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How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3)

How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3)

The Highly Sensitive Person

    A three-part series on how to thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person. This is Part 1.

    At any given time, 1 in 5 people in the room is experiencing the moment with greater emotional intensity than the other four. And since moments make up life, in any given moment, 1 in 5 people is experiencing life itself more intensely than others.

    This person knows it. And he is pissed off.

    “Why do I take things so seriously? Why do I care when others don’t seem to? Why do I feel more intensely than others? Why am I so sensitive?”

    Up to 20% of the population come with a personality trait that makes them more sensitive: The Highly Sensitive Personality Trait.

    Among many  things, this trait makes you more aware and process stimuli more deeply than those who do not have the trait (80-85%).

    A large chunk of HSPs have come to equate this as a fatal flaw in their inherent makeup.

    And that is a very sad conclusion.

    The trait has so many benefits and advantages, but because it’s often misunderstood, many of those advantages never get a chance to come to the surface.

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    We remain so locked up in trying to fight our sensitivity with a goal to get it to go away. Why? What has caused us to be so upset with the way we are that we actually want to be someone we’re not?

    I think because we don’t understand sensitivity holistically, we’ve made some serious errors in interpreting what it means to be a sensitive person.

    Can we try to clear out some misunderstandings?

    In this three-part HSP series, we’re digging deeper into what it means to be an HSP, what misunderstandings of the trait we’re caught up in and how we can become more at peace with ourselves.

    This is Part 1.

    ***

    You have an innate ability to see more. Are you happy about that?

    The Highly Sensitive Personality Trait is characterized by a high awareness, particularly of subtleties in the environment.

    We’re not just highly aware of our external environment (people, the world, what we take in through our senses), but we’re also highly aware of our internal environment (our own thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and memories).

    So you’re not just faster in noticing the more obvious things, such as how many people there are in room and the way the furniture is arranged, but also the subtleties happening among these things, such as the body language of people, their energies and shifts in moods.

    And it doesn’t stop there. While you’re aware of what’s outside of you, you’re also aware of what’s happening inside of you. “My heart is racing while talking to this standoffish woman.”

    This means that 80-85% of the people may not have seen Rita’s face slightly drop at the mention of Sharon’s job promotion, but you did. Why? Not because you’re a hyper vigilant, people obsessed maniac, but more because your brain is wired to pick up the subtleties.

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    This is a good point to introduce the research that shows the HSP brain.

    Brain scans show how HSPs are more aware and attentive to subtle stimuli. 80-85% of the population doesn’t have this kind of awareness of subtleties. It has nothing to do with preference or intention, but just because their brain areas that respond to subtleties don’t fire up in the same way as HSPs.

    The first misunderstanding to drop right of the bat is that you cause your own awareness.

    No you don’t. You do not make yourself see the negative in life, such as Rita’s face dropping at the mention of Sharon’s promotion.

    Your high awareness is automatic and it comes with your trait. It’s your brain.

    The irony is that this should make us ecstatic about ourselves. Think about it. If you can pick up the subtleties that go missed by most of the people around you, doesn’t that provide you with more opportunities to be novel and creative?

    The well-adjusted HSPs of the world tend to think so. It’s not like they don’t have strong feelings arising from the awareness of all the subtleties they pick up . They just intentionally elect to not be ashamed of their intensity, but on the contrary, comfortable with it. They use their sensitivity to intentionally live in ways that give their life more meaning.

    The brain scan research also shows that compared to non-HSPs, HSPs are

    1. More reactive to both positive stimuli (love, empathy, music, arts, nature etc) and negative stimuli (fear, distress, pain, cruelty, injustices
    2. More empathetic (affected by and responsive) to other peoples’ emotions, feeling states and energies

    Is this a surprise?

    “You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times. And yet, as an actor you’re consciously and unconsciously allowing that to happen… It’s my choice, and I would rather do it this way than live to be 100… Or rather than choosing not to exist within life’s extremities. I’m willing to fly close to the flame.”  – Nicole Kidman

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    On the other hand, non-adjusted HSPs have experienced their awareness as a problem.

    Without the understanding that awareness is automatic and not within their control, many HSPs who pick up subtle social clues of their environment assume that they do so because of their own dirty, bad habit.

    “Karen is right. I always find the negative in a situation. Like Jessica had a frown on her face and looked upset.”

    Maybe you’re just noticing Jessica’s frown for what it is. And maybe Karen is one of those 80-85% non-HSPs who just doesn’t see it.

    So what are we supposed to do then? We come with a trait that makes us see more, but others don’t see it and tell us we make this shit up.

    And this is where the gift starts converting into a curse.

    When others don’t validate me? No.

    It’s when I assume that I need their validation of me, in order to experience me.

    More specifically, when I ask non-HSPs for validation.

    If we try to force non-HSPs to experience life as an HSP, we are surely going to fail. They are not going to see what you see. They are just not wired to. Think about it, can they force you to not be so aware? Can you not see Jessica’s frown when it showed up? No right? Your awareness is part of your innate trait. It’s automatic for you. Exactly in the same way, non-HSPs lack of awareness of subtleties is automatic for them. Their brains do not pick up the subtleties the way yours does.

    It’s time we stop taking this so personally and try to drop the anger.

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    The non-HSPs are the majority. They are 80-85% of the population. So for every one person who sees something, there may be four others who don’t.

    The best way to be happy about this is by stop asking for validation from the four others. Most likely, it doesn’t come the way we want it to come. And that makes us bitter and angry. How dare they tell me I’m too sensitive.

    Your awareness is a gift only when you start treating it as one.

    Here are eight ways to start.

    1. Accept that you are an HSP, and that makes you have a depth of awareness of subtleties that 80-85% of the people around you don’t have. If you’re unclear whether you’re and HSP, take the test.
    2. Accept that you don’t create your awareness. It comes to you. It’s your brain. It’s your trait.
    3. Try to trust that awareness. You don’t need non-HSPs to give you permission to experience your awareness.
    4. Don’t force your sensitivity on others and make it anyone else’s problem. There are 4 out of 5 people who don’t see what you see. Why would you assume they should?
    5. Try not to be so bitter at non-HSPs. Let them be. You can learn how to coexist together but you don’t have to get each other. Also, temperamental differences between people doesn’t mean one side is better than the other. The world needs both HSPs and non HSPs to be a fully functional place.
    6. Realize that you are still a minority, and the temptation to think something is wrong with you can indeed come up. A 4:1 ratio between non-HSPs and HSPs seems overwhelming, particularly if non-HSPs tell us our intensity is abnormal. No it’s not. The 1.4 billion or so HSPs in the world don’t think so.
    7. Try to find more HSPs who get what it means to be an HSP. These are people who will normalize sensitivity for us, giving us the validation we’ve been looking for. But minimize your interaction with bitter people – HSP or not.
    8. Experience your awareness as an advantage. There are HSPs who love their life because of what their sensitivity brings to them. Famous artists, actors, entrepreneurs share how none of their art would be possible without their sensitivity to nuance. This makes total sense, doesn’t it? How can creativity exist without sensitivity to nuance?

    We want to appreciate our awareness as a gift, so let’s learn to stop fighting it as a curse. The world needs your sensitivity, not you running away from it.

    Recommended Reading
    Book: The Highly Sensitive Person
    Comfort Zone: Dr Elaine Aron’s deep dives into the HSP trait, coming to your inbox as a monthly newsletter

    ***

    In Parts 2 and 3, I dig into more confusions HSPs have about their trait that prevent them from living more authentically. High awareness of subtleties makes you see more, but all this seeing overloads our nervous system. The overload can make us shut down or react in ways we don’t want and come to regret. The challenge is even harder when all of this happens to us mainly at a subconscious level. How should we enjoy our trait when the overstimulation from it leave us exhausted, tired and angry at ourselves and the world that doesn’t understand us? Stay tuned by signing up.

    Featured photo credit: Chan Y., unsplash.com via unsplash.com

    More by this author

    Namita Gujral

    Anxiety Coach

    HSP, Highly Sensitive Person 6 Decisions a Highly Sensitive Person MUST make (Part 3/3) The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3) How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3) 5 Reasons to Quit Intellectualizing Your Emotions How to Overcome Anxious Thoughts With Milk, a Hat, and a Post Office

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    Published on July 7, 2020

    Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

    Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

    Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

    Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

    The Skinny on Mental Workouts

    Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

    Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

    1. Improved Memory

    After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

    2. Reduced Stress Levels

    Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

    3. Improved Work Performance

    Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

    4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

    As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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    Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

    Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

    The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

    1. Brainstorming

    One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

    If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

    2. Dancing

    Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

    Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

    3. Learning a New Language

    Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

    With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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    4. Developing a Hobby

    Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

    If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

    For example:

    • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
    • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
    • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
    • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

    Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

    5. Board Games

    Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

    Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

    6. Card Games

    Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

    A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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    7. Puzzles

    Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

    Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

    8. Playing Music

    Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

    Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

    What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

    9. Meditating

    Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

    Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

    • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
    • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
    • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
    • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
    • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
    • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

    10. Deep Conversation

    There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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    Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

    11. Cooking

    When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

    If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

    12. Mentorship

    Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

    Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

    Final Thoughts

    Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

    To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

    More Tips for Training Your Brain

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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