Highly Sensitive People: More Prone to Depression and Anxiety
Highly sensitive people (HSP) perceives the world in a unique way due to a biological difference they are born with. They have heightened awareness of subtleties and engage in deep information processing. This brings about creativity and insight, but it also makes them more susceptible to stress and feeling overwhelmed compared to others.
What is a highly sensitive person?
A highly sensitive person processes information at a deep level, including emotions, thoughts, and sensory input. This heightened sensitivity makes them more physically and emotionally reactive compared to others. This trait, known as sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), environmental sensitivity, or differential susceptibility, is a normal thing and healthy aspect of one’s personality, with both advantages and disadvantages.
Being an HSP is not a negative trait. However, many believe it is a sign of weakness. Like any personality trait, it presents challenges but also offers numerous strengths. HSPs often excel in areas such as creativity, empathy, and the ability to observe details or make unique connections. Notably, Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center, has linked high sensitivity to giftedness. However, the sensitive mind can easily become overwhelmed, leading to overstimulation and emotional overload for HSPs.
Being highly sensitive entails more than just sensitivity to stimuli. Other characteristics of highly sensitive individuals include:
- PROCESSING ENVIRONMENTAL STIMULI AT A DEEPER LEVEL.
- REACTING MORE STRONGLY TO EMOTIONS AND EXHIBITING BEHAVIORAL INHIBITION.
- DEMONSTRATING HEIGHTENED PHYSIOLOGICAL REACTIVITY IN RESPONSE TO BEHAVIORAL INHIBITION.
- EXPERIENCING INCREASED ACTIVITY IN THE UNCONSCIOUS NERVOUS SYSTEM DURING STRESSFUL SITUATIONS.
- DISPLAYING MORE INTENSE EMOTIONAL RESPONSES, BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE.
- SHOWING STRONG PERCEPTIVENESS TOWARDS SUBTLE DIFFERENCES.
- HAVING A LOW TOLERANCE FOR HIGH LEVELS OF SENSORY INPUT.
- EXHIBITING A LOW PAIN THRESHOLD.
Why are highly sensitive people more vulnerable to depression and anxiety?
Although highly sensitive people represent only 15-20% of the population, they constitute a significant majority of individuals seeking therapy and counseling services. One research indicated that HSPs make up at least 50% of individuals seeking assistance from mental health professionals.
This prevalence can be attributed to several factors. Sensitive individuals are more susceptible to experiencing depression, anxiety, and shyness, especially if they have had a challenging childhood. Additionally, they often grapple with understanding why they feel different from their peers, which motivates them to seek therapy in order to gain self-understanding.
Highly sensitive people engage in deep information processing.
Being classified as a highly sensitive person involves possessing a trait called sensory processing sensitivity. This centers around the ability to deeply process information. Experts summarize the four aspects of being an HSP using the acronym DOES: Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Response and Empathy, and Sensing the Subtle.
The depth of processing characteristic means that HSPs have heightened sensitivity when it comes to processing information, making them more susceptible to experiencing high levels of stress and mental health issues. Many HSPs commonly report struggles with anxiety, depression, insomnia, social phobia, attention deficits, and decreased memory due to their innate processing style.
They are overwhelmed easily.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by significant fluctuations in mood that impact a person’s daily functioning. Conversely, anxiety disorder is marked by intense feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety that interfere with everyday life. For highly sensitive people, particularly those who have grown up in an environment that stigmatizes sensitivity, these intense emotions become an ongoing challenge, resulting in constant feelings of being overwhelmed. Experts explained that being highly sensitive means that if you are observant of every detail, you are naturally more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed when faced with situations that are excessively intense, complex, chaotic, or unfamiliar for an extended period of time. When these intense feelings left unmanaged and untreated, they can potentially lead to the development of an anxiety disorder and/or a mood disorder in highly sensitive individuals.
They lack resilience.
HSPs do not have the innate ability to easily bounce back from life’s challenges. Resilience is a trait possessed by only a small fraction of individuals, and it is not something one is simply born with. Instead, resilience stems from a combination of other characteristics and qualities that enable individuals to develop resilience over time. Like most individuals, HSPs are not born with resilience. If they grow up in an environment that makes them feel abnormal or unable to meet societal expectations, they may struggle to cultivate the resilience necessary to overcome difficulties. Consequently, this lack of resilience puts them at heightened risk of experiencing conditions such as depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
They struggle with self-compassion.
Highly sensitive people often struggle with a lack of self-compassion, not by choice but because they haven’t learned any alternatives. This wiring, which results from a lack of self-love, can be detrimental to one’s well-being. When something unfortunate happens, instead of forgiving themselves, HSPs tend to blame, criticize, and excessively self-criticize without giving themselves any respite. Self-compassion entails being kind and accepting towards oneself, especially during times of suffering, inadequacy, and failure. Regrettably, due to the absence of this ability, highly sensitive individuals are more susceptible to experiencing depression and anxiety.
They often believe that sensitive people are weak.
In society, there is a tendency to associate sensitivity with fragility, resulting in advice given to highly sensitive individuals to toughen up and be strong. Most people call them “too sensitive.” However, being a highly sensitive person encompasses both strengths and weaknesses, similar to any other trait. When highly sensitive individuals internalize society’s belief that sensitivity is synonymous with weakness, they unintentionally disregard its potential as a strength. This can lead to a diminished sense of self and contribute to issues with self-esteem. Remember that low self-esteem plays a significant role in triggering depression.
Extensive research has clearly established the higher susceptibility of highly sensitive people to experiencing depression and anxiety. As a result, a significant portion of individuals seeking therapy services are HSPs. However, it is unfortunate that many mental health professionals do not recognize the necessity of distinguishing between HSPs and non-HSPs when providing treatment. This lack of understanding often leaves HSPs feeling consistently misunderstood, which can further impede their self-understanding.
Consequently, it becomes crucial for highly sensitive individuals to gain a comprehensive understanding of their traits. This knowledge will empower them to effectively articulate their experiences and needs. This particularly helps when seeking therapy or attempting to communicate with those who frequently misinterpret their sensitivity. Additionally, developing the ability to identify mental health professionals who possess a deep understanding of the high-sensitivity trait becomes essential for HSPs in order to receive appropriate support and guidance.
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, visit Mindshift Psychological Services. They offer therapy and counseling sessions for depression and anxiety. Contact them at (714) 584-9700 to schedule an appointment.