Think about the people you know who are shy, introverted and deep-thinkers. Maybe they're not the best at handling stress, but they are good at reading people and are intuitive and empathetic. Someone who fits this description is what Dr. Elaine Aron, psychotherapist and book author, calls a "highly sensitive person" (HSP), a personality trait which may affect as many as 20 percent of the population.
So how does an HSP--naturally attentive, thoughtful and creative--thrive in a world where 80 percent of the people around them lack these attributes, often behaving in relatively callous, demanding and insensitive ways?
On her website, Aron writes that being sensitive is not a flaw and these people are often intellectually gifted:
[I]n the past HSPs have been called "shy," "timid," "inhibited," or "introverted," but these labels completely miss the nature of the trait. Thirty percent of HSPs are actually extraverts. HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences. If these were mostly bad experiences, then yes, they will be truly shy. But in a culture that prefers confident, "bold" extraverts, it is harmful as well as mistaken to stigmatize all HSPs as shy when many are not.
If oversensitivity is a characteristic you possess, there are ways to thrive.
1. Wear earplugs.
It sounds crazy, but HSPs tend to process sensory input deeply and can become agitated in noisy environments. Help yourself by reducing these inputs with tiny foam earplugs when working alone or in situations where wearing headphones would be socially acceptable.
2. Prepare in advance for stressful events.
Whether it's a cocktail party or client presentation, practice your pitch and rehearse what you will say. In social situations during which you'll be meeting a lot of new people, remember that asking good questions is a great way to get others talking about themselves which takes the pressure off yourself.
3. Take regular breaks.
Whether it means scheduling time for meditation into your daily to-do list, or making sure you get a real vacation every quarter, know that as an HSP your sanity depends on building downtime into your life.
4. Say no.
You're excellent at tuning into the emotions of others, which makes you prone to overextending yourself. Beware of energy vampires and make sure to have boundaries for how much of yourself you give away.
5. Change careers if you have to.
As a thinker, you need meaningful work. But, you also won't be happy in a position which is overly stressful. You may need to experiment with finding the perfect job.
Not sure if you're an HSP? Take Dr. Aron's quiz to find out.