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Why are highly sensitive people more likely to burn out?

highly sensitive and emotional person exploring the desert

We all know that some people are more emotionally sensitive than others. But did you know that there’s a dedicated psychological term for it? A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a neurodivergent individual characterized by heightened emotional sensitivity, deep empathy, and increased awareness of their surroundings. High sensitivity isn’t a mental health disorder; rather, it is a fairly common personality trait, seen in 20% to 30% of the population.

Highly sensitive individuals possess developed intuition and are generally better at understanding others than neurotypical persons. However, emotional sensitivity also predisposes to challenges such as burnout, perfectionism, internalized shame, feelings of being out of place, and heightened stress responses. 

How do you know if you're a highly sensitive person?

Many highly sensitive people have been told that they are ‘too sensitive,’ ‘take things too seriously,’ or have a tendency to ‘think too much.’ Here are more characteristics listed by the researchers who identified this personality trait:

  • A rich and complex inner life, complete with deep thoughts and strong feelings.
  • A dislike for violent movies or TV shows because they feel too intense.
  • Being deeply moved by beauty, whether it’s expressed in art, nature, or the human spirit.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by sensory stimuli like noisy crowds, bright lights, or uncomfortable clothing.
  • A need for downtime (not just a preference), especially after hectic days.

American psychologist Dr. Elaine N. Aron has developed a personality questionnaire designed to help people identify themselves.

The link between emotional sensitivity and burnout

Burnout is classified as mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by chronic stress. This state occurs when one’s nervous system spends too much time in the stress response and very little in the rest and relaxation state. If you would like to learn more about your unique stress response type, check out our previous blog. The most obvious symptoms of burnout are emotional numbness, fatigue, cynicism, apathy, anxiety and headaches.

Highly sensitive individuals are more likely to experience burnout because they pick up more emotional and sensory information on a daily basis. They feel others’ emotions more deeply, pay close attention to social cues, and sometimes have difficulty saying ‘no’ due to high empathy. They have a strong desire to help those around them, which can be emotionally draining.

Sensory overstimulation, along with a desire to put others’ needs above their own, may lead to chronic stress and burnout.

However, this doesn’t mean that all highly sensitive individuals are going to burn out; it just means they need to be more mindful of when they’re feeling overstimulated. There are effective tools and techniques available to help sensitive individuals regain their calm.

Strategies for preventing burnout

Learning the language

Learning about the HSPs can help in providing the language and explanation for understanding one’s own experiences and feelings. When highly sensitive people recognize and label their traits accurately, it empowers them to better communicate their needs and boundaries to others. 

Setting boundaries

Highly sensitive individuals must learn to establish both internal and external boundaries to protect their mental well-being. Practices such as mindfulness can be helpful in recognizing emotional states and stopping from over-identification with the feelings of others. External boundaries involve declining additional responsibilities or ensuring regular breaks.

Working with one’s nervous system

Practices that help shift from a stress response to a relaxation response are beneficial to highly sensitive individuals. These include grounding techniques, breathwork, and other exercises that focus on bodily sensations and movements. By utilizing these techniques one can redirect their focus away from overwhelming stimuli and stop stress from escalating into burnout.

Deep self-care practices 

Unlike simple self-care, which might involve spa, skincare or shopping, deep self-care replenishes energy at a fundamental level. Activities such as exercise, nature walks, creative pursuits, and therapy can offer profound relief and restoration. These practices help one reconnect with themselves, facilitating a sense of inner peace.


Self-acceptance is an important aspect of mental and emotional well-being. It involves recognizing and embracing one’s emotional nature, including the deep sensitivity to various stimuli. For highly sensitive people, self-acceptance means acknowledging that their heightened emotional responses and sensitivity are not flaws, but rather integral part of their identity.

Final thoughts

High emotional sensitivity is not a flaw or a weakness; it’s a strength that needs to be cared for appropriately. By taking the time to understand and implement these self-care strategies, highly sensitive individuals can not only prevent burnout but also thrive in ways they might not have imagined. This personality trait offers a unique perspective and depth of feeling that can be incredibly enriching and valuable in many contexts. The key is to navigate this experiences in a way that honors biological nature while also protecting mental well-being. 

If you are an employer and would like to support your employees’ mental health, do not hesitate to book a demo call with our expert team.