Food, Nutrition, and the Highly Sensitive System

mcAn interview with Mary Cotter of Stellar Health

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.”

For more information contact Mary Cotter here.

Sound, Noise, and Highly Sensitive People

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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?”.

Radical Ideas

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.

Enhance :

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…




Four ways a Highly Sensitive Person can soothe their senses

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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 sensesparties. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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…

Posted in HSP

Sensory Processing Sensitivity, A Primer

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.

We all need a nest

This cartoon, is kind of funny, but made me have a wee tear in my eye. It captures something of deep acceptance, which can be deeply moving. It’s the essential part of person-centred counselling, of love, of a healing relationship.

Tips on travel for the Highly Sensitive Person

TravelKitThis time when I travelled I did some thinking and research about what could help those of us who are highly sensitive travel a little easier. I find holidays a curious combination of recovery and pressure. The combination of the shoulds of time away – BE RELAXED and HAVE LOTS OF FUN combined with a lack of sleep, the furious way I try and get everything ‘sorted’ before I leave plus possibly a new culture to absorb. Well, it can be a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I float above all that, and after some rest I then can have some fun, especially when I’m with people who understand and love me.

But for me to have a good holiday it is essential to respect my need for solitude, rest and understanding. Taking time out and being assertive might be a crucial part of that, and you can read more about that here…. BUT ALSO I found some stuff helps too! So here are some of the cool things I found help, so hopefully they might be helpful to you too.

1. It’s a really cooling water bottle. When the transport is a sweaty affair, my sensitivity helps me to really appreciate the contrast. Sometimes sensitivity means I appreciate things which others might not even notice. Cold, lemony water travelling down is just lovely to me.

2. Melatonin – sleep is essential to us all, but lack of sleep to an already sensitive system can be a path to overwhelm. If jet lag is a possibility consider a remedy such as melatonin.

3. Snacks – if you are already receiving lots of sensory information putting your body under the stress of hunger isn’t going to go too well. High protein, whole grain, nuts or seeds or fresh fruit is may be the best for a body which is probably sensitive to stimulants and processed sugary foods. I often opt for an easy bounce ball and oatcakes stashed in my bag.

4. Travel Sickness Tablets – I’m sensitive. Pretty much everything about me is. Of course this means even moving fast makes me sick. Travel sickness tablets are great.

5. Ear Plugs – The sensitive person’s best friend (y’know apart from you know the deep relationships you have) I think has to be ear plugs. I think the silicon ones are best. I missed it off the picture, but an eye mask can be really handy too.

6. Earphones to listen to…

7. Phone (used for music/podcasts/apps) … one of the following suggestions:

– Music which makes your heart sing

– Nature sounds, there are many apps out there. There are some which have white and brown noise, forest/ bird song, the noise of a washing machine or gongs.

– Favourite podcasts – you’re a deep thinker – use the travelling time to do what you are best at, thinking about the meaning of life. My favourites are: Tara Brach, Philosophy Bites, Radio Lab and Sheep Dressed like Wolves (a Uk based HSP podcast).

8. Big Scarf – A lovely small blanket or scarf, to cosy under, or to sprinke with a fragrance you are partial to. I know the smell of things others don’t even notice can leave me turning green. I can bury my head in this and survive.

9. Lavender Oil – I sprinkle my scarf in Lavender oil. It’s a better smell then the weird gaseous fragrance that are emitted by fellow travellers and the microwaves on trains cooking whole weird burger and bun combos. Ugh.

10. Obviously I missed off a book. A good book.

Travel well. Look after yourself. Try and have an ok holiday (the pressure of a great holiday can sometimes be too much).

Michelle x

Do you love your body? **this post comes with an apology for this post**

**Content Warning: this is naive post, it does not take into account the experience of trans people, that being born in a body does not align with the sex assigned at birth and wanting to change that is a valid and worthy experience. I am sorry. I decided not to delete the post, with the idea of the ‘mess is the message’ in mind, not to hide my ignorance. I have learned, and continue to. This post also doesn’t fully recognise, I don’t think, the true weight of the messages many people receive that their body is not ok or is invisibled (perhaps because it’s not a white body, a differently abled body, a non-“ideal”). Also I may have, implied it is your responsibility to feel ok about your body – which simply adds another layer of blame in an already blame heavy society. I am sorry for that too.**

If not, I think it’s time.

I’ve been aware of carrying a sense of waiting with me. It’s as though at some level I’m waiting for life to start. I knew that this is it; this is my life, but some part of me wouldn’t allow that knowledge to truly sink in. It’s strange the chatter in your head, which becomes so familiar. I was waiting until I was thinner and I had failed to notice the insidious nature of this repeated message. The thoughts have been keeping me living life in the shadows. So much of my own chatter is around not being accepted, and being found to be ugly.

Recently a client said she loved her body, and it changed me. I thought ‘I want to love my body too.’

So I have begun.

I am trying to love my body as it is. I am trying to stop waiting until I am “better”. It’s been amazing and painful too. I used to hope I could become perfect, because this would make me invulnerable. But I am vulnerable and I know that it’s this openness to the pains and joys of life which is real beauty. It’s the visceral openness which connects us.

If you have thought for a lot of your life that you need to make up for how you are, by sacrificing your needs for others, if you sometimes feel shame when you meet the eyes of others, or if fear becomes lodged in your skin and you begin to hate it — I’d like to offer you a heartfelt alternative.

I’d like to say to you: you are beautiful as you are. Not when you lose some weight or start to eat better. Now. I am beautiful and so are you.

For so long I had hated my body, and the story is so typical because I was a healthy, fit and a melancholy sort of beautiful. But I punished my body because I didn’t know how else to deal with this sense that I did not fit, that I was wrong, built wrong, made wrong. I thought at times people could see ‘evil’ through my skin. I’ve come so far from that place now, but there was a hangover, something left over to shed. I’m bored of viewing my own beauty superficially; so here I make a pact to learn and to try to have a good relationship with my body, hopefully eventually to love it.

I sometimes hate my stomach, there’s a bit of fat on it, and it doesn’t look as it ‘should’. But secretly I’ve liked it’s softness and the curve of it. I have begun to think about it from the inside too, it feels so much, it tells me my needs, it lets me know of my anxiety. It even feels anxiety in empathy with another. Surely this makes it beautiful.


We tend to view ourselves in bits. Focus on our nose, dislike it; but do you do that to people you love? Beauty isn’t in the smile on a photo, it’s the experience of being with someone when they light up with laughter. Knowing that, letting that sink into my bones makes me feel brave.

When I was at university someone said of her boyfriend “I didn’t used to like hairy bodies, but now I’m glad it keeps him warm” I loved the sentiment at the time. Try to find a part of yourself you bully and begin to think of it as part of your beautiful whole.

Some of this can be a painful process, as with all change. If you have hated your body for a long time you have a familiar process of blaming it for feelings which are hard to bare and it can be hard to find a place for your distress.

If you would like to change this process ask what support you might need, and go find it if you can, This might be finding a good therapist, a trusted friend, or online. Find a way to share and connect through your pain and move away from placing the distress into your skin.

What we see as beautiful is nowhere close to what we experience when we feel beauty. Let it in.

Beauty goes deep; and because of this, you are beautiful as you are.

Guest Blog: Naturopathy for the Highly Sensitive

By Michelle Matthews of Wholistic HealthcareHFC Shel sepia (6)

How can physical or tangible complementary therapies benefit issues of the mind and emotion?

Naturopathy is not just limited to issues of the physical body. Naturopathy’s main health philosophy is to establish balance for the whole person, by looking at the mind, body and spirit and using nature to allow healing.

A naturopath uses their “tools” to help the person achieve inner balance. These tools may include herbal medicine, nutritional therapy & diet, Iridology, functional testing and perhaps a few others.

As a skilled naturopath, I do not just use one therapy for a person but an aspect of a few or all of them to help achieve a sense of wellbeing and health.

But how can Naturopathy benefit you as a highly sensitive person, will not any other complementary therapy do?

As a naturopath the aim is to understand you as a person and your health concerns. A detailed case is taken of your current health concerns, past and present health, discuss your current eating and diet habits, discuss your body systems and some analysis such as Iridology is conducted.

We may eat many foods which we think are good for us or the media and press tells us is good. But are they good for highly sensitive people?

In fact, when we are low, anxious, nervous and reactive to people and our environment we can eat to comfort ourselves, forget to eat or even over indulge in certain foods. It is these types of eating patterns which can lead to more unsettling feelings.

As a sensitive person it is important to eat the right foods for you to nourish the body in times of stress or anxiousness.

For example foods such as chilli, garlic and onions are common vegetables and spices. But can be too stimulating for a sensitive type person. They can evoke anger, too much heat within the body and can bring on sweating in people.

They contain a rich compound called sulphur which dominates the liver. Stimulating the liver can be detoxifying and beneficial for some people but can be too stimulating for others especially if they are sensitive and are prone to stomach problems. Did you know that chilli can be addictive?

Diet and the way we eat and select our food is just simply one aspect that a naturopath will address.

It is important to get the right approach and balance to wellbeing and health for you.

Naturopathy may just help you on the right path.

Michelle Matthews is an Australian trained Naturopath with over 15 years clinical experience. She has a large and varied client base that uses Naturopathy as their form of healthcare for both physical and emotional health issues. She is based in Leith, Edinburgh.

For more information: phone 0845 11 99 099 or email:

Clinic: Leith Therapy Clinic, 41 Commercial St Edinburgh EH6 6JD (withing Tiso’s)

How to sleep better and feel more rested

Apparently I was an insomniac. I actually didn’t realise, because for as long as I could remember I’d slept this way. It would usually take me two hours to fall to sleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and every morning I’d wake up feeling pretty knackered. Sometimes I’d only get a couple of hours of sleep. Usually people have a difficult time sleeping because of their anxiety and other conditions. Visit counseling for depression and anxiety and find professional help to feel better.

Realising that I was an insomniac was quite helpful.  I decided to research how I could support myself to sleep better – and here’s what I found out.

I hope that what I learnt can also help you to sleep better and feel more rested.

  1. The body is a creature of routine. It likes to trust you to get it into and out of bed, at the same time every day. If sometimes you’re unable to do this, your body will forgive you, but its needs need to be respected. 
  1. Sleep goes through a number of phases, and one of these very important phases is deep sleep. I have always described myself a ‘light sleeper’, which simply meant I wasn’t great at falling into a deep sleep quickly.  You can train your body to fall into a deeper sleep more quickly, and it’s not that hard to do. This is how you do it: go to bed half an hour later and get up half an hour later. Simple. Yes, you will feel sleepy at first, but then you will train your body to fall more quickly into a deep sleep.
  1. Doing anything other than sleeping in your bed (although intimacy is allowed) does not help you to sleep. I know there are people who read in bed and fall to sleep, but they do not have an issue with sleeping. If you find falling or staying asleep difficult then try not to read, watch tv or check your phone. This is because your body will begin to associate the bed and sleeping time with a whole host of stimulating activities, which will not help.
  1. Dedicate your bedroom to sleeping alone – do not use the room for other activities if you can help it.
  1. An hour before bed do not look at anything with a blue light screen i.e. computer, mobile phone, tablet – as there is evidence that it stops you from sleeping.
  1. Exercise helps you sleep, so try and do gentle exercise – even if you are tired – a few times a week. A walk around the block or going for a swim, will all help you get into the habit of sleeping better.
  1. Get out of bed when you wake up, do not lie there feeling tired, pressing the snooze button. I know you will be tired, but lying there will make it harder to sleep well, as you will associate bed with lying in bed awake. Get up and sit on the sofa if you are tired.
  1. At the point you cannot sleep there are a number of things I have found helpful:
    • Remember that tomorrow you will feel tired, and despite that not being ideal, you will just be tired and you have survived being tired before.
    • If your mind is racing, try and be aware of your thoughts, but choose not to follow their trail. For example, if you are thinking about a meeting the next day, say in your mind, in a slow voice, “just now I am thinking about my meeting” then the cupboard you meant to tidy out pops into your mind, “now I am thinking about that cupboard I needed to tidy it out”. Make sure your minds voice stays slow, even insert in a yawn here and there. Repeat until sleep.

I do hope these tips help you enjoy improved sleep and feel more rested. Most of the information was gained from this book, if you want to read more.

If you are finding it hard to sleep because of anxiety, then sometimes getting the rest we need can be really difficult. If the tips above don’t work, it’s not because you have failed, simply that life can be really hard at times. And sometimes that’s when counselling might be of help.

If you have any tips that work for you, please comment and share your experience below.

Surviving Christmas

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many of us. The image of a happy family and friends enjoying time together over the festive period can make lots of us feel lost, unhappy and anxiSurviving christmasous; because perhaps this image doesn’t match your experience at all.

If you’re spending Christmas with your family this year and you find this difficult, try to be kind to yourself if you can. Families can be a place where you can feel unsafe or just struggle to hold onto any compassion you have for yourself. Elizabeth Gilbert talks here about how our ‘buttons’ can be pressed so easily by our family, because it’s often our families who had a hand in installing them. It can be painful to experience this yet again – the feeling that you aren’t accepted by those people you most wanted acceptance from.

If this is the case for you, try to work out how you can take some time out, whether that’s going out for a walk or run on your own, going to bed early and using that time to write and connect with how you are feeling; basically, if you can, come up with a plan to get some time for yourself, however that might work for you.

There are a few important tips you might like to think about or try to help you to survive the Christmas period. They include boundary setting, having realistic expectations of yourself and others and making time for things that are important to you: you can read more about this here.

Christmas can be a lonely time too. Whether this is because you’re on your own, or surrounded by people who don’t seem to understand you; the ache for belonging can feel particularly acute. Loneliness can be hard to bear, a deeply painful and fearful experience.

Loneliness is a complicated thing too, one aspect of which can come from our experience of relationships growing up and the way in which we survived these relationships. As adults, these methods of surviving may not be helping when developing close relationships – in fact, they might be keeping us isolated.

This is where counselling can help, by helping you to value and understand your ability to survive difficult relationships, then choose (when feels safe and appropriate) to live differently. The other aspect I spoke about here; the human experience of never being able to share everything that goes on inside of us with others.

Part of my reason for writing this post is that I want to say to those who feel lonely, anxious or sad at Christmas; this is painful, it really is, you are not bad for feeling this way. I want you to know that your experience can be understood and you are here in your life because of all that you’ve survived. So try to be kind to yourself at this time of year, if you can.

If you need to talk to someone soon do contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email
If you’d like to explore counselling with me in the new year please get in contact – together we can begin to explore relationships and your experience of life so far.

Take good care. Michelle x