Are you Highly Sensitive?
It was pointed out to me several years ago that I am a "Highly Sensitive Person". I had heard the term, but honestly kind of rolled my eyes...Isn't everyone sensitive? Well, no, I have discovered that they aren't. This realization has helped me have a much better understanding of how I function and what my needs are.
This label, "Highly Sensitive Person" is also referred to as having "Sensory Processing Sensitivity", and it is a real thing...scientific studies have confirmed it, and it affects about 20% of the population. (Please note: this is not the same as Sensory Processing Disorder) The brain of an HSP is wired differently.
I always have felt that there was something wrong with me. That I shouldn't be so sensitive to crowds, lights, temperature, noise. I honestly thought everyone must feel the same but be able to handle it better and couldn't figure out why I had such a hard time.
When I was a kid and would go to the mall with my older sisters, I would feel sick and exhausted every time. I would get headaches and migraines. Once I even threw up in an ashtray (remember those??) in the middle of the mall, much to my sisters mortification. Looking back I realize it must have been a combination of the lights, the crowds, lack of fresh air, and the chemicals from all the new products.
Even though being highly sensitive can be challenging, especially if you are not aware of it, there are many gifts in it as well. Generally HSPs are intuitive, empathic and feel deeply...both joy and sadness. And while feeling sadness more deeply might seem like a bad thing, I actually find it oddly nourishing. It feels satisfying to experience the whole spectrum of human emotion. The more deeply we can feel sadness and anger, the more deeply we can feel joy and love. Many times I have found myself feeling deep sadness then in the midst of it feel a flood of joy at the sight of light falling through the trees outside my window.
I have been taking a class called "Brains = Behaviours" taught by a music therapist named Allison Davies. She is autistic and even though the class is geared toward helping sensitive children, particularly neurodivergent kids, most of it applies to everyone. She talks about taking care of our brains needs on a daily basis to help
us function at our best. She suggests things like taking "sensory breaks", listening to music, adjusting lighting, noise cancelling headphones, etc.
She has created a culture in her family where these needs and sensitivities are honored. I love that. There is something so validating and loving about accepting the way your brain and nervous system are wired. Then you can take care of your needs. Pushing yourself to suck it up and stop being so sensitive doesn't work...believe me, I have tried it!
So, whether you are highly sensitive or not, we can all benefit from being aware of our needs and limits. We can all benefit from honoring those needs, for our families and friends and ourselves.
Please see below for a list of HSP traits, as well as a list of suggestions for caring for your brain and nervous system so you can function at your best!
Are you Highly Sensitive?
• Are you easily overwhelmed by noise, bright lights, or strong smells? • Do you need to withdraw during the day to a quiet, dark room for privacy and relief? • Does time pressure rattle you? • Do you think and reflect deeply? • Do you choose your clothing based on comfort and texture? • Does being hungry seem to affect you more than others? • Are you deeply moved by beauty, kindness and truth? • Does lying and falseness feel painful to your soul? • Do you avoid news and violent movies?
Brain and Nervous System care
These suggestions are meant to be used on a daily basis as management.
◆ Take sensory breaks: turn off radios, TV, social media. Dim lights.
◆ Listening to the same melodic music, watching the same shows or movies, reading the same books, are all calming to the nervous system because they are predictable, which the brain loves!
◆ Using a fidget toy, stress putty, a smooth rock, etc can help calm an overwhelmed nervous system. The brain's job is to process every piece of sensory input to make sure there are no threats. When we are overwhelmed it can help to have one sensation - pressure, music, movement - for the brain to focus on.
◆ 4/8 breathing: Breathing out more slowly than the in-breath physiologically calms the nervous system. Breathe in to a count of 4, breathe out to a count of 8. Do this for several minutes a day. Click HERE for the guided video
◆ Scanning & Orienting. The most effective way I know to get out of fight/flight response. Learn more HERE