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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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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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