It’s Time We Talked About Your Diet!

Can diet help with anxiety and depression? Absolutely!
You know by now that I am a big advocate for self-care for highly sensitive people but you may not know that I have been moving (personally) toward a different way of eating for years now. This year my yearly checkup showed bloodwork indicating my cholesterol levels were fine but my triglycerides were way elevated (this has been the norm for years) but since I was able to see a difference in my overall cholesterol decreasing I thought that I must be doing some things right (I made some changes last year; namely, reduced intake of grains and sugars). This year (essentially the last two months) I have switched to the Ketogenic way of eating. Before you say “fad!” and tune me out please understand that I don’t do fads nor do I do things lightly.

Since starting a Keto way of eating, which is basically high fat, very low carbs, moderate protein, and no sugars or grains, I have:

-lost 14 pounds (no changes otherwise in lifestyle otherwise)

-experienced better cardiovascular functioning

-much-improved sleep

-less inflammation in my body overall

As we know, getting quality sleep is essential to good mental health. I now sleep much deeper and for a longer period each night before waking to roll over. Before, I was tossing and turning often and never entering really deep sleep; sleeping more deeply and entering such states more easily is a major benefit and HUGE for anyone with depression and/or anxiety.

The other huge change has been in reduced inflammation throughout my body as I ceased consuming sugars and grains. I NEVER would have thought there would be such a pronounced change by just altering the way I eat! I feel as if I have been moving toward a Keto way of eating for years without particularly being aware of it as I cut down on sugars, limited bread consumption, and was more careful about foods but now, by being very explicit about what I’m doing and having seen immediate benefits from it, I am convinced and plan to continue long-term.

Ironically, there is not much that’s special that you need to do to embrace a Keto way of eating. Just change what you eat to some degree (depending on your current diet) and start watching the ingredients in everything you buy. That part is harder but worth the effort to avoid the many hidden sugars and junk added to our food (it’s disheartening how many susbtances that act just like sugar in the body are snuck in on us).

I have nothing to sell you my fellow HSPs, but I do desire that you be well and live as well as you can. The video below by Dr. Berry is a great introduction to the Ketogenic diet (or way of eating). His short videos are great because he bases his comments largely on his empirical experiences and on research (especially metastudies, which, as we know, are studies of studies). Be mindful of other speakers out there espousing views that diverge from the research or that ask you to buy something they happen to produce and sell. Dr. Berry is a medical doctor in family practice in Tennessee seeing patients on a daily basis.

For those of us who experience depression and anxiety, I feel that addressing our diet in a serious way is essential to calming the body and mind.  Isn’t it time as grown adults that we put away the childish food choices that are slowly killing us and exacerbating our depression and anxiety?  To be an adult implies that we make adult choices; no choice could be more important than our health because it is so initmately intertwined with our functioning in the world.

If you need to make changes in your diet I heartily recommend the Ketogenic diet (or way of eating because it is simply the way humans are suited to eat).  Plant based diets may also be workable for those who are opposed to the consumption of meat or dairy.  Whatever you do, consider giving up the highly processed foods, the sugars, the grains, and the carbohydrates and see if it makes a difference in how you feel and experience this life.

Please feel free to share in your social media circles.

(link to basics of Ketogenic Diet presented by Dr. Ken Berry)


Dr. Tracy Cooper is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper provides one on one consulting to HSPs in career crisis or transition through his website at

Follow Your Passion?

I have always felt that saying to people “find your passion” was a bit off in the sense that it seemed to disallow and devalue the exploration process, which I consider essential to real personal growth and development. For we highly sensitive people (and especially those of us who are high sensation seeking highly sensitive people) we tend to move from “fascination” to “fascination.” By fascination I mean we find a topic that really catches our eye then we spend days, weeks, or months utterly absorbed in learning every little detail we possibly can about that topic; then we move on. It’s a bit maddening at times but by learning across a wide variety of domains we acquire intimate knowledge that makes us more well-rounded than the average bear!

What do we do when our passion is not singular; as in what if our passion IS curiosity itself? That might seem wildly impractical because we live in a society that prizes productivity and abhors real creativity (or at least they fear it because it contains uncertainties) but curiosity is the root of creativity, innovation, and the progress of humankind. Without those of us who have found curiosity to be our passion, our world would be much less rich in art, music, inventions, ideas, and concepts. Without curious people who are unafraid to dwell in the liminal spaces “between and betwixt” things new research could not occur, nor could we progress as a species.

This is not to say that there aren’t those seemingly born knowing what they want to do with their lives but far more are likely to find their way over time and through activities like intellectual and creative risk-taking, openness to new experiences, and a willingness to transform and be transformed by our experiences.

I suggest we stop saying to people “find your passion” instead we should say “be passionate in your curiosity and learn many things!”

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is a book I wrote in 2015 to provide all highly sensitive people with a broad look at the all critical Cover Thriveissue of career.  We already know what it means to be a highly sensitive person if we look at the four key aspects, as identified by clinical psychologist and researcher, Dr. Elaine AronDr. Elaine Aron:

Depth of processing of all experience and stimulation – we process everything that happens in a more elaborate way in our minds.

Overstimulation to certain, highly individualized types of stimulation – some HSPs feel overstimulated/irritated by certain noises, smells, types of fabrics, social situations.  It is crucial here to note that we must refrain from homogenizing all HSPs as one group.  What bothers one may not register with another as an issue.  Some HSPs have largely learned to ignore overstimulation in fact.

Emotional responsiveness and High empathy – highly sensitive people have a broader possible range of emotional expression than in those without the trait.  This more expansive range is akin to looking at a rainbow after a storm where we typically see red, blue, green, yellow, maybe some violet; with HSPs the colors of our emotional range include every variation in between: red-violet, blue-violet, yellow, orange, red-orange, etc. Because of this greater possible range of emotions, we typically spend much more time processing those emotions, which are often intense emotions meaning we also spend a goo deal of time in self-care and boundary setting/monitoring to avoid overstimulation.  Highly sensitive people are also typically high in empathy, meaning we may readily enter the experiences of other people and see the world from their viewpoints.  Again, it is essential to not lump all HSPs together as a supremely empathetic group of saints and healers; there are HSPs who may be quite dysfunctional, angry, violent, and manipulative.  By acknowledging that we HSPs comprise a cross-section of vastly differing types of people we allow for that diversity to exist and resist the all too human urge/need to group what we perceive as like things together, when, in fact, they are only somewhat alike.

Sensitivity to subtleties – highly sensitive people tend to pick up on subtle details others overlook or miss entirely.  One study found that those with Sensory Processing Sensitivity spent more time studying visual scenes when asked to examine photos.  We are also, obviously, more sensitive to smells, sounds, and energetic forces around us.  However, this does not mean HSPs have “super” anything; we simply process the stimulation of a subtle smell more elaborately and with greater emotional activation.  Historically, this may have had great benefit; simply imagine being able to pick up on a slight foul odor from food a group was about to eat, or a slight rustle in the leaves could have indicated a predator about (four and two legged).  Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a personality trait (like all traits) that developed as a result of a need for such a trait in survival circumstances.

A trait need not have provided a vast advantage to remain in the genome; simply a slight advantage in terms of survival and reproduction would have worked well enough to cause it to pass down in the population.  On average, if SPS provided a survival advantage it simply continued.  The process of natural selection, in its sieving process, would have retained SPS as a useful trait.  SPS is till around today (in fact, Sensory Processing Sensitivity has been with us for perhaps a million years or more) because we still face dangers of all types and SPS still provides that advantage, though now its utility to groups is less evident since our society is so highly individualized and dominated by a preference for extreme extraversion.  Those who are capable of thinking more deeply; who are creative (capable of generating alternatives, options, and divergent possibilities and directions); and who are meticulous in planning and execution are, ironically, less valued, in many circumstances than they perhaps should be.  This situation is no more evident than in the workplace, where we spend such a great deal of our time, energy, and life force.

The titanic task of evaluating and explicating the modern workplace and how highly sensitive people experience it was the focus of the study underpinning Thrive.  Through following strict research protocols and semi-structured interviews, I was able to glean the experiences of a sample of our population.  When conducting interviews there is a point that arises where the people being interviewed begin to repeat themselves.  Once the point happens (and this line is different in every study) where they are basically saying similar things the researcher knows he has reached a saturation point.  That number was 35 in this particular study.  Some people less familiar with the way scientific research is conducted might say,” why not interview 500 people?”  That’s not how research is done; at some point we have our representative sample, and typically a wealth of information to work with, and must move on to analysis and interpretation.  Thrive, however, goes farther than one study; it also contains the results of a large survey given to HSPs numbering over 1,500 people.  In that survey, people were asked questions derived from the interviews to better understand if what I had been told in the interviews applied across a wider range of random HSPs.  I also took the opportunity to have HSPs take a sensation seeking questionnaire to determine how many high sensation seekers were in the group of survey-takers.  This was of special interest (and could have skewed the results) if a disproportionate number of high sensation seekers were also the survey-takers.  As it turns out, the number was about roughly the same as was previously surmised (about one third).

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and CareerThrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career examines the issue of work and career from many angles (as you might expect being written by an HSP).  Perhaps that is what separates Thrive from other books and articles written on the topic of career; it is a book written for HSPs by an HSP.  My experiences with career and the workplace have been varied and always deeply impacted by my sensitivity.  My journey to find greater meaning in a career, greater autonomy, working conditions that are conducive to allowing me to function at my best, and work that meshed with my need to be a servant-leader all propelled the writing of Thrive.

You might expect such a book to be filled with ultimate answers to your dilemma regarding career but, in truth, the best any researcher or author can hope for is to shine the light of illumination on the subject, thereby enabling you to forge ahead on your unique path.  I do not know what the best answer is for your career issues because each of us is quite different.  If I were to talk with you for an hour and learn about your life, goals, and passions, I would have a good idea about specific recommendations but not knowing that information authors must write in certain general terms and trust that deep-thinking HSPs will reflect on the information presented in service to their current situations.  I do provide one on one consulting to HSPs regarding career, and regarding the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person ( but Thrive is a very good broad-based survey of the topic of HSPs and career that anyone seriously interested in understanding the myriad of issues HSPs face with regards to career will find useful and informative.

Thrive is something else too: it is flexible and will be updated about every five years to address the changing economy and workforce.  Thrive is a commitment by me to continue learning, studying, and researching so I can bring you the best possible advice for that time period.  Unlike traditional books by traditional publishers where books are written for sensational value (to get you to buy a lot of copies in a short time) Thrive is fully integrated with a number of print on demand platforms where copies are only produced as customers buy them.  In this way, I am not out to sell a million copies all at once; I can patiently allow Thrive to make its way throughout the HSP communities on social media and otherwise through word of mouth.

One buys a book of this nature, and with the long-term vision of its author, because it will be a valuable asset to an overall library of material related to Sensory Processing Sensitivity.  As lifelong learners (and I very much believe that is what we HSPs best embody), we will have many books on our bookshelves.  Few are the type of sensationalism, poor science, or outright “fluff” that fill too many books aimed at HSPs.  Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is one book you will read and reread over the years as you reflect on the narratives presented, the scientific data, and the opportunities for greater self-awareness and action in the world contained in its covers.

Tracy Cooper, Ph.D., is an author, researcher, and higher education professional.  His website may be found at where you may purchase Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, a second book: Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, view his ever-changing blog, or book time for a one on one consulting session for personalized guidance on your unique path in life.  Dr. Cooper also appeared in the documentary for HSPs: Sensitive-The Untold Story

Are you an Existentialist?

Existentialism has always been the underlying epistemological, ontological, and teleological underpinning for my life. Not fitting in with the herd has never been easy but it has been quite necessary in my case, how about you?

Dodson presents the following list of ways to live more existentially which I feel are very much in line with how we HSPs experience life:

10) question what you’ve been told
9) start relating to the big picture
8) honor life’s difficult experiences
7) lay claim to your power in life
6) see how free you can be
5) learn to live with passion
4) inhabit the present moment
3) recover the ability to play
2) build responsible community
1) remember that you’re born to a bold, brilliant, terrifying universe

You might also wish to check out the full video on Existentialism below (it’s fascinating I promise) as a way of being that embraces complexity, compassion, humility, and a ludic viewpoint as a counterpoint to the oh-so-serious world and its concerns. Many more fascinating short videos by Dodson on the same site.


Emotions in Charge?

Do you experience strong, quick emotions that override your rational thought processes?  Of course you do if you are a highly sensitive person; that’s how Sensory Processing Sensitvity works!  What can we do to develop greater awareness and control of our emotions and their effects on our critical thinking abilities?  In the following article by Benard Golden, PhD,  learn more about how we resort to using “child logic” when we allow our emotions to dominate our thinking.

The Power of Emotions to Override Rational Thought

Fuel for destructive anger

Benard Golden, Ph.D.

How is it that you fully know not everyone drives with caution and consideration, but you still expect them to do so? How come you still expect your spouse to be frugal when shopping, even though ten years of history together tells you otherwise? And, what causes you to rigidly expect perfection from yourself, when being human means we make mistakes, have weaknesses and suffer.

The answer to each of these questions lies in “child logic”–a term that I have coined to describe logic that is hijacked by emotion. I use this term without any attempt at disparagement. Rather, it emphasizes that regardless of age or intelligence, we at times engage in magical thinking associated with earlier development. Such logic fuels unrealistic expectations and heightens the potential for destructive anger. It’s as if the emotional brain and the rational brain are not effectively communicating with each other. Whether emotions override logic or the rational brain is ill prepared to correct the surge of emotion. The result is impaired judgment.

As someone who has spent years studying anger and helping people constructively manage it, I’ve seen the destructive impact of expectations sustained by such reasoning. All of us are guilty of this mental distortion, some more than others.

Anger stems from feeling threat and some form of inner pain, such as fear, anxiety, shame, hopelessness and powerlessness. It’s understandable that we might have some degree of irritation aroused by that driver who abruptly cuts us off. Similarly, we may feel our financial security threatened by our partner’s lack of frugality. And certainly, we may be disappointed with ourselves when we fail to achieve our goals. But the inability to be realistic in our expectations makes all the difference between having feelings such as disappointment and sadness, and experiencing intense anger.

All too often, child-logic infuses our expectations with emotions rooted in our wishes and hopes, insufficiently tamed by the facts of reality. It is child logic that supports beliefs such as: “Life should be fair”–when “Life just is”; that good efforts should always yield rewards–when they sometimes don’t; and that we should be able to control all aspects of our lives. In effect, it is child logic that may at times convince us we should always get what we want, that others should act as we believe they should, and that we should not have to suffer–even though all of us suffer.

Bernard Golden
Source: Bernard Golden

The impact of child logic is similarly prevalent in the current electoral cycle. Individuals in each party exhibit intense anger and resentment toward opposing candidates. Additionally, others experience anger toward the candidate selected by their own party. There are certainly valid reasons for the electorate to experience anger with regard to income inequality, racial injustice, threats of terrorism and deficiencies in government. Understandably these events create a sense of threat and other forms of inner anguish that might include fear, anxiety, powerlessness and hopelessness.  However, rigidly maintaining unrealistic expectations only intensifies the potential for destructive anger–when they are not satisfied.

Unwittingly, like partners in a marriage that has soured, many people are challenged to look beyond their own immediate interests. The intensity of anger and how it is expressed rests, in part, on the fact that some of the electorate know compromise is essential for a democracy–yet feel it shouldn’t be the case. And yet, maintaining this expectation is inconsistent with a functioning democratic government.

Letting go of unrealistic expectations doesn’t mean the passive acceptance of what is. It may involve recognizing that certain expectations are aspirational rather than attainable. Or, letting go can free us to consider alternative strategies for increasing the likelihood of their satisfaction.

Developing more realistic expectations in our daily lives calls for pausing for reflection. It necessitates being aware of when we are too rigidly holding on to them in spite of a reality that reminds us they cannot be satisfied. It requires that we distinguish between what we really need and what we desire. And, all too often, it demands awareness of how anger can interfere with the willingness to engage in such reflection.

The capacity to recognize when child logic influences our expectations is essential for developing resilience, a key component of well-being. Resilience is a strength that allows us to bounce back from adverse consequences.  It consists of recognizing when our expectations are overly influenced by hopes and wishes. Resilience very much depends on the flexibility of thought to let go of certain expectations, when we recognize we have no control over satisfying them. Certainly, this is not always an easy task. It involves grieving and mourning, dealing with a sense of loss that often moves us to sadness and disappointment instead of anger.

Some suggest that not having expectations is the only way to avoid disappointment. However, this attitude seems to be both pessimistic and a denial of a very human tendency. Rather, the real threat posed by maintaining expectations is when we cling to them and when they are overly influenced by child logic. The challenge for each of us is to be mindful when this occurs, as these two conditions form the bedrock of destructive anger.

About the Author

Open Office Plans

Open office plans are a nightmare for highly sensitive people. If it’s not the constant chatter of co-workers, it’s the lack of private personal space where one can think. Too often in such circumstances, we lose focus and concentration and end up struggling to stay awake and simply get through one more day. Have you worked in such situations? I have and found them to be draining and irritating. That being said, most HSPs seem to prefer a balance of office time versus working from home (or other space) time. For me, the ideal arrangement might be 2-3 days in the office (not an open office plan) and 2-3 days of working from home (or other space). How about you? What’s the most sustainable office arrangement for you?

The following article certainly speaks to a timely subject:

(original link:

Open plan offices can make you MISERABLE: Seeing colleagues all day leads to distraction and irritation, say scientists

  • Open plan office workers have low levels of job satisfaction
  • In open plan offices people find it hard to have meaningful conversations   
  • Workers are also more often distracted and less productive when sharing space

If you hate your job, the layout of your office may be to blame.

New research has found that, far from creating an cooperative environment, open plan offices can make employees miserable.

The study found that staff that work in an open environment are distracted, irritated and find it difficult to have a good conversation with colleagues.

Previous research has also claimed that office workers are more easily distracted when they share space with others.

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Open plan offices designed to foster cooperation between colleagues may be bad for business and could soon become a thing of the past. Rather than boosting productivity, the range of distractions they provide means employees are interrupted every three minutes

The study was carried out by researchers from the CTF, Service Research Centre at Karlstad University in Sweden.

They looked at the link between the type of office and the satisfaction levels of staff.

Dr Tobias Otterbring, lead author of the study, said: ‘The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction.

The researchers looked at two factors in office workers – ease of interaction with their peers and general well-being.

The study found that employees working in small (3-9 people) and medium-sized  (10-20 people) open plan offices reported lower levels of both of these aspects than individuals who work in a different type of office.

‘The open plan offices may have short-term financial benefits, but these benefits may be substantially lower than the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction and well-being.

‘Therefore, decision-makers should consider the impact of a given office type on employees rather than focusing solely on cost-effective office layout, flexibility, and productivity,’ Dr Otterbring added.

Dr Nicole Millard believes socialising and teamwork will still be a necessary part of work in the future. But we may have to reconsider what we view as an office space, with coffee shops and hotel lobbies all potential meeting places for small teams to get work done

Dr Nicole Millard believes socialising and teamwork will still be a necessary part of work in the future. But we may have to reconsider what we view as an office space, with coffee shops and hotel lobbies all potential meeting places for small teams to get work done

As well as lower levels of job satisfaction, open plan office workers are interrupted every three minutes, a futurologist has claimed.

This is according to Dr Nicole Millard, who specialises in data, analytics and emerging technology at BT.

She believes large offices are inefficient and predicts they will die out, according to reports in The Telegraph.

They are particularly damaging for introverted employees, who prefer to work uninterrupted and who may clam up in crowds.

For the ethos behind open plan offices to work, boosting morale and encouraging teamwork, staff need to be sat close to the people they regularly collaborate with.


Dr Nicole Millard believes inundation with emails, meetings and other interactions with colleagues are among the chief causes of distraction in large offices.

This can lead to ‘task-switching’, which often results in work being overlooked or forgotten.

One sign of this is when you shut down your computer at the end of the day and find unclosed windows or unsent emails you didn’t get around to, because you were interrupted.

So does this spell the end for all office based jobs?

Dr Millard believes not, as socialising and teamwork will still be a necessary part of work in the future.

However, we may have to reconsider what we view as an office space.

The offices, or ‘coffices’ of the future could be a coffee shop or a hotel lobby, where small teams of workers can meet up to get work done.

But the futurologists says research has shown that social awkwardness can kick in if people are crammed too close together.

Dr Millard said: ‘The trouble with open plan offices is they are a one-size-fits-all model which actually fits nobody.

‘We’re interrupted every three minutes. It takes us between eight and 20 minutes to get back into that thought process.

‘So we will become shoulder bag workers. Our technology has shrunk so we can literally get our office in a small bag.

‘We are untethered, we don’t have to have a desk anymore.’

Dr Millard believes inundation with emails, meetings and other interactions with colleagues are among the chief causes of distraction.

This can lead to ‘task-switching’, which often results in work being overlooked or forgotten.

One sign of this is when you shut down your computer at the end of the day and find unclosed windows or unsent emails you didn’t get around to, because you were interrupted.

So does this spell the end for all office based jobs?

Dr Millard believes not, as socialising and teamwork will still be a necessary part of work in the future.

However, we may have to reconsider what we view as an office space.

She added: ‘We need a balance between we and me.

‘We need to give people options of how they can work, such as home working.

‘But I do go a tiny bit nuts if I am just at home, so I think we will start to embrace ‘the coffice’.

‘I need good coffee, connectivity, cake, my WiFi wings to fly me into the cloud.

‘I like company. The ‘coffice’ could be a coffee shop or a hotel lobby.’

The latest study was recently published in Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. 

Bored to Death?

Do you find yourself bored in situations most people find tolerable?  Is your sense of20689924_1921267438131271_804651378792563368_o boredom so profound as to be physically painful?  Does your boredom propel you forward just to stay ahead of it?  It is well known that boredom susceptibility is a key aspect of sensation seeking, but what is less well-known is how boredom plays out in the lives of highly sensiitve people, or people with the personality trait Sensory Processing Sensitivity.

Highly sensitive people may find themselves in a state of boredom but be able to retreat into their own deep minds and so tolerate what to others might seem intolerable.  Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, described how the people who were most able to withstand deprivation in the Nazi concentration camps in WW2 where he was imprisoned, were the people who had the ability to reteat into their own minds.  Solitude may be the least preferable thing to many people who lack the ability to “entertain themselves,” but for many HSPs solitude may be a welcome respite from an overstimulating world full of irritating noises, irritating people, or other stimulation that surely wears down one’s daily energy.  Solitude (and quiet) may seem incredibly boring to many people but we need to look at how our society has changed in recent decades to deemphasize having and cultivating an inner life in favor of external stimulation all of the time.  From smart phones to tablets to streaming movies and television everywhere all the time, there seems to be little reason to even think we humans have an inner life.  Yet, having an inner life where one is able to freely reflect on one’s life, brainstorm new ideas, and simply rest the mind are even more essential today than in the past (for the above reasons).

For the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person there is a dual dichotomy here: we simultaneously embody deep-mindedness where retreat into an inner world is possible (sometimes preferable), yet we desperately seek to avoid boredom!  Boredom has been described as one of the most significant issues for HSS/HSPs in all of my research.  And whereas the HSP may be content enough to withdraw into their thoughts in a boring situation the HSS/HSP might find it physically painful if the boredom is especially prevalent.  Physically painful you might ask? How can boredom be experienced in one’s body?  Boredom may represent a feeling of being restrained or confined with a commiserate need to “escape” or mitigate the buildup of these energetic feelings in the body.  In the article below, sensation seekers are described as more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors or potentially harmful experiences like drug taking or alcohol use to sort of fill in the blank times.  This is certainly a possibility but for the HSS/HSP the sensitive part is likely to object to non-conscientious behavior or unethical indulgences that may negatively stimulate the person.

The contradictions inherent in the high sensation seeking highly sensiitve person are many and we often experience competing “pulls” from both sides of ourselves.  One side may well wish to seek out new experiences just for the sake of doing it, while the rother would be happier to read a book quietly.  Too often, the sensation seeking wins out and overhwelms the sensitive part resulting in emotional burnout.  The risk of burnout is high for HSS/HSPs and represents an aspect of embodying both traits that goes underserved by many.  Just as we need to experience novelty, new experiences, even thrills at times, we also need quiet, time to think and recharge, and time to reflect, listen, and absorb.  In order to realize our potential in both traits we need to honor and respect both traits and the needs of both in ways that prevent one from becoming overwhelmed or ignored.

It is also up to each of us to find appropriate ways to develop deep self-awareness of both traits and how they impact our lives and the lives of those around us.  It certainly can be confusing for those in our lives who are not highly sensitive to understand or appreciate why we need to withdraw from an energetic situation, why we prefer the quiet corner in the restaurant, or why we feel irritated at certain smells, noises or textures.  Noticing things more has its downside!  Understanding how to explain that to someone without the trait can be difficult and I suggest you don’t need to.  You have certain needs and preferences and the people in your life will either accept that you pay attention to those needs or they won’t.  It is also likely that you spend more time trying to understand other people’s behaviors than they ever spent on yours.  Factor in sensation seeking and it is quite a different picture.

People are far more likley to understand and accept sensation seeking as “normal” because our culture seems to be built on it!  They’ll have no problem at all if you want to thrill-seek or go to a party.  They will also not raise an eyebrow if you indulge your disinhibition and do something you’ve never done before; it’s in the culture and is almost an expectation (especially if you are a male).  How sensation plays out for us may be somewhat different because we also embody sensitivity, which may hold us back from taking too much risk or engaging in clearly dangerous or illegal activities.  In that sense, we have a secret “advisor” always counseling us to “think it over first.”  Whether we listen to our inner advisor is variable.  Perhaps some people simply have not had their actions result in sufficient consequences to learn to value its advice.  In time you will…

Boredom represents an extremely powerful force in the lives of HSS/HSPs that constantly threatens us with feeling tension in our bodies.  It’s an unpleasant feeling and though at times we may be perfectly comfortable with our sensitive side’s ability to live inside our own minds, at other times it impels us to leave a job, leave a relationship, or swap up our environments.  Boredom susceptibility, according to Dr. Marvin Zuckerman (originator of the sensation seeking trait) is the aspect of the trait that remains with us into old age.  That may not be what we wish to hear but it is imperative that we develop a familiarity and willingess to have an inner world we can retreat to at times because there will be circumstances and situations where we must overrule our sensation seeking to achieve a goal, to manage people, or to complete a task.  In that regard, the need to institute a self-care practice as a lifelong endeavor is crucial to our success, happiness, and well-being.  Being able to be present with a feeling without necessarily taking action on it requires that we practice, practice, practice.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) boredom is ever-present so our chances to practice may be many.

In a world that has devalued the inner life we have an opportunity to demonstrate intentional consciousness in the way we deal with our boredom.  If we escape to the world of external stimulation solely we downplay the worth and value of a whole other half of ourselves.  Mastering the challenge of boredom is not easy, nor will we always react in the same way, indeed, we should acknowledge that we will likely react differently in varying situations.  Overall, on average, we should seek to master our own impulses and drives so we can realize our full potential and value in the world.

Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is the author of Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  His website may be found at


The best introduction to highly sensitive people

Have you visited social media lately and noted the large number of people posting on HSP-related pages espousing all sorts of faulty connections between Sensory Processing Sensitivity and, well, everything under the sun?  Curiously, many of those people freely admit they have never read any of the well-researched and well-written books exploring highly sensitive people.  How can we reasonably expect to gain any significant growth or self-awareness if we do not ground ourselves in the scientific literature?  It is very interesting to consider that highly sensitive people may well have a broader possible range of behaviors than in those without the trait, but possible does not mean probable or actual.

We HSPs are just as susceptible to poor thinking as anyone else.  We are neither superior nor inferior to anyone else: just slightly different.  It is imperative that, if we care about basing our thinking on reliable information, we seek out the best sources possible.  Sensitive-The Untold Story is a documentary film created just for highly sensitive people, but everyone is welcome to watch, of course.  In our fast-paced society I highly recommend taking the time out of your busy day and viewing this wonderfully well-done and entertaining film.  There is no quicker way to gain a deep grounding in what it means to be a highly sensitive person than to simply view this film.  Afterwards, you might wish to read some of the great books that researchers have written to further deepen your understanding and appreciation of this personality trait.  I have written two books:

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Coming to know Sensory Processing Sensitivity is no easy task.  You will need to read, reflect, and think about how this trait has influenced your life and the lives of those in your social circle.  Though you may initially latch onto some tidbit of illumination I urge you to resist the human tendency to homgenize an entire group of over a billion people into one narrow box.  We HSPs and HSS/HSPs are a fantastically mixed segment of the human population.  Those who say they know us are only fooling themselves because we are as varied as grains of sand on a beach.  Come to a knowing of what it means to be a highly sensiitve person by association.  Get to know yourself, or the HSPs in your life slowly, we are worth the time…


Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person


Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person is a book I wrote to fill a need for authoritative information explaining the intersection of the two personality traits Sensation Seeking and Sensory Processing Sensitivity.  Feeling as if I have been simultaneously pulled toward novelty, new experiences, and a certain amount of thrill and adventure seeking, I was forced to reconcile my twin need for quiet, time to think and absorb, balance empathy, creativity, and my need to avoid certain unpleasantly stimulating situations with the realities of life.  I also had to contend with a powerful sense of boredom that could set in so profoundly I could feel it in my bones.

Having no reference frame work to look to for guidance – other than scant coverage in some articles – I resolved to write Thrill as a go-to book that others may look to for the guidance and insights I could not find.  We needed a book…

Sensation seeking has been an identified personality trait for decades with psychologist Marvin Zuckerman, conducting much of the research publishing books and articles throughout his career.  Over the past four decades Zuckerman has looked at how sensation seeking is related to thrill seeking and risky behaviors, drug and alcohol addictions (indeed addictions of many kinds), smoking, drinking, sex, crime and antisocial behavior, and delinquency.  Sensation seeking drives many people to do incredible things in life to satisfy the need for the “rush” of sensation that comes from the release of dopamine in the pleasure pathway in the brain.  Zuckerman has also looked at the genetic basis for the trait and established that there are likely one or more genes that determine its expression, moderated by the environment.  Sensation seeking, however, had not been looked at in the context of intersecting with a seemingly opposite trait (sensory processing sensitivity).  For those of us who have felt the push-pull dynamic of sensation seeking combined with sensory processing sensitivity life can be confusing and contradictory to say the least.  As I began to contemplate writing a book I knew that my experiences as a sensitive sensation seeker (my shortened phrase) would not be enough I would need to interview many people to determine what their experiences had been and consider the big picture.

I began the study by conducting interviews with 35 sensitive sensation seekers.  I recruited study participants from several social media sources and through word of mouth.  I asked all participants to take two self-assessments to ensure they were good candidates for the study.  Typically, males scored higher in sensation seeking and somewhat lower in sensitivity (likely due to cultural bias) and females scored higher in sensitivity and lower in sensation seeking (cultural bias again).  There were outliers: some males did score at the high end of sensitivity and some females did score at the high end of sensation seeking.  I was continually fascinated by the descriptions people provided, during our interviews, of the kinds of things they had done throughout their lives from wild seat-of-the-pants thrill seeking to disinhibited sexual experiences.  Surely sensitives wouldn’t do any of this right?  Wrong!  In fact, the more I learned about the experiences of other sensitive sensation seekers the more I came to appreciate the element of disinhibition, which can be thought of as throwing caution to the wind and doing it anyway.  Disinhibition is not the same as impulsivity, rather it is a conscious choice to do something “naughty.”  Again, sensation seeking is about the “rush” we derive from novelty and new experiences, we don’t get the same rush from constantly avoiding sensation or risk.   The dichotomous part is the constant interplay between wanting to do something while feeling a strong cautionary urge to think it over first, or to feel an invisible leash holding us back.

Researchers decide how many people to interview by paying careful attention to when people begin to repeat themselves.  When we no longer hear anything new we know we have reached a point of saturation.  For me, that number was 35; the study could have certainly continued and I would have, no doubt, been fascinated by additional stories, but there was a book to write.  At some point in every study, and that number could be 35, 75, or 105, one must move on to compiling data and analyzing what we’ve gathered.  Choosing what needs to go into a book is always a lengthy process of reflecting on the data after we have sorted things into categories and arrived at themes.  The themes help, such as self-care, childhood, career, or so on, but there are always smaller points that add to the inherent interest-level of a book.  Readers want to read something interesting after all, not an esoteric book full of academic language.  I wrote Thrill in a comparable way to how I wrote Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career: as a logical progression from childhood to career, relationships, and a broader societal picture.

Thrill begins with a primer of sorts because I felt we needed to provide some background information detailing what personality traits are, how they were developed, and their genetic basis in evolutionary history.  I hoped the primer chapter would serve to orient readers toward an appreciation of sensation seeking and sensitivity as normal personality traits that have been with the human species for a very long time.  Too often people seem to believe that traits just popped up recently or that they exist in a vacuum.  In fact, personality traits have been around as long as we have been around and they persist simply because nothing better has come along to replace them.  I hoped readers would understand this primer as a basis for reading the rest of the book and frame their reading in that context.

Each chapter of Thrill is thematic, meaning each one explores a category of related aspects.

Chapter 1 – Personality Traits

Chapter 2 – Childhood

Chapter 3 – Career

Chapter 4 – Relationships

Chapter 5 – Self-Care

Chapter 6 – Risky Behaviors and the Sensitive Sensation Seeker

Chapter 7 – The Creative Force Within

Chapter 8 – Living in Community

Chapter 9 – The Talking Stick

Each chapter is chock full of quotes from sensitive sensation seekers in the study, along with supporting information that helps provide insights into how we have lived our lives from various angles (childhood, career, relationships, etc.).  With all of the descriptions of push-pull regarding sensitivity and sensation seeking I felt a need to form some sort of context for it all, some way to provide a pathway that values both traits.  I chose a theory called the Theory of Positive Disintegration by Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski, which is a theory of human motivation, to inform the complex journey we are on.  Dabrowski is well-known in the gifted child community and his theory has been widely applied in that regard.  I felt that Positive Disintegration held much value in explaining my life and the difficulties I have encountered and began to appreciate the power of Dabrowski’s theory the more I spoke with other sensitive sensation seekers.

Chapter 7 of Thrill is one I am especially proud of.  I knew it would be mysterious material to many people, but if I cannot stimulate readers to think and discover new territory for themselves my work is of no use.  I want readers to think and think well; that happens through pushing ourselves to grow and discover our potential.  Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration may hold some fascinating answers and insights into the muddled, sometimes confusing, and/or maddening, sense of exasperated potential many of us experience in a world set up for the mundane exploitation of ordinary people.  In no way am I implying that sensitive sensation seekers are gifted; in fact, to the contrary, most are creative, curious, driven individuals with a need to stay ahead of boredom in their lives.  Positive Disintegration privileges the role that disintegrative experiences play in our overall development as human beings.  We move from lower versions of ourselves to higher versions propelled by inner dynamisms which are likely present in many to most sensitive sensation seekers to one degree or another.

Thrill contains many great chapters that sensitives and sensitive sensation seekers will find informative.  We are all sensation seekers to one degree or another and will find application for much of the material in Thrill.  The high sensation seeker, however, goes beyond the ordinary and may seek out the unusual thrill.  For them, I wrote chapter 6 on risky behaviors because the “push” I spoke of earlier is one half of the push-pull paradigm we sensitive sensation seekers experience in life.  The push to seek out thrills, both socially approved of and otherwise, is part and parcel of being at the high end of sensation seeking.  Zuckerman has said that a healthy expression of sensation seeking is at more of a moderate level where we don’t take undue risks or engage in activities that may be illegal, immoral, or hurtful to others.  I include chapter 6 as a discussion meant for all of us for whom the notion of a “fragile” sensitivity simply does not describe us.  I am deeply opposed to the ongoing homogenization of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and HSPs as crybabies, fragile wallflowers, or as profoundly introverted, unsuccessful individuals.  Of all of the people I have interviewed for books, articles, and whom I have consulted with the notion of sensitivity as a mental illness has not factored prominently.  Societal non-acceptance of difference has factored prominently, however, and I continually advocate for people to live out the fullest realization of who they are in the best way they can given their circumstances.  You might be surprised to learn that many of the people I have interviewed are very successful people in the world holding leadership roles across the gamut of possibilities.  There are challenges, of course, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Lastly, I provided a final chapter filled with stories from sensitive sensation seekers in the study because I love stories.  We all love stories; they connect us to real human experiences we can identify with and learn from.  Some are very poignant stories of struggle and heartbreak as the challenge of sensation seeking ground them to a halt in life and forced them to commit to a higher path of self-improvement and self-mastery.  I am sure you will be impressed and interested to enter the lives of fellow sensitive sensation seekers for a few moments as they graciously share with us something of their experiences.  I found the writing of Thrill to be cathartic in some ways, inspirational in other ways, and ultimately satisfying as I knew the book would help many other sensitive sensation seekers come to a deeper sense of who they are and who they might be.  So many of us are too caught up in our lives to take a moment to reflect on the context we live in, but Thrill is that brief respite in which we can be among fellow sensitive sensation seekers and revel in the knowing that we are not alone.  The journey continues…

Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper appeared in the documentary film Sensitive – The Untold Story and provides consulting services through his website at


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