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Highly Sensitive: Maybe that's you?

IMG_3267 Highly sensitive people are like orchids...we have finely tuned nervous systems and are extremely sensitive to our environment. We flourish when cared for and appreciated for our unique beauty.

Picture this: Old Orchard Beach, Maine at the height of summer. Bright, warm sunshine. Happy visitors, families enjoying the arcade and the amusement rides. The fried dough.             carnival rides in the

Crowded sidewalks and streets, boisterous voices and laughter, flashing lights, music booming from the Himalaya ride. 

My idea of a nightmare. Just the thought of it makes my head hurt and a shudder runs through my body. 

Am I anti-social? Fun-time hater? Absolutely not. 

Am I a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?  Most definitely. 

What is this high sensitivity? you may ask. It is an innate temperament trait identified by Dr. Elaine Aron. She noticed similarities in stories from her clients when working as a psychotherapist; stories of overwhelm, overstimulation and feeling misunderstood as being “TOO” sensitive as a child. 

An HSP herself, she paid attention to these stories and, a researcher at heart, started collecting data. She’s written books, high sensitivity has been the topic of movies (one features Alanis Morrissette, a self-professed HSP) and she teaches workshops on the subject. 

Elaine developed a short-hand for understanding HSP’s:  D.O.E.S. 

Deep thinker: HSP’s have rich and complex inner lives, they process information more deeply, spend a lot of time pondering and examining ideas, situations, and problems. 

Overwhelm:  HSP’s are easily overwhelmed by stimulation such as bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, coarse clothing (or those annoying tags inside your shirt); we also get tweaked during long meetings and long commutes. By “we” I mean “I,” though maybe you’re nodding your head….

Emotionally responsive and empathic:   HSP’s respond and react more often and more deeply to other people’s feelings. We sometimes can “feel” what someone else is feeling, whether that’s despair, sadness, anger or joy, gratitude, pleasure. We’re tuned into other people’s emotional states and can easily put ourselves in their shoes. 

Sensitive to subtleties: HSP’s notice the “little things” around them. My home is more neat vs. in disarray because I notice EVERYTHING. The smear of oil on the counter, the fuzzballs from our SmartWool socks (hello Mainers) on the carpet, pillows on the couch out of order. We’re also tuned into subtle non-verbal cues and can read a room or a person’s responses quickly by observing the tilt of the head, slight raise of the eyebrow, a shift in their tone of voice. Elaine Aron often refers to HSP’s being the valuable member of ancient tribes who first smelled the smoke from a nearby forest fire, the crack of a twig when the saber-tooth tiger was approaching. Translate this to modern-day awareness: HSP’s often note where the exit door is located and map a path to the one least likely to get jammed-up in the event of a fire. 

Check that box. 

Sound exhausting? Yes, indeed. It can be. 

Which brings me to Elaine’s banner cry to HSP’s:  You must take care of yourselves. 

Typically that means 

  • plenty of sleep and downtime
  • time outside in nature
  • exercise
  • long, warm baths or delightful swims

We all have our own self-care palette; just need to remember to whip out the paintbrush more often. 

I have an index card on my desk summarizing Elaine’s recommendation for HSP’s: 

1 hour per day 

1 day per week                                           =    DO NOTHING 

1 week per quarter

And…on the first day of vacation:  rest, read and sleep vs. diving in to the local attractions or hitting the ground running.

Is any of this easy, especially if you’re in relationship with a non-HSP?  Not necessarily, though it’s a great opportunity to talk with your partner about being highly sensitive, what it means, your needs, and the gifts that being highly sensitive offer. 

Elaine recently released a new movie, Sensitive and in Love . She and her husband, Art, are researchers and experts in the psychology of love and close relationships. Rich material, here.  

So what? Why do we need to know about HSP’s, whether we consider ourselves highly sensitive or not?  

Because if you’re highly sensitive you may be doing a number on yourself or them about your/their sensitivity, thinking there’s something wrong and that you/they need to be something other than what and who you are.  

You may be the parent of a highly sensitive child, partnered with an HSP romantically or at work and coming up against real challenges. 

High Sensitivity is real; did I mention it’s been researched and scientifically validated by Elaine Aron and others?  Check out her site for more info on this and for resources. 

More importantly, if you’re highly sensitive you may be overwhelmed, overstressed and not enjoying your life and your sensitivity. You haven’t yet discovered the importance, the necessity, of rest, quiet-time and other self-care tools. 

My personal mantra (when I remember it…ahem) and driving motivation for sharing yoga and shamanic healing with others: 

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. ~Chinese Proverb 

Ponder that for a moment, my deep thinking HSP friends. 

Relaxation is who you are. 

Being highly sensitive is who you are, HSP’s. 

Now, I can’t say I’ve got this all figured out. Lately, I’ve been working hard with many intense deadlines for the workshop scheduling and planning I do with the 1440 Multiversity.  I’m having a hard time with sleep and my poor molars are grinding down to a stump from all the clenching of the jaw at night. 

So I’m dialing it back a bit and wrapping up work early enough that I have that one hour in my day of doing nothing before dinner.  I’m taking long, warm baths in our fancy new tub (thank you, Tom) and getting outside for walks near the ocean. 

In general, yoga and yoga nidra, sleep, meditation, massages, reading, prayer, time in nature and days with lots of downtime are my salvation. 

Oh, and time with my shaman-sisters. Deep, heart-felt connection, understanding and support, and energy healing are crucial to me as an HSP. 

Community is also an important form of support for HSP’s. Either gathering with other HSP’s or with people who understand and appreciate high sensitivity.  

Another answer to the “So What” question:  if you’re highly sensitive and didn’t know it, it’s possible you haven’t yet realized that your high sensitivity is your hidden advantage. 

Hidden advantage. Now we’re talking. 

HSP’s can be attentive, highly tuned-in partners, friends and colleagues. 

Our deep thinking and processing can solve problems, add richness and creativity in ways that complement relationships and teams. 

Our need for quiet, a slower-pace and frequent breaks can support others with highly-stressed nervous systems, HSP or not.  As Elaine says in her post about the Ethics of Self-Care:  what’s good for HSP’s is good for everyone else. 

(Is there any doubt that we’re living in challenging times, with high levels of stimulation, activity and noise? )


And finally (for now), our sensitivity to subtleties can mean we do well in groups and meetings, tuning into what’s not being said and noticing details that others may miss. 

If you can relate to what I’ve shared and my idea of a nightmare (OOB in August) you may be Highly Sensitive, too. 

You can take Dr. Elaine Aron’s test on her website, here. Or simply review her home page and see if any of the descriptions of HSP’s sound familiar and enlightening. Comforting and reassuring. Deeply resonant. 

Check out the Sensitive movie to hear stories from other HSP’s.  

And remember, the world is a better place with HSP’s in it, especially when we take care of ourselves and thrive. 

When we heal ourselves, we heal the world. 

I don’t remember who first said that, but if that isn’t motivation to give ourselves a break and slow it down a bit, I don’t know what is. 

This Friday (3/6) at 2 PM EST I’ll be part of a webinar for Highly Sensitive People with Alane Freund, a leading teacher on high sensitivity who often leads workshops with Elaine and has a thriving psychotherapy practice for HSP adults and children. 

Alane has a beautiful way of describing HSP’s as orchids.   Orchid pic

Check out her home page for more.  

I’ll share some of my experience of being an HSP and lead a guided body scan, meant to invite deep relaxation into the body and calming the nervous system.  Join us! People on my newsletter list receive a 50% discount off the subscription price for Alane’s webinars by using this code: INVITEMW.  

Here's the link to sign-up for the webinar series; I'm the guest this month and Elaine Aron is the guest next month.  So worth it! 

We’ll also be live on Facebook this Wednesday, Mar 4 at 12 PM (EST)

Join us and learn more about HSP’s and how we tap into our hidden advantage (while calming the heck down). 


Soulfire Yoga & Healing, Inc.
serving the Greater Portland area and beyond!
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 207-747-9223

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