Everyone has a few pet peeves, and things that irritate them. But if you're a
highly sensitive person, it can seem like you get annoyed more easily than most. You might cringe at certain sounds, shrink away from strong smells, or avoid loud and chaotic situations — all because they overwhelm you to the point of distraction.
To others, it might seem like you're overreacting. But when you're a highly sensitive person, these feelings are very real. "Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are the
15 to 20 percent of the population born with a nervous system that's more finely-tuned than others," therapist and HSP expert Brooke Nielsen, LMFT, tells Bustle. "This trait of sensitivity is a gene; you were born this way!" So it's nothing to be ashamed of, or worried about — just something to be aware of.
Other traits include an ability to
feel deeply and empathize easily, Nielsen says. But as a HSP, you're also more likely to feel overwhelmed and annoyed by the world around you, too. This is because your sensitive nervous system processes everything in the environment, she says. "From noises, to conversations, to others' bad moods, everything shows up on [your] radar more intensely."
Everyone has different things that annoy them, and to varying degrees. But if
you're a HSP, you might notice that a few of the following have always grated on your nerves or stressed you out, according to experts.
If you're a highly sensitive person, unrealistic expectations — such as a jam-packed social calendar, or a too-short deadline at work — can feel completely overwhelming, frustrating, and upsetting, due to the way you think and react to stimuli.
"A highly sensitive person might be more affected by tight deadlines or lots of competing demands, as they prefer to approach tasks methodically and reflect more deeply before responding,"
clinical psychologist Dr. Alyssa Adams, tells Bustle. "Their nervous system may also be more likely to feel physiological responses to stress when under tight deadlines or overstimulated."
Rude Social Interactions
Throughout the day, we all witness people who fail to hold open doors, say hello, or stand politely in busy lines. It's annoying for pretty much everyone, but for HSP these social interactions can be soul-crushing.
"Highly Sensitive People have the gift of thoughtfulness," Nielsen says. "We consider how our actions impact our environment, so it's annoying to us when people behave in a way that serves themselves but is inconvenient or harmful to others."
If this is you, it may explain why you often get upset or extra annoyed whenever someone is rude.
While some people thrive in busy environments, a highly sensitive person will find them to be utterly annoying — and even overwhelming. Think along the lines of crowded parties, loud concerts, or busy streets.
Someone who is highly sensitive "will likely feel overstimulated by crowds, noisy environments, or lots of people talking, especially for long periods of time with few options to retreat," Dr. Adams says.
And this is may explain why you often require more downtime, or consider
yourself an introvert at heart. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
If you're easily annoyed by the
sound of someone chewing, swallowing audibly, or slurping a drink, it might feel like you're overreacting.
And yet this is something many HSP struggle with. As Nielsen says, "The slow chomp-chomp-chomp of [your] coworker at lunch can be hard to tune out. [You'll] hear every slurp and lip smack."
That's because, when you're a HSP, you literally are more sensitive. "Since the highly sensitive person is sensitive to subtleties in their environment, they may more easily notice things in a room that are out of place or people chewing loudly," Dr. Adams says.
While nobody likes to be the punchline of a joke, if you're a HSP you might read into even the most lighthearted ribbing. And this goes for witnessing it happen to other people, too.
"HSP's amazing empathy causes us to consider our words' impact on others," Nielsen says. "If someone tells a joke at someone else's expense, we'll be able to imagine how hurtful that is. We're more likely to be annoyed by this than think it's funny."
It's important, though, to recognize this in yourself. While you don't have to hang around people who make you uncomfortable, it can help to recognize when someone is just trying to have fun.
If you find that you're completely
overwhelmed by strong scents — whether it's someone's perfume, a powerful household cleaner, or a particularly pungent room spray — you might be a highly sensitive person.
"People who are highly sensitive have more acute reactions to sensory stimuli,"
psychotherapist Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, tells Bustle. "Their senses are strung tight: smell, touch, audio, tactile, and even emotional sensitivities."
It can help to avoid these scents, perhaps by asking those around you to not overdo it. This might include requesting roommates not use harsh cleaners, or seeing about creating a perfume ban in your office, if you think that would help.
Like the sound of someone chewing, most people barely notice repetitive background noises, such as the sound of a ticking clock. But if you're a highly sensitive person, these things can drive you mad.
"This one is torture because it just doesn’t stop," Matlen says. "Repetitive sounds are like nails on a [chalkboard.]" And it can be highly distracting.
If you're a HSP, you may find that unexpected loud noises — like cars honking — startle you to a pretty extreme degree. And if they're happening in the background repeatedly, you might find that you can't ignore them.
"Again, the sensory system of the highly sensitive is tightly wound up," Matlen says. "We’re just not prepared for that sensory onslaught and our reaction is to get angry. Even furious. It also causes anxiety in many, many people with these sensitivities."
You might also find the news to be annoying or upsetting, "particularly when it’s negative because [you] have a hard time disengaging,"
counselor Travis McNulty, LMHC, GAL, tells Bustle. Instead of watching and separating your feelings from what's happening on screen, you get sucked in and feel angry, sad, or annoyed as a result.
HSP are often much happier when they turn it all off, and
take a break from media. So if you find that you're feeling annoyed, don't be afraid to tune out for a while and give yourself a chance to rejuvenate.
Highly sensitive people might feel annoyed by criticism, not because they don't want to hear someone's opinion, or that they don't find advice valuable, but because their feelings get hurt super easily.
This might be because HSP feel much deeper than others tend to, intuitive
psychotherapist Colette Lopane-Capella, M.A., LMHC, LPC, tells Bustle.
If this happens to you, it'll be important to
establish boundaries with others and "protect your energy," Lopane-Capella says. And to practice hearing criticism, without taking it personally.
It might sound silly to be "annoyed" by lighting, and yet "light can be huge triggers for highly sensitive people,"
therapist Adamaris Mendoza, LPC, tells Bustle.
You might find that you're extra affected by strong LED lights, which can seem way too bright, she says. And again, that's because you're super tuned into your surroundings, and as a result feel easily over-stimulated.
While being a HSP can cause some irritation and annoyance in everyday life, it also has a multitude of benefits. Being empathic and
tuned into the world around you is somewhat of a gift — so long as you aren't sitting next to someone who's slurping their coffee.
If you find that you're annoyed to the point of distraction,
seeing a therapist can be a big help. They can offer advice for getting through the day without feeling frustrated, as well as self-care tips for recovering after overwhelming experiences.