History and Psychological Background
So, what are HSP and HSS?
High sensitivity is commonly associated with being shy, timid, awkward, or simply quiet. It affects more introverts than extraverts (roughly 70% of reported cases).
In actuality, it encompasses the wide range of symptoms experienced by sensory (and emotional) stimuli—thus individuals who are HSPs can “overreact” to events and intuitively “pick up” on others’ feelings.
Different from social anxiety (the persistent fear of socializing and messing up during in-person interactions), high sensitivity is the natural reaction from an individual’s brain wiring.
In other words, it’s a completely biological condition—all in one’s genes and brain wiring.
High sensation seeking, on the flip side, is the recurring tendency to seek out thrilling (and sometimes dangerous) situations in order to feel invigorated and satisfied.
Boredom is a chronic problem for HSS individuals, who have a high baseline engagement threshold.
To combat feelings of stagnancy and flatness, they may engage in behaviors that resemble that of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Personality Disorder).
HSP and HSS: Definitions
HSP (Highly Sensitive Person): Has an aversion (often physiological in nature) to extreme sensory input, such as loud sounds and bright lights.
HSS (High Sensation Seeker): Has an inclination for adrenaline-boosting activities, such as gambling, skydiving, and roller coasters.
Examples of HSP and HSS Behaviors
A HSP may, on a near daily basis:
- Feel fatigued from their surrounding environment
- Take several days to a week in order to recover from socializing
- Gravitate towards low-stimulation environments
- Only work in specific settings (e.g. no overhead light)
- Spend large amounts of time alone
- Overanalyze messages through texts or body language
- Blow a small mistake or suspicion out of proportion
A HSS may, on a near daily basis:
- Have an extremely short attention span
- Get impatient easily while waiting in line
- Lose their temper without warning
- Actively search up ways to feel “high” or “alive”
- Cause trouble with relationships, consciously or unconsciously
- Become agitated when faced with no activity
- Start and abandon a slew of hobbies and projects
Ideal Career Ideas for the HSP and HSS
Individuals who are highly sensitive (HSP) tend to find career fulfillment in:
- Counseling and Therapy: HSPs tend to have a heightened sense of empathy and intuition, making them well-suited for careers in counseling or therapy. They can provide sensitive and compassionate support to individuals in need.
- Creative Arts: Many HSPs have a rich inner world and a deep appreciation for art, music, writing, and other forms of creative expression. They may excel in careers such as writing, painting, acting, or music, where they can channel their emotions and sensitivity into their creative work.
- Healing and Holistic Practices: HSPs often have a natural inclination towards healing and holistic practices. Careers in fields like acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga instruction, energy healing, or alternative medicine can be fulfilling for HSPs, allowing them to help others while honoring their own sensitivity.
- Research and Analysis: HSPs often possess excellent observation and analysis skills. They may excel in research-oriented careers, where they can delve deeply into subjects of interest and contribute to knowledge and understanding in their field.
- Environmental and Animal Care: HSPs are often deeply connected to nature and have a strong sense of compassion for animals. Careers in environmental conservation, animal welfare, or working with animals, such as veterinary care or animal-assisted therapy, can align with their values and sensitivity.
- Education and Teaching: HSPs may find fulfillment in the field of education, where they can share their knowledge and inspire others. They can bring their sensitivity and intuition into the classroom, creating a nurturing and supportive learning environment.
- Consulting and Coaching: HSPs can use their sensitivity and insight to help others navigate personal and professional challenges. They may excel in roles as consultants, life coaches, or mentors, where they can provide guidance and support to individuals seeking personal or professional growth.
Individuals who are high sensation-seeking (HSS), in contrast, tend to find career fulfillment in:
- Adventure Sports and Outdoor Activities: HSSs often have a strong desire for adrenaline-pumping activities. Careers in adventure sports, such as rock climbing, skydiving, surfing, or extreme sports instruction, can provide the constant thrill and excitement that HSSs seek.
- Entertainment and Performing Arts: The entertainment industry, including acting, dancing, or performing in music, can offer HSSs a dynamic and engaging career path. They can channel their energy and desire for stimulation into entertaining and captivating audiences.
- Event Planning and Management: Planning and organizing events, such as concerts, festivals, or conferences, can cater to the HSS’s need for variety and excitement. The fast-paced nature of event management can provide the constant stimulation that HSSs thrive on.
- Sales and Marketing: HSSs often enjoy engaging with people and exploring new opportunities. Careers in sales and marketing, where they can interact with diverse clients and work on innovative campaigns, can provide the dynamic and stimulating environment that suits their personality.
- Emergency Services and First Responders: The fast-paced and unpredictable nature of emergency services, such as paramedics, firefighters, or police officers, can be appealing to HSSs who thrive in high-pressure situations and enjoy the excitement of crisis response.
- Travel and Tourism: HSSs often have a strong desire for exploration and new experiences. Careers in the travel and tourism industry, such as tour guides, travel bloggers, or hospitality management, can provide opportunities for constant discovery and adventure.
- Entrepreneurship: HSSs may find fulfillment in starting their own businesses or ventures. The autonomy and freedom of entrepreneurship allow them to create exciting and innovative projects that cater to their own passions and interests.
Can You Be Both HSP and HSS?
Yes—although it’s relatively uncommon. An appearance of both traits may be misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, anxiety, or even ADHD/ADD.
It’s possible that in certain circumstances or in specific individuals, these traits may interact or coexist, but the prevalence and specific patterns of this combination are not yet well-established.
A lack of vitamins (such as D or B12) or a thyroid disorder may also contribute to the anxiousness in HSP or restlessness in HSS. Sometimes, these conditions can be comorbid (i.e. occur simultaneously).
Significant overlap between conditions exist, however, it’s best to consult several psychological professionals before settling on any decision and taking next steps. Various therapy methods such as CBT can help HSP and HSS individuals process their thoughts in a more organized manner.
HSP and HSS: Final Thoughts
Through understanding and education, we can all acknowledge the colorful diversity in behavior and personality. Remember: no one is inherently “wrong” or “broken” as a complex and uniquely talented person.
These traits exist on a spectrum, and each individual may experience and express them in unique ways.
Understanding one’s own sensitivity or sensation-seeking tendencies can provide insight into how individuals process and interact with their environment, as well as their preferences for certain activities, social interactions, or environments.
Both HSP and HSS traits have their unique strengths and challenges and can impact individuals’ experiences, relationships, and overall well-being.
Mcmanus, Helen. (2012). Psychotherapy and the highly sensitive person. Improving outcomes for that minority of people who are the majority of clients. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 12. 1-2. https://doi.org/10.1080/14733145.2012.655955.