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  • Writer's pictureJaveria Fatima Zaidi

Life As A Highly Sensitive Person

Picture a television set from the '90s, and imagine watching a film on it. It probably had colour and sound, and if it was working normally, you’d be able to see and hear everything clearly enough. Although now that you think of it, you may realise that the pictures were a little grainy, the sound a little muffled, and the colours somewhat dull; these weren’t deal-breakers, though, because you could still follow your film or programme perfectly well. The lack of sharpness didn’t bother you.

Fast forward about 20 years later—high-definition technology has made our TVs slimmer, their colours more vibrant, and sounds much clearer. Of course, colours may vary from screen to screen, but you’re able to see different shades and hues and register some background music as well.

Coming to the current day, you are sitting in a cinema, watching a film in ultra-high-definition 3D with some 4D elements, too. Feel the heat of the flickering campfire; hear the hiss, crackle, and pop of the embers as if you’re right there; sense the rough logs under you as you sit. A truly immersive experience.

Now imagine if this immersive experience was your entire life. Imagine that listening to others’ description of pain made you feel a phantom pain in your body, too. Would you then be able to watch a movie with lots of violence? Imagine experiencing nature in UHD… every vein in a dragonfly’s wing visible, awe-inspiring. Would you then hurry through a park? Imagine communicating with animals in the purest language… the one without words. Just being, feeling, understanding. Wouldn’t you then want their company more than anything else?

This ultra high definition, immersive experience of life is what high sensitivity feels like, where everything is dialled up to the maximum. And just like our TVs, colours (and experiences!) may vary from screen to screen (or person to person).

Theories abound why about 20% of the population is wired this way. Some studies suggest that high sensitivity gave humans an evolutionary advantage: the more sensitive and responsive to their environments, the more quickly they could spot threats and opportunities.

There is also a neuro-biological explanation for this trait. As humans, we have mirror neurons in our brain, which help us empathise with others. Highly sensitive people seem to have more activity in that region of the brain; they either have mirror neurons that are more active, or perhaps just have more mirror neurons than the average person, and this makes them able to intuit another person’s feelings.

Highly sensitivity is also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity, and as the name suggest, HSPs are highly responsive/reactive to stimuli – internal and external. This is why a HSP may be more prone to ‘hangriness’, a colloquial term for the anger that stems from hunger. They are also more likely to notice subtle shifts in the environment: a change in temperature, or variance in energy in a room full of people.

While high sensitivity is not a disorder, it can predispose a person to common mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. The same depth of processing that leads one to the depths of despair also shines a beacon of hope: HSPs are more likely to have positive outcomes given the right conditions.

For highly sensitive people, everyday moments are deeply felt encounters; where the mundane becomes extraordinary.

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