Health & Wellness

9 signs you're a highly sensitive person

That loud noise feels like it’s piercing your brain. A hectic day at the office makes you crave a dark room. A beautiful song sends chills up your spine.

You may be a highly sensitive person, noticing things that the rest of us don’t and more vulnerable to everyday frustrations, said Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.”

“I come across plenty of people who think there’s something wrong with them; who say, ‘I’m weak’ or ‘I need to change all these things about myself,’” Morin told TODAY. “But in reality, it’s just that they are a highly sensitive person and don’t necessarily recognize it.”

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Highly sensitive people make up about 15-20 percent of the population, according to research by Elaine Aron, a psychologist who has been studying the trait for 25 years. Their brains work a bit differently, processing information more deeply, she writes.

It's not something you need to "fix," but just something to be aware of, Morin advises. Aron calls the trait “being observant before acting” and notes it shouldn’t be confused with introversion since about a third of highly-sensitive people are extroverts.

Here are nine signs you’re highly sensitive, which Morin adapted from Aron’s research:

1. You dislike loud spaces

Highly sensitive people do well in private offices or cubicles, but put them in an open environment — such as the modern workplace, which often features a big room full of people walking around and talking — and it becomes too overwhelming.

“It’s too much for them to be able to concentrate and stay on task. It’s exhausting for them to deal with all of that sensory input,” Morin noted.

2. You get ‘hangry’

Hunger often leads to anger for highly sensitive people. They’re more sensitive to anything from caffeine to physical pain, so for them, an empty stomach is really uncomfortable and impacts their mood.

“It tends to cause them to become irritable and they have trouble staying on task when they have any uncomfortable physical sensations,” Morin said.

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3. You get overwhelmed by a big to-do list

When faced with five different tasks to do in a day, highly sensitive people may have trouble organizing the order in which to do them in and find it difficult to concentrate on what needs to be done right now.

“When they have all those other things hanging over their head, they become stressed out more easily than the rest of us,” Morin said.

“They become overwhelmed… and half their mental energy goes towards worrying ‘I’m not going to get this done.’ It breaks their concentration and their focus.”

4. Music and art really move you

Take a highly sensitive person to an art gallery, concert, opera or the ballet, and they often get very emotional — chills up the spine and tears in their eyes.

“That part of their brain is activated more and they can feel much more. You can sometimes see them crying at a performance. They want to keep talking about the event long after they left because it really stirs things up for them,” Morin noted.

5. You hate loud noises

Noise can be draining. Rock concerts, conferences or even public transportation can be overwhelming. "Our world isn't set up for highly sensitive people," Morin said.

6. You notice when other people are uncomfortable

Highly sensitive people have a deep sense of empathy, noticing if it’s too cold in the room or the lights are too bright and seeking to improve the conditions.

“They can make a good friend to somebody because… they’re the ones making sure everybody else is comfortable,” Morin said.

7. You skip violent movies

Anything gory — whether it’s films, video games, or songs that are too graphic — is too much for a highly sensitive person.

8. You hate being in the spotlight

If highly sensitive people are being scrutinized or put under a lot of pressure, they tend to choke. If they have to give a presentation, half their mental energy will go towards worrying about thoughts such as “What if I mess up?” or “What if I embarrass myself?” Morin said. They may be the ones blushing and nervous as soon as the attention turns to them.

It’s one of the reasons they tend to do better in an individual sport rather than a team sport.

9. You need to recover

Highly sensitive people need a lack of stimuli to be able to reset themselves and emerge refreshed.

“I hear from lots of highly sensitive people who say that after a really busy day at the office, ‘I just go home and I pull the covers up over my head. I stay in bed and I want it to be dark and quiet. … I’m just so overwhelmed by everything and need some peace and quiet and darkness for a while to recharge my batteries,’” Morin said.

How sensitive are you? Take the quiz

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This story was originally published in October 2016.

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