What is High Sensitivity? (Hint: It's not ADHD)


I have a weird brain. I’m pretty sure you all knew that already.

In the last few years, I’ve come to believe that ADHD isn’t one of the reasons why. I do have issues with focus and distraction. I do find that some of the holistic methods for managing the attention-related parts of ADHD are often helpful. But I’m pretty sure I don’t have ADHD.

I’m an HSP, which stands for  “highly sensitive person.”  It’s odd to have a neurological trait that sounds like you’re complimenting yourself on your awesome aesthetic taste. But that really is the generally accepted term for the condition, and it’s at least clearer than “chronic cortical arousal,” which sounds vaguely dirty.  Of course, I’m a Scorpio, so everything sounds vaguely dirty to me.

HSPs process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in your nervous system.  About 15-20% of the population is neurologically highly sensitive. On the positive side, having a brain that overclocks itself processing sensory information “contributes to creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail,” according to Wikipedia.

I suspect this is one reason I’m good at social media communication–I’ve always been able to pick up subtle nuances in writing, without the cues of voice and body language that other people need.

On the negative side, it also causes you to get overstimulated  quickly, especially in situations where you have a lot of sensory input thrown at you at once.

Like, for example, a social media conference.  Or as I like to call them, “microcosms of Hell.”

The funny thing is, with about one in five people being highly sensitive, almost everyone knows someone who’s an HSP. If it’s not you, it might be your spouse, kid or employee. I’ve been living with the effects my whole life. I’ve been managing (and in some cases, exploiting) my sensitivity for a while, too.

I’m going to write a couple of follow up posts that people might find helpful. The first is “What’s it like to be an HSP?”  which might help you identify and empathize better with the HSPs around you.

The second will be a collection of tips and resources I’ve picked up over the years that make living with high sensitivity a little easier.

Got a question? Drop it in the comments. I’ll do what I can to dig up a good answer.

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