Research shows that 15-20% of the population are “highly sensitive”, meaning that they have a trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. 

Those with the SPS trait have a more sensitive nervous system which allows them to pick up on subtleties in their environment and find deeper meaning in the information they process. As a result, HSPs may become overwhelmed and have an intense response or reactivity (internal and/or external).

The last 20 year’s of research has revealed some remarkable benefits to those who inherited the trait (such as heightened intuition, imagination and creativity) and also correlations between the trait and certain mental health challenges (such as being at higher risk for anxiety, depression, and some personality disorders).

Because SPS is a trait (not a condition or disorder), there is no clinical diagnosis for it. Rather, it is identified in a self-assessment. A questionnaire that includes the most commonly known characteristics of the trait. Here are some of the main characteristics: 

  • Noisy places often bother me. 
  • I don’t like being where there are a lot of bright, flashing lights. 
  • I feel what other people around me are feeling. 
  • I prefer scent-free environments; there are many smells that are offensive to me. 
  • I have a hard time watching violence in movies or TV. 
  • My feelings get hurt easily.
  • I get overwhelmed if there’s too much going on in my life (too many activities, obligations or deadlines). 
  • I am easily startled. 
  • I don’t like being in a cluttered space. 
  • I think better and feel better in a clear, open environment. 
  • I crave being around animals and nature. 
  • I worry about hurting other people’s feelings.
  • I don’t perform as well if someone is watching me. 
  • I catch other people’s “bugs” (colds, flus) and have a lot of ‘sympathy pains’.
  • I like to daydream and often escape into my imagination. 
  • I need my own space and alone time. It’s essential for me to unplug from the world sometimes.
  • I consider myself to be a very creative person.


If you identify with being an HSP, you probably know all too well the daily struggles of being overstimulated in a high sensory environment, feeling emotionally overwhelmed, being affected by the emotions of others, and generally feeling like you don’t have control over your feelings or life.

From a social-emotional viewpoint, these factors can affect self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, boundaries, and identity. Depending on how long and how intensive the experiences, and how well they were managed, they may result in anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder. Or some may simply find that life is more of a struggle than it should be.

Of course, while the SPS trait is separate from any mental health condition or disorder, it still contributes to many facets of the quality of one’s mental health and outlook on life.

For example, if you think of two people standing on opposing mountaintops staring down at the same valley, they will see very different things. So, too, your world (your childhood, beliefs, behaviors and relationships) will look quite different once it is viewed from the perspective of the HSP mountaintop. This is partly what happens in counseling – I will help you to consider your life from a new perspective.

In addition to helping you reframe your experiences from the HSP perspective, you will acquire tools in counseling to help you shift from a reactive state (overwhelmed, negative feelings and responses) to a more proactive state (being better prepared to handle what comes your way and taking control over key areas of your life).

*Content on this page is courtesy of The Nickerson Institute of Integrative Health Training.