Have you ever encountered a situation where you become easily overwhelmed by chaotic situations or overcrowded places? Do you ever just feel the need to be alone, preferably in a closed-off room? Or maybe you have been told way too many times that you are acting ‘too sensitive’, and that you shouldn’t overthink things so much. Sounds familiar? Well, then you might be a highly sensitive person.  

Someone who is considered a highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences more vulnerability for physical, emotional, and mental stimuli. To elaborate on this more, I was lucky enough to speak with Mariëlle Braber, a student counselor of the Leisure and Events Program, as well as a Promotor of Student Well-being at BUas. Mariëlle was one of the two people who initiated the highly sensitive training at BUas, and she is a highly sensitive person herself! Mariëlle explains to me that high sensitivity is considered a personal trait. There is no diagnosis, and it does not mean someone has a mental illness. It is a real characteristic based on research, a characteristic that comes with advantages and some challenges: “You just are highly sensitive, or you aren’t, it’s as simple as that!” Mariëlle says.

A most common advantage HSPs share is their ability to empathize with others on a higher level. They can easily create and maintain deep connections with others. Moreover, they fully enjoy the little things in life. Being a highly sensitive person myself I can, for example, feel much gratitude and joy when taking a stroll in the park and seeing the leaves fall peacefully from the trees.

Unfortunately, having the ability to feel things much stronger than others also means the negative energy lies heavier on their shoulders. For example, HSPs might find their selves in a situation where they easily become stressed and upset when they have a lot to do in a short amount of time. This is a result of overstimulation. In addition to this, Mariëlle says: “HSPs have a more sensitive nervous system. Research shows they are more sensitive for stimulation, and even process sensory stimuli (stimulants that enter through the senses) more deeply.”

Since overstimulation can be very overwhelming for HSPs, a brief moment of peace is highly valued. Consider this as a moment for them to recharge. There are many ways to recharge. For me, when at work or school and I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed by a disturbing situation, I usually go to the restroom for a few minutes to be alone. Then I take a few deep breaths. When I have my emotions under control and I feel calm again, I go back to work. Another way for an HSP to stay grounded is to set an alarm a few times a day. They can do this to remind their selves to take a few deep breaths and let all emotions go. 

Furthermore, Mariëlle gave me the useful tip of writing a personal ‘instruction manual’. Meaning one can write down the things that help them calm down whenever feeling overwhelmed by emotions. She said this could help HSPs because when they are overstimulated, they cannot think clearly, and therefore they aren’t able to think of the things that can help them. When having their own ‘instruction manual’ for the taking, they’ll know what to do to calm down. 

Raising awareness about high sensitivity is of great importance because knowing if you are highly sensitive can put things in perspective. Speaking from my own experience, I acquired more self-knowledge and was therefore able to gain more balance throughout my life. Moreover, I am now able to accept myself the way I am. To add, Mariëlle says: “Sometimes high sensitivity can feel like a burden, for example, if you are overstimulated. But if you know that you are highly sensitive and you learn what that means, and how you can best take care of yourself, you can use it as your strength.” 

Mariëlle encourages students who have suspicions of being highly sensitive to acknowledge these signs: “You acquire so much clarity when you know yourself a little better, you might feel less confused and more confident about who you are.” She also mentions to try and view yourself with compassion: “HSPs often feel disappointment for not being able to do the things others can easily do. They can struggle to go with the flow. However, this is completely normal because HSPs are simply put together differently! So don’t criticize yourself for this.” 

To cope with, and learn more about high sensitivity, BUas offers special BEST training twice a year. Besides, students can always make an appointment with the student well-being coaches or search for more information about the BEST training via the student portal. Furthermore, there is a neurodiversity club at BUas, which is accessible to all students. Aside from the BUas offerings, you can read and find much information online. For example, psychologist Elaine Aron, the one who discovered high sensitivity, has done much research on this topic. If you are interested in this topic you can visit her website, and do the high sensitivity test to see if you are an HSP! 

Despite the attention, this topic already receives, Mariëlle would love for there to be more creative initiatives from students to spread more awareness about high sensitivity. At the moment, she and her colleague, Lonneke Boons, are busy researching the possibilities and opportunities to spread more awareness about high intelligence around campus. High intelligence and high sensitivity have a connection because there are many different ramifications and duplications when it comes down to high sensitivity. For example, did you know that at least 87% of the highly intelligent people out there are also highly sensitive? Consequently, if after reading this article you are left with any remarks, questions, or ideas about this topic or anything else, know that Marielle’s door is always open: “Students can always contact me about any topic through the study portal or via email!” Mariëlle says.

Thus, can you ever be ‘too sensitive’? No, you can’t, because who knows, you might just be a highly sensitive person!