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Care for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Dr. Elaine Aron first described the highly sensitive person (HSP) as a personality trait in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. One part of this trait includes symptoms of being easily overwhelmed with strong sensory input, such as sounds, smells, and sensations. HSPs are more aware of subtleties around them; they pick up quickly on other people’s feelings and what is needed to soothe others who may be struggling. They also have a greater need to recuperate after upsetting and overwhelming tasks and must protect their energy levels.

Many of the traits of highly sensitive, empathic, and introversion overlap. HSPs may come in for help due to feeling anxious or overwhelmed when others do not seem so bothered by life, work, or family events. They judge themselves or feel judged for needing more alone time, more quiet time, and more self-soothing than others.

In the field of psychiatry, many clinicians look towards the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to label mental health conditions and illnesses. HSP, empath, and introversion traits are not in there due to not being pathological; it is just a way of being. HSPs have different wiring than others. It is, however, important for psychiatry clinicians to understand the HSP trait.

Things to know about HSP’s in Psychiatry

  • Maybe prone to depression, anxiety
  • May look like social anxiety or avoidance when recharging from overload
  • Not to be confused with autism spectrum
  • May exhibit more tearfulness without that being a symptom of a depressive episode
  • May react stronger to medications or have more side effects of drugs
  • Typically need sub-therapeutic (lower than standard) dosing of medications if they take them
  • More sensitive to the effects of stimulants
  • Benefit from mind-body modalities such as yoga, salt floats, meditation, time in nature, alone time
  • Having a highly sensitive personality is both a blessing and a challenge.

HSPs feel a great depth of love and compassion for others. They also need to balance this with self-care and create good personal boundaries for protecting their energy.

As a highly sensitive person, I see the need for identifying the trait in people, honoring it, and working within it for those people who may have psychiatric mental health needs.