Let’s say you have a laptop, with a 16GB memory. And you start saving things; images you took on special occasions, films you’ve downloaded, soundbites you’ve heard and words you’ve written. Every single important piece of your life you add to this memory. At times you receive a notification that an important upgrade is available or that you’re close to exceeding your memory. But in the rush of life you delete these silly little messages. Till one day without any warning your laptop slows down and crashes. And files get displaced or lost entirely.

Processing deeply

That’s almost how it goes for a HSP-brain. It can notice and safe a lot of subtle details and automatically it will process every single one of them on a deep level so it can store it in the right place. Unfortunately there is no filter in what information is stored and processed. Neither can you stop the brain of processing deeply. It is a build-in mechanism which happens unconsciously.

But by adding and adding and processing deeply it can cause an overload of the brain. You’ll feel out of control. And brain wise you are, because the first priority of the system is to block any incoming signals and/or discharge what isn’t necessary.

What do people experience when they get overwhelmed?

Of the 5500 HSP that participated in our research ‘HSP and Work (stress)’, 40% says they get overwhelmed at work each day. For some people this even happens multiple times a day. Another 25% get overwhelmed every two or three days. Only 8% gets overwhelmed once a month or less.

Too many thoughts

The most named complaint is “too many thoughts”, according to 76% of the HSP. When HSP get overwhelmed, 63% say most of these thoughts are negative ones. The same amount of people experiences a form of self-criticism.

Even after a decision is taken, the brain keeps processing information deeply. The (non)verbal reactions of close-ones are taken into evaluation of the decision. HSP have good self-reflecting capacities but this may turn into self-criticism. And self-criticism can turn into ruminating, which is seen as an indicator for burnout. Ruminating also effects the ability to fall asleep. 59% say they can’t sleep well when feeling overwhelmed. Sleep deprivation nowadays is an important cause for burnout on a physical level.


Next on the list is exhaustion, according to 75%. In our first blog we already noted that exhaustion is a symptom of burnout, specifically emotional exhaustion. An aspect of which is being irritable. 66% is irritable when overwhelmed, 63% is feeling down and 45% cries more easily.


The third major complaint is being unable to concentrate (68%). Being overwhelmed has a profound effect on cognitive performance. Besides concentration problems, forgetting things is a huge problem (62%). 42% says they make more mistakes and 40% feels like they perform worse.

Avoid others

The fourth symptom has to do with social interaction. Most HSP want to withdraw when they are overwhelmed (68%). They avoid contact with other people (67%) and they cancel activities (55%). A consequence of the build-in system to block incoming signals. HSP get so many subtle, emotional signals from others that they need to avoid contact to avoid an outburst. Only when feeling balanced can they use their quality to empathise, care and help others. The quality is much less accessible when being overwhelmed.


Effects in the work place

Overwhelming situations have an important effect on (cognitive) performance at work, emotional well-being and social interaction. This should be a reason for employers to improve the work environment, to make sure that HSP can access and use their much needed talents. From our previous blog we’ve learned that negative social interactions and too many tasks at once are the major causes of overstimulation. This can be changed. Interventions aimed at organisation culture and team bonding are known to be effective for productivity and will be profited from by your HSP employers even more.


When not overwhelmed HSP have essential talents for organisations. Talents that aren’t obvious for the other 80% of employees.

When asked what strengths they have, the most named talents by the 5500 HSPs are :

Empathic (85%)

Trustworthy (83%)

Sense of responsibility (83%)

Strong intuition (79%)

Good listener (78%)

Open-minded (76%)

Caring (76%)

Creative thinking (70%)

Attention to detail (70%)

Seeing the big picture (69%)

Sense of humour (65%)


Wouldn’t you want to have employees that can do this naturally? Surely these strengths are worthy of creating a better work environment for HSP.

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