Tips For The Urban HSP

I am an urban HSP.  I sometimes think I must be truly nuts to be living in New York City, a place that seems like the very embodiment of the word “overstimulation.”

Crowded, loud, bright and always on, it can be a nightmare for the senses of an urban HSP.

If you let it.

I’ve lived here for nearly 15 years now, and I’ve found ways to make it work. (I have a bit of a dream writing job, and this is one of the only places I can really do it, which is why I don’t leave, in case you’re wondering. Also, nearly everyone I love is here, which adds weight to the case for sticking around when you are an urban HSP.)

 Attitude For An Urban HSP

I think the lessons I’ve learned as an urban HSP can be helpful for all, particularly those who might be living in other, smaller urban environments. I think you have to start by just seeing city life slightly differently than many. Here, I think there’s often a default attitude of, “Only in New York! Gotta love it!” when, for example, you’re on a crowded train at 9 a.m. and all of a sudden there’s a mariachi band furiously playing, mere inches away from your face.

No.

You actually don’t have to love it. (I suspect very few people love it, but I applaud their generally optimistic ability to pretend that they do.)

So here are a few of the survival tips I’ve come up with to make being an NYC urban HSP work for me.

Protect Your Hearing

1) Get good headphones, and don’t be afraid to use them.
I’ve always been shocked that so many people are willing to put up with the crappy white headphones that come with an Apple product. They make my ears sore after only a few minutes of listening, and they don’t fit well enough to filter out ambient noise (nor do they stop everyone around you from hearing your music, one of my big pet peeves about public transportation these days: if you’re not wearing headphones yourself, you are more often than not subjected to the contents of someone else’s).

No, I’m talking about getting some of those little rubbery ear buds, or, if you’re loaded, a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones (they’re on my wish list). A little of your own curated music can radically change a walk through a chaotic city street, a subway car filled with yammering people and blaring conductor announcements, or a store where four overly cheerful salespeople come up to you within the span of a minute and say, “How ARE you today? Can I help you find anything?” Just point sheepishly to your headphones, as if they are surgically implanted in your head and totally beyond your control, and move away.

2) If you’ve got a smartphone, get a white noise app.
Music is good in many situations, but I find that when I need to really concentrate on reading or writing something, it’s too distracting. My white noise app is the best thing about my iPhone by far. Mine lets me create my own mixes of soothing sounds: beach waves crashing and light rain! Tree frogs and oscillating fan! Or just plain old white noise. Actually, brown noise, which is softer than white noise. Check it out, you’ll see what I mean. Any of these will instantly reduce my HSP stress by half. It’s also genius for hotel rooms while traveling (more on this in my upcoming sleep tips post).

Protect Your Boundaries

3) Make subway rides work for you. As Elaine Aron might put it, use your boundaries. Don’t worry about everyone else’s feelings so much. My instinct is generally to try to make other people feel good, so I’m not all that comfortable saying no or shutting things down even when I really need a break from human beings (which is pretty often).

But I’ve found that in order to stay sane, you have to just power through that instinct and be a little protective of yourself. For example: when riding on the train, someone sits down next to me eating an egg sandwich. She seems perfectly nice otherwise and part of me doesn’t want her to feel like a leper if I get up and move. But you know what? An egg sandwich smells disgusting, and it’s ruining the precious half-hour of down time I have in the morning. So I’m gone.

Ditto someone who’s having a loud, laughing cell phone conversation next to me. Or twitching just slightly oddly in a way that suggests they might be a bit off. Or wearing pungent perfume. Just get up and move. You’ll feel so much better when you do.

Similarly, when I’m leaving work and someone tries to catch me and take the train with me, I generally come up with a reason to split off (“I have to make a call first,” or “I have to run an errand”). I find that when my subway ride gets diverted into chitchat or small talk, I tend to reach my destination feeling depleted and annoyed, which reduces my ability to be present for whatever my next activity was. So I just find non-mean ways of getting out of the shared subway ride.

It’s best for everyone.

The Challenge Of Smelly Air

4) Get an air filter
One of my least favorite things about New York is the smells. And I’m not even talking about the stereotypical pee and garbage aromas, which tend, in my experience, to be a bit overstated. No, it’s the cooking smells that really do me in.

Apartment building living just inevitably comes with having to share the air with other people who like different food than you, and if you’re an HSP, those odors can feel like a punch in the face. Someone down the hall from me must, I think, own a deep fryer, because nearly every night it smells like Popeye’s in the hallway. This is not OK. This smell makes me deeply sad. But I can deal with it, because I have a pretty decent air filter going in my apartment’s entryway. It also just offers some psychological support, knowing I have a little mechanical sentry between me and the olfactory chaos going on outside my door. (In a pinch, I find that a Yankee Candle also works pretty well. Who knew? But it’s nothing compared to an air filter.)

Bottom line, just because you live surrounded by other people doesn’t mean you have to feel violated by their ill-advised culinary choices.

Create Your Own Lifestyle As An Urban HSP

5) Get a dog
In a way, this might seem odd advice, because a dog does come with its own set of stressors: they cost money, they require lots of attention, they may wake you up barking at absolutely nothing in the middle of the night. But if you get a good one, they can also offer a brilliantly convenient excuse for getting out of things and living a lower-key life than you might otherwise be expected to do as a city-dweller.

Everyone in your office going out for happy hour, and you’re sort of expected to go, even though the thought of being stuck in a noisy bar making small talk makes you want to bang your head against a wall? Don’t sweat it, you have to go home and walk the dog. Sorry! Additionally, your dog will ensure that you must go on multiple rambles around the neighborhood daily, which is a practice that’s highly beneficial for soothing the HSP’s system. Which brings me to my next tip.

6) Live near a park
It doesn’t have to be Central Park (or your city’s version of Central Park). But if you have someplace you can get to reasonably easily where you can be among trees instead of human beings, that’s going to increase your quality of life a whole lot. (As well as your dog’s.) Go regularly. Go every day. Take deep breaths and always know, when you’re in the midst of the urban circus, that this will always be here waiting for you. Don’t live near a park? Make it a habit to walk through one on your way to work, if you can. Get off the train a few stops early and incorporate a park walk into your commute.

7) Get plants
Plants! It’s like having a mini park in your apartment.

8) When all else fails, Xanax.
Just kidding. (Not really.)

HSPs And The Struggle With Body Image

Growing up highly sensitive can have its disadvantages, for sure. You already know that, and it’s different for each and every HSP. There’s a lot of crossover between us, but we each get to have our very own unique experience. It’s such a journey, right?

What I want to talk to you about today is what I would consider one of the more common “crossover” themes that we experience as HSPs: poor body image.

More specifically—working on perfecting your body.

Self Acceptance And Body Image

As an HSP, I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. This way I am not so overwhelmed. A certain degree of control is healthy and good. The control I’m talking about today is when the control goes to a place where we are sacrificing health to be perfect.

I’m talking about those of us who feel we need to be a different weight to fit in. I’m talking about the ones who feel like they are struggling on a daily basis with loving their bodies, just as they are.

Years ago, before I knew anything about my HSP trait, I was always trying to “get better.” Somehow I landed on using my body image as a way to improve myself. I could not see what was right with me. When I looked in the mirror I focused on every ounce that needed improvement: the scars on my face, the cellulite on my thighs, the bloat in my belly. I set out on a journey to get better quick—because once I got to that magical place surely I would feel less overwhelmed.

I truly felt like people were fixated on my every flaw, just as I was. I believed my thoughts (a dangerous habit for HSPs) and even got into the habit of creating other people’s thoughts for them. My thoughts were so loud, I felt that other people could hear them and were saying things like, “Yes,” in agreement, “you need to lose a few pounds.”

I often joked around that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody. I lived life from that place of not having enough and not being enough. Happiness was surely on the other side of having attained firmer thighs and a flatter tummy – the elusive perfect body image.

So in the midst of working out and trying to control my every bite with food, tirelessly creating my “perfect body” so that I could finally feel free in my own skin and love myself, my therapist at the time had other ideas. She burst right through my perfect bubble when she said something to me that stung hard.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Um, excuse me?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Speechless.

How dare she! Couldn’t she see that my body wasn’t perfect yet? Did she not see how hard I was working?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

It stayed with me like an echo. I couldn’t shake it.

And she wasn’t talking about a smaller size.

Reframing My Body Image

At the time, I was nowhere close to being overweight. But the thing was—I had never (ever!) considered gaining weight. Why would I do that? It went against everything I had ever learned. I needed to control my weight, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do so that I can feel good about myself?

I felt so found out. Did I need to gain weight? It didn’t matter. I was put face to face with a new possibility, which was exactly where I needed to be. Somebody saw me, really saw me, and let me know about something new. The rest was up to me to figure out.

We are saturated with images—daily. We see how we are “supposed” to look, what we are “supposed” to eat, how we are “supposed” to be. The message is seemingly simple: if we succeed—if we become more and more “perfect”—we are granted access to happiness, feeling amazing in our bodies, and feeling loved by everyone around us.

Let me tell you—that is one hard path for anyone to follow, especially if you are an HSP. So why would you want to? It leads to more suffering and more overwhelm. The very things we already often have plenty of in our lives.

Of course, I didn’t get what my therapist said right away. I just took offense to it. I internalized it as I do with most everything and eventually came out on the other side having finally heard what I needed to hear. The message that came through for me was that I get to love myself NOW. In this body. And that I get to love myself in the future—at whatever size body I become.

Somewhere in between now and the future is some “bettering” myself, sure. But the self love can start right now. There’s no need to wait for my thighs to become “bikini ready” (they’re ready NOW when I put on my bathing suit, thanks!)

What do you think? Do you struggle with body image and how do you deal? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Life as an Emotional Empath

Last year, I went to India after two years of living here in the United States. This is the first time that I have stayed anywhere other than in India, and this shift of living in a new country has also shifted my perspective in many ways.

One of these is the way in which I understand my sensitivity.

Learning To Live In A New Country

Here, in the States, I live in a suburb in the heart of Silicon Valley, where I sometimes find the quiet too much and then think nostalgically about India. There, I lived in the heart of New Delhi, India’s capital, where the noise and the bustle were often too much for me.  

This time during my stay in my parents’ home in Delhi, I notice things about my sensitivity that I never had before. I am no longer submerged in my environment. I have a different experience to compare it with.

A day here starts with the ringing of the bell. My parents are part of India’s educated and fortunate upper-middle class. Like millions of other such households, the machinery of the house runs with the help of several pairs of hands. All through the morning, the bell rings as the daily packet of milk is delivered, the neighborhood dhobi (washerman) comes to pick up more clothes for ironing, and a lady comes in to clean the house. Such help is unthinkable in other places in the world, but here in India, for many middle-class households, this is the norm.

What is also normal are power outages that can last for hours (where people who can afford it switch to generators or inverters), no automatic hot water, and long lines for everything you can think of. Every day, so many different lives touch our own little lives, and there is little of the efficiency of America.

I interact with more people here in a day than I have for weeks before in America.

And it is normal that I would. After all, Delhi is the second most populous city in the world, with an estimated population of more than 25 million people. It contains more people within its sprawling, sweeping boundaries than cities like Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo.

In a city like this, you are part of an overwhelming sea of people. When you go outside, your senses are inundated by every kind of stimulation possible. There are people getting into your space constantly, taking the local metro is a mini-battle, and traffic jams can last for hours.

To say the least, it is a challenging place for a sensitive person.

And what if you are a sensitive person who also absorbs other people’s feelings?

This time in Delhi, I notice the mini-interactions and transactions I have with people throughout the day. I feel their curiosity, frustration and worry jumping out at me. My boundaries are permeable, not very solid. I get overwhelmed in crowds. I just want to stay inside.

It’s not just because of the sensory stimulation, which is part of it too, but the overload from all the emotions that I can feel and experience as if they are my own.

It’s no wonder that at different times in my life, I have coped in unhealthy ways. I have avoided people. I have avoided things. I have felt buffeted by other people’s emotions, so it seems like my center is not inside me, but somewhere outside.

Even now, when I walk into a room, I am most aware of what everyone else is feeling, and not really aware of what is it that I feel.  It’s no wonder that people who have this emotional sensitivity find it debilitating at times.

It makes us feel engulfed in certain relationships. It means we need a lot of time alone. It means that we hate going out in crowded places where we have no personal space and where everyone’s energy seems to be knocking us out.  

The Struggles And Soul Gifts Of An Emotional Empath

I read something recently on Anna Sayce’s’ blog (Anna works as a teacher of intuitive development) that put the challenge of being an empath in a way that connected some dots for me. For all people, Anna says, there is a close link between our struggles and our soul gifts.

This is what Anna says about empaths: “On the upside, these people were born with the ability to experience what life is like for another person. They make great mediators because they can see two sides of a story and can switch their point of view easily. They are the ones who are good at caring for and looking out for others. But they can sometimes have so much compassion and understanding that they might not always look out for their own interests sufficiently. Or they might be easy to exploit. They may fail to care of themselves while taking care of everyone around them. Most often, they may feel like their sensitivity is a burden.”

Strangely, for me knowing and accepting that the gift comes with the challenge is a bit of a relief. Maybe, things were hard because it is a struggle to figure out how to move from getting swept up in a storm of feelings to moving through them.

Becoming A Skilled Empath

As I have started exploring ways to become a “skilled” empath, I am walking the same path that maybe you are on as well. I am picking up ideas and turning them over, and seeing which ones work for me.

If you are an empath, you might have found (like I did) that one thing that is often mentioned online is shielding or protecting yourself so that you don’t pick up other people’s stuff. To do this, you can visualize yourself wrapped up in pink or white light, and that is supposed to help you stay protected.

While I know people I respect who do this, this exercise has never resonated with me because the subtext seems to be that we need to “protect” ourselves from something out there. That only encourages a feeling of distrust in the world.

It seems to say that I am weak and that I need constant protection.

Still, I do believe in the power of visualization. If you feel drawn to it, this might be a good beginning exercise. I think what might work here is simply the directing of intention. Even though we don’t often do this, where we choose to focus is where our energy goes.

As an empath, we are hyper-aware of others, so intentionally pulling back focus to ourselves in any way helps us feel more in touch with ourselves.

For me, the important idea here is directing our attention to our own experience. Thinking “What do I feel?”  and checking in with ourselves instead of getting swamped by the other person’s feelings is one way to stay inside our own skin.

Also, anything that helps us stay present – in our bodies and out of our minds – is helpful. One exercise that I like is by Sonia Choquette who says that when we want to come back to the present moment, it can be as simple as looking around us and saying aloud (not in our heads, but out loud) everything we see around us for four or five minutes.

So, I can look around and say that I am in a room with a framed photograph of a leaf, a bamboo that seems to be growing too big for its pot, and a half-eaten chocolate Yan-Yan box. Paying attention to the things around me helps me get out of my thinking and feeling state. It helps me notice where I am.

It can be as simple as that.   

The Importance For An Empath Of Accepting Emotions

Maybe, part of learning to use our empathic gifts is also about accepting that we do feel deeply, and letting ourselves feel whatever it is that we do feel.

A lot of sensitive people cry very easily.

Of course, there are many injunctions and prohibitions against crying publicly. But even privately, we often have very little permission to cry. We feel that we might upset someone who feels responsible for us and takes it personally. We think that we are already emotional people. We don’t want to spiral into over-emotionality.

But something that Dr. Judith Orloff says about the healing benefits of tears might give us some permission and some insight. In her book, Emotional Freedom, she discusses how tears help us. They protectively lubricate our eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes.

In fact, our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous and emotional. Reflex tears allow our eyes to clear out irritants produced by smoke or exhaust. Continuous tears are produced regularly and contain a chemical called “lysozyme” that functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection.

And emotional tears have their own specific health benefits.

Dr Orloff talks about the biochemist Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis who discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, while emotional tears also contain stress hormones that the body wants to discard. Other studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural “feel-good hormones.”

You have probably also had the experience where you felt better after crying. For an empath, it was not a spiral downwards or identifying yourself as a victim. It felt like a relief as pent-up feelings flowed out. You were left feeling lighter, at ease.

Stemming the flow of such tears would just mean that your emotions are getting backed up. There is no way for them to be transformed. There is no way for them to be released.

As sensitive people, we have to let go of the beliefs that are projected on to us. Crying does not mean that we are weak. The weakness comes when we don’t do something about the things that bother us, the things that bring us to tears.

Being out of touch with feelings is not a strength. It just means we have low self-awareness. It makes us brittle. It makes us weak.

I should know. As a person who feels a lot, I have dealt with my ability to feel others’ feelings in every way possible. At different times, I have been different people. I have turned towards people, and away from them. I have helped people, and have numbed out and turned towards myself. I have pushed feelings down, and I have also let them push me.

In the end, I think that doing what I can, little by little — engaging with the challenge, fighting with the monsters — may one day help bring the whole gift to light. On your journey as an empath, I hope you find that too, and that you go on digging till you have unearthed your treasure.

No Need To Rush: The Special Gift Of Slow

I have always been expected to operate at lightening speed.

And it has never worked for me.

I need to process…and process…and process…

I LOVE to process.

It is my idea of a good time!

What’s The Rush!

I have never understood the need to rush. In my experience, the easiest way to have problems is to rush.

However, from a very young age, I have noticed that people around me were aways in a rush for something. A rush to judgment, to get something, be somewhere or do something.

I always felt “wrong” because it always seemed so silly to me.

It also seemed to me that something terribly important was missing.

Is Anybody Home?

I felt alone in all of the rushing. Rushing felt so escapist, and I did not understand what everyone was trying to escape? I felt stupid for not really wanting to join in.

Escaping was not compelling to me. It did not attract me and still doesn’t.

All of the rushing and escaping feels sad.

It feels like we are afraid to take a chance.

It feels like we are here but no one is home.

Speed Can Be Dangerous

In school, we are rewarded for getting answers not for asking questions. So often we continue that pattern in our daily lives.

Not to have an answer os a failing, a way of losing a competitive battle for survival, a risk we are afraid of.

But answers are not necessarily simple and they can only evolve by engaging with a set of circumstances or conditions. It is through that process that answers come.

When we fail to honor the process of engagement and deliberation we are plagued with the kind of ideological substitute for problem-solving that plagues our society right now. We have packaged answers that fail to solve anything while the real problems seeking our attention remain ignored.

And so we run around each one of us with our bandaids unable to really solve our problems.

No wonder so many people feel frustrated and depressed.

They have every reason to.

Slow Is About Respect

When you approach anything in a slow careful manner you are paying a very basic kind of respect. You are paying attention to people, place and things. You are paying attention to process. You pay attention to current reality as a starting point for moving forward. You give everything the attention it deserves.

Slow is about paying attention. Fast is about escaping.

That is true both in our work and in our relationships.

I am sure how you have experienced the awful feeling when someone rushes you because they do not want to be bothered.

I am sure you have also experienced what it is like when someone takes the time to talk with you.

The rushed experience closes you down; the slower, more thoughtful interaction opens you up.

Does The World Belong To The Takers?

When people rush as their primary way of relating, all interactions become superficial and transactional. Speed does not really allow for anything else.

So when we slow down, we open the door to more give and take which is a more satisfactory arrangement for everyone, in reality. We also honor each other and the value in each other when we slow down. We honor each person’s uniqueness, gifts, and limits as part of the whole.

We can then give ourselves the opportunity to be with what is instead of demanding that everyone be something else to meet our demands and requirements.

Life Is Not Just A Shopping Trip

Too often we relate to each other as consumers looking for something pleasurable from others.

Pleasure is great but seeking or demanding it as a constant in our lives keeps us in the role of shoppers rather than creators. As a result we miss out on ourselves as much as everyone else.

Slowing down gives us not only our time back but also our friendship and respect.

It gives a more natural place in the universe. It lets us be both more humble and more creative at the same time.

Slow is a gentle place.

Slow lets us open up more.

It frees us from our demands and lets us join into the world rather than bearing down on it oppressively with our need for continual self-indulgence.

Slow lets us be human and humane.

Slow gives us a much-needed break and everyone else, too.

It is worth embracing.

7 Paths to Reducing Sensitivity And Overwhelm For HSPs

You’re driving your car to work. The heat hasn’t kicked in.

Suddenly, you notice that you forgot to cut off a sewn in tag on the back of your shirt collar. It’s irritating your skin.

Sadness and frustration wash over you as you witness a child being drug by the arm through a cross walk a bit too fast for her tiny legs to keep up.

Down the road despair for the death of a tiny animal creeps in to your heart as you swerve to avoid what others blow off as just road kill.

A few minutes later, you walk in the door to your toasty office and the frown on a coworker’s face tells a story others seem to miss, and your day hasn’t even begun. Can you relate?

This is the world of the Highly Sensitive Person.

The HSPs Heightened Nervous System

As Highly Sensitive People, we are sensitive to light and color, harsh or excessive smells, loud, repetitive and unexpected noise, particular tastes and textures of food, and to the things and people around us us. We are sensitive to subtle changes and differences in our environment and, although not always recognized, we are sensitive to things unseen, such as electrical frequencies (EMFs), other’s emotions, and even the spirit world.

Highly Sensitive People are also empathic. Meaning, we are able to pick up on the emotions of others. And, it’s not just a matter of reading a person’s body language, like Tim Roth does on the TV show Lie To Me, although HSPs are exceptional readers of body language as well. We actually feel and carry other’s emotions as if they are our own. We absorb everything. And, what’s really disturbing is that most of us don’t know we are Highly Sensitive People and that not everyone shares our abilities.

It can be easy to want to shut down, stop seeing, stop feeling, and stop sensing, especially when our sensitivities make us feel physically dis-eased. But, that is to merely exist, to just breathe in and out, and who really wants just that? Well, maybe during meditation, but not in day to day life. Life is for living abundantly and joyfully through our senses. Reducing sensitivity overwhem is important if we want a life of joy.

Yet, some of us feel cornered, held back, and cheated by life, by our sensitivities. And, for those of us who feel that way, if we are not careful, we can end up believing we are victims of a cruel fate or negative karma, especially when we don’t understand why we are the way we are.

Highly Sensitive People, Emotions & Overwhelm

But, first, what is overwhelm? Overwhelm is experienced any time we feel, think, or experience something we feel we cannot handle. Overwhelm leads to negative emotions, which come from, both, our conscious and subconscious thoughts. Emotions are not just something in our minds. They are, indeed, molecules of energetic expression meant to precede a physical action, which, in turn, is meant to offer us relief.  HSPs reach overwhelm faster than others because we process emotions more physically than nonsensitive people do.

Emotions have the power to trigger chemical responses in the body, which impact our immune systems. Headache, stomach issues, chronic pain and phobias are symptoms caused by overwhelm to the nervous system by emotions. When we leave our emotions unresolved or misdirect them without a positive physical outlet, an action, we become dis-eased. Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, and other autoimmune disorders to appear due to sensory overwhelm, sometimes called overload.

Plenty of Highly Sensitive People have been given clean bills of health by their health providers and/or told their condition is all in their mind. After experimenting with strict diets, exercise, and prescriptions for anxiety and depression that don’t work, some HSP opt for self-medicating with recreational drugs or alcohol just to survive their senses. The good news is that by engaging in the right body-based therapies we can give our emotions the positive outlets (actions) they need for reducing sensitivity overwhelm.

Why Sensory Avoidance Increases Sensitivity

Much of the energy drain Highly Sensitive People experience comes from trying to avoid our sensitivities rather than using them. In some circles this is called sensory defensiveness, which means you become defensive and avoid whatever stimuli makes you feel uncomfortable. Avoidance behavior only creates more sensitivity because of the energy required to sustain resistance and the additional stress it causes. It also leads to isolation, low-self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

I often tell people that if they are in the midst of a panic attack to use up the energy that’s trying to be expressed. Don’t resist. Walk briskly, run, dance in place, shadow box, take several deep breaths, or stamp your feet very hard. In other words, use up the adrenaline. I also say to use your senses.

Senses are like fine muscles. Stop using your senses and they’ll over-react, exaggeratedly to your emotions and the world around you. By engaging your senses in positive body-based activities often your senses will help you to maintain energy, balance, and calm. This creates joy.

Why ‘Mind-Based’ Therapies Don’t Work for HSPs

There are several theories as to what causes sensitivity. You can read about them most anywhere. But, how you came to be highly sensitive isn’t as important as knowing what to do about it. Often, HSPs seek counseling thinking it will help towards controlling their sensitivities, only to discover it does not help in reducing sensitivity.

That’s not to say mind-based therapies (counseling, journaling, psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, hypnotism, meditation, etc.) are not beneficial to Highly Sensitive People having suffered ongoing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and Near Death Experiences (NDEs). These therapies can help to prevent, manage, and even erase unhealthy thoughts and emotions. And, who doesn’t need that? However, being a Highly Sensitive Person is not the same as having an anxiety order and should never be confused as such.

I choose to believe being sensitive is a way of being and not a disorder. And, while mind-based therapies work very well for trauma and abuse issues, they will not reduce overwhelm caused by a genetically sensitive nervous system. For the HSP to reduce overwhelm it requires something more. It requires body-based therapies.

The HSPs 7 Paths to Reducing Sensitivity And Overwhelm

#7. The Spiritual Path, (also The Path of Spirit) which corresponds to the Crown Chakra, the colors Violet, Gold and White, the essential oil Frankincense, the gemstones Amethyst and Crystal, the food Purple Grapes, and understanding of ourselves and others. Remedies for The Spiritual Path may include introspection, connecting to a higher power, and learning to protect one’s self through ritual.

#6. The Path of Intuition (also related to The Path of Sound), which corresponds to the Brow Chakra, the color Indigo, the essential oil Vervain, the gemstone Lapis lazuli, the food Plums, and extra-sensory perception (the 6th Sense). Remedies for The Path of Intuition may include meditation, an area of study, or turning to unconventional methods of intuiting.

#5. The Path of Sound, which corresponds with the Throat Chakra, the color Blue, the essential oil Vanilla, the gemstone Turquoise, the food Blueberries, and expression. Remedies for The Path of Sound may include using your voice, speaking up, and expressing how you really feel.

#4. The Path of Touch, which corresponds to the Heart Chakra, the colors Green and Pink, the essential oils Lavender and Jasmine, the gemstone Emerald, the food Avocado, and love. Remedies for The Path of Touch involve learning to love yourself and others unconditionally.

#3. The Path of Sight, which corresponds to the Solar Plexus Chakra, the color Yellow, the essential oil Cedar, the gemstone Citrine, the food Yellow Squash, and personal power. Remedies for The Path of Sight may include intellectual stimulation, playfulness, and a healthy support network.

#2. The Path of Taste, which corresponds to the Sacral Chakra, the color Orange, the essential oil Sandalwood, the gemstone Moonstone, the food Pumpkin, and intimacy, as in closeness. Remedies for The Path of Taste may include healing negative emotions associated with the pelvic region, such as surgery, miscarriage, unhappy sexual experiences, or sexual abuse.

#1. The Physical Path (also The Path of Smell), which corresponds to the Root Chakra, the color Red, the essential oil Patchouli, the gemstone Ruby, the food Licorice, and survival of our body on the physical plain. Remedies for the Physical Path may include diet and nutrition modifications, sound sleep, exercise, and work.

Chakras are the energy centers located along your spine responsible for maintaining spiritual, emotional, and physical health. A blockage in any of your chakras will create specific dis-eases depending on the chakra affected. For example, a blockage (low energy) in the Solar Plexus Chakra may cause stomach problems, such as acid reflux or loss of appetite. Emotional disorders might include confusion, irritability, or loneliness. It is important to know that when one chakra is unbalanced it affects the energy levels of the other chakras.

It is well worth your while to investigate any possible energy blockages you may be experiencing through my Aura Energy Self-Test for Highly Sensitive People, which is freely available on my website, The Captains Lady at www.thecaptainslady.com. Once you know where these blockages are located, you’ll be able to choose appropriate, therapies to create better balance between your senses (The 7 Paths), which will you in reducing sensitivity.  You will find the majority of the therapies helping to create and restore chakra balance are body-based therapies involving the senses.

A Quick Approach to Reducing Sensitivity

If this information sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and you are beginning to feel overwhelmed, don’t despair.

Although it is helpful to have ideas and methods made available to you as far as diet and remedies are concerned, especially when you suffer from stressful symptoms and syndromes, you don’t need to take aura tests and read a bunch of literature to understand how to use your senses in positive ways. There’s a quicker approach for reducing sensitivity.

Try this exercise. Think of all of the things you have thought about doing over the past few days, months, or even years. What have you wanted to do more of, but haven’t? Perhaps, you’ve wanted to listen to music more often, visit friends, take a walk on the beach (HSP need expansive settings from time to time), spend more time in bed sleeping, hug more, laugh more, buy a new fragrance, make that traditional pot roast, or send someone a thank you card. Stop wasting energy avoiding these things. Avoidance is resistance. It wastes your energy. Spend your energy wisely through your senses of Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch, and Smell, doing what you truly enjoy. However, remain moderate and try not to over-indulge any one particular sense.

Within just a couple of weeks after engaging your senses in the body-based therapies of your choice, you should notice you feel better and have more energy, both, physically and mentally. These therapies help for reducing sensitivity. Avoidance, drudgery (boredom and monotony), and negative emotions begin to fade away. You begin to trust your emotions not to make you react fearfully. Self-esteem begins to rise.

That’s not to say you will never have another negative emotion, but, ultimately, by taking action through your senses you can empower yourself to truly live life instead of merely surviving, perhaps for the very first time. However taking these steps for reducing sensitivity will make your life a lot better.

Are You Numbing Your Sensitivity?

Are your numbing your sensitivity? I do sometimes.

As I stood in line waiting to order my cup of coffee, I reached for my phone in my purse. You know, just in case there were any new updates within the last 5 minutes since the last time I checked it.

I didn’t feel the need to check. I just did it. You might be thinking that yes, you do this, too. It’s like we are on autopilot sometimes. Or are we?

Avoiding Our Sensitivity

What if we aren’t? What if we know exactly what we are doing?

What if we are checking our phones—or eating when we’re not hungry, or watching another episode on Netflix, or {insert supposedly mindless activity here}—because feeling our sensitivity just feels like it’s too much?

Do you do this? Do you participate in little actions throughout your day to avoid your sensitive self-feeling too much, feeling life around you? You are numbing your sensitivity.

Why You Are Numbing Your Sensitivity

I get it. We HSPs know what it’s like to truly feel our way through life. It can get overwhelming. Eye contact with a stranger. Sitting too close to someone on the train. Returning a phone call we don’t want to make. Showing up to a stressful job. Meeting new people at a party. Heck, even being with our own families at a holiday gathering.

It can be a lot to handle. Because we feel life’s moments more intensely, the volume can feel like it’s turned up too high a lot of the time. Mere eye contact with a stranger can feel like it’s just too much to handle when you’ve already got an ongoing to-do list in your mind, plus you’re still dwelling on the conversation you had earlier with a friend that just didn’t sit well with you.

Because there’s already so much going on internally, numbing our sensitivity to the stimulation around us can feel like the most natural thing in the world to HSPs.

Sensitivity Does Not Have To Be A Trap

But what if that moment you’re missing is one that may change your life? What if you could have both—a lively inner world and a way to meet the stimulating present moment with courage and calm, at the same time?

It takes some heart to heart time with your intuition, regular practice, and compassion for yourself along the way, but it is possible. With practice, HSPs can slowly baby step their way out of numbing their sensitivity and begin looking at life around them with curiosity, offering it their attention even if it feels awkward. Even if it feels scary.

A nod to a stranger, a “How are you?” to your cashier at the supermarket, showing up to a networking event, not looking at your phone during time spent with a loved one—it may not seem like it, but these are all brave acts for the HSP.

They require us to feel multiple things at once. They ask us to get real with the world around us.

Checking our phones to avoid feeling the world around us is just one way we may be numbing our sensitivity. The ways are endless, and some much more destructive than others. Avoiding feeling too much by drinking alcohol, doing drugs, sleeping too much, eating too much, the list goes on.

Do you catch yourself numbing your sensitivity? If so, how do you do it? What is one small step you can take this week to connect to the world around you while still feeling safe and OK in your HSP skin?

 

Those Pesky Boundaries

Fuzzy boundaries?

Boundaries are one of the biggest challenges facing highly sensitive people.

They can be a source of aggravation and unhappiness.

There are many reason why boundary issues are a problem for us, some having to do with us and others having to do with the world.

It would help if we could get a handle on them.

Why Boundary Issues Are Different For Highly Sensitive People

Boundaries are personal and impersonal.

When we stop eating because we are full, we are responding to a natural boundary.

When we are on time for an appointment we are respecting a social boundary.

When we stop our car at a stop sign we are responding to a societal boundary.

Those boundaries are fairly easy to deal with.

Then there are the others.

These are values and identity boundaries that create all sorts of problems.

An identity boundary would be the one on same sex marriage that is being challenged and overturned.

A values boundary would be one about war, or greed. Values boundaries show up in the priorities we set.

Setting boundaries is different for HSPs. Highly sensitive people often have humanitarian and compassionate values that conflict with the world around them. Their physical needs are greater and therefore they will have situational challenges in setting boundaries.

So what can we do about this?

Step 1: Know Yourself And Your Needs As A Highly Sensitive Person

This first step in creating boundaries is to make some time to consider your needs and ideas.

You need to create a way to confidently handle boundary issues. When you have that map in your mind, you will be able to handle conflict in a way that works for you and hopefully the other person, whether they are highly sensitive or not.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. what are my most cherished and essential values? Being clear about your values helps you identify good choices which is important for HSPs. Values are the core of your boundary strategy and what you most need to honor.
  2. what are my most important priorities, including the priorities you have to have because you are highly sensitive? It is easier to respond effectively to others, when you are respecting your most important priorities.
  3. what is non-negotiable for me? Non-negotiable items are related to your values or conditions in your life like your health. For highly sensitive people, their need for frequent breaks to manage stress is critical.
  4. what can I be flexible about?  This can be a difficult question for HSPs. When we are too flexible we run the risk of wearing ourselves out.
  5. how do I typically handle trade-offs? Do they usually work for me or not? There is nothing wrong with making sacrifices, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful and burned out.

When considering how you want to handle boundary issues, think about all aspects of your life and your needs. Then consider your environment to create the most workable solutions for yourself and others.

Step 2: Plan Strategies For Difficult Situations

We all have challenging boundary situations.  When you are highly sensitive your different values can make boundary issues more uncomfortable. However, you can help yourself a lot if you do your homework and some planning. Here are some planning considerations:

  1. identify the boundary situations that are most difficult for you.
  2. notice when you feel you have no ground to stand on during a conflict. Is it because your values are different? Is it because you feel disrespected? Do you have trouble with someone else’s sense of entitlement?
  3. notice when empathy is a problem for you.
  4. when you start to feel manipulated? Is it when someone is unhappy? or complaining? Is it when someone makes decisions for you? or has expectations that are never discussed or explicitly agreed to? Does someone take your things without asking? Notice when you are being treated dismissively.
  5. when you are uncomfortable taking action? Is it when someone is very sarcastic, dismissive, or contemptuous? Who do you have a hard time challenging?
  6. do you have challenging situations that lend themselves to a direct one-on-one approach or perhaps more indirect strategy where you need to have a group on your side to effect change.
  7. identify when you need to treat yourself as important as everyone else and may not.

Step 3: Develop Your Strategy

As a general rule, most people want good relationships as much as you do. Most people are not looking for unnecessary conflicts.

If you respect others and their concerns, they will likely do the same. Therefore when you are willing to listen to the another person, it is common courtesy that do the same, and you are entitled to expect the same in return.

It also helps to be in a constructive frame of mind. When you ask questions of the other person you can then offer suggestions, alternatives or even substitutes for what is being asked of you.

If I were to create a formula for a boundary setting process it would be:

  1. establish a positive intent. “I love how my blouse looks on you…”
  2. state a concern.  “That blouse was a gift and is important to me.”
  3. ask questions if necessary. “We need to figure out a holiday schedule.  What is your situation and do you have any ideas?”
  4. ask for what you need in a way that respects the other person.  “I like to help when I can but I need for you to ask if you want to borrow my things.”
  5. get agreement. ” Does that work for you?”

Successful problem solving is a combination of respect and creativity.  When you combine both, your chances of a positive outcome increase.

Step 4: The Tough Cases For Highly Sensitive People

When you have a difficult or stubborn situation, it can help to come up with way to change the existing dynamic. This can be challenging for highly sensitive people because we are often seeking results that are not the norm.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. change the other person’s perception of your value. Most HSPs are devalued so you may need to develop some skill in promoting your interesting ideas.
  2. change the social dynamic. Sometime you can ignore someone who is being difficult. In some situations you may need to insist that someone become more reasonable.You can also use humor to loosen people up when they have dug in their heels. Laughter works wonders.
  3. you may need to throw in the towel. Perhaps you have heard the story about the villagers who caught a monkey by putting peanuts inside a coconut shell. The monkey found and grabbed the peanuts in the shell. He wanted to hold onto the peanuts but could not run away from the villagers at the same time. All he had to do was let go and he would have escaped. Sometime letting go is best. It creates space for new ideas to develop and head to cool.

Step 6: The Key To Boundary Happiness

I believe that the key to boundaries and good relationships lies in being in a constructive frame of mind. When the people around feel valued and appreciated, they will be in a positive frame of mind when working with you.

It also helps to have a sense of humor and to be creative.

Highly sensitive people can have a tough time with boundaries. Our empathy can make us too helpful, and stress and fatigue can overtake us easily. We have to take our natures into account but we also can be afraid that we will then be rejected. Sometimes we have to stick our toe in the water a little at a time to find arrangements that work for us.

When you are willing to do so, you are not just taking from others, but you are enabling yourself to be at your best which is a way of giving to others. Hopefully thinking that way will make the risk seem worth it.

 

 

Why Impatience Is SO Bad For You

Impatience is so bad for you.

It is one of the most seductive emotional states.

It is a great way to make life more difficult and relationships challenging.

Impatience is like playing a child’s game of bumper cars with real life and adult consequences.

Worshipping At The Altar Of Speed

I find the adoration of speed in our culture to be curious.

When I am going fast, I stop thinking.

Speed demands focus on the task at hand and so it cannot be a time to contemplate what you are doing.

To be truly effective at warp speed, you need to have contemplated, evaluated and assessed your intended actions before you engage in them,

Does our cultural speedfest really allow for that?

In my opinion, no.

Speed For Conquest

When the speed of daily life is ramped up, there are consequences. One of them is what happens with our attention and intention.

When we function at a slower pace, we spend time contemplating what we are doing, what we want to do,  and what we need to do.

We think about the implications of our actions, the alternative courses of action and the possibilities that our choices present.

We can own our intention.

When we have to go faster something has to give. What gives is usually the way we direct our attention.

A high speed life makes us more task oriented and more focused on the short-term.

That means that we delegate the long term to others. In doing so we disempower ourselves.

Faster living means that we have been made one down almost like objects or parts on a conveyor belt. We are the wheels on the bumper cars and someone else is doing the driving.

Our attention has to be elevated but we have lost our intention in the process.

Impatience Is Controlling

Moving at high speed means that there is not a lot of time for considering our purpose and agendas. Our attention is usually directed to working off items on our to-do lists. The really important stuff of life usually does not make our list and so without realizing it, our lives stop being our own.

We are living in speed, even in a state of perpetual emergency.

When you are in an emergency you do not have time to stop and ask why, you simply have to deal with it.

Someone else has set the priorities. While we think we are making choices, we are really filling in the blanks in a sentence created by someone else.

Observe impatient people. They are masters at making something wrong with you if you are not performing as they expect you to, or are not busy enough as if your busyness was a sign of your goodness.

How Impatience Took Us Over

Impatience is important as a social tool. It used to be that we aligned ourselves with nature. Our lives depended on an effective interaction with the source of our nourishment – the physical world we live in.

Nature is slow and always in process. It is interdependent. We have to work with and learn from nature. Imposing our will usually does not work vey well.

With the Industrial Revolution and the development of machines, markets took over from nature and became the center of our lives. We were diminished as was nature, simply servants of the market system.

The machine became almighty. We became dependent on:

  • the political machine
  • the machines of government
  • the machines of finance
  • the machines of war
  • mechanized business.

A machine doesn’t see you or relate to you.

You have to keep up with it, bend to it, and support it. This is why in spite of all the improvements in our living conditions, most of us feel an unspeakable loss. We never had it so good or so bad.

Taking Our Lives Back

Slowing down is the beginning of taking your life back.

It helps to see the mechanized structures of our lives as detrimental to intentional living, and look for ways to be as present as possible to all aspects of our lives.

We are not here to serve some machine.

We are here to live fully.

The impatient life of markets takes so much from us. Letting go of it, being willing to be without it as much as possible restores you to a right relation with your own life.

It’s worth doing.

It’s a great place to be.

Overcoming The Need To Please

Highly sensitive people have many ways of handling their nature and the overwhelm that they experience. Being different means that relationships are often difficult for us. We often feel at a disadvantage in relationships feeling one down because we feel disrespected.

There are many reasons for this. Our compassionate non-competitive natures seek mutuality in a one-upsmanship world which does not respect our kindness. So we often want the respect we deserve but cannot claim. So we seek ways to achieve social acceptance. Pleasing is one of those ways.

Do You Feel The Need To Please?

The need to please comes from our need to establish and maintain the interpersonal bridge with others. there are many ways that the interpersonal bridge is created and sustained. Most of the time there is some kind of shared experience or another kind of bond created through:

  • blood relationships
  • being neighbors
  • school and school activities
  • shared interests
  • work
  • community activities
  • shared values
  • shared life experiences

Highly sensitive people have trouble with the interpersonal bridge because often their values are different from those around them and also because they are different and experience most things differently it is hard for them to bond over shared experiences. Many times HSPs are loners but not by choice.

The weakness of the interpersonal bridge is something that we live with each day and it is often a source of feelings of vulnerability. We do not fit in and know it. We suspect therefore that we are unwelcome.

Coming To Terms With The Challenges Of Being Different

Being different does not necessarily mean that we are unwelcome. Humans are notorious for comparing themselves to each other so we may remind others of undeveloped aspects of themselves and in that way create feelings of discomfort. That is not our fault but something to be aware of.

However, if we expect to be close with people whose values are radically different then we are probably inviting some hurt into our lives. There are many people who do not and will not “get” HSPs and that is something that we have to accept.

We can improve our social life if we reserve our serious social investments to those where our values are compatible.

When Do We Start To Please?

The need to please will surface when we are trying to fit in with a group that is different from us where we would like to have some social standing. It could be a work environment or family group. Whatever the situation, pleasing comes from thinking that the burden of the interpersonal bridge is primarily ours and that unless we make a special effort there may not be a relationship and we may be harmed in some way.

In these situations being ourselves is something we think will harm us or cause us to be rejected. We have to be someone else in order to survive socially.

Overcoming The Need To Please

The need to please is above and beyond doing one’s part in a relationship. The need to please is a function of being made inferior in some way. It is an outcome of trying to survive in a social structure where you are disfavored. It is a way of trying to cover up your differentness so that you can acquire needed resources. Pleasing is a social strategy of minorities and social outsiders throughout history.

So what can you do?

Here are some questions to ask about how you are living to see if you can make some changes that will provide you with more social safety:

  • what relationships do I have where I feel a need to please?
  • in what way am I dependent on others for supplies (of any kind) that cause me to be in relationships where I need to please?
  • what changes can I make to reduce my needs so that I have fewer relationships that require unnatural pleasing?
  • if I cannot reduce my needs can I find alternatives that are more supportive of my self-respect?
  • can I create what I need?
  • can you ask for more of what you need from relationships that are one-sided to make them feel more mutual?

Sometimes a little strategy can make all the difference in helping us rebalance our relationships and make them more mutual.

Unfreeze Those Feelings

To a child all feelings may seem huge, since they feel so small – and are. Children are very natural about their feelings. They experience them and let them go. Unfortunately, it does not take long before we learn that our feelings are unwanted and inconvenient. Then we start to reject them and hold them in with all the negative effects that brings.

What Happens To Our Feelings?

Our feelings become objectified. We learn to treat them like objects at a store, some unwanted and others preferred as demonstrated to us by our families and educators.

And so the stress starts. According to Yogi Amrit Desai, founder of Kripalu Yoga in a June, 2010 article in Natural AwakeningsHealing the Root Cause of Addiction with Ayurveda A Natural Cure for Unhealthy Dependence by Linda Sechrist,  

“It is important to recognize that most people don’t know the difference between tension and stress…

He observes that stressors—thoughts and reactions to our lifestyle, relationships, work environment and family life—are introduced through the ego mind. Emotionally charged thoughts and feelings of blame, shame or guilt then get metabolized into our biological body system. Stored in the form of toxins and neuro-glandular imbalances, these feelings create energy blocks that prevent the free flow of energy, or prana, the body’s self-healing wisdom.

Energy blocks may take the form of muscular tensions and weakness in liver, kidney and digestive functions. Gradual decline results in a progressive deterioration of biological processes and consequently can manifest in external symptoms of fatigue, fear, anxiety and insecurity.”

Essentially we are socialized to have certain emotions and reject others and our unwanted emotions then get stuck in our bodies and gradually make us sick.

Why Rejecting Feelings Is A Mistake

When we reject our feelings, we cannot own them and process them.

When we are processing our feelings, we take them in, accept them feel them and listen to them. It is called emotional metabolism.

Metabolism comes from the greek word ” metabole” for change or transformation. At any given time as we interact with our world we are in the process of metabolism – of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, emotions as well as material substances such as food and water.  All forms of life engage in metabolism, from plants to humans.

When we are unable to metabolize a food it will clog our bodies. When we are unable to metabolize or process emotions, they will clog our system as well. Ideally we process all food and experiences each day so that we are in a state of flowing with life. If only it were that simple!

It is often not possible to process all information and feelings when they occur. Some feelings can be part of a larger process.  The grieving process is a good example of that. However, the most difficult situations are those where an acceptable arrangement is not possible – situations that are abusive, demeaning, and dehumanizing –  because the pain of these situations often does long-term damage to the energy of the body, and takes a long time to heal.

Learning To Accept And Release Feelings

It can be useful to think of feelings as information.  When the feelings are the result of a past experience transferred onto the present, it is a sign that there is unfinished business in the past that must be dealt with. Another way of looking at it is that energy has become blocked in the body, it has not been metabolized. Under these circumstances it is our job to accept the feelings so that they can be released.

There are releasing practices available including meditation,and the energy healing practices of eft (emotional freedom technique) and reiki that help with processing emotions. Writing in a journaling has been widely used and can be effective.  Therapy groups have been helpful to many.  The more severe the experiences causing blocked energy the greater the need for therapeutic solutions.  The body has its wisdom and in some severely abusive situations it will “store” emotions to be processed at a later date if that is what is needed to survive.

Highly sensitive people and severely abused people need to be aware that they can accept and take charge of their healing process by finding therapeutic practices and groups that will let them forgive and let go of the past. Engaging in such practices helps minimize the potential for long term destructive addiction and therefore is valuable for all people.