The Emotional Brain of the Highly Sensitive Person


To put it simply, there are two parts in our brains: the emotional/ irrational brain (limbic system) and the thinking/rational brain (cognitive brain).

When our emotional brains are activated, our thinking brains basically go to sleep. This sets up a system that prepares our brains for the flight-or-fight response, which is meant to protect us. Research shows that most HSPs spend more time in the limbic system (emotional brain) than non-HSPs.

We usually experience the following symptoms when we are in our limbic systems:

  • Feelings of anxiety

  • Activated fight-or-flight response (wanting to run away, hide, or fight)

  • An “icky” internal feeling

  • Irrational emotional messages that feel real in the moment

  • Adrenaline surges that cause a racing heart and shaky feeling

  • Increased sensitivity and emotional reactions.

  • Difficulty thinking clearly, focusing, and concentrating

  • Inability to access memories or take in new information

  • Increased agitation, irritation, or anger

  • Feelings of panic

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Stomachaches, headaches, and sleeplessness

    When we experience symptoms of anxiety, for example, our brains are responding to the fact that it believes we are in real danger. It feels awful, affecting every aspect of our lives, causing us to lose sleep, feel overwhelmed, or to experience physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches.

People in our lives who witness us experiencing these symptoms might mean well by telling us that everything is fine, but it can be almost impossible to believe when we are stuck in our limbic system; our brains just won’t allow us to feel okay. Instead, our brain responds to a stressor exactly the way it would if we were actually in danger, even though we aren’t.

While anxiety can be a normal experience for most people, it can be elevated for an HSP. For example, our stress levels may go up a lot when we have to meet new people, go for a job interview, attend a social gathering, or go to a new school or event, etc. Sometimes it even happens when we are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of our anxiety.

I know that it really helped me, and my HSP clients and students to deeply understand what was happening in the brain when we go into our limbic system. Over the years of specializing in the highly sensitive person I have developed particular techniques in my online course that can help us turn get out of the storm of the emotional brain so that we can get our cognitive (thinking) brain back online.  The wonderful thing about these brain training techniques is that once you develop them you get to use them for the rest of your life! It’s really worth the investment in yourself and everyone around you benefits. We need your HSP gifts in the world and you will be able to access them better when you can live aligned in your center and feel more in control of your emotional brain.

~Julie Bjelland is a global sensitivity expert, licensed psychotherapist, global HSP consultant, and empowerment coach. She specializes in the trait of high sensitivity and has helped thousands of highly sensitive people around the world.                

As an HSP herself, and mother of highly sensitive children, Julie understands what it is like to live with high sensitivity and strong emotions. She is recognized as an expert and works with people globally to ensure both the needs and strengths of HSPs are fully understood and acknowledged.

Julie is the author of several books and journals and teaches an online course for HSPs. Her book Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person: Techniques to Reduce Anxiety and Overwhelming Emotions received outstanding reviews from world-renowned psychologists Tara Brach, PhD, Rick Hanson, PhD, and Ted Zeff, PhD.

Other books and journals by Julie Bjelland include her newest book, The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person, How To Harness Your Sensitivity In A Chaotic World, Positives Journal: A Companion Workbook to Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person, Challenges and Growth Journal: A Companion Workbook to Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person, How I Appreciate You: Journal to Build Closeness and Connection, and Gratitude.