Mental Health and the Highly Sensitive Person

Do you ever find that noises are just too loud? Lights are too bright? Scents that don’t seem to bother others are noxious to you? You’re always either cold or hot? You find yourself exhausted after spending time with people? If so, you may be what psychologist, Elaine Aron, calls a “Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).”

About Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

HSP have super sensitive nervous systems that pick up on external stimuli more easily than most other people’s do. They also have a hard time filtering out or ignoring cues in their environment that are irrelevant to their situation.

For example, when having a conversation with someone at a party, a HSP may become distracted by the other conversations going on around them instead of being able to tune them out. Or they may not be able to concentrate on reading a book in a quiet room with a clock ticking softly nearby.

Cluttered countertops, the noise level of a cheering crowd at a sporting event, a crying baby, a windy day, a sunny day, a hot day, tight clothes, or a dirty bathroom can all send a HSP over the edge into an anxiety attack or severe agitation.

HSP also tend to over respond emotionally to situations. They can easily pick up on the emotions of others and can even feel drained or stressed out by negative emotional content portrayed on television or in movies.

Because of their decreased ability to regulate their emotional response to stimuli, HSP often have mental health disorders such as bipolar, depression, and anxiety.

What to do if you are a HSP?

  1. Recognize the warning signs. Take notice when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, anxious or agitated. Ask yourself, “Am I having a highly sensitive response to some neutral external or internal trigger right now?”
  2. Identify the trigger. Is it something outside of yourself like noise, light, temperature, or smells? Or is it something internal like fatigue, hunger or physical pain?
  3. Have a plan in place to counter act your triggers. Use headphones to block out irritating noises; sunglasses to mute lighting, cold compress to cool off, if hot. Bring a sweater or dress in layers, if cold. Spray perfume on the back of your index finger and inconspicuously bring to your nose to block out environmental odors. Drink green tea for fatigue; carry healthy snack for unexpected hunger pains and pain medicine for unexpected flare ups. Take time outs from social gatherings in your car, in the bathroom or back bedroom or leave early. Drive yourself so you can leave when you need to. Wear comfortable clothing, get a simple hair style, stay organized, and keep a routine.

All of these things can help a Highly Sensitive Person thrive. Are you a HSP? How so? What helps you cope?


Suicide in the Media: Getting it Done Right

I have been reading thoughts online and hearing opinions in real life regarding a Netflix series about a teenage girl who dies by suicide, and what questions this show raises about the media’s responsibility for portraying triggering, and even instructional, scenes on how to take one’s own life. In response to this, I would like to refer to an article published this month by Lisa Firestone, PhD in Psychology Today, who states:

“Guidelines on the media’s portrayal of suicide include never glamorizing or sensationalizing it in any way, period. Specific means for suicide should not be shown or related. Any depiction of suicide should include a story of a survivor who is living proof that the suicidal state can be temporary…In addition, any discussion of suicide should include resources for people who may be in crisis or are worried about someone they know. Media should also include a list of warning signs for suicide, which can help people identify when someone’s at risk.”

I feel distressed because so many preteen and young teenagers are watching this show, which has a ‘MA’ rating. I feel worried because kids with mental illness are watching this and possibly being triggered into self-harming behaviors and emotional anguish. And, God forbid, if any one of them is moved to end their life because this show’s message gives them the final reason to do it or the final way to go about doing it.

Don’t get me wrong…It is important to talk about suicide to raise awareness and get people who need help to open up and reach out for it, but like Firestone says, without following proven recommendations on how to report on suicide, “we risk contributing to individuals’ suicide risk and even creating contagion, especially among teens.”

Please remember, the suicide state is often passing and temporary. It can be a trance-like state that can leave people with diminished awareness of the fact that if they wait things out they may regret even considering suicide at all. Many people who have made serious attempts often have these types of regrets, because like everyone says, things do get better. Nothing ever stays the same. Don’t give up just before things change!

Warning Signs of Suicide

(from the American Association of Suicidology)

  • Talking about wanting to die.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.


Bipolar Triggers


There are external stimuli that trigger my bipolar symptoms. Strict schedules, time constraints, too much time out of the house, and extended family gatherings all wreak havoc on my mood stability. My anxiety sky rockets and, if left too high for too long, it triggers a major depressive episode.

Seasonal changes affect my moods as well. Each spring, without fail, as the grass turns green and tree buds bloom, so does my hypomania.  It lasts for about four to six weeks, fading out as the end of the school year approaches, which brings me to another trigger: change.

Each summer when my young children start summer break and each fall when they return to school, a mood shift occurs. Summer is unpredictable. It could be a return to stable from the hypomania of spring.  It could be a dip into depression.  In the fall, it is always a fall into depression. 

I’ve learned to manage my triggers by avoiding them whenever possible or at least by limiting them when appropriate. I say no to, not all but, most volunteer work. I limit my social commitments.  I get extra rest when pushed beyond what is comfortable for me.

I have to protect my mood at all costs. Does it always work?  No. Some things in life are just unavoidable. I have to cook and clean and run my kids places and show up for some commitments.  Sometimes these things all fall on the same week or day, and that’s when things get scary. That’s when I close my eyes and hope for the best while using the skills I learned in DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) as best I can. 

If my mood doesn’t bounce back after my external world settles down, that’s when I talk to my doctor about a medication change.  It happens a lot, and that’s Ok.  I have to stay on top of this bipolar thing. It’s a matter of life and death.

What are your triggers?  How do you deal with them?