HSPs in the workplace, Part 1: How we both thrive and struggle

Careers can be extremely exciting for HSPs, but also difficult if our environment isn’t set up to support our highly sensitive personality.

I know that I can be very excited and motivated at work, but after bouts of engagement during meetings, tradeshows, and chatter around the office I feel exhausted.

Some days I just wish I could be invisible at my desk because I feel pulled in so many directions. This stresses me out, and I become frustrated and start to feel defeated.

Thankfully there is a reason for this, and it is because I am an HSP. Now that I understand the trait and how it affects me, What I used to call my “weird antisocial days” I now call my “HSP in need days.” I understand that my body is telling me “Chelsie, you need some time to re-charge and process the last couple of days. I need your empathy; we can’t afford to spend it on others right now.”

Before I knew about the highly sensitive trait, this was really tough to understand and accept about myself.

Unfortunately, the reality is that work places today aren’t usually designed to meet HSP’s needs… BUT we can do our best to moderate them, or look for new career paths that provide an environment better suited for us.

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5 ways HSPs thrive in a work setting:

  1. We are excellent team players. We have the gift of empathy; we’re very good at hearing out everyone’s suggestions and point of view. We’re courteous of other’s feelings, and good at making individuals feel heard, valued and accepted. HSPs can often read between the lines of conversations, allowing them to easily summarize the outcome of group discussions.
  1. We are creative. We leverage our creativity to think outside of the box, and come up with creative solutions to problems. When there is conflict, HSPs will be the first to offer a creative solution that benefits everyone.
  1. We pick up on subtleties that others miss. I read a great story in Ted Zeff’s book: “HSP Success Stories,” about an HSP nurse who noticed that her patient who was recovering from surgery just seemed off. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was and when she told the doctors, they brushed it off. That evening the patient was rushed to ICU because a large blood clot was detected in his leg. Had the nurse not stayed late because she was worried, the patient may have passed away.
  1. We assess every outcome before acting. Whether it is a PR scenario, a difficult customer, or an important judgement call, HSPs have a natural “pause to check” instinct, making them more cautious than non-HSPs. When faced with a decision to make at work, they will run every possible outcome through their head first, before choosing the best approach.
  1. We are hard workers. Oh yes, we take pride in our work and have a hard time saying “well, it’s good enough.” Our projects are immaculate and thorough, and we tend to go above and beyond.

5 ways HSPs struggle in a work setting:

  1. We often fail when performing tasks in front of others. This point is actually a question in Elaine Aron’s HSP-self test. If we are asked to perform a task while others monitor us we can become very nervous and forgetful. Usually we are actually really good at the task when doing it on our own, but the pressure of others watching and analyzing can be paralyzing for an HSP.
  1. We avoid conflict. HSPs can be made very uncomfortable when faced with conflict. We are afraid of the repercussions if we speak up, and we don’t like being involved in disagreements or arguments. This causes us to be passive in areas and we miss out on sharing our point of view. Additionally, when an HSP doesn’t address an issue to avoid conflict, it can negatively impact the workplace.
  1. We can’t concentrate in noisy environments. HSPs prefer a quiet, calm place to work. Anything from chatter around their work area and bright neon lights to the sounds of machinery and sudden noises can really distract and agitate an HSP.
  1. We tend to doubt our abilities. We often worry that we’re not doing a good enough job, and we under credit our achievements. This can stall our career advancement and development. If we don’t show self-assurance in our abilities, others may doubt us too.
  1. We take criticism too personally. If we receive constructive criticism, it can take us a while to process the blow, and re-gain confidence. We may get upset at ourselves for not being better in the criticized area, instead of accepting that it is normal to have strengths and weaknesses. We tend to highlight our “flaw” in our own minds and let it take credit away from the areas we excel in.


In writing this post, I realize that HSPs in the workplace is a really big topic! I will save the second half for next week 😉

In Part 2 I will get into career choices and opportunities that are best suited for HSPs, and outline some that we may want to avoid.

Remember, you are AMAZING, and your trait of high sensitivity is so valued and totally needed in the workplace! You bring so much value to the table!!

I hope that this post has helped you identify your strengths in the workplace, as well as some areas you’d like to work on. The points I made are just a start… and some of them may or may not be relevant for you. Or maybe I whacked the nail on the head with just one or two points!

What have you noticed about yourself at work?

I invite you to share your workplace attributes and setbacks on The Sensitive Trait Facebook page, or in a comment below!

Include one of these Hashtags in your story: #HSPWorkWin or #HSPWorkFail. We can all learn from each other!!

Looking forward to hearing from all of you beautiful people.

XO your fellow HSP, Chelsie


The Research: HSPs and Sensory Processing

Highly Sensitive Person

“I can’t get that sad movie out of my head.” “That person’s smile was amazing, I have a feeling she’s in a great place in life.” “It’s too crowded in here, I can’t think straight.” “Are you OK? Your mood seems different since you got off the phone.” “OMG what is that smell?” “I hate Costco on the weekend, it makes me crazy…” “Please don’t get mad at me, it really upsets me.” “Wow, I just had the most exciting dream.” “Humanity is really amazing, I can’t even wrap my head around it.”

It is important to understand that the trait of high sensitivity is not a condition or a disorder; it is an inherited trait, just like eye and skin color.

Dr. Elaine Aron and her collaborators recently conducted a study that proves that the areas in the brain correlated with external stimuli processing, empathy and emotion are more active when triggered in highly sensitive people than non-HSPs.

In this study, The Highly Sensitive Brain: An fMRI Study of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Response to Others’ Emotions, 18 people were shown photos of strangers and their spouses showing happy, sad, or neutral expressions. “Functional magnetic resonance imaging” was used to detect activation of brain areas while participants viewed the images.

The Results: Compared to the non-HSPs in the study, the HSPs’ brains were more responsive to expressions of emotions on the faces of others. This was true in all cases, stranger or partner, happy or sad (compared to neutral). However, HSPs’ brains were especially responsive to the emotions of their husband or wife, and even more responsive to positive emotions than negative ones.

Ok, so we know that HSPs respond differently to sensory and emotional cues, but why do we have this trait to begin with?

Scientific research suggests the trait of High Sensitivity or Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is actually an evolved survival strategy in 15-20% of humans and over 100 other species (yes! Dogs, cats, fish, even fruit flies)…

By being more responsive to their environments, these more sensitive organisms have an enhanced awareness of opportunities (e.g., food, mates, and alliances) and threats (e.g., predators, loss of status, competitors), and thus may be more ready to respond to emerging situations.

But like fear and the “fight or flight” response, heightened responses to our environment aren’t always necessary, especially for me and you, in 2015, in the middle of a city square or during dinner when someone’s laughter roars across the table. This means that we need to manage it in every day situations, so overstimulation doesn’t control us.

We can develop ways to cope with our trait of high sensitivity as it affects us.

Below are some scenarios where HSPs may feel themselves becoming overwhelmed. I have provided ways to help modify these situations so you can function at an optimal level.

  • If you’re at a party and have just had an intense conversation, take a break and step outside to breathe in the fresh night air until you feel relaxed.
  • If you’re at a food truck festival and find yourself struggling to decide what to try next, sit down around the corner on a bench and avert your eyes from the busyness for a few minutes. Then try again.
  • When you’re at home studying or writing an important email but feel distracted, think of your surroundings….maybe the window is open and the noises from outside are disrupting your concentration. Close it, or go into a quieter room.
  • If you’re making dinner it might be really hard to hold a meaningful conversation and continue to cook, timing everything correctly (this is so me!), simply realize this, and focus on one thing at a time.

And most importantly, don’t beat yourself up! Remember, you have been given the gift of high sensitivity, but like everything, it can have it’s set backs. Love yourself anyway because this trait comes as an entire package; the good totally out weights the bad, especially if we utilize tools to mediate it.

Until next week,

XO your fellow HSP, Chelsie


Self-Care and Refuelling for the HSP

Highly Sensitive People have probably experienced times in their lives when they have felt totally overwhelmed, drained, and have struggled to keep up with the daily activities of this fast-paced world.

Today, society expects us all to pursue a post-secondary education, work around the clock to establish our careers, find love, make time to maintain a social life, get a mortgage, work overtime to pay for it, find time to have kids…. Oh, plus continuously juggle two electronic devises and commute around in busy traffic or on the subway every day.

Sound exhausting? It does to me! And it is to a lot of people…. especially HSPs.

Even if we aren’t attuned to how we are being affected by today’s demanding, overwhelming world on a daily basis, something will eventually force us to stop ignoring our need for downtime, reflection, and solitude.

Whether we are signaled through stress, anxiety, anger, health issues (or even a total breakdown), our nervous system’s overstimulation will get the best of us if we don’t take time to recharge.

It isn’t fun to let ourselves get to that breaking point; we really feel the repercussions, and it can be very emotionally traumatic for an HSP.

How do we prevent this? We have to MAKE the space, and MAKE the time to be there for ourselves, and take the downtime we need.

We must.

Now, I know my fellow HSPs can do this – you can all really do anything that you put your mind to, you in-touch, empathetic hard workers, you. 😉

So, now my question is:

What refuels YOU?

HSPs are usually very creative people, and can be easily moved by the arts, music, and nature. They are also often very spiritual, and are deeply passionate about one or many things.

If you haven’t already identified activities that refuel and recharge your sensitive soul, I’d like to list a few ideas for you to try.

Once you find out what allows you to escape into your oh-so-beautiful inner life, please try and go to this place whenever you feel the need.

Make time for it, like you make time for meals, sleep and the gym. It is FOOD for you, and will make you a happier and healthier HSP. Trust me.

Daily activity suggestions to calm your HSP soul

(note: I am suggesting to try just one of these a day, not all of them in one day, which would be awesome! But reality is, it would probably be hard to find the time).

  1. If you are a morning person, get up 20 minutes earlier each morning to sit outside on your patio with a coffee or tea, and watch the sunlight begin to brighten your surroundings.
  1. When you come home from work, before diving into dinner preparations or turning on the TV, go into a quiet room and/or put on some headphones and listen to the sound of ocean waves with your eyes closed for 15 minutes. Yes, there is an App for that.
  1. Learn to meditate (there are tons of tutorials on YouTube), and do this every morning for 15 minutes when you wake up, or when you get home from work, or before you go to bed, whichever works best for you.
  1. During a break at work, instead of sitting in the busy lunch room, go for a walk around the block on your own, or drive to the nearest path or park and eat your lunch there. Don’t feel weird, don’t worry about what others think, they will actually probably admire it.
  1. Take some time before bed to unwind and look at your favourite artist’s pieces, or listen to your favourite musician while sitting on the couch or lying in bed. Simply enjoy this without interruption for 15 minutes.
  1. After dinner, put on your shoes, make a tea, and go for a walk outside in a quiet area. Find a park bench and sit there for a few minutes. Just take in the fresh air; notice and appreciate your surroundings.

Artistic outlets

As I mentioned, a lot of HSPs are very creative. Have you discovered your creative outlet? If not, try some out. I started experimenting with art right around the time I found out I was an HSP.

I began making mosaic stepping stones and decorative pieces, and then moved into acrylic painting. These activities are very soothing and recharging for me.

Sometimes my favourite thing to do on a Friday night is hangout by myself with a glass of red wine (or three), music and a blank canvas.

My boyfriend’s creative outlet is playing the acoustic guitar. I know another HSP who loves to garden; plant flowers, and watch them grow…

Maybe you like interior design, or photography? Perhaps creative writing… even making beer and wine in your garage! There is something about creation for an HSP that is so fulfilling and recharging.

Will you share your creative outlet with me? Put it in a comment, a private message, or on The Sensitive Trait’s Facebook page.

And not to forget non-HSPs – So many of you enjoy creativity to! I don’t mean to exclude you, even if you’re not highly sensitive, I know that creativity may be a calming pass-time for you as well. You are just as welcome here!

Have a great week everyone ❤

XO your fellow HSP, Chelsie.


A bit on my story

The Sensitive Trait

In my late teens and early 20s, I did everything to keep up with the fast-paced world I was living in – I worked as a server, went to college full time, and spent every other waking moment socializing with friends, being there for my family, and spending time with my boyfriend at the time. I felt pulled in every direction. I never spent time alone and I paid no attention to my inner life. The few times that I did try and look inward I became utterly confused and scared.

I didn’t know who I was because I was so busy trying to be like everyone else and live a “normal” life.

Finally, after months of living in a state of anxiety and stress, I had a panic attack at school one day, and I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I was so afraid there was something seriously wrong with me. The psychologist I went to see was the first person who told me about the trait of high sensitivity, and that I was probably an HSP.

An HSP who doesn’t give a sliver of thought to their own needs will burn out quickly, and their mind and body will scream louder and louder, until it is heard…

It was suggested that I start taking time for myself by going for walks in nature, and writing in my journal. I remember at the time it felt so funny and strange to me. But I managed to do it, and my anxiety got a little better, so I carried on with my life understanding that I was sensitive, but seeing it as sort of a setback.

At age 25, I remember having what you might call an epiphany one summer afternoon. I was lying on the couch struggling to plan out the day in my own head, becoming more and more overwhelmed as I added tasks to the list. I felt defeated and confused, lost in the world…why couldn’t I manage the same types of things others could? Why did I always have these deep, analytical thoughts? What was wrong with me?

That day, somehow, the term “HSP” drifted back into my head after not really thinking about it for quite some time. I felt something urging me to learn more about it, and I remembered that there were books written on it…

After about 20 minutes of contemplating, I pulled myself up off of the couch, got into my car, and drove to the Chapters Book Store four blocks away from my house. I remember I was so insecure about feeling “different” at the time, that I was embarrassed to be seen in the self-help section of the book store.

Regardless, I bought “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron.

That evening I began to read the book that was written about me.

And all HSPs.

I was totally awe-struck.

For the next two weeks I came home from work every day, went into my room and read it, highlighted it, taking it all in (I laughed a bit, nodded my head, smiled, cried, everything….)

I also noticed that I enjoyed taking this time for myself alone, just to read. No wonder…. I was a full-on 25-year-old Female HSP…. and it meant something to me this time.

Since then, living life as an HSP and understanding the trait, and in turn myself, has been an INCREDIBLE journey. I understand so much more now – about past relationships, my relationships with my parents and friends, my childhood experiences, and my choices in life, successes and struggles in my career – everything makes more sense.

Over the past three years I have been reading and researching and reading more, and practicing being an HSP daily by recognizing when I am feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated, and working to modify my environment in those moments whenever possible. Here are some examples:

I take a walk alone at lunch when I have had a hectic morning at work, I keep snacks in my purse for when I am hungry (I am an HSP who is very affected by hunger), I say no to a night out if I have been busy for the past two days and am feeling the need to recharge.

Now, when I get upset or angry or annoyed “for no reason” I think about why, and find that I have the answer, the reason, I can attribute so much of the way I am to being an HSP.

And my journey is continuous, and constant. I know who I am more and more each day, and I embrace it now instead of ignoring it or wishing it away.

Developing a true love for yourself and all of your traits and qualities is the key to happiness.

I want all HSPs to love themselves! And I feel for all of them who have struggled at some point in their lives like I have.

Most of them have probably also been called sensitive in a negative way, and told they should change and “stop being so sensitive.” This is not possible, totally unnecessary and, well, it would be a shame if HSPs could change their innate trait! We are so needed and important!

Recently, I have come to a place where I feel compelled to share my knowledge about the HSP trait with others.  I am not ashamed of it anymore, and I don’t want anyone else to be, because there is no need! I want to help others learn about the sensitive trait; HSPs and non-HSPs alike. I truly believe that HSPs are an asset to the world, and more of them need to be identified and acknowledged. They have so many gifts! (though they will be the first ones to under-credit themselves).

I am so thrilled to see this community growing, stick with me! We will all go far on this journey.

XO Chelsie, your fellow HSP.

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Sensitive? Empathetic? Easily Overwhelmed? Acutely aware of other’s emotions? Feel deeply? Feel a little… different than most people?

That’s OK. Research proves that these characteristics stem from an inherited trait called High Sensitivity, or Sensory Processing Sensitivity. With this trait, your nervous system responds slightly more intensely to everything you experience (whether you are aware of it or not).

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are often more overwhelmed in large crowds, more sensitive to sounds and smells, and are able to sense when someone is uncomfortable. When experiencing stimuli, HSPs become “overstimulated” sooner than the average person.

HSPs usually make a point to plan or organize their lives in advance or stick to daily routines so they can avoid becoming overwhelmed.

They are often very creative people who enjoy the outdoors, and find peace and clarity when near water and in nature. During particularly busy days or weeks when HSPs don’t take time alone to unwind in a quiet, calm place, they can become very irritable and emotional.

They are often light sleepers, excellent listeners, and good friends, but are also prone to anxiety, fears, and frequently undervalue themselves.

Am I describing you, or someone you know yet? If so, keep reading 🙂

If you think about having a nervous system that reacts just a tad bit more intensely to stimulation (such as sound and smell) and emotional experiences, i.e.: happiness, sadness, love, fear, joy, than the average person, then it makes sense that you would become overstimulated sooner, and more easily than the average person.

Fact: Dr. Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., author of the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” says that 15-20% of the human population (equally male and female) have the HSP trait.

Disclaimer: Even non-HSPs are sensitive to some level, and some HSPs can reflect certain characteristics of  the HSP trait much more than others.

If my words have resonated with you so far, I would like to invite you to take the HSP self-test. Dr. Elaine Aron, the modern day psychologist who has identified this trait, and actually coined the term “HSP,” has created this test to help people determine whether or not they have the HSP trait.


If you take this test and find that you are likely an HSP, I am so happy for you. You have just discovered something that can very much change your life in a positive way. So many of your questions will be answered, and you will embark on a whole new level of self-discovery.

If you feel compelled, send me a message or post a comment below! I would love to hear your story and help you in any way I can.

XO Chelsie, your fellow HSP.

Defining the HSP Trait