1 out of 3 people have sensory processing sensitivity, which means they live in a more vivid world, full of brighter colors, more nuanced sounds, richer tastes and smells, and more intense emotions than the rest of population. Essentially, their brains are thought to take in at any given time, and then process that information more deeply than their peers. That depth of processing makes highly sensitive brains are capable of a unique levels of creativity or insight.
Sensory processing sensitivity is increasingly recognized for its connection with high-level thinking and talent, but most people avoid admitting they have it. That’s because people with SPS, often termed highly sensitive, have been criticized their whole lives. They are told they are too intense or hypersensitive, or that they need to get over things and move on.
In other words, highly sensitive people process more because their brains notice more. A lot more. They have also been found to have higher levels of empathy—which means they have a way of absorbing the emotional vibe in the workplace. They can be driven crazy by sensory stimuli, which makes one wonder if they overlap with the 1 in 3 people who have misokinesia (annoyed by fidgeting) and the 1 in 2 who have misophonia (driven nuts by noises).
And all of that sensory overload means that highly sensitive people need more time to rest and recover than their peers.
Researchers have found that daydreaming and mind-wandering are two of the highest yield activities for our brains, so it makes sense that when people with SPS appear to be resting, they are actually doing deep mental work. But until this study, that connection between rest and when deep processing happens had not yet been shown. And that discovery had to do with the difference with a new approach.
The findings help to explain why highly sensitive people have higher anxiety and are more prone to overstimulation than typical. But with that difficulty comes the talent in the thinking.
The characteristics described in this article come very close to describing me.
I find I’m highly sensitive to ambient loud noises (versus a single loud noise), particularly in large venues when people are talking before a show and the ambient noises are all around me. Once the concert starts though, I’m usually fine.
I find I’m highly empathetic to the point it can be debilitating because I can empathize so deeply with others at times that I can experience their pain and suffering as though I was experiencing it myself. If this feeling is too great, I actually want to get away from the environment or space where this suffering is occurring.
Mind-wandering, when I’m doing a menial chore or in the flow of a video game, is when I have a lot of great ideas and insights. And sleep I find is critical because it helps me process what I’m feeling and thinking. In fact, if I’m overloaded with feeling and thoughts, I’ll sometimes feel exhausted and will want to take a nap.
A simple metaphor to describe myself in the past is like a doctor with a stethoscope. So I’m highly sensitive to the patterns around me which helps me intuitively and creatively pick up insights that others often miss. But it comes at a cost.
That said though, rarely has it affected me in a professional work setting. Well other than when I see issues affecting the mental health and well-being of people at work and they aren’t addressed, so I end up feeling the pain and suffering that others are feeling which is why I’ve been quite vocal about addressing social injustices in the workplace, often caused by a poor culture.