of the good qualities that accompany being an HSP—such as sensitivity, feeling deeply, being empathic, understanding others, and being sensitive to art.

  5. Get enough rest so you can recharge effectively after being particularly overstimulated.

Anxiety isn’t all bad. Anxious individuals tend to be more sensitive, which can aid in developing relationships. Anxiety drives us to keep our children safe. We may anticipate problems better if we’re on the anxious side. And anxiety alerts and mobilizes us. Yet when it is too strong, too painful, we need to find a way to deal with our anxiety. In Reclaim Your Brain, Daniel Amen discusses many strategies that help readers manage their anxiety, calm their minds, and balance their busy, anxious brains