I was reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain about Introversion and its benefits… I highly recommend it to any introvert, by the way. And there was a section on HSP- Highly Sensitive Persons and the research behind it. And… I think I fit rather well into that category. More HSP are introverts but they can be extroverts (roughly 30% are extroverts) as well. And about 15-20% of the population fits into this category. I do not know if I believe in the theory of the Highly Sensitive Person entirely since I have not read the original research and a lot of what you find online is pretty watered down, so I would like to read a book on it and see, but it is interesting from what I read in this book. And certainly it is feasible a certain part of the population would fit these particular traits of hyper-awareness which would serve evolutionary as a sort of group alarm system… some are ready to charge ahead and some are hyper aware of danger… both of which serve a purpose to the group. Now, in our lives, this may lead to a state of chronic stress though.

Highly Sensitive Person and chronic illness
Signs of a Highly Sensitive Person

One thing is clear the HSP is hyper sensitive to their environment and stimulus. And I always have been. Texture of clothes. Sounds. Lights.

But the true, research-backed definition of a “highly sensitive person” is an individual who “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his or her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment,” according to Elaine Aron, PhD, a psychologist who has studied high sensitivity since 1991.

Prevention

And basically you need your down time. And even meditation can help calm your mind. Tips for a HSP

HSP show as being high in Openness, Introversion and Neuroticism in the Big 5 Personality traits.

The reason why many highly sensitive individuals act in an introverted manner might be that social interactions generally are a major source of stimulation (Aron & Aron, 1997). Consequently, social withdrawal would be a natural strategy for reducing stimulation for highly sensitive people. Thus, highly sensitive individuals seeking to reduce an uncomfortable level of stimulation are considered introverts by others. Furthermore, SPS and neuroticism seem to have much in common. A possible reason is that both highly sensitive and fearful individuals tend to respond to stimuli in a cautious manner (Smolewska et al., 2006). As highly sensitive individuals are more aware of their surroundings, and are more easily aroused, it would only seem natural to respond to stimuli in a cautious manner but without this implying that highly sensitive individuals are necessarily fearful and neurotic (Aron & Aron, 1997).

Sage Journals

I found that correlation to personality factors interesting since I do rank very high in introversion, openness and neuroticism. So that is interesting. And it is true that introverts do withdrawal and seek alone time as a response to over-stimulation. Just being an introvert according to that book I read means we are more easily stimulated and that is why we like our alone time, to recover basically. Whereas extroverts seek more stimulation because they have a lower threshold.

Health consequences

A possible explanation was that heightened sensitivity increases general physiological arousal, leading to a chronic stress to the body with subsequent health consequences (Benham, 2006). Another explanation is that highly sensitive people are more aware of somatic symptoms that others may not notice. Accordingly, persons scoring high on SPS are more affected by pain (Aron, 1996b), medications, caffeine, and to have a higher rate of somatic problems like migraine, headaches, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue (Jawer, 2005Jonsson, Grim, & Kjellgren, 2014).

Sage Journals

Sensory Processing Sensitivity: Factors of the Highly Sensitive Person Scale and Their relationships to Personality and Subjective Health Complaints

It also suggests a poor response to stress overall or a heightened Awareness to stress. You can see how constant over stimulation can lead to chronic stress and chronic stress can have health consequences if it is not dealt with.

It occurred to me with migraine and fibromyagia… maybe they are risk factors of a HSP. Not Necessary connected. But a Risk factor based on the natural sensitivity already there and the sensitivity to pain, the environment and stress. In other words, if you had a risk for FM or migraines And are a HSP… then it might trigger those conditions to come out if you were a HSP that was sensitive to pain, your environment and stress.

See HSPs and Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Other Illnesses Perhaps Related to “Central Sensitization” for an interesting discussion on fibromyalgia and HSP.

There is no Direct link between them, but as I listed above we are more prone to specific health conditions including chronic pain and migraine disease. Perhaps due to the sensitivity to our environment, the sensitivity to pain itself or the sensitivity to Stress. It creates a perfect breeding ground for chronic pain, migraine disease and other chronic conditions to flourish in. Especially if we are Not Aware and do not manage that stress effectively. As in ME.

Things I know now

  • I am aware now that I have a very low tolerance to stress
  • I know since I was a kid I have always had a sensitivity to chemicals, to texture, to my environment
  • I was very sensitive as well until I learned to bottle all that up as a coping mechanism, which I do not think is an effective one’
  • I am too empathetic even when I shouldn’t be
  • I think my low tolerance to stress did lead to chronic stress and may have triggered health issues which spiraled into more health problems.

And what I think that means in regard to chronic pain conditions is:

  1. I need my downtime
  2. I should limit my exposure to loud over stimulating environments
  3. I should be very careful in choosing a work environment and run as fast as I can from any toxic one
  4. I should continue my meditation practices
  5. I should continue my exercises to de-stress
  6. I should continue my practices that relax me such as journal writing, writing, and art

Anyway, there is nothing wrong with being an introvert, I happen to like that about me. And there is nothing wrong with being a Highly Sensitive Person, since 20% of humanity IS. What it means is that we have to be aware of our self-care in specific ways. And perhaps if we do fall ill for whatever reason even more so focus on self-care. Anyway, it is a factor that needs to be considered in pain management for sure.

Also thing about your alone time as recovery time. Consider your environment as a factor in your life when doing things. Consider your environmental triggers. Be careful of toxic people but Also toxic environments and remember you may have a low stress threshold so those people and environments may effect you Fast. And chronic stress not only exposes us to illness but aggravates the chronic illnesses we Have.

See more related posts

Chronic pain and personality
Chronic pain: Changes in the brain
Chronic stress and the body

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12 thoughts on “Highly Sensitive Person and chronic illness

    1. I was sensative in all ways when I was younger but learned to be less sensitive emotionally as I hit my teens as a defense mechanism… as I suppose many people do. But still very environmentally sensitive to sounds, lights, crowds, chemicals… that sort of thing. And definitely stress is a problem for me. Which I ignore and do not show but my body sure reacts to it physically. Now I de-stress in many ways because I know my threshold sucks so much and I also am aware I need my downtime.

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  1. Thank you for sharing, this made a lot of sense to me. As someone who is fairly new to fibromyalgia and vestibular migraines (5 years since diagnosis), I’m still trying to figure out the How, What, Why and When. I’m most definately a highly sensitive person and do not cope well with stress. I think I will get the book and give it a read.

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  2. This really resonates with me. I’m so sensitive to busy places, noise and lights etc. I’ve never considered myself to be an introvert though, which you mentioned can be the case, I guess I am a highly sensitive person after reading this but have had to toughen up quickly at a young age so it’s not something I’ve really considered. Thanks for sharing, I might try and read this book.

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    1. Some HSP are extroverts just a smaller percentage. You might want to read a book specifically on that subject instead. I plan on finding on just on that topic myself to get into more of the research and information

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  3. Oh my I’m definitely oversensitive often and it does have a negative spiral to it. Puts a bit of sour on many things but most importantly and detrimental is the impact on my mental health and stress levels. Something I really need to learn to control.

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  4. I forgot the book “Quiet” talks about being an HSP. I found that book so helpful as well! I like that you can concluded with making lists of what you know now and how that applies to what you should do for your health. I think I’m going to write up something similar based on my own experiences as an introvert and HSP. I’m also looking for a good book on HSPs specifically. Would love to hear if you find one!

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