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The Highly Sensitive Person

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The Highly Sensitive Person

The Oxford Dictionary defines sensitivity as ‘affected by stimuli or mental impressions, receiving impressions quickly and easily, alert and considerate about the feelings of others, or easily hurt or offended’. But to me sensitivity goes much deeper than that. It is a heightened level of intuition. It is realising that someone is upset, even when they insist they are fine. Knowing what someone is going to say before they say it. They may also feel a positive or negative energy in a room, even if nobody else can feel it. A sensitive person knows the right thing to say when someone is upset, and people often trust a sensitive person. Also, because they feel something so intensely, when they are happy or excited about something, they are euphoric! However it can be a double edged sword. It can be draining when you are constantly thinking about others and how they are feeling, or worrying that you have said the right thing to them. It is good to be able to empathise with someone, but when you actually feel the other person’s pain and absorb their negative emotions, that are not helpful for you.

Studies conducted in primary schools in both China and Canada, revealed that in China, quiet, sensitive children were more popular among their peers; whereas in Canada the opposite was true. In the western world, sensitivity is considered a weakness, especially among boys and men. Boys are told from a young age not to cry, and that it isn’t good for them to show their emotions. Being sensitive can also be difficult for girls and women, but I think it is harder for our male counterparts, because it is more acceptable in society for women to display their emotions. As a young child, I remember been told to ‘toughen up’, and teachers giving exasperated sighs before saying “you are so sensitive”. “Why do you cry over the slightest thing?” I, like many other sensitive people began to think there was something inherently wrong with me. Now as an adult I realise that sensitivity is a beautiful quality to have, and I am grateful to have it as a personality trait.

A study by psychologists from Stony Brook University in New York has proven that highly sensitive people’s brains work differently than people with lower sensitivity. The study was published in the journal “Brain and Behaviour” and it was conducted by married research professors Arthur and Elaine Aron. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 18 people.

Some of these people had been classified as highly sensitive based on the questionnaires they had answered before the scans. During their fMRI’s they were shown pictures of people with both happy and sad faces. Professor Elaine Aron said “We found that the areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity during the 12-second period when they viewed the photos [of happy and sad faces].”

Surprisingly, the HSP’s had greater neurological activity when they saw positive emotions as opposed to negative ones. Aaron said “What is going on, and this data supports it further, is that highly sensitive people process information more thoroughly. This is physical evidence within the brain that highly sensitive individuals respond especially strongly to social situations that trigger emotions.” She added that “HSP’s are more aware of their environments”. She said that about 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive.

They are extremely affected by loud noises, and notice scents and other subtleties that non sensitive people probably wouldn’t notice. Professor Aron said, “Often, the subjects have a strong appreciation for the fine details of art and music.” HSP’s are more right-brain dominant and less linear than non HSP’s. They are very conscientious, and have strong concentration skills, when they are in the right surroundings. They have a good aptitude for applying speed and accuracy to their tasks.

She also found that HSP’s who tend to suffer from anxiety or depression usually have had difficult childhoods. Although serotonin levels tend to be lower in HSP’s so this would also contribute to anxiety and depression. HSP’s are more inclined to suffer from allergies too.”Sensitivity is an inherited trait” Aron says, “that tends to be a disadvantage only at high levels of stimulation

“What is moderately arousing for most people is highly arousing for the HSP. And what is highly arousing for most people is off the charts for the HSP.” Everything is intensified for the HSP. When this happens the person often suffers from fatigue or ‘burn out’. After conducting extensive research, she decided to write a book, called ‘The Highly Sensitive Person: how to thrive when the world overwhelms you”.

I have read this book and I found it very interesting. It really helped me to identify my needs and how to take care of myself, especially when I’m over aroused. Here are some self care tips from her book that I found useful.

Self Care Tips

Spend between eight and ten hours in bed. It is important that you rest even if you don’t sleep for that long.

Spend an hour or two meditating during the day, particularly if you are feeling stressed.

Make your meditation space comfortable and appealing to the eyes and olfactory senses. Light a scented candle or your favourite incense. Bring a cushion or bean bag for yourself to sit on, and drink a cup of your favourite herbal tea.

Write in a diary when you are feeling overwhelmed and need to express yourself.

Exercise outdoors for at least an hour daily. It is very important for sensitive people to be in nature.

Bring a protein snack with you because if you are over aroused your blood sugar could drop and protein will help to balance it again. Some nuts, cheese and crackers, a chicken or tuna sandwich are all good sources of protein.

Ensure you breathe from your abdomen, a deep diaphragmatic breath will help to keep you calm, and it will also help your energy levels.

Keep earplugs with you in case you are aroused by loud noise.

Spend time with animals and plants, especially near forests and water.

 

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