Are you a highly sensitive person? Here’s how to tell…

Hypnotherapist and HLN’s Expert in Residence, Louise Wilson, reveals the tell-tale signs and how to cope with the challenges.

Written by Louise Wilson
Published 19.07.2023

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Do you find bright lights overwhelming, worry about making mistakes or tend to be easily affected by other people’s moods? If any of this sounds familiar, you could be a highly sensitive person (HSP).

And don’t worry you’re not alone. It’s estimated 15-20% of the population are HSP and feel overwhelmed by the world around them.

But what is HSP? It’s a term coined by the clinical psychologist Elaine Aron to describe a personality trait that refers to those of us who have a sensitive central nervous system – an increased awareness of physical, emotional and social stimuli.

Being an HSP can cause many challenges in daily life and someone who knows all too well what it’s like is our Expert in Residence, hypnotherapist and owner of Nurture Wellbeing, Lou Wilson. As an HSP herself, Lou knows first-hand how to manage symptoms. That’s alongside her 20 years of experience being an NHS health care professional and having expert knowledge of hypnotherapy.

When we normally think of therapy, we think of lying on a couch where you’ll be asked to bring up your deepest, darkest traumas but not at Nurture Wellbeing. Lou brings a personal approach and offers a safe and nurturing space in her Whitley Bay clinic, where you’ll feel at ease as she offers gentle guidance tailored for your naturally sensitive nervous system.

We caught up with Lou to find out everything we need to know about being an HSP and she shares her advice on how to cope with symptoms.

HLN TOP TIP: Do you have a busy lifestyle and don’t live locally? Good news – Lou works both online and from her clinic, so distance is no barrier.


HSP falls on a continuum; each HSP experiences their sensitivities differently, and around 70% of HSP are introverted.  HSP falls under the umbrella of neurodiversity, but it is a personality trait. A highly sensitive person’s central nervous system has a greater sensitivity to physical, emotional or social stimuli.

HSP can be summarised by the acronym DOES:

D – Depth of processing – processing the world more deeply either consciously or unconsciously
O – Over arousability – noticing a lot in the environment e.g. emotions, noises, bright light
E – Empathy; usually very in tune with other people’s emotions
S – Sensory sensitivity – such as clothing, food and noticing stimuli in an environment that other people may not.


Being an HSP is largely a biological trait. Our nervous systems are wired differently, and it’s thought that the mirror neurons in our brains are more active (this gives HSPs greater empathy in that there can pick on subtleties from other people – e.g. ability to ‘read’ a room or detect someone’s mood).

However, some people can also have higher sensitivity if they have experienced trauma e.g. had to be aware of a caregiver’s mood when they were growing up because then their survival depends on it.


Feeling overwhelmed when under pressure

HSPs find that working under tight deadlines/time pressures can make them stressed. Having too many things to do on your to-do list or rushing to appointments/having a hectic schedule makes you feel overwhelmed.

Tips: It’s essential that you learn how to set boundaries and develop the ability to say no. It’s beneficial to schedule more time than you think is needed as well as create space within your daily schedule.


Finding it difficult to say no/people pleasing

As an HSP you’ll likely ‘feel’ the emotions of other people, therefore understand how acutely hurtful it can be to be let down and so you don’t wish to inflict this upon others. HSPs also tend to avoid conflict as it causes them a great deal of upset – especially in that they have often grown up believing that they were ‘too sensitive’ or that they were at fault in some way.

Tips: Again, this is crucial to set the boundaries which are essential for your well-being rather than others.Having enough downtime on your own to recharge is an absolute must.

Absorbing the emotions of others

Many HSPs feel like an ‘emotional sponge’ as they’ll take on the emotions of others and feel overly responsible for their happiness/emotions. This is because of the HSP’s ability to pick up on the subtleties in other people’s behaviour/cues and is incredibly exhausting.

Tips: It’s important to notice the differences between yourself and the other person. Try to imagine a protective white light around you or note that ‘the energy in this room is tense’ rather than associating it with themselves.


Being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli

This commonly involves bright light, loud noises and crowds. An open-plan office can be an HSP’s worst nightmare. Socially, you’ll prefer quieter times to visit shops, restaurants and bars when there won’t be too much going on.

Tips: Many HSPs use earplugs to dampen noise, book out quiet space at work and add a soothing object like a plant to their desk. Socially, some shops offer quiet times for customers and hair/beauty services offer quiet appointments where there’s no need to engage in small talk.


Many HSPs are aware of the expectations of others but are also prone to self-doubt/inner criticism. Because you’re your own worst critic, receiving perceived criticism from others cuts deeply. Many HSPs have grown up feeling that they’re wrong or different, and as society generally favours the louder extrovert as the ideal, we can often feel not good enough. We may also have been incorrectly labelled as shy or neurotic.

Tips: It’s important to cultivate a practice of self-compassion and reframe failures as opportunities to do things differently or as part of the process of learning. It’s a good idea to limit social media if you find yourself falling into the comparison trap and to perhaps also ask yourself ‘what’s the evidence for this thought?’

HLN TOP TIP: If these personality traits tick a lot of boxes for you, try this highly sensitive person test


I’ve developed a super supportive 12-week course called BLOSSOM where I help guide you to learn how to nurture your needs as an HSP and see your sensitivities as superpowers. This comprises 12 x 1:1 therapy sessions, a bespoke portal jam-packed with materials to guide you through your journey and give you the tools and strategies to thrive. This is all with unlimited support through messaging app Voxer as well as bespoke, powerful guided relaxation recordings.

Alternatively, some people opt for standalone hypnotherapy sessions as an effective and relaxing way to empty their stress buckets and build resilience to help them cope with everyday life. I can also add EFT (emotional freedom technique) to sessions to tap into calming frazzled nervous systems and I’m an NHS internal coach so I can empower people in making decisions in their lives that suit them as individuals.

Nurture Wellbeing, Upper Floors, Arcade House, Azure Therapy, 252 Whitley Road, Whitley Bay NE26 2TE

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