Do you happen to notice the emotions of those surrounding you, and even feel them yourself? Do you often feel overwhelmed when you spend a lot of time in crowded, noisy places? Do you easily get stressed out when you have a lot of responsibilities to take care of in a short amount of time? Do you often feel the need to withdraw to a quiet room and spend time on your own so as to “recharge?”
Well, if you answered all of the questions with a yes, know that you might belong to the group of highly sensitive people.
Highly sensitive people account for around 20 percent of the world population who experience emotions more intensely and process physical, emotional, and social stimuli more deeply than other people. On the basis of this, it’s no wonder that the brain and nervous system of a highly sensitive person work in a different way from those of other people.
In what follows, we’re going to present the main differences:
1. Your brain reacts to dopamine in a different way.
If you happen to be a highly sensitive person, and you’re not that great fan of super noisy parties, know that your dopamine system is to blame for that – it’s preventing you from getting overstimulated and exhausted.
Dopamine is a chemical that helps regulate emotional reactions, learning, attention, and movement. Dopamine is also known as the reward chemical of the brain as it causes you to “want” to do something, and then feel satisfaction and joy when you do it.
Many of the genes that a highly sensitive person has influence the way their body uses this chemical. Chances are that people who are highly sensitive are less drawn to external rewards, and this enables them to have greater control over their reactions as well as carefully observe and consider things when processing information. This also helps them avoid sensory overload and burnout.
2. Your mirror neuron systems are more active than those of other people.
As the name itself suggests, mirror neurons are specific brain cells that help you “mirror,” i.e. observe and interpret the behaviors of other people. This allows you to recognize the emotional state of a person and relate to it. For example, when someone is going through pain, your mirror neurons allow you to identify that person’s emotional state and feel compassion for them.
Yet, it doesn’t mean that highly sensitive people have more mirror neurons than other people. Their mirror neurons are just more active. One study on sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions revealed that highly sensitive people had increased levels of activity in certain regions of the brain connected to emotional and social processing.
The study showed that highly sensitive people were able to feel compassion not only for their loved ones but for strangers as well.
So, this ability to relate to the emotional state of others and feel empathy and compassion for them is both a good personal trait as it makes you insightful, caring, and warm. Yet, at times, it’s also an inconvenience – like when you can’t stand to watch a certain TV documentary because it contains scenes of violence.
3. You experience feelings more vividly than other people.
We all experience things more vividly and deeply when we’re going through difficult or painful times, not just those who are highly sensitive. However, the latter have increased vividness.
The reason for this is that their high sensitivity is related to a gene that allows emotional vividness to have a greater influence on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain that regulates our emotions) while processing sensory stimuli and experiences.
4. Last but not least, you’re extremely aware of other people.
Highly sensitive individuals become increasingly conscious and alert in a social context. This means that when you’re around other people, you carefully observe the way they talk and behave. You also find it easy to recognize other people’s emotions and energy.