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The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3)

The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3)

A three-part series on how to thrive a highly sensitive person. This is Part 2.

Imagine you and your friend go to the gym for a week.

She does light walking on the treadmill 2 times this week for 30 minutes each time. You run 90 minutes for 5 days.

Whose muscles have worked more? Whose muscles need more rest to get ready for next week’s training?

You or your friend?

It’s the same situation between HSP and non-HSP.

In Part 1, we came to understand that HSPs come with an innate ability to notice more. More of what? More of the subtleties. The subtleties of what? I have to say..of everything.

If you’re an HSP, this will not require much explanation. You’ll get it right away.

You pick up details happening around you that 80% of people miss.

Tim looks pensive. He didn’t yesterday. Seems like he’s having trouble getting his words out. There’s a kind of heaviness in his voice. He also seems distracted, lost in his thoughts. Meanwhile, his wife Rita doesn’t seem to be looking at him. She’s addressing everyone else in the group, but she’s not looking at Tim. Something seems wrong. Maybe something has happened between them.

You tell your friend Sandy “Did you notice Tim and Rita both seemed different today,”

Sandy shrugs. “Nope. Should we get more cake?”

Classic case. Sandy doesn’t see these subtleties. You do.

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For HSPs, noticing the subtleties isn’t just restricted to noticing people. It could be anything in the environment. The room smells different, it smells like my childhood friend’s perfume. This song has few beats that sound like the song on the radio yesterday.

Do you make these things up? How come you pick up things that 80-85% of the people around you don’t see? Is this some disordered hyper vigilance? Is your awareness intentional? Something that you manufactured? Something that you consciously control?

Your higher awareness is part of a trait that you have and that others don’t. It’s biological. There are brain differences that make HSPs more attentive to stimuli.

“Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people—that’s about it. HSPs can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, the friendships and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of the one who arranged the flowers.”Dr. Elaine Aron

What then happens with this higher awareness?

HSP’s Depth of Processing

Along with higher awareness, HSP brains also deeply process all the extra information coming in. HSP brains automatically start organizing this data and start to make sense of it.

Notice how you saw the subtleties of Tim, but then your brain automatically starts processes the information to organize it?

“Tim looks pensive” doesn’t stop there. The HSP brain automatically starts the deep processing. “He didn’t yesterday”…

In other words, HSP brains not just have a higher awareness, but also an innately greater ability to process that awareness inside of them.

All this means that HSP nervous systems have to work harder to process all the incoming data coming into them.

This is where the difference between you and your friend’s weekly gym routine is the correct comparison.

You worked harder in the gym, you need more rest. HSPs nervous systems work harder than non-HSPs (because of the extra awareness of subtleties). HSP’s nervous systems need more rest. As simple as that.

The HSP noticed Tim, compared him with the Tim from yesterday, noticed Rita, compared her with the Rita from yesterday, then noticed Rita with Tim, Rita with the others. Phew!

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Sandy bypassed this whole thing. All she noticed was the cake missing from her plate.

So of course, the HSP nervous system is more stimulated than Sandy’s.

What does stimulation feel like?

It’s a physical thing. It’s a bodily reaction.

First, it’s important to remember that stimulation happens for all human, and several non-human species. Sandy salivates when talking about cake. A dog’s tail wags when you talk to it with adoration. A baby smiles when you talk to it with love.

What is all this? It’s stimulation. It’s a reaction that shows up in your body in response to environmental stimulus.

When it’s within a trait’s comfortable range, stimulation is what drives us forward. Sandy makes a decision to walk over to the dessert table. A dog walks closer to you so you can pet it. A college student decides to major in architecture after being mesmerized from his trip to the Taj Mahal. A couple decides to adopt a foster child after their eye-opening trip to a foster home.

Without stimulation, there is no motivation to initiate action. If the image of a cake didn’t excite Sandy, she’s having little reason to want to fill her plate with it.

It’s really when stimulation is outside your optimal comfort zone, then it can feel like hell.

Your body feels a little zapped. Uncoordinated. It feels like you’re about to crash into a mental shut down. There’s an overload on your system, and you cannot think straight. Perhaps your heart pounds faster, brain starts working on overdrive, thinking becomes flustered, it’s a feeling of “feeling too much.”

HSP can reach this state faster and more often than 80-85% of the population.

Why does that happen?

My response is “Why should it not?”

You’re sensitive to nuance. Your trait makes you take in a lot of nuance. What else do you expect should happen other than the nervous system responding?

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You: Tim. Rita. Tim yesterday. Rita yesterday. Tim and Rita. Rita and Tim.

Sandy: Cake.

Now this sounds like a problem doesn’t it?

If over stimulation felt like a tender walk through a rose garden, then HSPs wouldn’t be so upset.

But overstimulation of the nervous system can feel like all hell broke loose. Particularly because most times, you haven’t asked for it. It all happens outside of your control. The awareness of the subtleties is automatic. The deep processing inside the brain is automatic. The over stimulated nervous system from doing all this extra work is automatic.

And what happens when we experience things that we don’t understand or have control over?

Fear.

The first step to thriving as an HSP is to understand over-stimulation and stop calling it fear.

Unless you know about your trait, chances are you will not understand how awareness and over-stimulation are working through your trait and into your life experiences.

All you know at a conscious level is that you are “feeling too much”, as represented by the physical symptoms you feel. Heart racing, breath shallow, palms sweating, foggy thinking, overwhelm etc.

Unfortunately, because over stimulation can have the same physical tone as anxiety and fear, the temptation to confuse the two happens quickly.

“It is important not to confuse arousal with fear. Fear creates arousal, but so do many other emotions, including joy, curiosity, or anger . But we can also be overaroused by semiconscious thoughts or low levels of excitement that create no obvious emotion. Often we are not aware of what is arousing us, such as the newness of a situation or noise or the many things our eyes are seeing.” — Dr. Elaine Aron.

When you label over-stimulation of the body as fear “I must be afraid if my heart is beating faster”, then what do you think happens?

Next step is that you will look for a trigger. Then you hypothesize. With an exceptional imagination of an HSP, most certainly you will find something to be afraid of. “I must be afraid of meeting new people socially.”

“Once we do notice arousal, we want to name it and know its source in order to recognize danger. And often we think that our arousal is due to fear. We do not realize that our heart may be pounding from the sheer effort of processing extra stimulation.” — Dr Elaine Aron.

If we misinterpret over-stimulation as fear, soon enough it becomes fear.

But unlike fearing an object outside of you, you start fearing whatever’s going on inside of you.

To a certain degree, you can avoid external stimuli like an airplane, large crowds or whatever it is that scares you outside. But how do you escape from your own self? You cannot. There is no way (or need) to change your inherited trait.

“Why is my heart pounding so fast?” is a scary position to be in when all you know about heart-pounding is that it’s something that happens when you watch a scary movie. Or when a dog barks up on you from behind. Or when your school principal yells at you.

You have come to relate heart pounding with fear.

“If my heart is pounding, I must be afraid of meeting these new people.”

But when you know your trait, you understand that your heart doesn’t just pound when you face obvious danger, but also when you are automatically aware of “too much” or “too new” sensory stimulus.

“Ok, so it’s the “newness” of everything that I am unconsciously picking up on that makes my heart pound. That woman seems cold and aloof: I don’t like the vibe. This man seems nervous: I wish I could help him relax. Meanwhile, I am uncomfortable with how long this event is: Wish I knew. I also feel that my heart is pounding, I can feel every single beat.”

There is a big difference between the two states.

With the first, you are faced with symptoms that you don’t understand. With the second, the understanding of the trait helps reduce the symptoms.

Without having much control over the symptoms (heart-pounding), the first situation leads you to anxiety. But the second allows you to understand your trait and hang in there without freaking out.

Big difference.

Once HSPs stop confusing over stimulation with fear, they’ve freed themselves up significantly. The fight to overcome fear is an honorable endeavor, but the fight to overcome a trait is hurtful one. The HSP trait doesn’t need to be fought. It needs to be understood. It asks you to make a good plan to optimize life using the strengths of your trait, not struggle with a life that rejects it.

In Part 3 of this HSP series, we’re going to do just that. We”ll take specific steps to stop the war against our sensitivity and start thriving from who we really are.

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Featured photo credit: Highly Sensitive Person via unsplash.com

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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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