Have you ever felt sad in the summer? Seen your deep-down grief juxtaposed against a sunny sky and wondered What’s wrong with me?
When the weather is lovely and everyone’s off on holiday, it can be hard to process and honour our painful feelings. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to get beyond the idea that we “should” be feeling fabulous, on the beach, in the middle of August. For some of us, though, our emotional range and intensity (our ability to experience intense joy and sorrow, and a million other things) are some of our greatest assets. And they don’t always take the summer off.
Giving ourselves permission to feel whatever we’re feeling is a gift. Human bodies, minds, and lives don’t often follow the exact same rhythms. We are all so different from one another! Yet, because of the way our society and economy are set up, summer sadness seems to trigger a special kind of loneliness. It can feel like being set apart from everyone—like being lost at sea while everyone else relaxes on the shore. If we can stop feeling bad about feeling bad, perhaps it would be easier to see what our emotional turbulence can teach us about ourselves and the world.
Get cozy with your strong emotions
A while ago, I shared Elizabeth’s wonderful post Grieving Every Day. As someone for whom sadness is a recurring presence in her life, Elizabeth tries to incorporate honoring these feelings into each day. I admire how she’s sought to build up her relationship with these feelings, learning to coexist with them and understand their value:
Some pain is personal and individual and recognising individual pain and its cause can be very important. But some pain might be universal and this kind of pain may need a different approach. Overall I believe we need to rethink our relationship with pain and sadness and not see them as villains to be conquered or avoided.
If we intimately know our grief, it’s less likely to throw us off, even if it shows up unexpectedly.
Sadness is not necessarily random
For some of us, summer is an especially difficult time. If you have experienced a trauma in your past, strong emotions may be triggered by certain holidays, kinds of weather, or seasonal activities. These can be really subtle, and we may not even see the connections between our surroundings and our emotions at first.
Physiological responses to light and temperature can also affect our moods, especially if we’re highly sensitive to environmental stimuli to begin with. You might be familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is commonly thought of as a kind of “winter blues,” but about a tenth of people with SAD actually experience it in the summer. Having a hard time with the warm summer months is pretty normal. It doesn’t make you no fun, and it doesn’t mean you’re broken.
How are you feeling today?
How has summer been for you this year? Are you sad to see it go, or relieved that autumn will soon be here? What patterns can you see in the way your heart moves through the year?
This is Rilke’s description of the movement of sadness, in Letters to A Young Poet. I like this definition of being touched: being a conduit for feelings rather than a reservoir for them or a victim of them. It makes me think about whether perhaps we are built to process emotions. It is possible for feelings to pass through the centre of us without damaging us, just as it is possible for emotional experiences to hurt us in deep and lasting ways.
Understanding the architecture of your centre allows you to know what your capacities are.
Knowing ourselves, we know how much we can take. This is particularly important for HSP, as our sensitivity can make our capacities and strengths different from other people’s. When it feels safe, allowing ourselves to be deeply touched by emotion can be a way to move toward growth and change.
Our sadnesses [ . . . ] are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Whilst sadness can spark a change in us, so too can change make us feel sad.
This is part of the reason transitions can be so difficult, even if we’re leaving behind something that no longer serves us or moving on to something exciting. Whether we are intentional and resolute or we feel that we’re being torn from our comfort zone, we are often thrown off kilter when things shift.
All change is a kind of loss, isn’t it? And this loss is not only external. Change can make us feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves or turning away from a path we expected to travel in our lives.
Moments of loss and sorrow create important spaces within us.
We can experience grave and overwhelming sadness when we lose something important to us—sometimes when we just think about how that loss might feel in the future—and loss can take many forms, from cancelled plans for coffee, to being laid off, to an illness that changes our abilities temporarily or permanently.
But it also seems that we can experience the sadness that comes with change as a vital kind of loss, as a feeling of being emptied out and ready for something new to enter. A feeling of being “empty” may mean that there is a space in our heart whose purpose remains undefined. For the new. Or perhaps even that a new space is formed, awakening us to our wholeness.
What if a feeling of sadness indicates a need for reflection, silence and stillness? How can we figure out what the spaces left inside us are for?
Sadness and grief aren’t moments, but processes. Fighting the passing of sadness, circling round in the unpleasant feeling, can be more challenging than taking space and silence, and letting it pass through. We each go through the process of feeling differently.
We cannot avoid sadness. If we understand our individual process, accepting the fact that we are deeply touched both by sorrow and joy, Highly Sensitive People can live in our intensity in ways that serve us, making choices based on our individual desires and boundaries.
Sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more, — is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
I wonder what we might gain by welcoming sadness and joy as they move through us, in all their transformative potential?
P.S. If you’ve found the quotes in this post interesting, you might like to have a look at the rest of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet here.
I met a woman recently who described how she’d never felt so vulnerable, open and strong; how she cries more easily than she used to. I saw a truth in her, and I (re)learned something I had, at some level, always known: that embodying every version of yourself, the selfish and the kind, the joyous and the fearful, in fact every apparent contradiction; creates an ever expanding space for the strength of the many. This strength is not in spite of your anger, sadness or the person you were, but because of it.
Strong can mean impervious, a stronghold where nothing can breach the walls. This is the strength of castles and machines, not of the vastness of the natural world. Human strength of survival means adaptability, being open enough to let that which will change us in so we can continue to grow. The alternative is to live our lives in stasis–in our shells, where our potential will never be expressed.
This is not to say that there isn’t a kind of strength, too, in staying firm–in fighting for what you believe in or what you need to hold onto. It is to say the strength is various, though it seems our society holds aloft the strength of fight, of remaining unmoved. What if strength is a spectrum, a duality between hardness and growth? On one end, we stand facing the storm, stand our ground and remain true to ourselves or another. But the other end, where we allow ourselves to be moved by another? Where we allow ourselves to feel pain and to risk the unknown? Well, sometimes that’s the bravest thing I know. Sensitivity is a strength, because it enables growth. As we move into the fearful emptiness inside of us characterised by our “negative” emotions, we find the space for growth.
The amorphous range of what we feel creates our whole self, and without the balance of our dichotomous feelings/selves our growth will always be unsteady. The more we close down our emotions or have them closed down by others, the less space we will have to grow into. And if we can’t grow, we become weak: always using energy in defense of the status quo, without the benefit of enlargement.
Pain – the empty burning of love lost, for example, as big as it feels, pushes the boundaries of how much you can feel. When the hurt has passed, you have more space to contain the multitudes of everyone you’ve ever been and everything you’ve ever felt. You grow into the space the pain has scoured out inside of you.
If you are highly sensitive, I have a feeling that those around you have continually pleaded with you to “toughen up,” and I have a feeling that it just doesn’t work. This is because you are stronger than you realise. This is because you are primed to grow. That which you feel does not make you weak. Your fear, anxiety and hatred are part of the human system of growth. When the time is right, if things are safe enough, you can begin to rely on these deep emotional roots and grow from your depth.
Protection & Growth Work in Relay
We need to move through incarnations of protection and growth throughout our lives. Like a seed in stasis, at certain points you have an absolute need for a hardened shell, but for you to grow that shell has to break. That is, you must take a well-timed risk if you are to flourish. You must risk the unheld hand in order to be met. However, we can only grow if the conditions are right: if you are in a hostile environment, revealing your vulnerable self just leaves you open to pain. In a good enough environment, though, insulation can become a trap. We need safety to grow, but walls can become prisons.
Breaking and moving are essential to vital processes at every scale, from the metamorphosis of a butterfly, to processing your own feelings. From learning to bear confrontation to plate tectonics:
We’re lucky because of these [tectonic] processes, where the plates separate and crack…[because] as a consequence of that, magmas form at deep levels in the Earth. They are brought to the surface, and they bring not only nutrients, but also water. And that is the essence of life.
– Jelle de Boer, geologist: a leading expert on volcanoes and earthquakes from On Being
A life is the constant flux enacted between movements of protection, reaching in and out for connection, letting things in, holding still, bursting open. Sometimes we get stuck in protecting ourselves (and thus not growing) because our past leaks into our present–because quite psycho-logically we have learnt what the world is from our formative experiences. Maybe it’s safe for you to open a little now, maybe not, but it might be worth checking…
To reteach a thing its loveliness
What if you are this plant, and all that we allow ourselves to see is how vulnerable you are in this moment? How, so easily, you could be picked or knocked down. In this view, we fail to recognize that it was the strength of your growth which broke through. Stasis was part of the process, but you did not remain unmoved. You risked living. We sometimes need to be re-taught and reminded of all we have survived. All the beautiful striving we’ve done, despite the surrounding indifference.
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing
To shift from protecting yourself into growing, you need to feel safe enough to share how you feel in the world. You need to be seen as you are, and be retold you are lovely (in words or the unspoken). Then, cautiously, you can touch the boundaries around you, see if they can slide a bit further this way or that and let that which will change you in…
My affinities are infinite
Once I grieved for someone and, for a while, I did everything I could not to feel the crushing imploding empty space. But as I learned to stay with this grief, feel it, fall into it, I learned how much I can love. I feel fierce when I love someone, and I love often. I’ve sometimes stopped caring if someone loves me back – quite simply because I’ve realised that I love the part of me which loves fiercely. And when I love fiercely, I have strength, and it burns in flame and warmth. This strength is only possible through sensitivity (not exclusively the domain of HSPs), to allow what is near to become close.
We are equipped to learn, grow and step into new spaces where things are unknown again. If we allow our roots – our incredible range of past and present emotions – with us, we can step forward with the rich wisdom of all our incantations steadying our way. There is no fixed way of being, only rest and change.
I am involved with the palpable
as that impalpable,
where I walk, mysteries catch at my heels
My affinities are infinite, & from moment to moment
I propagate new symmetries, new
“The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.”
A while ago I felt really lonely, or perhaps more accurately I feared the loneliness sure to exist in the future. I thought long and hard about how to defend from it, and a couple of things struck me:
It is unavoidable, we are all alone inside ourselves.
If you experience this sort of loneliness, it is not because you have failed, it is because you are human.
If you are self aware and made of the deep then I think you are likely to feel this more acutely. Firstly, because you feel things in an intense way. Secondly, if the things which are essential to you are left locked away it leaves you feeling deeply unconnected: feeling somehow wrong, somehow failing. Jung said that:
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”
Loneliness gnaws at the inside and is an unavoidable.
And yet …
…there can be rich, beautiful moments where time melts away and you feel deeply connected to another person. It’s the best thing I know of. It’s why I do the work I do. This deep connection; the sweet pain and beauty of it is all about being vulnerable. To be with someone, to feel really alive you have to risk being totally alone. To experience joy, you have to risk some pain, some sadness. You can’t have just one side of the coin: nothing is so thin that it only has one side; especially not something as expansive as life.
For me, the amazing part of feeling deeply, even the bad stuff, is that the pain of an experience seems to scour out a space inside of me to feel it ALL more. The positive of this is that in times of encounter I can feel the beauty of connection so deeply it leaves me breathless, acutely aware of being really alive and so incredibly grateful to be in this moment, with this person.
If this really connects with you then I urge you to get in contact with me. Counselling can be an amazing and safe place to take those risks for the very first time, when you feel ready.
This is the forth in a series of posts exploring Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This post is about our sense of taste, which I will explore through interview and will focus on nutrition. Human relationships to food and eating are complex and intimate in ways that our relationship to, say, sound may not be (or might be). So in today’s post, I talk with Mary Cotter, registered Nutritional Therapist at Stellar Health, about how we can use food to support our wellbeing. I hope it answers some questions you have had, or touches on some new things to think about.
What pieces of key advice would you give to a HSP in terms of their diet?
“Eat natural wholefoods whenever possible.
Wholefoods include brown rice, quinoa, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables. These foods contain B vitamins and magnesium. Lean meat and fish contain B12. These vitamins and minerals support our nervous systems and help us cope with the demands of life. When we are stressed, our bodies require even more B vitamins, as they are required for thousands of different processes in the body and are easily depleted.
Cook from scratch whenever possible.
This gives you total control over what is in your food: no hidden nasties or artificial surprises. It may take a bit of forward planning and getting used to initially, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Put some time in your diary and batch cook, freezing portions for the week ahead, or simply double up on portions when you cook dinner and bring half to work with you the following day.
Make sure you eat some protein with each meal.
This supports your blood sugar balance and has a knock on effect on your energy, your ability to concentrate, your mood, and your cravings. Examples include, adding nuts or chia seeds to your breakfast, adding lentils to your soup or chicken or fish to your salad. Don’t forget about your snacks. Sugar free nut butter on oatcakes is a good example of a protein rich snack.
Love your gut (your stomach and intestines).
This is your second brain. It communicates with your actual brain and in order for the two to communicate effectively your gut needs balanced levels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, live micro-organisms that support your digestion and immune system. This balance becomes out of harmony easily through too much alcohol, caffeine, stress and antibiotics. We can nourish our ‘good’ bacteria by regularly eating fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir (homemade is best), organic tofu, tempeh and plain, natural yoghurt. We can help reduce the ‘bad’ bacteria by cooking with herbs like oregano, cinnamon, fennel and garlic.
Can you see why a diet of predominantly sweet, white and fluffy foods won’t do?”
What about helpful supplements?
“It is recommended to seek professional guidance from a registered nutritional therapist or GP before supplementing in case of any adverse interactions with medication. In general, supplements that could be helpful include:
– B complex. B vitamins support our nervous system, hormones and neurotransmitters. It is recommended to supplement these vitamins as a complex as they tend to work in harmony together. They can be energising, so take them in the morning with food.
– Magnesium. Magnesium has a calming effect on our muscles and our nervous system. It helps our muscles to relax and can be used to support digestion if constipation is an issue. Try a magnesium oil spray with lavender before bed.
– Fish oil. If you are not a fan of oily fish or are not reaching the recommended intake of 2-3 servings a week, consider a good quality fish oil supplement from a sustainable, pure and environmentally friendly source. Fish oil supports our brain, neurotransmitters and nerve health.
– Vitamin D. Also known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in the UK due to our northern location. It is impossible to get sufficient levels of vitamin D from food alone. I would recommend getting tested and then supplementing with an oral spray or drops. Vitamin D plays an important role in our mental wellbeing.
– Rhodiola and ginseng are ‘adaptagenic’ herbs. This means they help the body better cope during stressful periods. They support the adrenal glands, which is where we produce our stress hormones.
Combination supplements are available that combine with B vitamins and magnesium. Ask your nutritional therapist.”
HSPs often seem to have issues with their digestion, and I know this is a speciality of yours, so I wondered what could be done to support a sensitive digestive system?
“If you tolerate dairy eat plain, natural, full fat yoghurt (ideally organic).
Increase prebiotics. These are plant fibres that encourage the growth of probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms contained in the food we eat and keep your digestive system and immune system healthy. Examples of prebiotics include onions, spring onion, garlic, leeks and apple.
Experiment with making your own fermented foods such as sauerkraut and water kefir. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics. There are some helpful YouTube videos online and many are really easy to make.
Eat more anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Drink ginger tea or add it to a vegetable smoothie. Add turmeric to curries and smoothies. Cinnamon is great dusted over porridge, yoghurt or drunk as a tea.
Try and identify possible food intolerances and eliminate them. Seek professional help from a nutritional therapist if possible so you know exactly what you are doing. Trigger foods will promote an inflammatory response in the body. Inflammation has a negative effect on your gut.
If you experience diarrhoea or constipation, ground flaxseeds can be helpful. Eat daily, starting with 1 tsp. and gradually increase to 1 tbsp. per day. Sprinkle on porridge or over your salad.
Avoid caffeine completely. It puts the body on ‘high alert’ and produces stress hormones. This has a negative effect on your nervous system. Switch to herbal tea such as ginger, cinnamon or chamomile. If you still want an energy boost minus the ‘stress effect’ try maca.”
The gut seems to play an important role in how we experience many of our feelings, and I know often we can ‘hold’ difficult feeling in this area of our body. Is this understood by nutritional science, this interaction between our physical response and our emotional self? If so, do you have any guidance on how to support ourselves in difficult times?
“Yes, this is an area that interests me greatly and there are more and more exciting scientific studies coming out all the time in this area.
It is known as the gut-brain axis, which basically means our gut and our brains communicate with each other. “Butterflies” in our stomach is one example. It is important to look after both gut and brain.
For instance, our brain is 60% fat, so it makes sense to feed our brains the right kind of fat. Fat free diets are not necessarily a healthy choice. You see, not all fats are bad. Eating raw nuts, seeds and their oils and oily fish like wild salmon, trout and mackerel are essential to our health, as are avocados and coconut.
As mentioned previously, the lining of our gut is easily damaged by too much stress, caffeine, alcohol, refined foods and processed foods. Over time the lining becomes more permeable, creating inflammation and increasing the risk of food intolerances and digestive symptoms. This is called gut dysbiosis. In order to support our gut-brain axis, we really need to take better care of our digestive system. Follow the healthy digestion advice above, cook with alkalising, plant-based foods and reduce your intake of sugar and acidic foods and drinks.”
If someone were to come to see you what would you explore? What support could a client expect?
“We would look at their current diet and lifestyle habits and identify areas to improve. They would begin making simple and realistic changes, gradually cleaning-up and optimising the nutrient content of their food intake. The most important thing is that we make it realistic, achievable and enjoyable, establishing manageable goals that adapt to their lifestyle.
Before the initial consultation, they would be required to complete a health appraisal questionnaire and food diary. During the consultation, we would go through this in more detail. Our aim is to get to the root cause of symptoms, so we ask questions about digestion, energy, stress and sleep to get an understanding of what’s going on. We then evaluate their individual needs and use the extensive evidence base for nutritional science to develop a personalised, safe and effective nutrition and lifestyle programme.
Quite often, digestion is a good place to start. If we are not absorbing vitamins and minerals from our foods, this has a knock on effect on how we feel emotionally and physically. After all, we are what we absorb, not what we eat.
Testing such as food intolerance testing and stool testing is also available, if required. Shorter follow-up consultations are recommended every two to three weeks, or as needed to assess changes.
Why would you like to work with HSPs?
“The food we eat has a huge impact on how we feel. Getting the balance right is so important. There is a whole variety of calming and nourishing foods available to us, and helping people tap into what nature provides is very rewarding.
The digestive system is sensitive to our emotions, which is why a gentle, planned approach is essential. Going it alone can lead to frustration and confusion. Nutritional therapists are uniquely trained to understand how nutrients and other food components influence the function of the body, protect against disease and restore health.”
This is the third in a series of posts exploring Sensory Processing Sensitivity. In the series, we’ll discuss what SPS is, some common struggles for highly sensitive people, and some coping techniques. As someone who lives with Sensory Processing Sensitivity, and works with many HSP in my practice, this topic is near to my heart. Today, we’ll discuss sound.
Noise sensitivity is an inherent a part of being a HSP. Whilst our hearing is not ‘better’, research shows that a HSP brain will augment the auditory input. We simply notice the sound more. I sometimes notice some rhythmical noise (the buzz of a distant ventilation system, the noise of a party caught on the wind) which no one else has, and feel like I must find out the source. In addition to taking more notice, I can’t seem to switch off my need to know. Curiosity, too, is inherent in HSP –we reflect on things deeply, including that annoying clicking noise. Curiosity, like all things is not good or bad. It is a unique mixture of both.
Sound and NOISE
There is quite a distinction between sound and noise. Sounds have the potential to be uplifting or nuanced, or to directly speak to the emotional self. For me, noise is sound that has become too much. Too much sound can make it impossible for me to give something or someone my full attention, make it difficult to reside in peace, or leave me unable to sleep.
I think many people struggle with the increasing volume of the world we live in. Because there is more ambient sound, more of the time, a growing number of us experience it as noise. It has been observed that blackbirds in London sing louder than elsewhere in the UK — in order to be heard above the noise, they need to get louder. For the blackbirds, and for us, this rising volume means that the quiet things are more difficult to hear. There’s less space for silence; and in the rush to be heard, we sometimes lose our capacity to listen.
Noise and activity can grab our attention. The sheer force of noise can leave us feeling totally off-centre. When in a noisy environment, I can find it difficult to root myself in this body of mine. It feels as though the commotion carries me off and away, when I want me back here.
Empathy and Sound Sensitivity
If you are overwhelmed by noisy spaces, you may be picking up on the feelings of others. This can happen via all your senses, but certainly someone else’s intonation or choice of words can fall heavily and leave you with a feeling that isn’t entirely yours. HSPs have more brain activity in their mirror neurons than non-HSPs, and it has been argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for empathy. See the summary of the paper here for more information. This is another reason HSPs can become over stimulated: the ability to notice how others are feeling can mean, to some extent, we are also processing other people’s experiences – not just our own.
Noise and Sleep
HSPs are particularly prone to having their sleep disrupted by noise. I find it hard to sleep in a new place, as I end up waking to any small noise. I think lots of us sleep quite lightly, and we HSPs really do need our sleep. It is our time to process all that deep engagement with the world.
Ways to Take Care of Yourself in a Noisy World
There are a number of things I have found that help in response to and during too much noise input:
Be held by nature. Nature is by no means silent, but it seems to sooth most of us. Sometimes I overwhelm myself, make a grandiose plan to relax by taking a daytrip out of the city, and then feel pressurised by that (am I doing the right thing?). I have found that the best way to keep nature in my life has been little and often: going to a tree in a park, walking the long way home (which I know is peaceful), avoiding the busy roads. These are small ways to take care of your sensitive senses
Create a quiet space. I have a corner in my bedroom. In it, there’s a comfy chair, a soft blanket, a candle, some friendly-faced items, things which make me glad and a rule: when I am in this space I want to be alone and quiet. This means that I have communicated to people around me that when I am in this space I want to be quiet and alone. I may listen to a meditation, write, or just stare (staring should definitely count as a hobby). There are a hundred ways you can create calming space for yourself. My husband has a “Jazz corner,” which is the same thing, but y’know, you listen to jazz there, drink black coffee and read. What soothes your senses? What would be in your quiet space?
Keep calm on the move: When traveling, whether in your day-to-day life or on a big adventure, there are things you can do to prevent noise-related overwhelm. Downloading nature sounds or music you find relaxing (or just the music you like) can transport you away from the space you find yourself in. Investing in noise cancelling headphones or some other smart travelling audio idea, can be a big help too. When visiting friends recently, I asked if I could have some time alone to meditate. Then, I took myself off to a space where I could be silent for a little time away – creating a small safe haven for myself. Expressing your needs can take practice and friends who are willing to understand and accept you. Learning how to find both is a process, too.
Invest in earplugs. I’m not sure I could sleep without them. I like the silicon ones best. If they hurt your ears, perhaps invest in over-the-ear headphones and play white noise or get some of those fabulous (but expensive) noise cancelling headphones.
At work: I know lots of my clients work in noisy environments and there are sometimes ways around this (and sometimes not). Any of the above tips may work, as might discussing with your manager the importance of a quiet space to go when you need to concentrate. You could even educate him/her on HSP as a concept and associated productivity needs by providing information like this. Some solutions might be using a meeting room to make phone calls, working from home or another space when the need arises, or having ‘quiet hours’ in the office. In a past workplace, I often became overwhelmed by co-workers’ questions. Once I noticed this challenge, I would say “can we speak in two hours, as I just need to focus on this now, and later I’ll be able to give you by full attention?”.
Avoid the noisy things for good e.g. never get on a bus again.
Take a risk and ask for what you need. If no one respects what you have to say, leave. Whether this is a partner who won’t understand your need for quiet space, or a job which drains you because of the noise, if it can’t be changed and it drains you, you may need to go in order to recover your life.
In each ‘enhance’ section I’ll ask you to think about a sense and its subtleties that you enjoy.
Are you deeply affected by a sound? The swell of an orchestra, or the song of birds? I love the sound of rain, particularly on a plastic roof. So, I carry with me the sound of the rain (on my phone), and I get to enjoy it whenever I like. When it’s actually raining outside, I search out places with a window to the sky (ideally corrugated plastic), and I get to enjoy my sensitivity. I can be ‘held’ by the richness of this sound. I listen to music which aligns with how I feel, and it helps me to be present with my feelings and fall into my depth. This song helped me to accept a painful loss and after the pain had passed all I had left was love, and it was exquisite.
My sensitivity gives me such joy, and I’d like yours to, as well. What do you really love to hear? Write a list and collect those sounds. If you’re not sure, then it’s time to explore: go for a walk or sit where you are and listen and feel. What do you like? Create a collection, on your computer, on your phone, during time outside, and call on it when you want to enjoy your sensitivity.
P.S. What do you think of these sounds?
a drink fizzing
crinkly things being crinkled
(The sensation you may have in response to these videos might be ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. It’s a kind of tingling/comforting response and sensation you get via your ears. There are hundreds of sounds that stimulate an ASMR in some people, from simple noises, to people whispering, to roleplays). It may not be your thing, but it might be! I like that it is a thing: a gentle, sensitive thing. There is research underway researching the connection between high sensitivity and ASMR.
The next post in my HSP senses series will focus on the sense of taste, more specifically nutrition…
This is the second in a series of posts exploring Sensory Processing Sensitivity. In the series, we are discussing what SPS is, some common struggles for highly sensitive people, and some coping techniques. I have found it challenging to give my senses time and space to recharge, and some of that challenge is born from a (self) criticism about my sensitivity and being different to the perceived ‘norm’ . So, I’ve prepared this list of 4 ways to respond to your senses as a Highly Sensitive Person:
Try to accept that this is challenging for you. This is really important. If your inner voice is compassionate, and understands that this situation is hard (because it is), you will perceive the difficulties to be a noise/input sensitivity. However, if you begin to judge yourself harshly, you will perceive the difficulties as something quite different.
Once a should (e.g. “I should be fine with this. Everyone else seems fine.”) creeps in, you’ll begin to become anxious that you’re somehow made wrongly, at which point your emotions will also begin to overwhelm. It is easy to say and hard to do; but developing your compassionate voice is worth the practice it will take. This happens as part of a process, and a good friend or partner, a trusted counsellor or someone else who shows us love can help us to develop it.
(If you can) try to take a breath, and hear the words, “This is hard for me and I can survive this.” Likely, there are others in the crowd that are feeling the same (given that 20% of the population are HSPs). Sometimes, I have thought to myself, “This is hard for us and we’ll survive” – it helps me to feel less alone and wrong in the world, and in the crowd.
Avoid the stuff that is not important to you. Weigh up how much you want something and the energy it will take. If you do choose to do something (or have to do it), then look after your needs within and around that. For example, I enjoy parties. And, the following couple of days I will be flashing back to moments and will need quiet space around that event to feel ok. There is nothing you can’t do (except the impossible things), and every decision has its consequences. Plan to take care of the consequences. You do have limited resources. We all do. Someone wrote that life is often about choosing between the things you really, really want to do and the things you really want to do. Life is finite, which means you will have to choose between things. Decisions mean that we experience loss: loss of the other options. This is ok. You’re not doing life wrong, it just is this way.
Find an alternative. Dedicate yourself to giving your sensitive body what it likes. If the noise on your commute bothers you, find different routes. Run or walk to work the quiet way, even if it takes a bit longer – use it as an opportunity to reflect. If you are exhausted by work/social engagements/[insert draining activity here] is there any possibility you could do it less? If you are completely honest with yourself how often do you really need to do it? Ask yourself this:
“If I were to reduce my hours doing X how might I feel? What space would it give me?”
“If I were to reduce my hours doing X what would be the first thing I would do to make that happen?”
“If I were to reduce my hours doing X what would be the second thing I would do to make that happen?”
Do this until you can see a real plan develop of how change is possible and then go do it, step by step.
Change your life. This is a difficult one to talk about in some ways, as may of us carry the idea that we shouldn’t have to compromise or be different to ‘norm’. That if we just try hard enough, just face all our challenges, just change how we view the world, just embrace the all the difficult feeling, then we’ll be living in the ’right’ way.
Standing outside the ‘norm’ is really, really difficult, as is forcing yourself to play a role you don’t fit. Life is full of compromise and loss, as well as a way back to yourself. The scary thing is you won’t be able to do everything you hoped for without trading in some of yourself. You’ll have to choose. Perhaps it isn’t you that needs to change, but how you live your life. Are you pushing your body beyond its limits? Ask it.
I can’t work full time, because I work in an intense way which takes the whole of me. As a HSP it’s how I’ve always been. Other people are more relaxed about work, while I need space on my own to decompress. I can’t live a rich life and stay well if I work the ‘norm’ amount of hours in a week. This means I have to face up to the consequences of how I, the real me, needs to live my life. I have to allow myself to feel the disapproval of others who want to maintain this norm. I have to say “No, not for me,” hear others’ focus on earning a certain amount, and know that if I worked enough hours to earn that I wouldn’t survive. So, I need to live my life frugally, which keeps me free to choose a life that feels possible to live for a lifetime.
Is there something you need to face, with its gains and its losses? To live in a way which allows you, as a sensitive person, to flourish will require you to go against the norm. That will be hard, because you’ll be aware of the resistance, the disappointment of others and society’s/ loved one’s expectations. I hope, in the end, it’ll feel worth it. I’ve noticed that, when I’m true to myself, some people will be eventually see the wisdom in my moves. They have even followed suit a number of times. You being free may scare people at first, but then it may give them the confidence to change too. It’s ok to choose how you live your life.
Acceptance of how I really am and what I really need is a constant spiral of learning and listening; and I know that the above has helped me to exist in a more authentic way and in a way that gives me the space to see and appreciate the world around me. As well as these grand ideas of acceptance and change, there are also some sense specific ideas I’d like to share with you, the first being sound…
This is the first in a series of posts exploring Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). In the series, we’ll discuss what SPS is, some common struggles for highly sensitive people, and some coping techniques. I work with the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in my practice and identify as a HSP too, so this topic feels very important to me. I hope it helps you (even just a little bit) to live well in a world which can feel overwhelming, as well as rich beyond words.
Our Senses Bring the World to Us, for Better or Worse
Our sensory systems are the gateway by which we experience the world. We experience the social world by hearing the voice of another and watch emotion revealed in the small motions they make, or in the glint of an eye. Smelling a scent can transport us away to another time. Hearing the sound of rain can have us sleeping sweetly. Sometimes, especially for the highly sensitive (those who experience SPS), the world can sometimes feel like too much. All the information flowing into our sensitive systems can simply be too much to process. For example, in a social situation, I’ll be aware of so many things: the banging beats of music in the background, the sound of another conversation nearby, the smells of food, and then someone speaking to me with all their feelings and intricacies, plus my desire to really, presently listen… it can feel like too much.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a clue that the way we are choosing to live our lives is exhausting us. Which is to say that, in order for the highly sensitive to thrive, sometimes things will need to change. Change requires a certain sort of environment: one in which we can rest and reflect in order to make decisions and take action. Rest can be hard to find, though, even if we have managed to prioritise the time. It can be difficult to decide how to do what’s good for you. I have found it hard, too.
What is A Highly Sensitive Person? Am I One?
If what I have said throughout this website, particularly on my home page, resonates with you, chances are you are highly sensitive. If people have told you that you are “too sensitive,” then it might be time to hear a different message: a message that your sensitivity is an innate trait, that you have been born in a way which allows you to take in more information than most and reflect deeply. If this sounds like you, you are not made wrongly, but are sensitive in a way that can (when in the right environment) nourish you and the world. However, if you’ve not heard about this term before, I would encourage you to explore more. You can take a look on my website, or further afield (there are links from my page).
Listening to Our Sensitivities
Our sensitivities can provide such wisdom and joy. My ability to empathise, to use my sensitivity with another and my deep reflection on what it means to live, opens the world up to me time and time again. Yet, we can be required to misuse our sensitivities too, whether that’s through societal or relational demands, we can end up not hearing what our body is telling us. This is by no means always the case, but some schools of psychotherapy, point to a link between our senses and some chronic issues we might have… if you have a headache which centres around your eyes, or a migraine which affects your sight, perhaps you have seen enough. If your shoulders ache, are you carrying too much? I like to ask myself these questions sometimes.
Our perspective of the world flows through our senses, this is the way it will always be. But we do, at least some of the time, get to choose when we allow, pause or turn away from the complexities that face us. It’s okay to find stuff difficult; you don’t have to keep doing it because you’ve been told you should. In my next post, I’ll focus on how you might find ways to find some rest and create a better relationship between your needs and your senses.