I was inspired to write this post because I feel that the topic of sensitivity isn’t discussed and in my opinion, is poorly understood by most people in society today. Typically there is a negative connotation around the word, “sensitive” and it is seen as a sign of weakness. Let me be clear that this is not an attempt to victimize myself or other highly sensitive people, but to spread awareness around it. Maybe you are highly sensitive yourself or maybe your child, spouse, friend, or family member is. Whoever it may be, when others have a better understanding around it, the less stigma there is attached to it.
After reading The Empath’s Survival Guide, and The Highly Sensitive Person, it was a game changer for my health and well-being. I had this instant “it all makes sense now,” moment. It was as if someone had written autobiographies about my life. Growing up, I always felt slightly different from others, but never really understood why. These books have greatly impacted the way I navigate the world around me now and helped me to better understand myself.
So what does it mean to be a highly sensitive person or an Empath? For starters, we have nervous systems that are sensitive to over stimulation. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, MD, here are just a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you are a highly sensitive person:
- Do you absorb other people’s stress, emotions, and symptoms?
- Are you easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, or coarse fabrics
- Do you try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things?
- Do you overeat to cope with stress?
- Are you afraid of becoming suffocated by intimate relationships?
- Do you need a long time to recuperate after being with difficult people?
- Do you startle easily?
- Do crowds drain you or do you need alone time to revive yourself?
- Do you react strongly to caffeine or medication?
- Do you frequently get overwhelmed or anxious?
- Have you ever been labeled as overly sensitive?
Many people do not have an understanding of highly sensitive people because only about 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive. Most highly sensitive people tend to be introverts. I am the minority in this and one of the few highly sensitive extroverts out there. This means I get energy from being around people, but I need a lot of alone time to recharge.
The one question that really stood out to me was the first one. I was unknowingly absorbing other people’s stress, emotions, and symptoms. Many Empath’s or highly sensitive people can feel like they experience sudden mood swings because they are absorbing other people’s “stuff.” These books have great resources for tips on how to stop absorbing (click the links above). I also am extremely sensitive to lights and sounds. I sleep with earplugs and a mask over my eyes at night because the slightest light or sound will keep me awake. I also am extremely sensitive to smells. I cannot be in the same room as someone who is spraying toxic chemicals as it makes me physically ill. Another challenge for highly sensitive people is that we feel emotions five times more than others. When we are upset, multiply that times 5. When we are angry, we feel it 5 times greater. But here is the silver lining– when we are excited or happy, we are ecstatic! There is nothing wrong with us, our nervous systems are just wired differently.
While there are some definite challenges to navigating a highly insensitive world as a sensitive person, we also have a lot of strengths. For example, we are extremely intuitive. I can sense how someone is feeling or if something is bothering someone even if they don’t share it with me. I also have a keen sense of being able to tell when someone is being fake and inauthentic. Highly sensitive people also have extreme levels of empathy. Hence the term, “Empath.” Emapths deeply care about others to an extreme degree and sometimes at the expense of our own well-being. Highly sensitive people are also very creative. For me, writing is my form of creativity. Many others are artists, musicians, or authors.
So, how does high sensitivity relate to health? It has EVERYTHING to do with it. I recently took a poll in my Instagram stories and asked others with autoimmunity if they considered themselves an Empath or highly sensitive and to no surprise the majority of people said they were. There is a common connection between autoimmunity and high sensitivity. For me personally, it has contributed to adrenal fatigue. According to Dr. Orloff, she states, “Because Empaths also absorb other people’s symptoms, this adds to their stress levels and leaves them vulnerable to adrenal fatigue.” She also specifically mentions the connection to Hashimotos.
I have now learned strategies to stop me from absorbing other people’s “stuff,” but it takes practice and I have to constantly ask myself, “Is this my emotion or symptom or someone else’s?” I have also learned that it is perfectly OK to be sensitive. I mean, how many other people in this world have this super power? Not many! It is what truly makes me unique. There is so much more that goes into sensitivity that I couldn’t fit in this single post. I highly recommend buying the books in the links above if you want to develop a deeper understanding of yourself or your loved ones.