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One of the best things in life is our ability to connect with others and feel emotions. Some people in our lives (or you yourself) are more sensitive than the average person. In fact, about 20 percent of the population identify themselves as Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP).

Personal development coach, Nova Rutherford gives us a crash course on how to understand and connect with the HSPs in our lives.

CHARACTERISTICS OF HSP

When we feel emotions like happiness, sadness or fear, there are shifts in our brains that respond to stimuli. These shifts are controlled by what’s called mirror neurons, which allows us to feel positive or negative energy, as well as feeling compassion and empathy. In HSPs however, their mirror neurons are hyper attuned. “They experience stimulus louder and longer, feeling joy, pain and fear intensely,” Rutherford says. “They notice subtle details and shifts in emotions that most people don’t.”

HSPs tend to be make good roommates and partners because they’re good at understanding people and their emotions. HSPs are also better at spotting and sidestepping errors.

SOME COMMON CHALLENGES FOR HSPS

According to Rutherford, being a HSP can be both a blessing and a curse. One downside is that they probably wouldn’t be game for a horror movie marathon because their mirror neurons make it feel as if the scary or gory situation is real. HSPs may also have a deeper reaction to reading or watching the news especially if they involve something upsetting like a tragedy.

Some other challenges can surface in other parts of their life such as in their health and relationships. HSPs may experience chronic fatigue, migraines, anxiety and/or depression. Addiction may also be a challenge for them as they may self-medicate or numb their sensitivity with drugs, sex, food or alcohol. In terms of relationships, a HSP might find themselves in toxic relationships or want to heal from a past breakup, but have trouble doing so.

Lastly, there are environmental stimuli that HSPs are not fond of such as an open concept room design, too much noise and bright lights.

EMPATH VERSUS HSP

Empaths are those who literally feel what another person is experiencing, which is similar to someone who identifies as an HSP. “But the difference between the two is an HSP also involves being more sensitive to all sensory input, not just emotions,” Rutherford says. HSPs tend to be overwhelmed by a situation that’s too noisy or crowded.

TIPS ON UNDERSTANDING THE HSP IN YOUR LIFE

The five senses (plus the sixth sense of intuition) are always “on” for HSPs, so it’s important to keep this in mind when making plans. For instance, they would most likely prefer a walk in the park than lawn tickets to a concert.

If you have negative news to tell them, give them some time to process the info first, before letting them do anything or go anywhere.

Try to use positive language and avoid graphic details when speaking with a HSP.

HSPs get overwhelmed by all the stimuli in daily life, so remember that they may withdraw and want to be isolated.

­ADVICE FOR HSPS

“Being an HSP is a gift you share with almost 2 billion people,” Rutherford says. “While at times it can feel like a lot, your empathic ability is great need and should be embraced, nurtured and cared for.”

Learning more about what it means to be a HSP can help you deal with the challenges that may come with it, but also allow you to use this gift to its full potential. Rutherford also believes that self-care is especially important for HSPs. Taking time to prepare and decompress is essential. “Understand and honour your needs by being gentle on you,” Rutherford says.

Dr. Elain Aron, the research psychologist that coined the term HSP, has an at-home test you can take to see if you are a HSP.