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Are You Sensitive & Overstimulated?

If you have read previous articles on Sensitivity you understand that an individual with a highly sensitive personality (or an HSP) has a different way of processing information. Because an HSP can take in so much information and processes it to a deeper extent this takes more time and energy. A large volume of information can cause arousal: meaning the brain has to work at a higher level and does more work. Think about the difference you feel in a dark quiet room versus in a bright room with loud voices and music all around you. The brain is working very hard to take in the noise and sights. So being able to also concentrate on reading a book becomes a difficult task.

How is that different from your average Joe and Joline that make up the 80% of the global population? An HSP is taking in information at any given moment of the day. The brain is searching for changes in the environment, making connections between seemingly random coincidences or just defining the world around you. The average 80% begins at a low level of arousal and seeks out stimulation to create an aroused state. When there is nothing going on outwardly, there is little going on inwardly which creates an unpleasant state. On top of that a non-HSP is not as sensitive to stimulation and needs more to achieve the aroused state that an HSP begins with naturally.

What does that mean for your abilities to get along in a society that is built for those less susceptible to stimulation? An HSP has little choice in the matter. They are bombarded with information that is designed to stimulate the 80% that has difficulty paying attention for longer than a moment or two. This can create a “nervous” state as we attempt to keep up and juggle competing stimulation from both inward needs and outward provocations. What is it like when you have to make a speech? Do you have trouble thinking, remembering the speech, worrying about what everyone in the room thinks about you as you can feel the colour rise in your cheeks? This is a state of over arousal. Too much stimulation causes a meltdown.

So how do we limit stimulation when we can’t control everything in the environment? We look at the things we can control. For instance, what do you juggle on a daily basis? If you keep your schedule full with task after task without time to centre and keep in touch with yourself then you are starting from a point of high arousal. What are your other stresses? Is your working environment noisy? Bright lights? Are you worrying about something that seems to distract you from the simplest task? Sometimes even dialing a phone number can seem herculean if you can’t focus for longer than a second. Conflict can also cause emotional arousal. What is your baseline and how do you start from a low state of arousal so that you can think clearly throughout your day? Building in time for relaxation and centering is the key.

Challenge #3

Creating a centering practice for your daily life will help to bring down your overall arousal. The first thing you need to do is find a nice quiet place in your home, and then one at your place of work. It should be a place that helps you to focus inwardly. As part of your morning, take 10 minutes or more to centre yourself. Experiment to find what works best. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Use yoga or another slow, stretching practice to wake your body up and connect with yourself.

  2. Progressive relaxation: Beginning at your toes tense each of your muscles upwards, first creating a sense of tension in your entire lower body. Take three deep breaths while these muscles are tensed and on your final exhalation release all tension at once. Then do the same with your upper body. If you have any pain go easy in that section of your body. This is not a pain/gain situation.

  3. Try meditation, guided visualization or a mantra to get you connected with YOUR values and needs.

  4. Take 10 slow breaths in which the exhalation is longer than the inhalation. Breathe deep into your belly. Between the in and out breaths let your body pause to find stillness. Just hang, neither breathing in nor breathing out and let your body stay in this relaxed state until it is ready to breathe again.

Once you have found a practice that helps you find an alert but relaxed state find a time and place throughout your day to practice. To create mindfulness, or conscious awareness of your emotional state, find those moments in your day that create tension and use your preferred relaxation method to dispel that tension and keep your arousal levels down.

When you have practiced this method for a week you may want to find other practices that help keep your body in this centred state. Yoga, Tai Chi, swimming lengths, walking, jogging . . . all of these types of exercises can have a meditative, mind clearing quality and you may wish to bring this into your life on a weekly basis to help moderate and lower the stimulation you feel.

To deepen this, you may wish to look at other parts of your life that create unneeded stimulation. As an HSP you may be engaged in many actions that are designed to stimulate the 80% and takes you over the top. Taking ear plugs to cut down on extra noise when you go to concerts, movies or other loud places is a way to take down some of the stimulation and you don’t need to share that with the others around you that may not quite understand. Even your choice of movie may need to reflect your needs. Horror flicks and movies with sustained fight or chase scenes create that tension that revs up the 80% and over stimulates the HSP. Even scrolling the internet can create too much stimulation. So many flashing ads and a plethora of information for your brain to digest can create tension and keep you up at night. Perhaps choosing your time to engage in stimulating activities that allow you at least one hour to find relaxation before bed will help you sleep more deeply, creating more capacity the next day when you have had a good sleep.

Enjoy your down time in a new relaxed way this week. Once you get the hang of it you will have recreation time, not just that time at the end of the day when you are too exhausted to do anything else but veg out. The possibilities are endless when you create space in your life for you.

– Gillian Strange-Dell, Psychotherapist and Director of the Emotional Health Dept., Wellness Path. Durham’s largest holistic health centre.

To read previous Sensitivity articles you can find them here it here:

If you want to talk more about it, Gillian Strange-Dell offers a free 30 minute consult at the Wellness Path. Call 905.623.9232 or email to make your appointment.

NEW meditation class schedule: May 30th 11 am or June 2nd 7 pm. To try a meditation class with Gillian call 905.623.9232 to sign up. The first class is free. Subsequent classes are $15. These classes are small and intimate so book early.

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