The Weight of Mortal Skin Part 2: Self Care

August 9, 2016

woman meditating in chaos

Okay, so you’re a Highly Sensitive Person..now what??

By way of recap, here are a few of my own take-aways from The Weight of Mortal Skin post:

  • If you’ve always felt especially sensitive to stimuli, get overwhelmed easily and/or experience things very intensely, then you could be a Highly Sensitive Person.
  • There is no shame in being Highly Sensitive! This is a real, researched condition with very real psychological, emotional and physical manifestations, and there are an estimated 20% of us out there.
  • When you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, you are more susceptible to things like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, so self-care is especially important.

If any of that resonated for you, or you were already aware of your HSP status and are looking for ways of making the day to day of high sensitivity a little more manageable, these are a few things I’ve come up with for myself as a starting point of sorts: Simplify, Soften, Slow Down.

Simplify

First, simplify what I take in. Create parameters around daily input and stimuli so I don’t experience a constant assault on my senses. For instance, instead of checking my email every ten minutes, make it every hour, or less if there’s nothing urgent. And to the degree possible, limit or eliminate calls, texting, emails, and work stuff once I get home with my son at the end of the day.

And simplify my environment—clear up clutter, limit the ‘to-do’ post its (I am officially obsessed!), do the dishes as they get dirty vs letting them pile up. And generally arrange it so that fewer things are calling out “Do this now!” “Do this now!”

And the TV that I use as a relaxation crutch once I get my little man to sleep (which can be mighty late as sleep is not his favorite activity!), make it 2-3x weekly vs every night. Or not at all? Get back to reading. I always seem to forget about the simple, delicious act of reading a book.

Soften

That is, soften the impact of daily life. When you’re working with a highly reactive nervous system, the every day challenges of being a human (sickness, dwindling finances, broken vehicles, mean people) can become overwhelming. Thus, it is critical to our well being to create a little emotional padding between us and all the ‘argh!’ in our lives. One of the ways I do this is by softening whatever the experience by surrounding it with some mental breathing room—in the form of pauses and breaths, more positive self-messages and conscious action (vs. the reactive kind).

So for instance, if I get a piece of troubling news about a loved one’s health, instead of diving right into a Google search about the condition (my knee-jerk reaction), I will take a few minutes to just let myself feel whatever I feel about the situation, breathe a good bunch of slow, conscious breaths, and then, before delving in, or creating (as I often do) a scary narrative around it, I focus on something positive–either in my own life or out in the world, even if it’s just a funny animal video on YouTube. I purposely take in something good; focus on it; get a felt sense of it; and let it sink in.

And then, in an oh so mindful way, proceed onto the Google search.

By toggling back and forth between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ emotions in this way, we are essentially building neural bridges that help to create resilience and emotional flexibility. Famed neuroscientist Rick Hanson, calls this “using your mind to change your brain”.

I find that the ‘softening’ approach is equally necessary when I find myself in loud and/or crowded places (something typically anathema to HSP’s). Though I may feel like jumping out of my skin, I try to stay consciously aware of my discomfort (again, just feel what I’m feeling), breathe (full in/full out style), and focus on something, anything good. This helps to keep me in my body and reminds me that I am okay.

Slow Down

I have always felt like my very being is on permanent overdrive. Life just feels like it’s moving too fast. I walk quickly, I think non-stop, I do five things at once. So it’s time to slow the heck down. I am trying to walk more slowly, create some space between my thoughts, say less (or at least pause before I speak), and to build in some downtime (even a few minutes helps!) between my various activities, so I am not multitasking or jumping constantly from one thing to the next.

And to pay more attention to whatever I’m doing when I’m doing it. Focus. On one thing at a time.

Now, none of these directives is easy, but I’m treating them as a daily practice. Do my best with each, minute by minute, day by day. And trust that intensity will gradually lessen. I will loosen and lighten. And then…who knows!

Okay, so the cheat sheet version:

Simplify Input by limiting the amount of stimuli you expose yourself to (including email/texts/TV); eliminating clutter; taking in only information that is essential to your well being and informed decision making; spending as little time as possible in loud and/or crowded places.

Soften the Impact of Stimuli on your nervous system by creating space and injecting some positivity around challenging or over stimulating experiences and interactions.

Slow Down Your Mental and Physical Speed by building in pauses between your thoughts, your words, and your activities. The Sense Snapshot can be quite helpful with this!

Stay tuned for more HSP tips in coming posts!