In Psychotherapy and The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron says this about high sensitivity:
Individuals display this trait mainly if they had a troubled childhood, which makes them more prone than non-sensitive persons to depression, anxiety, and shyness.
But why is this so?
Why is it that you, a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), are prone to depression and anxiety?
In today’s post, we’re sharing 5 reasons why Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
And they’ve got nothing to do with being weak or broken.
Want to Know if You’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Take this Free Quiz!
5 Reasons HSPs are Prone to Depression and Anxiety
1. You process information deeply
Highly sensitive people possess a trait known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or High Sensitivity. At the heart of this trait, is the ability to process information deeply.
And this is what Dr. Elaine refers to as Depth of Processing with the acronym DOES: Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Response & Empathy, and Sensing the Subtle.
It’s because of this depth of processing that HSPs have increased sensitivity when processing information. An occurrence that puts them at risk for high stress and mental health problems.
Particularly, research shows that many HSPs tend to suffer from anxiety, depression, insomnia, social phobia, attention deficits, and decreased memory.
2. You are easily overwhelmed
Depression is a mood disorder that heightens or lowers someone’s mood to the point of affecting their daily life. On the other hand, Anxiety includes intense feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety, to the point of interfering with someone’s daily life.
As an HSP, especially if you’ve grown up in an environment that shames sensitive people, these intense feelings become a daily struggle that often leads to constant overwhelm.
If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time. — Dr. Elaine Aron.
And if these intense feelings are left unchecked and untreated, they could cause you to suffer from an anxiety disorder and/or a mood disorder.
This is mostly because of an overload in the D, O and E aspects of being a highly sensitive person (Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Responsiveness and Empathy).
Or as explained in the research findings below:
Sensitive individuals have higher emotional response and in-depth processing ability. This not only has a stronger reaction to positive and negative feelings, but also when they receive too much stimulation, may result to greater stress and even lead to anxiety and depression.
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3. You fall short of Resilience
The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as the capacity to recover from difficulties. And goes ahead to equal resilience with toughness.
The Collins Dictionary defines resilience as the quality of being strong and not easily damaged by being hit, stretched, or squeezed.
And if you’re a highly sensitive person, there’s a chance you get shamed for being so emotional and fragile. Because society and culture put pressure on you to be ‘tough’ or ‘strong’: Two suggestions that are the very definition of resilience.
But as an HSP, you aren’t born with the capacity to easily bounce back from life’s difficulties. You have to learn it.
In fact, only a few people are born with the ability to show resilience. And not because they’re born resilient, but because they possess other traits that allow them to be effortlessly resilient.
Resilience depends on supportive and responsive relationships, and mastering a set of capabilities that can help us respond and adapt to adversity in healthy ways. It’s these capacities and relationships that can turn toxic stress into tolerable stress.– Jack Shonkoff, Center Director at Harvard.
This means, if as an HSP you grow up in an environment that’s supportive, you’re most likely to be resilient. And if you grow up in an environment where you’re made to feel weak and abnormal, you’re going to lack the resilience needed to overcome life’s difficulties.
And in turn, you’ll be at risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
4. You struggle with self-compassion
In this free sensitivity quiz by Julie Bjelland, designed to help people find out how sensitive they are, one of the statements reads as follows:
Even though you are highly compassionate toward others, you find it harder to be self-compassionate.
This is because highly sensitive people (HSPs) are well known for lacking self-compassion. Not because they want to be that way, but because they haven’t learned to be any other way.
In fact, as an example, if you listen to “I Love Me” by Demi Lovato, she says this of herself:
I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself, but I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else.
And that’s exactly how HSPs who’ve not yet learned to love themselves and put themselves first, are wired.
This is a terrible way to live because you’re never able to forgive yourself when something bad happens. Instead, you blame yourself, beat yourself up, criticize yourself, and never give yourself a break.
To have self-compassion is to have the ability to be kind to yourself. Or the ability to be accepting and understanding of yourself in the face of suffering, inadequacy, failure, and all other forms of shortcomings.
And if you lack this ability as an HSP, you become prone to depression and anxiety.
5. You buy into the myth that sensitive people are weak
Being sensitive is not the same as being weak.
And for a long time now, society has equated being sensitive to being weak. They tell highly sensitive people to be strong and tough. To not be “too sensitive” or “so dramatic”.
But here’s the thing:
Like many things in life, being a highly sensitive person is both a blessing and a curse. It all comes down to what you make of it. – Dr. Travis Bradberry
This means that being a highly sensitive person is both a strength and a weakness. Just as most traits are. So when, as an HSP, you buy into the myth that sensitive people are weak, you’re choosing to believe only the side of it being a weakness.
A choice that leads you to think lowly of yourself, and in turn, causes you to suffer low self-esteem issues. And as you may already know, low self-esteem is a great catalyst for depression and anxiety.
Yet, in the midst of this negative mindset, the reality is that being sensitive is so much more of a strength than a weakness.
In fact, according to Dr. Elaine Aron, “When the trait of high sensitivity is harnessed, HSPs can be just as strong as – or even stronger than — non-HSPs”.
It all depends on the environment the individual is brought up in as well as how well the person understands and accepts their trait.
In the End
These 5 reasons are in no way finite. They’re a way to explain why highly sensitive people are more prone to depression and anxiety than non-HSPs.
And as research has shown, HSPs are the majority of patients seeking therapy services. Yet, not many Mental Health professionals will understand the need to separate HSPs from non-HSPs when giving treatment.
Additionally, because most HSPs constantly feel misunderstood and fail to understand themselves, they tend to believe they have a disorder when they actually don’t.
So in order to avoid suffering from anxiety and depression because you’re an HSP, it’s important for you to first understand your trait. And this free PDF will help you do that.