Have you ever been told you were “too sensitive”? Do you feel things deeply? Do you notice noise or visual details perhaps more than most? Maybe you sometimes struggle with feeling overwhelmed or drained, especially when you try to keep pace with what the rest of the world seems to be doing.
There is a trait prevalent in about 20% of our population (and many other animal species!) called high sensitivity (or, in research terms, sensory processing sensitivity). It has actually been documented in brain scans--HSPs notice details and process things more deeply than 80% of the world, yet it seems many people still don't know this exists, and some HSPs don't know that this is them! I happen to be an HSP myself, and speaking from personal experience and from clients and friends who are also HSPs, learning more about the trait and beginning to honor it can be absolutely life changing--in wonderful and surprising ways.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who has done great work to research and bring awareness to this trait, it can be understood through the acronym "DOES":
D: Depth of processing. HSPs have more activity in the area of the brain associated with awareness and consciousness (the insula). They also tend to do better at perceptual tasks and usually have a strong intuition. Not only do HSPs notice more details but we also process them more deeply. This can feel like "a lot" sometimes but it's also a huge gift, especially if HSPs are operating from a place of balance and self-care so these strengths can come through.
O: Overstimulation. Because HSPs notice sensory experiences (and emotions and relationship dynamics) more, they can be prone to feeling overstimulated. I've found that this is very individualized for each HSP. Some HSPs don't notice loud noises as much but for others, noise is very noticeable and sometimes troublesome. Some HSPs notice that they're very tuned into others' feelings, but not as upset by sensory stimuli. One great thing about being an HSP though is that supportive sensory experiences are experienced even more deeply--so this overstimulation can absolutely become a strength once supported!
E: Emotional reactivity and Empathy. HSPs tend to notice and be more impacted by emotions visible on others' faces or detectable by being in the same room. The same goes for any emotional experience--both good and bad. But the important thing to remember here is that HSPs benefit even more from positive experiences (vantage sensitivity is a newer term to describe this phenomenon). HSPs also have extra strong mirror neurons that help them relate to others' experiences and emotions.
S: Sensing Subtleties. HSPs often notice the little things. Perhaps something is different with someone's face, or something changed in the room. Or maybe HSPs remember a small detail from a few days ago that helps them today and others might comment they never noticed that thing. HSPs notice non-verbal cues, often without realizing it. Sometimes this means HSPs have a sense about someone's feelings, personality, or trustworthiness without necessarily knowing why.
So, are you an HSP? There are several self-tests available online that take only a few minutes to complete. My favorite, from Dr. Julie Bjelland, is here. There's another by Dr. Aron here.
If you or someone you know are indeed highly sensitive, feel free to check out the following resources for HSPs, and subscribe to my newsletter to stay informed when I post a new blog or resource about high sensitivity.
Brain Training Course for HSPs
Interview for Outdoor Idaho
If you're an avid hiker or outdoors-lover in Idaho, you may have have heard of the Idaho 12ers--the nine peaks in Idaho that rise above 12,000', including Mount Borah (Idaho's tallest, at 12,667'). I've been captivated by the 12ers since my teenage years and I completed them a few summers ago. These are some of my most cherished memories and also the reason I'm working on a book about mountain climbing and healing.
Earlier this summer, a producer from Outdoor Idaho (a long-standing show on Idaho Public Television) reached out to me to ask if I'd be interested in being interviewed for a show they were working on about the Idaho 12ers. Specifically, he wanted to know if I would speak to the "why"-- why do people do this? What's the psychology behind it?
I have watched Outdoor Idaho since I can remember, and I was so excited and honored by this opportunity! After discussing details, we made plans to climb an 11er (11,000' peaks; since I am working on those now after finishing the 12ers) that summer. They have spent hundreds of hours planning, filming, and editing, and now, the show has been released! I thought I'd share a link to the teaser and the full video too. Let me know what you think! :)
Click here to watch the teaser (3 minutes)
Click here to watch the entire show (56 minutes)
Hello! I’ve decided to start blogging again, and I wanted my first post to be an introduction to me and what I plan to blog about. If you’ve read my website “About” section, you know I’m a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Idaho. I have a bachelor’s degree in Writing, a master’s degree in Counseling, and a doctorate in Counselor Education. I’ve been a counselor in private practice since 2014. This is now my full time gig, which I love! I’ve also spent time working as a school counselor and as a postdoctoral researcher for NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) grant.
I’ve traveled quite a bit, but Idaho has always been home. Most of my family is here and I love the natural beauty and public land here. I am a nature lover at heart. The outdoors is where I get my greatest inspiration and what I rely most heavily on for self-care. I love to hike, ski (downhill and cross-country), rock climb, windsurf, and mountain bike. I have climbed all of Idaho’s 12ers (12,000’+ peaks--see photo below!) and I’m working my way through the long list of “11ers”. I also love reading and writing—and sometimes cooking, but that ebbs and flows!
I’ve thought at length about how to combine my love of therapy with my love of nature. I’ve studied ecotherapy and hold sessions outdoors for clients who want that option. And in this blog, I plan to write about these things—anything pertaining to mental health, nature, and how these things intersect. How can we improve our lives and the natural world around us? This and many other questions are things I plan to explore. I hope you enjoy!
I'm April, a counselor who loves my job and loves all things nature. Read more about me here.