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.)

What My Yoga Therapist Taught Me About My Food Cravings

Have you ever gotten to the point where you feel helpless and hopeless about something in your life?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “Yes” you have. If you are an HSP reading this you most likely have felt this way in your at some point. Life can feel a little jumpy and bumpy from where we stand, right?

Yoga And The Burden Of Chronic Pain

For myself, my hopeless feeling stemmed from living with chronic pain from an old back injury. I can keep the pain at bay, for the most part, through yoga and exercise. But as an HSP, I am also very sensitive to pain and I know that I feel things very intensely.

Even though I’ve lived with pain for years, the pain seems to shift and change. It’s as if I’m chasing it. Being the overachiever that I am, I wanted to stay ahead of the pain. I wanted to know how to “tackle” it when it got bad.

I decided to seek help from a yoga therapist. I am a yoga teacher myself and appreciate all the practice has done for my body and mind. But I was still feeling defeated, like I needed a new perspective outside of myself.

Yoga, Food Cravings And Routine

My new yoga therapist gave me exercises to do at home. Having a plan in place felt good to me. Natural. As an HSP, I thrive off of routine and love to know what to expect. However, living this way is also what kept me in a rut for so long, stuck in unnecessary pain because I was nervous to change up my routine.

Doing that meant that I wasn’t truly listening to my body and what it was craving. I kept trying to get better by doing the same old same old. I wanted relief but was afraid to change in order to get there.

While I loved routine, I also had to be flexible enough to branch out and try something new in order to really honor the needs of my body.
What I hadn’t connected up until this point was that just as I loved and did so well with a plan of sorts in place for my yoga practice, I also did my best with a plan in place for my food cravings.

A plan that wasn’t too rigid. A plan that was centered around what my body truly craved.

The thing is, I steered clear of this for a long time after being too rigid with food. If I didn’t have complete control over every part of my eating, I felt overwhelmed. This unhealthy relationship with food is something I’ve worked hard to change—into something kinder, softer, more flexible.

So while lying in my very gentle side twist one night (feels amazing on my lower back), I realized something. I put two and two together, finally. The way I practice yoga is the way I eat.

I had been tackling my yoga practice like I was tackling my food cravings, and doing this wasn’t serving me or my body.

Lovingly listening to my body during yoga began to serve as a beautiful example of how I can also listen to my body’s food cravings. I could prepare my meals ahead of time—with care and attention—all with the intention of giving my body what it craves.

I began to ask myself questions like, “How do I want to feel after eating food?” and “Can I slow down, chew, and be more present during this meal?” and “Will this food hurt my belly me or make me feel nourished?”

And perhaps most importantly… “What food is my body actually craving?”

Learning From Food Cravings

I have a sensitive digestion and know that if I eat X (potentially harmful trigger food) I will most likely feel X (tired, bloated, cranky, etc).

I tend to breeze through eating, even through food choices themselves, without really pausing to get present and real what my body is actually calling for.

My adventures in yoga therapy taught me to feel what my body most wanted in the present moment. My body wants to feel free and at ease. It wants to feel peaceful. It doesn’t want to feel weighed down with pain and discomfort and tension.

My body wants to be listened to. Deeply. On my yoga mat and in my kitchen.

So I did that.

I started to turn off the TV when I was eating so that I could feel when I was full. I put my fork down once in a while during meals to help me pause and inhale oxygen, a crucial component to any dish. I relaxed into the act of eating. I chose foods that I knew would make me feel relaxed and free and ready for whatever is next, instead of sluggish and irritated.

I didn’t need to “tackle” anything—with the pain that sent me off to a yoga therapist in the first place or with my relationship with food. When I created a space for something new, I was amazed at what was possible for me. When I got quiet enough to listen to my body and what it was truly craving—that’s when I discovered what real freedom felt like.

I didn’t have much to do after that. Having a plan in place to rehab my body or eat healthy meals that my body wants are both important. But what allows for that plan to be there is my willingness to listen, love, and support myself.

Digital Detox For Highly Sensitive People

So here I was again, crying on the floor of my tiny rented studio from an unbearable migraine and fatigue, weak and desperate after a day in the office. I seemed to have finally landed in a decent digital marketing role I’ve always wanted – a great brand, professional and ambitious colleagues, a decent salary – and yet I was at the edge of a severe depression. I was looking forward to getting to the office on Monday morning, but by the second half of Tuesday I was already feeling tired, and from Wednesday onwards would end up in tears every evening. I didn’t feel like talking to my colleagues, nor like going out anywhere. The weekend was just enough to recover. What’s wrong with me?

The Beginning Of My Digital Detox Journey

It wasn’t the first time this was happening. In my previous job, also in digital marketing, I resigned a couple of months after I started. I was feeling so unwell physically after an 8 hour daily in an open space office, where each person had at least two gigantic monitors that I could barely sleep. I could feel how my physical state was deteriorating because of the number of computers in the office. I left my job although I was risking losing my visa and being sent out of the country. A previous employer luckily allowed me to work part-time from home but the reduced salary did not pay enough. After a few months of recovery and occasional consulting work, I ended up in the job that I thought I’ve always wanted. I became a digital marketing manager of an exciting startup, launching the product in a new big market from the scratch.

However, the job turned out to be not exactly what I thought. I spent most of my days seated in front of the computer, manipulating spreadsheets, juggling journalist enquiries, doing cold sales calls, replying to customer support emails and apologizing for what I had no control over, chasing tech support so that they would finally fix bugs on the website, writing blogs and promoting the company on social media, sending email campaigns, managing external agencies and doing one hundred other things that the only person responsible for covering the whole market is expected to do. The job was far less creative than I thought and somewhat repetitive.

We all were sharing the same room, and everyone would always be on the phone making sales calls. Opening windows wasn’t encouraged as it was noisy outside, and the air conditioner made the room too cold, so the room felt stuffy most of the time. We were expected to work overtime, especially checking our emails over the weekend as a demonstration of our dedication to work. Working from home wasn’t seen as something healthy, as the company management was looking to build a “family-like” environment where everyone was learning from each other. Most colleagues had lunch at their desks in front of the laptop and preferred to talk to each other via messengers, albeit sitting within a hand distance from each other.

A Need For Digital Detox

It’s only now that I know that I’m an HSP I realize that basically everything that was happening in this company was a “red flag” for a highly sensitive person – information overload, being in a closed room with a lot of tech devices, the lack of boundaries between work and private life, a lack of natural light, air, movement and live human interaction. But at that time I wasn’t aware of my trait and couldn’t understand why I was the only who was so disturbed with all of the above, whereas everyone else was doing just fine. Leaving yet another company was not an option, so it was the time to think what I could do to support myself. Without reading anything about it, I intuitively set up a digital detox program for myself.

The first change was to stop switching on the computer from the moment I came into the office, as I knew there were hundreds of emails waiting for me. Instead, I would take 10-15 minutes every morning to prepare a tea and then sit down with a piece of paper and put together my thoughts of what I needed to do for the day. I tried not to stay in my seat all the time and spend as much time as I could in the meeting room, where I could be by myself, using sales calls as an excuse. In other times, I chose to sit on a couch in the corner, which was less exposed to radiation from the devices around. I signed up for the gym nearby, taking a lunch break to do some exercise and/or swim – I discovered that water had a tremendously regenerating effect on me after spending hours in front of the laptop, or would just go for a long walk no matter what the weather was like. I started wearing the glasses that absorb computer blinks and a protective apron to protect from too much radiation, to which I seemed to be so sensitive. When I finally negotiated one day in the middle of the week to work from home, it made a huge difference as it gave me some breathing space. Most importantly, I adjusted how I worked on my computer. I switched off all notifications and only occasionally opened my mailbox, as well as Skype, which we used for internal communications.

Now that I run a digital detox company, I know that after reading an incoming email it takes our brain 64 seconds to return to what we were doing,  so keeping notifications enabled is a guaranteed way to make you unproductive. I stopped reading any comments about my articles and my company on social media because when they made me anxious and sometimes weren’t kind, it took me long to recover from them. Although I was still expected to read my emails over the weekend, instead of thinking about them all the time, I did them in the evening. I made an effort to stand up and stretch every hour.

Deepening My Digital Detox

It wasn’t perfect, but at least it became bearable. When the contract finished, and we mutually agreed not to extend, I didn’t need to recover as long as after the first job. When I was offered the next job, a very senior role with a top global internet company, I negotiated my terms straight away – flexible working hours, ability to work from home and a 4-day a week contract. In return, I knew I could provide a strong expertise and results – if I had the flexibility to manage my digital workload. Funny enough, I ended up working for them many more hours than in the previous job, but felt less tired and was more productive – because I was able to follow my own cycles.

Information overload was still a huge challenge for me because I receive 500 emails daily in addition to video conferences. So I decided to cut back on it at least in my private life. I gave up my smartphone and exchanged it to a very basic Nokia with no internet. Not having my phone constantly with me suddenly made me aware of how anxious I had been before, and how I was allowing many distractions to dominate my life. It felt as if I had been surrounded by 10 noisy needy kids, who were all pulling me in different directions and trying to grab my attention – and all of a sudden, they disappeared after I gave up the smartphone. I started sleeping better and having more interest in people around me, not to mention being more productive. This was when I seriously thought that I can help other people not to get into the same loop I’ve been it, and started looking into what neuroscience says about the impact of technology on our health and well-being. My research meant that I founded my digital detox business, a coaching and training company called Consciously Digital.

Top Digital Detox Lessons For HSPs

There are clearly some things that HSPs need to be aware of about using digital media more than other people:

  1. Sensitivity comes in many forms, and if you think you are sensitive to computer/TV radiation, you are not crazy – this is probably true, trust your body. If you can’t avoid it altogether, try looking for a place in your office where you have less exposure to the technology.
  2. As an HSP, you MUST unplug throughout the day. Your brain processes more information and gets overwhelmed faster than the brain of a non-sensitive person. One hour on social media for you is an equivalent of 5 hours on social media for a normal person. You need a digital diet.
  3. Don’t read your emails or news in the morning – as an HSP, you are so influenced by the moods or energies of others that you’ll get charged for the whole day. Instead, you can start with something inspirational, like watching a TED talk. Or just walk to work.
  4. Ban notifications – messengers, email alerts etc. They aren’t helping anyone, but for you, they are really much more harmful than for a regular person, because they interrupt your processing and add one more item on your agenda.
  5. Today’s connected world is always about the others, as you can be reached at any time. So you need to put artificial boundaries in place when you are and are not available – you can choose to use your devices at a specific time of the day, or in a specific place, and avoid using that on other occasions (for example, keep them shut and away from sight during dinner with friends or choosing not to use them in your bedroom).

You can be effective in our interconnected world and still respect your needs as a highly sensitive person, you can avoid the hazards that will require a digital detox.

What Time Pressure Costs Us

How do you feel about the time pressure of this impatient world we live in?

Personally, I hate it, yet I often feel that slow is “wrong”.

Slow means getting run off the road by someone faster.

Slow means “missing the boat” because you can only miss it by being slow.

The fast pace of our society has a life of its own. It feels like “reality” and when we drop out of the high speed movement of our economic culture it can seem like a form of death.

But if you look at it another way, our fast paced system can feel like a form of death as well.

It seems like a catch-22.

What Time Pressure Costs Us

When you have to work fast, in my experience you also have to focus. Focus is great, but under conditions of pressure, that focus becomes narrowed to whatever will enable us to create a quick result and move on to the next action or decision.

Essentially the demand for speed forces us to be short-sighted.

There is a paradox in this: being short-sighted and fast forces us to make a lot of changes, but it also forces us to seek solutions that are “accessible”, that in effect, keep us where we are, that are not really innovative or difficult. So the project that takes longer, the relationship that requires cultivation – these things often do not happen.

What does happen is actions, decision, and people that fit our time constraints but not necessarily our needs. This is one of the reasons we feel we are in a rat race or running fast on a treadmill going nowhere. Time pressure forces us into choices that keep us stuck.

The Bigger Loss

Time pressure costs us more than we realize. While we are getting through the day, the kinds of connections, moments and observations that come with engaging with each moment often elude us. We are too busy.

There are many big consequences of time pressure:

  • we live in our heads. We make decisions based on what is expedient. Our bodies and hearts do not get a voice in what we are doing. The system, after all, has its prerogatives and its demands which must be honored.
  • we lose the mind-body connection which is an important foundation of living and also of our health. Everything in our lives and experience is processed in our minds AND bodies. There is no escape. So when we live in our heads, we do not process all of our feelings through our bodies and become stuck and sick. Our bodies feel dragged down and we feel that we are dragging them along with us rather than living fully from them.
  • we are unable to really connect. Do you ever wonder why ideology is so entrenched? When people live in their heads and go too fast, they do not have time for human connection. So they relate from political ideas or entertainments or recreational activities but not usually to each other.
  • we lose our creativity. A fast time-based system particularly a mechanistic one prefers continuity and consistency to creativity. Novelty and some innovation that serves the system are allowed but not the full-bodied creativity of an awake human being.
  • we lose our part and place in the universe. We are creative human beings. So when we cannot rock the boat by being creative then we lose our basic nature to a cultural and economic construct.
  • we lose our common ground because we are each of us competing cogs in a machine rather than collaborating co-creators of our world, a way of thinking that honors us better.

Letting Go Of Time Pressure

Letting go of time pressure is hard to do. Slowing down can seem like a luxury.

However, particularly for highly sensitive people it is a necessity because it is the only way we can give rein to our creative natures. It is also the only way we can minimize the stress that comes from being highly sensitive and taking in all of the stimulus that we take in.

So embrace the eternal present! Luxuriate in it and honor your creative talents for the benefit of all.

HSPs And Self-Care: Putting Yourself First Is Not Selfish

Highly Sensitive Persons– as a group– tend to be very giving individuals, often putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a giving nature, but the issue many HSPs end up facing is that they “give and give and give” and end up burning out, at which point there’s nothing left for them to give to the people who are– perhaps– dependent on them.

Is Saying “No” Selfish?

Over the years I’ve met a number of HSPs suffering from such burnout. After a brief conversation, it becomes evident that they may be excellent at caring for everyone else, but they are utterly clueless when it comes to taking care of themselves. In fact they would rather just ignore their own needs altogether.

The conversation might continue for a bit, and we discuss how they have to “take care of Bob’s dogs while he’s away,” and are “doing Susan’s overtime at work while she’s recovering from surgery,” and “helping the neighborhood association with their fundraiser,” and then there’s “this and that family event” involving some family members it turns out this particular HSP doesn’t even like.  It quickly becomes quite evident that they are overloaded, overstimulated and frustrated by the sheer load they are carrying, as a result of caring for the rest of the world.

Have you ever considered simply saying no to some of these people?” I will ask.

Oh, no, no… I couldn’t do that!” comes the reply, “they are depending on me. They need me. Besides, that would be very selfish of me!

Respecting Limits Is Not Selfish

HSPs often struggle with poor or “soft” personal boundaries. They especially struggle with taking on too many things in service of being helpful, and fear using the word “no,” even when it is perfectly appropriate to do so.

One of the most pervasive issues we face as HSPs is how to manage overstimulation; how to deal with a life that simply has “too much stuff” in it. There’s lots of advice out there– seminars, workshops, and guidebooks on how to better manage time, and how to “have it all” through any number of time management systems. For an HSP, however, the problem with all these systems is that their focus is on how to juggle “too many balls,” rather than on how to avoid overextending yourself, in the first place– i.e. how to not pick up too many balls to juggle. This is problematic because a central part of healthy self-care for HSPs is about keeping our load down to a manageable size.

When I mention “taking care of yourself” to an overburdened  HSP, the response I often get is that I am asking them to be “selfish.” And that saying no to someone who’s asking for help just can’t– and shouldn’t– be done. Regardless of whether such a response is the result of a helping and idealistic nature or questionable self-esteem, fact remains that we need to take care of ourselves!

Bottom line: What good are you to ANYone, if you’re too exhausted to keep your promises?

It’s Not Selfish To Be At Your Best For Others

Putting yourself first– when it comes to staying balanced and healthy– is not selfish. This may sound painfully obvious, but when I make that observation I am often facing an assortment of protests. So, when I do point out to someone that they must focus on themselves— and objections arise– I like to distinguish between the words “selfish” (as in, someone who is self-absorbed and self-involved) and “self-ish” (meaning someone who takes healthy care of themselves). I also like to use another metaphor, for illustration purposes. Most of us have been on an airplane. Before the flight starts the flight attendants will go through their “safety on board” demonstration. This includes how to use the oxygen masks, in case of a high altitude decompression. The key element to remember, which they always say: “If you are traveling with a child or someone else who needs your help, please put on your OWN mask before helping the other person.

It’s an important reminder that we HSPs must take care of ourselves before we get too busy taking care of others. And if staying healthy requires it, we must be willing to say “no” to the next person or project clamoring for our attention, if that’s what’s required of us!

Why Ayurveda Works For Stress Reduction In HSPs

As a highly sensitive person, I experience a lot of stress.

Most highly sensitive people do.

It is not a choice. Our nervous systems are sponges for the stimulus around us.

We become flooded and overwhelmed. If we are not careful we can drown and become unable to function.

Stress Reduction: A Necessity For Highly Sensitive People

Stress reduction is as much a necessity for highly sensitive people as air is for everyone. We simply cannot live without it.

When the pace of the world was slower, highly sensitive people could manage the stresses of their nervous systems better. Now that there is so much activity in our social space, the challenge of stress reduction for highly sensitive people has become more difficult and even acute.

Highly sensitive people require:

  • the opportunity to process whatever they take in
  • rest when their nervous systems are overtaxed
  • a lifestyle that supports their stress reduction requirements
  • work that supports their health and quality of life.

How Stress Reduction Problems Become Worse

Highly sensitive people can suffer more when their lifestyles do not support their needs or make their health challenges worse.

The demands of being highly sensitive require that we commit a certain amount of our energy to it. When our energy is too low or diverted elsewhere, then we will suffer and most likely become sick.

The following can make it more difficult for us to handle our sensitive natures:

  1. water, air, and noise pollution
  2. processes food
  3. food with additives
  4. GMO foods
  5. leftover foods
  6. fried and fermented foods
  7. meat which is harder to digest than other foods
  8. staying up too late
  9. lack of exercise
  10. an irregular schedule which will upset the nervous system
  11. work that is too high pressure or too much drudgery
  12. relationships that are unsupportive, competitive or demanding

Much of the modern Western lifestyle is aggravating to highly sensitive people. It is not a fault of highly sensitive people but is is a reality we have to deal with.

Why Ayurveda Makes Stress Reduction Easier For Highly Sensitive People

There are so many challenges in modern life that make life hard for highly sensitive people.

I have tried many different methods to become healthier including juicing, vitamins, supplements of various kinds, meditation, Ayurveda, reiki, affirmations and the Sedona Method. I have read many books about health and well being.

I have discovered that most methods are a form of “managing the symptoms.” I did not just want to manage symptoms. I wanted to be healthy.

Being healthy is a different goal than not having symptoms of illness. I have learned that few approaches really get the job done.

Only one that I have found has really helped me to become well and that is Ayurveda.

Why Ayurveda Works For Stress Reduction In Highly Sensitive People

As a highly sensitive person, I need to simplify whenever I can.

Health can be complicated since we are complex beings – particularly if you are highly sensitive.

Ayurveda is the one discipline that actually lets me simplify my health regimen because

  • it is a group of health practices customized to support the highest well being of each individual
  • it is holistic and total.
  • it offers a set of daily practices that let me be at my best
  • its diet strategies ensure that the problems of food in our current world are not my problem
  • TM, the Ayurvedic meditation practice is easy. It relieves stress, heals the nervous system and supports the higher self. I have been doing it for almost 20 years and love it..
  • Ayurveda has a magnificent understanding of food and herbs. Their herbal remedies have helped me immensely.

There is a lot to learn in Ayurveda. Frankly I consider myself a student and always will.

Implementing Ayurveda

I have been integrating Ayurveda into my life slowly over time. I have noticed, however, that the more I do the less I am affected by stress.

I use the following Ayurvedic practices:

  • TM has been especially helpful since I find I am less affected by drama around me after practicing TM for so long. I have been told that it works on the nervous system and heals it, which I have found to be the case.
  • I find that the daily schedule has helped me reduce stress. I like to go to bed around 9PM and rise between 5-6AM.
  • I also like the daily massage, called Abhyangha. It is self massage using oil. It helps with detoxification and stress reduction.
  • the diet is very soothing. When you eat food that is wrong for you, it creates stress in the body. The digestive system becomes weaker and toxins build up in the body. The Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle work to prevent that outcome.
  • There are times when I have had difficulty maintaining the diet for schedule reasons. I have however, maintained a regimen of herbal remedies that support me and help me detox in spite of dietary lapses. The two herbs that I use religiously are triphala and neem.
  • Ayurveda offers herbs for stress. Ashwaghandha is the best known and I take it for stress relief.

I highly recommend Ayurveda for highly sensitive people for relieving stress and putting themselves onto a path that can work to achieve quality of life: something we deserve.

I believe that it is better to put your effort into becoming adept at a health system that eliminates problems that to continually try to fix that which does not work. Micromanaging health symptoms is not the same as becoming healthy.

The best book for learning about Ayurveda as a beginner is Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health. It is a very accessible introduction to an old and skillful health tradition.

I love Ayurveda and hope you will give it a try.

How Highly Sensitive People Can Prevent Burnout

If you feel stretched beyond your limit you are not alone. The crushing workloads and stress of so many highly sensitive people  are a prescription for burnout.

You would think that avoiding burnout would simply be a matter of not crossing a threshold of fatigue.

Burnout is not that simple.

Many people in our fast-paced world burn out from the daily demands even if they are not highly sensitive.

For highly sensitive people the problem of burnout is amplified by their naturally higher stress levels caused. The overstimulation we experience is caused by a fast paced, noisy and sensory intense world.

Sources Of Burnout For Highly Sensitive People

Burnout can come from many sources for highly sensitive people:

  • work because we are increasingly expected to be as highly productive and fast-paced as our economic system demands
  • creative burnout since HSPs tend to be highly creative. Creativity does not follow a rigid schedule. However,  the expectation is that it will. Creativity can create pressure all by itself, but with time pressures added, creative burnout can be a result.
  • high empathy can result in serious burnout problems. Our empathy may cause us to dig deep and be extremely conscientious which is an added demand that we place on ourselves. It may not be rewarded, but is something we do to be at peace with ourselves.
  • too much sensory stimulation from all forms of noise, light, chemicals, and electronics to name a few can add also to our burnout potential.
  • toxic relationships, at home and at work are contributing factors as well.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is not just an emotional problem. Merriam-Webster  defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”

These factors sound simple and probably reflect the reality of non=HSPs. However that does not mean that they do not apply equally to highly sensitive people.

In the case of HSPs, both can be serious factors because our need for rest is high and frequent and because many forms of work do not suit us, in particular all forms of drudgery.

But there are additional factors for highly sensitive people:

  • the rest we need from being around people too much
  • the rest we need from all forms of excessive stimulation:
    • light
    • sound
    • fabric and touch
    • entertainment
    • crowds
    • high pressure situations
    • competitive situations
    • toxic social environments

Work burnout can also occur

  1. when the work we are doing doesn’t suit our skills or interests.
  2. when we know we are not interested in a particular job or task and force ourselves to do it too often
  3. when our work environment is fear-based and highly political
  4. when we have too many emergencies, both at work and at home
  5. when we are sick or a family member is sick causing us to burn the candle at both ends.

Work is a particularly challenging subject for highly sensitive people since we have the need for work that is meaningful, self-paced and our “calling.”

All these factors – the presence of some or absence of others create stress for highly sensitive people. Since our systems are so sensitive, poor health habits will only make all of the potential burnout factors worse.

When we are well we can withstand some turbulence in our lives. When rough spots last too long they start to debilitate us. Life is not meant to be a long emergency.

Assessing Burnout Potential In Your Life

To assess burnout potential in your life, evaluate each aspect of your life below on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being low in stress and burnout potential and 10 being extreme burnout potential.

  1. consider your physical condition:
    • if you are strong and have physical reserves, you may be an HSP who has the ability to withstand long-term stressful situations.
    • if you are an HSP with lower resilience, you need to be careful about how much stress you tolerate and make adjustments to prevent physical burnout.
    • you become fatigued easily
    • you are sick or get sick easily
  2. consider your work situation.
    • are you valued?
    • are you doing work you love r is a lot of it drudgery?
    • do you have the skills you need to succeed in your field?
    • do you work with people who are good for you including taking your sensitivity into account?
    • is the organization well managed so that you are not affected by constant emergencies?
    • do you have to overwork too much?
    • are you compensated well? Are your benefits good?
  3. consider your relationships.
    • start with your family. Is it a warm, loving and supportive family? Are you accepted or are you generally frustrated by the disregard and unhappiness in your family?
    • do you have close supportive friends who accept and understand your sensitivity?
    • do you have a community you are a part of that is also supportive of your HSP trait?
    • are you happy with your social life?
    • are your work relationships good and productive?
  4. consider the time of year.
    • are there certain times when you are more overloaded than others and at risk of burnout?
    • are there times when the people around you are overloaded and your responsibilities increase as a result?
  5. consider the overall stress conditions in your life?
    • do you have burnout in some or two area spilling over into others and are you able to take time to heal?
    • do you see the potential for burnout to develop in any area in the future?
    • when you look at your burnout assessment how does it look to you? piece of cake? manageable? serious burnout potential?

There are no right answers and no score to determine your burnout potential. Your assessment is a map of your current situation so that you can easily get a high level view of your current situation.

With your assessment in hand, it might be useful to consider whether your burnout challenges are people challenges, time management challenges, or a need to develop skills. Sometimes we lack a skill set that could make our life easier, save time and reduce stress.

Steps To Prevent Burnout

Anyone can suffer from burnout. Highly sensitive people are likely to be more quickly affected than others by a high demand culture. But there are some steps you can take to insulate from the worst effects of burnout.

Here are 9 things you can do to prevent your sensitivity from turning into full blown burnout:

  1. strengthen your body first.  Improve your energy by getting a great night’s sleep, exercising, keeping hydrated and eating well.  Detox your body since toxins can build up causing debility over time. Take herbs to support your nervous system and defuse the impact of stress on your body.
  2. learn to meditate to relieve stress and help you with emotional balance. A long term meditation practice can help you detach from toxic people and helps restore your nervous system.
  3. make a list of all the areas of your health that you need to work on and set priorities for them.
  4. research on the internet about areas of your life that need significant improvement. Do not be afraid to tackle large issues like career choices and family problems.
  5. do not be afraid to cut back on commitments that are too draining.  Your other commitments will benefit from your improved attention. You are not responsible for others expectations.
  6. upgrade your skills to keep yourself marketable and functioning well and minimize job stress.
  7. for the tasks you hate, you have several options: drop them if they are really unimportant, break them up into small bite size work units so that you only have to so it for a short time, delegate them, or trade your undesired task with someone else’s undesired task. Avoid drudgery. It is notoriously draining for HSPs.
  8. determine what is most important to you so that you increase your time spent on your high value activities and therefore increase your satisfaction. It will cushion you from less pleasant experiences.
  9. treat burnout as a life-time concern that you can eliminate but taking good care of your life. It is a serious challenge for HSPs but one worth taking on.

Everyone’s life matters and everyone deserves to enjoy their life.

HSPs need to learn to say no. You do not have to carry the world on your shoulders.

When you are flexible, mindful about commitments and your highly sensitive nature and take excellent care of yourself you are doing what is necessary to beat burnout.

Preventing burnout is one of the most important things a highly sensitive person can do.

It is worth the effort.

HSP Toolbox: Daily Journaling

Highly sensitive people tend to be empathic by nature, but focusing on the wants and needs of others can sometimes result in self-neglect. Unexpressed thoughts or feelings can lead to stress, anxiety, and poor health. However, expressing yourself does not mean you have to confide in another person. The simple act of writing on paper gives you an outlet for your inner life and protects you from reactions or criticisms that a person might have. Journaling might seem like a daunting task, but if you keep your expectations low, you can create a safe place for honesty.

Daily Journaling

You do not have to be a great writer or have nice penmanship to benefit from this activity. You just need to be honest with and compassionate toward yourself.

  1. Necessary tools: a notebook and a pen. I encourage you to write, not to type. You could do this activity with a word processor on your computer, but the act of writing by hand discourages self-criticism and impulsive editing.
  2. Write two pages in long hand, front and back. The ominous tick of a timer can interrupt the flow of your thoughts onto the page. By setting a goal to write until you’ve filled up two pages, you’re free to take as much or as little time as you need.
  3. Do not censor or editYour inner critic will want to scratch out a poorly worded sentence. Your mind is not subject to readership.
  4. Be honest. Your inner empath will refrain from saying what you really feel (i.e. “My neighbor is so rude for blasting the music at 2 AM.”). No one will see these pages but you. You can’t afford to lie to yourself.
  5. Keep writing. Even if you have nothing to write about, then write: “I have nothing to write about.” Keep the physical act of writing going no matter how pointless it seems.
  6. Do it daily. Committing to daily journaling is for your wellbeing. You do it daily because you deserve to be honest with yourself daily. You deserve to say exactly what’s on your heart and mind. You deserve to put yourself first for two pages a day.
  7. Be mindful. Over time, you will notice subtle changes in your self-awareness and mood. Take note of the themes in your writing and how your issues resolve through pen and paper.

You can combine this activity with a breathing meditation to create a healthy ritual to start or end your day.

HSP Toolbox: Breathing Meditation

In the article How You Breathe Matters, Maria Hill discussed the importance of breath and oxygen to the body, especially for highly sensitive people. She explains that when we are stressed, our body runs on emergency stores of oxygen as our breath becomes quick and shallow. In a stimulating and extraverted world, highly sensitive people need to begin the habit of stopping and tuning into the breath to make sure they are nourishing themselves with stress-relieving oxygen.

Breathing Meditation

This exercise is great for meditators of every level and easy to do in any environment.

  1. Direct your attention to your breath. Listen to it. Feel it. Take note of the way it sounds and how it feels passing through your nostrils and down your throat.
  2. Don’t worry about changing your breath, but you might naturally breathe deeper just because you’re paying attention.
  3. Make room for your breath by adjusting your posture; try to sit up straight with shoulders back and hands in your lap or by your sides. Imagine the crown of your head floating toward the sky.
  4. Fix your eyes on one spot in front of you or on the floor. You can also close your eyes if you’d like.
  5. The most important part: smile. Just a small lift of the corners of your lips will do. (You can try doing this meditation without smiling. Note the difference.)
  6. Count through eight (8) cycles of breath. That means one inhale and one exhale equals one cycle.
  7. When you’re done, you can choose to keep going or go about your business.

Benefits

  • Redirects awareness away from external stimuli and stressful circumstances.
  • Increases oxygen intake.
  • Resets breathing pattern.
  • Enhances mood, especially if you smile!
  • Discrete and non-disruptive.
  • Can be done anywhere at anytime.
  • Cultivates mindfulness.

Building the Habit

Breathing meditation has no prerequisites. You can do it in the morning or before bed. You can do it on your commute or in the shower. You don’t need a meditation cushion or special posture. This exercise is meant to be a natural part of your everyday life. After a few sessions and experiencing the benefits, you might find yourself weaving it into your daily regimen. Just keep it in your self-care toolbox and use it whenever you need to refocus.

HSP Toolbox: Mindful Walking

 

As highly sensitive people, it’s easy for us to get stuck in our heads. Sometimes we’re unable to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations, which influence us to replay situations over and over in our heads. “Did I say the wrong thing?” “Is she angry with me?” These and other familiar scripts rob us of time and energy. How do we break the cycle and rejuvenate?

Mindful Walking

Mindful walking is taking a stroll in nature and gently coaching your mind to stay focused on the present moment and your current surroundings. If possible, make this a part of your daily ritual or self-care routine.

  1. Choose your path. Whether it’s the local park, the beach, or just a few blocks in your neighborhood, choose a path that’s accessible. You can also practice mindful walking in a mall or store, but nothing beats fresh air and sunshine.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing. Avoid flip flops or shoes with little support. Walking shoes are ideal, and barefoot in the sand can be soothing. Dress appropriately for the weather.
  3. Give yourself time. You can set aside any amount of time to practice this exercise, but thirty minutes allows you to really enjoy the experience. Wander for fifteen minutes and use the last fifteen to get yourself back.
  4. Unplug. If you can, put your phone on silent or leave it behind. Sending text messages or checking your social media takes away from the mindfulness practice!
  5. Go for it! Just start walking. Every time you notice your mind wandering to something that doesn’t involve your immediate surroundings, gently redirect your awareness.
  6. Let your senses be your guide. Breathe in fresh air. Notice the colors of the leaves, the sky, the grass, and the flowers. Listen to the sound of your feet hitting the ground. Feel the breeze brush against your cheeks. Tie your mind to your senses so you can stay present.
  7. Don’t give up. Sometimes you’ll notice that you’ve been worrying about something or replaying a conversation in your head. That’s okay! Be compassionate with yourself and kindly bring your mind back to the present moment.

According to the American Heart Association, making a brisk 30-minute walk part of your daily routine can improve blood pressure, reduce risk for conditions such as heart disease, and enhance mental well-being. As for mindfulness practice, the American Psychological Association indicates that it can reduce rumination, emotional reactivity, and stress while improving memory, focus, and cognitive flexibility. You can combine this practice with a breathing meditation and daily journaling to create a self-care ritual to start or end your day.