Category Archives: Stress management

HSP Chronicles #2: Learning to Thrive vs Taking a Dive as an HSP

HSP Chronicles #2: LEARNING TO THRIVE VERSUS TAKING A DIVE AS AN HSP

We talked about HSP land in the last blog which defines the term and gives resources. Once you realize you have this curse/gift, pacing and managing your rhythms and sensitivities can be a game changer.

Esther walked into the staff lounge, passing a co-worker with a stressed facial expression. Esther immediately registered her co-worker’s stress, thinking, “Oh, I wonder what’s happening for her?” She thought of how tough life can be. Without realizing it, her own mood took a dive for the afternoon.

PREVENTION STEPS – SO HIGH SENSITIVITY DOESN’T BECOME A BURDEN

If you’re an HSP, it’s rare that this was appreciated or embraced when you were young. This often leaves you feeling you’re flawed, when compared to others. You may try to “man up” when you can, or when it’s suggested to you, but never quite pull it off. In relationship and work, you may have differences that confuse you. Similarly, HSP and non-HSP communication and work flow can completely bomb without HSP education.

When you start to see this in light of how sensitivity and arousal work for the HSP nervous system, it makes more sense. This can be a big relief and big help to better functioning in the world.

There are a few things that can help support HSPs to live and work well in the world today, according to original HSP author/researcher Elaine Aron and others. The good news is, once you get the hang of your own HSP needs and rhythms, you start to see and experience the gift side of this more than the burden.

4 THINGS THAT HELP HSPs THRIVE: Knowledge, Reframing, Healing, Finding your Way

1) Knowledge
Understanding the qualities of the HSP and how well this profile fits for you can be enlightening. Along with this, working with your physical self, the seat of this sensitivity, is important, so you don’t override or ignore your body’s signals or label it as weak or uncooperative.

A quick acronym to remind you of HSP qualities is DOES:
Depth of process (deeper thoughts and more elaborate brain processing)
O – Easily Over-aroused or Overstimulated (Avoids/needs longer recovery time from events)
E – Stronger Emotional reactions (emotions of others, and internal emotional reactions)
S – Aware of Subtle stimuli (high responses to senses and stimuli – noise, smells, light, crowds)

When Esther in the above example found out about her HSP nature, she caught herself as she instantly registered the emotions of her co-worker. She saw her sensitivity and appreciated it, realizing not everyone in the lounge felt this. She realized she didn’t really know what was going on for her co-worker, but didn’t have to assume too much. If desired, she could check in with her later. Meanwhile she kept her focus and productivity going.

2) Reframing
When the world is in a more yang or aggressive mode, sensitivity is less valued – this may be true today. But rather than accept derogatory labels like wimpy, whiny, or dramatic, you can see this in a whole new light. This reframing can happen in your present day world; you can also use reframing to understand past adversities.

The rulers and warriors of the world always had their advisers and counselors – who probably were the HSPs. With proper framing, you can see life events with understanding and compassion. You can explain your needs better to those you love, and offer the world valuable insights and helpful perspectives they may not have considered.

Empath author and psychiatrist Judith Orloff’s group of friends know that she may not come to large gatherings, or if she does, she may arrive and leave early. They may know the label “introvert” or “sensitive”; and they know not to take it personally if Judith disappears in the course of a party.

3) Healing work
Sometimes HSPs can be easy targets for abuse or scapegoating. If there is a backlog of difficult and unresolved past experiences, it’s often of benefit to do the healing work to clear and move that along. HSPs tend to be more impacted by rough childhoods and these effects can linger or arise later in life if re-triggered.

Genevieve had major surgery which went smoothly, but in the recovery period, she found she had a lot of anxiety arising, seemingly out of the blue. After some therapy, she remembered how insecure she felt as a child with parents fighting and threatening divorce frequently. She learned how to manage her anxiety with meditation and relaxation skills. Finding HSP info. was also a huge help. It helped her understand why her anxiety came up and how to be gentle with herself about her experience. She could appreciate herself for how differently she raised her own children, who had grown up to be great adults.

4) Finding your unique, graceful way through the world
HSPs need to find out how to recognize their needs and preferences, and how their sensitivity might positively and negatively influence areas of their life. There may be ways to compensate for jobs that are less supportive to HSP temperaments – for example, changing your desk location if it’s in a noisy spot. Relationships with non-HSPs can be aided with more knowledge and accommodation of how high sensitivity works.

This doesn’t have to mean you’ll be confined to classical music and ear plugs forever. There is a wide diversity and uniqueness to what exactly you can be sensitive to as an HSP, and what really isn’t as big of a deal for you, in terms of the common traits and characteristics. (See original article for info/resources.)

I’ve succeeded in various areas that HSPs are not supposed to venture, for example, performance and public speaking. It did help me to realize that being an HSP might cause me to lose sleep before an event, even if I’d done it before. I plan more recovery time and try not to overschedule those weeks. I’ve have tools to help manage stress and perspective after these risk-taking events; otherwise my critic’s volume can be quite loud. Having supportive friends and loved ones can also provide that reality testing invaluable to me as a sensitive.

Stay tuned as the HSP chronicles continue, and email Denise with any questions or thoughts: mdenisebarnes at gmail.

Have an HSP experience to share or a tool that helps you? You can also comment below.

Curious if therapy or coaching might help you heal old stories and thrive as a sensitive?
Use this link to schedule a brief free consult with Denise.

You can also call/text Denise at 303.501.7402.

Don’t forget the elephants: Stress mgmt. 201

Tom Rath is an inspirational human. A writer, researcher and filmmaker, he studies the role of human behavior in business health and well-being. Diagnosed with cancer at age 16 – high school, yes – he found out during his treatment that he happened to have a rare genetic disorder. As a result, he was missing the all-important tumor suppressor genes. His cancer was treated, but was told that he now faced a life where cancer risk would be very high.

I can’t imagine receiving that news at such an early age, and it was not delivered as a very promising situation.

Some time ago, Tom began to do his own research on any science related to health and well-being. He’d review hundreds of studies some months, looking for any clues to augment his health and longevity, and stay ahead of his own health risks.

Today Tom is in his forties, married, with two children. In addition to his own writing and wonderful work (tomrath.org, twitter @tomcrath), he is a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, where he’s an expert on employee engagement, strengths and wellbeing. Remember Strength Finders 2.0? That is his work, along with half a dozen other NY Times bestsellers. Fascinating to see his evolution over time.

His story has a big lesson in terms of stress management. Continue reading

Four Easy, Science-backed Ways to Rate your Stress Level

Life is never stress-free. Even good things – marriage, graduations, vacations – can bring on pressure and raise stress levels. Super challenging events have been linked to developing major health problems. For many reasons, keeping abreast of your stress – being proactive in managing stress peaks – is an excellent idea.

How you define stress – well that’s unique to each person. Generally, it’s when our “to do’s” exceed our abilities to handle them. Some thrive on levels of juggling that would leave the rest of us comatose. Others can have days when they’re sensitive and thrown off balance easily, by small things. Stress levels are mostly subjective. Also, as stress piles up – let’s say due to a number of challenges hitting at once, it’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed and lose perspective. That’ll kick your Fight-Flight-Freeze (fight or flight) response in – and that takes a toll on mind, body and spirit. There is no right or wrong here. It helps though to become aware of how your stress and coping skills play out.

I’ve been alongside clients suffering from anxiety, depression, health changes  and challenges for a couple of decades. It can help to rate your own stress. Remember, it is subjective, and it will change a bit from day to day. Yet several of these “stress tests” can be helpful to get an objective sense of where you are, and any progress you make over time. Don’t think too hard to rate these questions – just estimate or average your rating for now. Tomorrow’s a whole new day!

QUICK SCIENCE-BACKED STRESS TESTS Continue reading

Grief Emotions – A Self-Healing Mechanism

This month I attended a Trauma Competency conference for two days. Grief was one of the topics. I heard a statement that impressed me, and that might be helpful if you’re dealing with grief.

Just like so many painful things, it’s natural to want to avoid grief. I have been known, for example, to stay busy, to play computer games or other mindless activities, to watch movies or read pulp mysteries, just to name a few options. These passive activities (it’s called “passive coping”) can provide some soothing, some comforting, it’s true. But more often than not for me, I finish that book and feel like I’ve been wasting time. Especially if I’m in avoidance.

So in the avoidance of grief, you may try to hold back tears, and think you have to hold yourself together for the world. Sometimes that is true – not only would a breakdown be inconvenient at Walmart, it would also not be the most supportive environment to let grief flow. That makes sense.

Yet when you go on for a long time successfully avoiding feelings of grief, you can get numb. This will shut down or curtail your life energy, your life force. It will inhibit your presence, your ability to respond to the moment. You might lose interest or motivation to do things you enjoy. Yes, there is a lot of emotional fall out to avoiding grief. Besides the fact that you’re usually stuck in place – which is again, natural for some time, but not if it lingers for years.

So here is the statement I heard last week, paraphrased: The emotions of grief work like a self-healing mechanism. So tears, anger, devastation, guilt – and particularly the physical emotions that come up – are part of your self-healing time. You just have to make room for it. And, what’s harder, relax with it.

When you are healing trauma, one of the main methods is to stay relaxed in the body while facing a memory or past pain. This is similar with working with grief. Whenever the emotional stress arises, there are a few things you can do to stay relaxed. These instant moves help switch you from fight or flight mode to more calmness. If you can stay with the calmness, you are moving through grief versus clenching against it – clenching will tend to keep it stuck.

How to switch out of fight or flight mode? For the ongoing help to cultivate your calm side in the face of a crazy world, it helps to have a regular meditation/relaxation practice. In a moment of grief, you can also try these quickies to stay somewhat calmer:

a) Put your hands behind your head and breathe (it goes to the belly zone, a signal to the body to calm down)
b) Switch your visual focus to peripheral vision (similar thing here)
c) Relax the muscles in your pelvis, specifically between your sitz bones and your front pelvic bones (It’s said  you can’t stay in fight or flight with a relaxed pelvis)

Note: The sitz bones are the bones you feel on the bottom of your butt against a chair when you are sitting.

It takes practice to be with strong emotions. These 3 instant stances can help you stay with the waves of emotion so they can express themselves. Yes, sometimes you’ll need to hold that deluge back. That’s normal. And when you want to support yourself in your grief, when you want to have some healing time, you can set it up in your schedule, by having some time with nothing at all scheduled. And there, you can play with these ways to not clench your body and mind, and let the self-healing mechanism of grief flow.

You can also try these three methods with any challenges that cause stress or kick in your fight or flight / clenching mode. You tend to make better decisions, and have awareness of more options, when you help your brain and body calm that fight or flight instinct.

I was able to test these instant stress busters on a plane ride. The pilot announced we’d need our seat belts for the turbulence ahead for the next twenty minutes. Yikes! I felt myself start to get a bit panicky as the bumpy ride and drop-outs began. Then I relaxed my pelvic muscles. I felt the stress drop – instant relief! And it stopped escalating. I was able to go back to my book.

Let me know how it goes if you try this, okay? Blessings.

Denise Barnes, MA, LPC
Sanity and Santuary for Grief, Medical Decisions and End of Life Prep
Consults: text 303.501.7402