Is This A Thing?
Yes, Highly Sensitive People, or HSP, is a thing. There’s solid research that supports this concept. According to expert Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You:
“The brains of highly sensitive people have more activity and blood flow in the right hemisphere, indicating an internal rather than an external focus.
What is moderately arousing to most people is overwhelming to HSPs.
HSPs often have decreased serotonin levels resulting from the repeated stress of over arousal.
Likewise, they have more reactive immune systems (allergies) and more sensitive nervous systems.
The sensitivity trait is just as likely among men as among women; both represent about 20 percent of the population.”
Taking into consideration that 20% of the population currently corresponds to approximately 1.48 billion people worldwide, that’s too high a number for it to be just the latest fad, anyway. But hey, I get it. Many well-meaning parents, teachers and others responsible for rearing children want to understand what’s going on and do right by their kids, but don’t want to be taken for a ride in the process. With all the behavioral health trends that keep coming up, it’s hard to tell the difference between a legitimate thing and yet another label which legitimizes bad behavior. Or the difference between highly sensitive kids and over indulged brats, or between highly sensitive adults and dysfunctional drama addicts. The thing is, although being highly sensitive can lead to disorders and disorderly behavior, it’s not a disorder. Although it can lead to mental health problems, it’s not a mental health problem. It’s simply a different, more intense (sometimes much more intense) way of perceiving, relating to and connecting with the world. Of course, highly sensitive kids can become over indulged brats, and highly sensitive adults can be socially inept people or dysfunctional drama addicts. Why? Maybe part of the problem is simply the lack of awareness and information about how to raise a highly sensitive kid into becoming a functional highly sensitive adult. It can be hard to understand, relate to and deal with a highly sensitive child. The key is to remember that it’s also very hard to be one. Highly sensitive children are also referred to as “orchid children.” According to the article Genetic Roots of “Orchid” Children by Bruce Bower, “a Swedish expression that translates as ‘orchid child’ refers to a youngster who blossoms spectacularly if carefully nurtured but withers badly if neglected.” An orchid in a field of dandelions, the highly sensitive child has a much more delicate personality than his peers and needs a protective environment to properly flourish.
From early on in life, highly sensitive children have to live with the perception that they are different; that they don’t quite fit in; that there’s “something wrong” with them, according to others. Because they are so sensitive, they experience tremendous hurt, which may result in self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. In addition, highly sensitive people often have the capacity to understand or perceive what’s going on with others better than many do themselves. So they can become a bothersome and inconvenient presence to a lot of people, and frequently receive (and/or deeply feel) negative feedback from their input, such as anger, rage, fear, sadness, withdrawal, defensiveness, etc. In family dynamics, the highly sensitive child usually plays the role of the "scapegoat" or "screw up" or "problem child" (the "scapegoat" is the truth teller of the family; this role is played by the most sensitive and emotionally honest child, who often verbalizes or acts out the "problem" or dysfunction that the family is attempting to cover up or deny). It doesn’t get any better as the highly sensitive children grow up. I’ve heard many of my clients say that they are constantly told such things as: “stop being so annoying”; “why do you always have to see more into it or make a bigger deal than it is?”; “stop being so sensitive”; “calm down, you’re being irrational”; “you’re overreacting”; “you’re overthinking it”; “why do you care so much?”; “anyone else can handle this, so why can’t you?”; “you don’t know everything!”; etc. Of course, highly sensitive people are not always right about how they understand, feel or perceive things; but they are often on the right track, which annoys a lot of people.
A client once told me that it took her years to be able to see a dead animal on the road without crying, which used to cause her to be regarded by friends and family members (not to mention herself) as weird. Other clients say that they didn’t feel like they ever fit in; that they didn’t have a place. Some mention that they see (and intensely feel) too many things that are wrong with the way we live, the way we treat other humans and other living beings, the way we are destroying the planet, etc; and they simply can’t live with all that and go on pretending nothing is happening, ignoring what’s happening, or profiting from what’s happening, as so many do. They see the unfairness and injustice of the rigged system, along with all its rigged subsystems, that our modern society has become. And they want it to stop. Many of them do manage to thrive and become the dreamers, the doers, the game changers, the rebels with plenty of cause; but they often give so much of themselves and get so deeply involved that their cause sucks the living energy out of them. In addition, many highly sensitive adults often get discouraged easily, at the first sight of a challenge or disappointment; or simply change they cannot handle or suffering they cannot bear to witness. Others are lost and confused; they go into hiding for self preservation, often numbing themselves with mind altering substances (legal and illegal) and/or suffering from severe health issues which cause intense physical, emotional and mental pain. In short, many are hiding because they can’t find their place and their way; and they can’t function in this rigged system without it chipping away at their very souls.
Under References and Related Articles there are many suggestions that can be incorporated as part of the highly sensitive person’s survival kit, as well as sources of information for the non-highly sensitive people who have HSPs in their lives. As a highly sensitive person myself, I share some of what I have learned and offer a few suggestions below.
For the non-highly sensitive people out there:
For the highly sensitive people out there:
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 03/31/2016
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay
References and Related Articles:
1) The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, book by Dr. Elaine N. Aron
2) Are You Highly Sensitive? test from Dr. Elaine Aron’s website
3) The Plight of the Empath or Highly Sensitive Person
4) 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People
5) What Makes A Highly Sensitive Person?
6) Genetic Roots Of “Orchid Children”
7) On The Trail Of The Orchid Child
8) Are You A Highly Sensitive Person? What You Need To Know About The Science Of This Personality Type
9) Orchids and Dandelions Abloom - Best of Neuron Culture
Do you struggle with meditation?
I certainly did for many years. The problem began with the fact that, just like exercising, meditation always felt like hard work to me. One more thing on my plate, rather than a break from all those things on my plate. Another issue involved the amount of information about meditation out there, with each source offering a different idea of how you’re supposed to meditate and what you’re supposed to achieve when meditating (such as a blissful feeling, a state of mindfulness, some kind of enlightenment, a blank mind, etc). The fact that I’m a goal-oriented perfectionist and a bit OCD about everything I do didn’t help in the least.
I also have to admit that on occasion I suffered from meditation-oriented Enlightenment envy, which didn’t help, either. One such incident happened a few years ago, when a close friend of mine pretty much got herself an “enlightenment” experience during meditation without even trying. Her meditation practices had been even spottier than mine used to be, to say the least. To add insult to injury, at the time she was feeling annoyed at anything even remotely spiritual-sounding. During the prior months she had been spending a lot of time stewing about her issues, not taking any step forward, and actually taking a few back. Then, one fine day, she was chatting with a friend on the phone about these issues, and he said to her: "Remember who you really are." That struck her to the point of bringing her to tears. So she started repeating to herself: "Remember who I am," and then just "I am" several times during her meditation that evening (by the way, she had completely stopped meditating for a while, and I was the one who had insisted several times that she should start doing it again). Then, all of a sudden, BOOM! She's there. She had the whole experience, from complete union and connection with everything in the Universe to ecstatic bliss to total clarity about her purpose here to absolute consciousness that she had planned her experience and could change it however she chose to, etc. She even got a vision of her surrounding "reality" completely dissolving into pure light!!! After I forced myself to congratulate her on her wonderful experience and got passed my frustration with myself, I managed to have a good meditation session that evening. I even felt blissful for a few seconds, but when I tried to emulate my friend's "I am" exercise (which is very powerful, by the way) in an attempt to get passed that state and go further, a voice popped in my head, saying: "Relax. You are trying too hard!" No kidding.
Over the years I tried all kind of tricks and different styles of meditation to quiet my monkey mind, at no avail (fire breath; tensing and releasing; breathing meditation; moving meditation; smiling meditation; candle meditation; etc). I tried prayer and affirmations (not as meditation practice, but to help me get into a meditative state). I tried mantras and mudras. I tried toning and chanting. I tried rosaries and mala beads. I tried short, mid-length and long meditations. I tried guided visualization and creative imagery. I tried sitting on the floor or in a chair, lying down, dancing. I tried changing styles not to get too complacent and staying with one style for a long period of time to create continuity and consistency. With all that rigamaroo, I still managed to “meditate” better when I was in the shower or washing the dishes (in other words, not trying too hard). Of course, there are thousands of different styles of meditation out there (maybe more), and I haven’t tried the great majority of them. I haven’t tried Vipassana (the Buddhist meditation technique that means insight into the true nature of reality, which my husband has been practicing for over 23 years), Yoga Nidra (“yogic sleep” meditation that some of my friends and clients practice), crystal bowl meditation (technique also practiced by several friends and clients, which utilizes the sound of crystal bowls to serve as the focal point of your way into relaxation); or crystal meditation (supposedly a fast way of accelerating your inner and outer growth, as well as your power level), just to mention a few (FYI, I’m planning to try a Rose Quartz meditation led by my friend Amy Traver, as I like to stay open to different techniques). In addition, there are many techniques that I probably didn’t try consistently enough. But I can say I did try.
Why did I try so hard? Because meditation is great for you! According to Deepak Chopra, meditation “reduces stress and anxiety; makes you more calm and relaxed; makes you happier, energized and more motivated; reduces your heart rate and blood pressure; gives you better concentration and memory; makes you look younger; allows you to sleep better at night; makes you more productive; improves your relationships; and opens you up to creativity” (Ten Good Reasons to Meditate by Deepak Chopra). Want more reasons? Want to know some of the scientific research behind it? Check out this article: Twenty Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today. On a more personal level, in my line of business I suggest to a lot of people that they should meditate. How could I make such a suggestion if I weren’t willing to do it myself? So I did try. Hard. Finally, I decided to accept the fact that there must have been a good reason why I chose to make this seemingly simple process so hard; obviously some lesson I wanted to learn. I also had to understand and, most importantly, accept this simplest of all truths: We are all unique in our sameness. Each one of us is completely different from everyone else, and we have our own individual ways, systems, processes, timing, etc, to get it done (whatever "it" is).
And just when I was finally able to relax about the whole idea, I tried a system that got me the closest to achieving satisfactory results, and which I still practice today. My system is as follows:
Since I started practicing meditation that way, several things have happened. For one, I actually enjoy meditating now; it doesn’t feel like hard work anymore. In second place, because I’m not trying so hard, every now and then something interesting does happen. Similarly to the friend I mentioned above, once I even experienced a vision of myself dissolving into particles, swirling around and blending with the particles of everything else around me. That was cool. Another time I was feeling very sad about something that had happened and shedding tears during my meditation. At that moment I was taken by surprise with memories and visions of happy moments that made me laugh at the same time that I was crying. A voice popped in my head, saying: “Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin.” I had studied that concept before, but that time I really understood it; not only intellectually, but on a much deeper emotional and spiritual level. That was beautiful. Sometimes, with my eye closed, I also see violet swirls (this color is often associated with the third-eye chakra, the energy center located between the eyebrows, and it’s supposed to assist those who seek the meaning of life and spiritual fulfillment). That’s awesome.
But I don’t meditate with the intention to have such experiences anymore. As a matter of fact they often catch me by surprise, and I believe the main reason they’ve been happening is that I stopped focusing on achieving or expecting them during meditation. Now, what seems to happen the most when I’m meditating (other than the frantic jumping around of my eternally fidgety monkey mind) is that I get in touch with my inner guidance and get answers to my questions; which, according to some, is not supposed to be the purpose of “true” meditation. But it’s quite useful! And what happens just as often during meditation is that I create; I get ideas. I’ve written in my head entire blog articles, hypnotherapy scripts, books segments, etc, during meditation. I’ve also come up with ideas to expand my practice, plan workshops and a lot of other practical, useful advice. Well, that’s not supposed to be the purpose of “true meditation,” either; or so I’ve been told. But all of this makes me very, very happy. I feel excited and energized, ready to sit down and write or get work done after I meditate. So, I keep going with the flow.
In short, my suggestion to everyone who would like to enjoy the countless benefits of meditation but still struggles with it is: keep trying until you find something that you truly resonate with; that really works for you; that helps you achieve results that are meaningful to you. And then, no matter what everyone else’s opinions and expectations are about it (including your own), just do it!
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 03/16/2016
Image by David Brooke Martin from unsplash
Alternate Nostril Breathing: Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama Guided by Sadhguru
Ten Good Reasons to Meditate by Deepak Chopra
Twenty Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today
The Next Steps
On the previous article, What's Eating You?, I mentioned that to achieve long-term habit and lifestyle changes we need to address the issues behind the overeating and other bad eating habits that caused the extra weight. I also mentioned the advantages of hypnotherapy for weight loss and management over other available methods. On this article, I list 10 proven tips to help you in your weight loss/management process, no matter what plan or program you are currently following.
10 USEFUL TIPS FOR WEIGHT LOSS/MANAGEMENT: *
1) Make sure to eat your bigger meals at breakfast and/or lunch and your lightest meal in the evening. That can be a hard change to make, especially due to busy work schedules. A lot of people end up eating a light (and often unhealthy) lunch at their desks or on the run, and only have time to prepare and eat a good meal in the evening. However, that’s the time of the day when your body’s metabolism and digestive capacity slow down, and you won’t be using most of the calories you’re loading yourself with before bed time. This habit can also cause digestive issues and sleep trouble. In addition, by eating light or skipping meals during day, you’re depriving your body of energy when it needs it the most.
Better Idea: Try preparing your heavier meals in the evening and packing them to eat for lunch the next day. Choose lighter fares in the evenings (preferably before 6 pm; think light breakfast or light lunch kinds of meals). Start the transition slowly, maybe two to three times per week. If you feel hungry right before bed, try having just a 1/4 cup of almond milk or other milk substitute, or some tea with milk, etc, to take the edge off the hunger feeling until your body gets used to the new routine.
2) Avoid eating meat at night. Protein takes a lot of energy to digest and break down. As our metabolism slows down in the evening, the body can’t properly digest meats. That means a much longer process time, during which the meats sit in the stomach, releasing the same toxins as decomposing cadavers. As mentioned above, that can cause digestive issues and affect the quality of your sleep.
Better Idea: Avoid eating meats and other heavy foods at night. Choose lighter foods such as cereal with milk, boiled eggs, sandwiches. Check out 8 Foods That Disrupt Sleep and The Best Foods to Eat at Night.
3) No liquid during meals. This is important because digestion starts in the mouth, with the saliva helping to break down the food; so if you drink liquids while you eat, you can dilute that process. Not to mention that the liquids you ingest during your meals can expand your stomach and slow digestion. This change might be hard in the beginning, as your mouth will probably feel very dry without the help of beverages. However, if you gradually reduce the amount of beverages until you stop drinking during meals, it might take a few weeks but your salivary glands should “jump start” again and you won’t have that dry mouth feeling anymore. You’ll probably even grow to dislike having liquids with your meals after that, as the food will feel “watery” and less tasty in your mouth!
Better Idea: Ideally, it’s best to avoid drinking liquids less than 1/2 hour before or until 1/2 after a meal.
4) Cut out all sodas, including diet. Most everyone already knows that cutting out sodas is a great way to start losing weight and become healthier, as they are loaded with sugar and calories (and are very unhealthy for you in many other ways). However, do you know the importance of also cutting out diet sodas? Among other things, diet sodas lack nutritional value; can hurt your heart and be bad for your bones; are associated with headaches and depression; and can lead to an increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Not to mention that drinking diet sodas is actually connected to weight gain rather than loss, as artificial sweeteners can lead to an increased craving for high calorie foods (see 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda).
Better Idea: See 5 Best Tips to Cut Out Soda Intake.
5) Drink more water. Yes, 64 oz or about 8 glasses per day, give or take (depending on a few different factors, some people need more or less). I often hear from people that they don’t like to drink that much water because they keep having to go to the bathroom all day. But that usually happens just in the beginning of the process of consuming more water, until your body gets used to the new water intake levels. After that, your process of eliminating stabilizes. You also get to a point that you feel completely parched if you don’t drink enough water throughout the day.
Others mentioned that they forget to drink water during the day, or don’t remember how many glasses they did drink.
Better Idea: That used to be my case, too. The way I solved that problem was to buy a 32-oz BPA-free water bottle, fill it in the morning, drink it throughout the day, then fill it again; once I finished it for the second time, I knew I was done for the day and everything else after that was extra.
6) Watch for the pitfalls of low fat, low cal diets. Many programs out there claim to help you shed those pounds while you can still eat what you like. Beware of the pitfalls of such diets; they are often loaded with sugar, which can end up by causing serious health issues. A good friend of mine was having serious health issues which included swelling of the face, eyes and feet. Here’s what she recently found out and shared with me:
“I had to realize that I could not take short cuts around my health and had to take charge. My no junk food and low calorie diet of 1,200 a day that I have been doing for years was not working. I realized that my so called “healthy” food consumption was killing me (literally!). My breakfast protein bar and 8 oz soy milk were packed full of sugar. My daily lunch routine of a Lean Cuisine [meal] was packed with sugar. My afternoon snack of a small yogurt was packed with sugar. When I added up what I was eating, yes, it was low in calories and low in fat but so freaking high in hidden processed sugar (about 30 to 40 teaspoons of sugar a day)! No wonder I was so sick. My doctor said my liver was fatty and was showing signs like I was drinking [alcohol] daily!!!”
My friend had to stop her consumption of not only sugar, but also artificial sweeteners and so called “natural” sugars from processed “health” food. Her liver levels are finally back to normal and she has lost 8 pounds to date. She’s not hungry, has no cravings and feels healthy.
Better Idea: Make sure your diet is low in sugars, and has plenty of lean protein and whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, some grains, healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut oil), etc, as well as a minimum amount of processed foods. Read the labels of processed foods, even the “healthy” ones. Eat organic foods as much as possible (affordable sources of organic foods are: Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi, some local farm markets). Try replacing favorite high-sugar snacks such as fruit-flavored yogurt for healthier substitutes, such as organic whole plain yogurt with a teaspoon of fruit-sweetened fruit spread. If necessary, consult a knowledgeable nutritionist. Also remember to allow yourself an occasional treat (depending on your weight loss and management goals).
7) Choose the weight you want to achieve, rather than the number of pounds you want to lose. If you constantly remind yourself of the pounds you don’t want to have and are trying to lose, you place yourself in a resistance mode. According to the Law of Attraction, by giving your attention to what you don’t want, you just attract more of it, the same way that you attract what you do want. The Law doesn’t differentiate between the two.
Better Idea: Take a positive and self-affirming step instead; choose your target weight and keep it in mind at all times, especially during moments when you’re feeling discouraged and beating yourself up. The mind is very powerful, and will work hard to achieve the goals you set for yourself.
8) Do not weigh yourself more than once a week. Everyone who’s been on a diet knows how obsessive scale checking can become. Since our weight fluctuates throughout the day and from day to day, this can lead to a lot of disappointment, to say the least; it can also become an excuse to despair and give up. There will be ups and downs during your weight loss process, even when you’re doing everything right; and that doesn’t mean failure. However, sometimes it might indicate the need for some tweaking in the plan; it’s a learning process.
Better Idea: Try weighing yourself just once a month.
9) Cleanse at least once a year. Cleansing is a great way to detox and reboot your body, and it often helps you shed a few pounds in the process. There are countless types of cleanses available out there (herbal, juice, special diets, fasting, etc). It’s advisable that you consult with your doctor or nutritionist about the best option for you.
Better Idea: Cleanse twice a year. I got used to doing an herbal cleanse in January or February (to recover from the excesses of the holiday season and prepare for the allergy season); the other is at the end of the Summer (for similar reasons).
10) Don’t beat yourself up when you slip. That not only doesn’t help, but it also can make things worse, even causing you to give up in the middle of the process. Slips are common, and even to be expected. The important thing is to understand that you’re still in control, and you can simply pick it back up where you left off.
Better Idea: Forgive yourself for the slip(s) and stick to your goals. Seek help and support during your weight loss and management process. Remember you’re not alone, there are a lot of people going through similar challenges. Try shifting negative self-talk to constructive thoughts and trouble-shooting ideas. When things look bleak, have faith in yourself and keep your target weight in mind.
As you incorporate all or at least several of these into your life style, you’ll be well on your way to a much healthier and thinner you.
* Please check with your doctor before incorporating any of the listed tips to make sure that no health issues are present and need to be addressed, such as thyroid imbalance; and that there are no other reasons why any of the listed tips would not be advisable for you.
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 03/02/2016
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay
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