Do you find yourself waking up at the inn most days but you’re not really sure how you got there? You’ve got random DoTs, maybe pain, maybe exhaustion, and you’re really not sure what they are. Your doctor has no idea either… I mean, you’re just living your normal life, running your quests, but you’re just not making it. You’re getting really stressed out over the littlest stuff or maybe you’re breaking out in a rash or having GI distress… or all of the above! You eat healthy! You’d work out if you could but you can barely get through your day. What the hell? You’re doing everything right! Why are you struggling so hard when this is easy stuff?
This is something that’s incredibly close to my heart. Before I learned about high sensitivity, I was struggling too. I’d have severe mental breakdowns two or three times a week. My heath was a mess. I was always tired. I had severe acid reflux almost 24 hours a day that no medication could touch. Most of all, I had this question that ran through my mind, “what the hell is wrong with me?”
While learning about high sensitivity didn’t fix all of those problems (and they’re certainly not the only reason you might be having the above issues!), it did give me a concept and a framework to start making changes for the better. I now understand why my body’s doing certain things. I can make better choices for myself and understand that I’m not fundamentally broken, I’m just fundamentally different.
WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
What is sensory processing sensitivity (which I’ll call high sensitivity from here on out) and, perhaps even more importantly, what is it not? The high sensitivity that I speak of is not the specific emotional sensitivity that most people think of. Highly sensitive people don’t necessarily cry at the drop of a hat (though we may!) We’re not always going to get pissy because something didn’t go our way or isn’t exactly how we want it to be (though, we do reserve the right to do so as do most people!)
The high sensitivity I’m talking about today is the one Dr. Elaine Aron writes abouts and researches. You may have also heard of it referred to as the orchid-dandelion hypothesis. Basically, it states that there are some creatures in this world, about 15-20% of the population, that are more in-depth processors of their sensory information. This depth can create a vigilance and awareness which can be good for the group (the zebra who hears the lion first alerts the herd) but can make things difficult for us sensitive humans as this vigilance combines with the modern lifestyle to lead to a potential host of physical, mental and emotional issues.
HOW CAN IT MANIFEST?
Let’s break this down. I think it’s pretty well understood that modern life, for all it’s awesomeness, is a bit of a constant assault on you if you let it be that way. Most people, esp. tech savvy folks like our readers, have smart phones, enjoy social media, video games, television and all the sort of cool stuff that modern life provides for us.
However, for someone who is more sensitive, this “always on” lifestyle can be devastating if you don’t keep it in check. If your brain is processing all of the information that’s coming in more deeply as well as taking more information in than a non-sensitive person’s brain would, you have a recipe for rez. You’re going to be losing HP and MP by the bucketload. On top of that, folks who don’t understand they’re sensitive or how to manage it are usually running around in gear that’s so broken, they aren’t sure how to fix it. Since their bodies are generally more sensitive to the things introduced to them, the things they may use to get through their day (coffee, pain killers, alcohol, etc.) can have a stronger effect, sometimes causing more damage than the heal it gave.
Here’s a quick list of things that my sensitive friends and I have experienced personally. Most of these things are caused either by the mental exhaustion of processing the raw quantity of data we take in or the hypervigilance created by the larger awareness HSPs have.
– chronic fatigue-like symptoms: waking up unrefreshed, chronic pain, brain fog, etc.
– severe or sudden onset allergies, say to things in your environment or foods
– sensitivity to environmental factors like temperature or texture
– anxiety, general worries or stress, often times consistently or over everyday “normal” things
– depression or general malaise
– easily startled or distracted by things others may not notice or are effected by. This can anything from loud noises to clutter in your vision or a subtle scent.
There are loads more, but I kept them kind of broad there to not get too hung up in the specifics of it. We HSPs like to do that. That’s how we process and think. As a Hufflepuff though, I try to balance it with a more open approach. Puff pride n’at.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?
If you think you may be an HSP, please check out the self test Dr. Elaine Aron created. As she mentions in the scoring, “If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive. But no psychological test is so accurate that an individual should base his or her life on it.”
That being said, if you did get a high score OR a few answers rang incredibly true for you, you might want to start working under the assumption that you are a highly sensitive person. This can be one of the biggest parts of learning to live that way, acceptance. One of the most difficult things that can come up as part of understanding your nature is FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. It’s particularly mean in the beginning, especially if you see yourself now as an outgoing, social or party person.
One of my favorite people in the highly sensitive community is a woman named Ane Axford. I’ve been lucky enough to work with her both as her assistant and as a client. She’s an awesome lady who understands what it’s like to be sensitive in the real world. She approaches it with a knowledge of traditional psychology (she’s a licensed marriage and family therapist) and also someone who understands that often, we sensitives will require some softer sciences, like meditation, yoga and other stress management tools as well as some non-traditional therapies, to really make big moves in their life.
I suggest that if you, or someone you love, may be an HSP, you go and read her Sensitive Manifesto where she lays out her “Top 10 Reasons Why I Think You Need to Know About the Genetic Trait of High Sensitivity”. It’s fantastic and I think she does a great job laying it all out.
I have done her Sensitive Leadership training and it helped me a LOT for two reasons:
1) It works through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a way that makes sense for sensitive people. She goes through each level and spends a good amount of time in the thick of it. You gain a ton of knowledge and gain some really great skills in the process.
2) Ryan liked them so much, he watched along with me. He learned as I learned. So while I got things I could use, he learned how I interacted with the world which helped him be a more aware and understanding partner.
Little FYI: I do get an affiliate credit if you sign up for her courses via my link. However, I would suggest her even if I weren’t. The courses are fantastic!
I’ll be doing some follow up posts and I’m hoping to get Ryan to do a “what it’s like living with an HSP” post. I hope you find them helpful, either as a sensitive person or as someone who’s close with one. Research shows that one in every 5-7 people is one but very few people know about the research and how this sensitivity manifests. Your life or the life of a person you love could be radically changed with a little understanding and knowledge. Seems like the best reason to keep writing.
As always, please leave comments or questions below. We love hearing from you!