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Yes that’s me. And now that I have learnt that this trait–found in 15 to 20 percent of the population is normal as it affects too many people to be classed a ‘disorder’, I feel validated. I am not crazy after all… Lisa Durante investigates.

This complex percentile I belong to however is often misunderstood, starting with myself. For as long as I can remember I wondered why my way of seeing the world and processing behaviours or events was enveloped by a tenuous membrane under which the full Tsunami – like force of my emotions lurked. Ready to engulf me and leave others moved, puzzled or irritated by the depth of my emotional response, not only do I ‘wear my heart out on my sleeve’, I have it draped everywhere else too.

Over the years and the bruises I have learnt to calibrate my hyper-sensitivity
so that it manifests predominantly as a penetrating interest in my own psyche and that of others; or so I would like to believe. The truth is however, that I still do sweat the small stuff and this can be exhausting. Sadly, it also does not mean that I am automatically always mindful of other’s feelings. The flip-side of this HSP-tinged nature of mine
is self-absorption and the result can be a ‘bull in a china shop’ attitude that is far from sensitive. The idiosyncrasies of human nature know no bounds…

Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPS

Dr. Elaine Aron, bestselling author of The Highly Sensitive Person claims this condition is innate. “Biologists have found it to be in most livings beings, from fruit flies and fish to dogs, cats, horses and primates. This sensitive trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, namely being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others.”

• YOU ARE MORE AWARE THAN OTHERS OF SUBTLETIES. This is mainly because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.

• YOU ARE ALSO MORE EASILY OVERWHELMED. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.

• THIS TRAIT IS NOT A NEW DISCOVERY, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called ‘shy.’ But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30 percent of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabelled as introversion. It has also been called ‘inhibitedness’, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.

• SENSITIVITY IS VALUED DIFFERENTLY IN DIFFERENT CULTURES. In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told ‘don’t be so sensitive’ so that they feel abnormal.

Nutrition

Sarah Best, US health and raw nutrition expert claims that figuring out what to eat can be a challenge of “epic proportions” for HSPs, because everything we eat affects us so much. “If we don’t eat enough we feel light-headed, drained, anxious and jittery. If we eat too much, or the wrong things, mind fog sets in big time.”

She also claims that we’re “prone to digestive issues and to everything else that goes with having a sensitive constitution.” Processed foods affect us more than most
– refined sugar and caffeine are apparently “powerful mind-altering drugs for us.” But if we strip away all that and eat a super clean raw diet, our emotions can feel “far too… well…raw”, she says.

Sarah explains that while food that’s unfired is an essential component of any diet, eating entirely raw is challenging for HSPs, as we need to “eat in a way that calms and grounds us.” She adds, “A whole foods diet is the way to go – experiment to find the amount of raw that works for you, a1nd also the foods that you feel best on.”

1. Rule is the same for you as for everyone else

Make vegetables the centre of your diet. Enjoy them in salads, juices, smoothies, soups, stews and other dishes. “They are grounding, balancing, and loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.” With vegetables as the star of the show, pick from a supporting cast that can include nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and high-quality animal foods, if you desire.

2. Stay away from

Stimulants, and not just the obvious ones like cola, coffee and cocaine. Give cacao a wide berth (it’s not for nothing that it’s often referred to as ‘crackao’) and if your adrenals are exhausted you may find you need to skip the green tea, too, and opt for caffeine-free alternatives.

3. Beware of extreme

Detox regimes such as water or juice fasts. These put a great deal of strain on the body’s organs and systems and are very depleting. HSPs fare much better on gentler detox diets.

Sarah adds that while a juice fast might seem like the quickest way to get results, it can be counterproductive. “It can put nervous system in a state of stress, which will switch on its sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ branch, and switch off its parasympathetic ‘detox and rest’ one.”

So although it’s counterintuitive, you are likely to experience deeper detoxification, faster, on a less punishing regime.

When our blood sugar is out, us HSPs feel it quickly and profoundly in the form of anxiety, light-headedness, tiredness and/or irritability, so eating for blood sugar balance is essential.

This means eating regularly, and eating grounding and balancing foods such as greens and healthy fats and proteins.

4. Sarah also recommends taking

Chlorella between meals, as this can help keep blood sugar balanced, and is loaded with healthy chlorophyll.

5. Our sensitivity makes us prone to

Stress, and stress burns through magnesium and B vitamins at a fantastic rate, so we may need to supplement those.

Choose from a multi-vitamin/mineral or a good B-Complex – either way, ideally go for one that’s free of magnesium stearate (which, does not give you magnesium; it’s a synthetic flow agent added to make manufacturing equipment run more smoothly). The most effective way to get extra magnesium into your body is transdermally, i.e. through the skin. There are two ways to do this and you can take your pick, or do them both

Rub magnesium oil into your skin every morning after washing and before getting dressed.

• Add 500g of magnesium salts to a hot bath once a week and soak for half an hour. If you’re feeling especially frazzled make it a whole kilo.

  • Eat regularly and resist any urge to under- eat or overeat.
  • Base your diet around vegetables.
  • Be sure to get plenty of healthy fats. • If you need extra help balancing your blood sugar, take chlorella between your meals.
  • Steer clear of stimulants.
  • If you’re feeling stressed, give yourself extra magnesium and B vitamins.

 

What About Famous HPS Personalities?

With a proverbial ‘tug-of-war between their head and their heart’, HSPs process incoming information and subtleties in their environment, including sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, more deeply than the non-highly sensitive person, the ‘other’ 80 percent of the population. Researchers claim that this trait of high sensitivity that has both a psychological and physiological basis is particularly visible in famous people.

Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Princess Diana, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison

However, in completely understanding the trait of high sensitivity, ‘HSP doesn’t always equal nice.’ Darker HSPs include: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden …

ACTORS Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Orson Welles, Adrien Brody, Glenn Close, Eddie Murphy, Joaquin Phoenix, Nicole Kidman, Kevin Kline, Winona Ryder, Elijah Wood

COMEDIANS Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Johnny Carson

WRITERS Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, Virginia Woolf, E.E. Cummings, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Khalil Gibran, D.H. Lawrence, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, Deepak Chopra, Judith Orloff.

ARTISTS & FILMMAKERS Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir. Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Michael Moore, Walt Disney

MUSICIANS Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Elton John, Alanis Morissette, Neil Young, Jim Morrison, Céline Dion, Dolly Parton, Barbara Streisand.

 

A Self-Test

INSTRUCTIONS Answer each question according to the way you personally feel. Check the box if it is at least somewhat true for you; leave unchecked if it is not very true or not at all true for you.

I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input.

I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.

Other people’s moods affect me.

I tend to be very sensitive to pain.

I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.

I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.

I have a rich, complex inner life.

I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.

I am deeply moved by the arts or music.

My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.

I am conscientious.

I startle easily.

I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.

When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).

I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.

I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.

I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.

I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.

Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.

Changes in my life shake me up.

I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.

I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once.

I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.

I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes.

When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.

When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.

 

SCORING If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive. But no psychological test is so accurate that an individual should base his or her life on it. We psychologists try to develop good questions, then decide on the cut off based on the average response. If fewer questions are true of you, but extremely true, that might also justify calling you highly sensitive.


Dr. Elaine Aron is the bestselling author of The Highly Sensitive Person and its companion books, The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love and The Highly Sensitive Child. Dr. Aron graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her M.A. at York University in Toronto and her Ph.D. At Pacifica Graduate Institute, in Santa Barbara as well as receiving training at the Jung Institute in San Francisco. Besides her books on highly sensitive persons, Dr. Aron has published widely in academic journals on this subject as well as the social psychology of close relationships. She divides her time between New York and San Francisco, where she maintains a psychotherapy practice.

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Lisa is an Anglo-Italian writer, editor and New Media entrepreneur who founded the global business network and publishing company, (GVPedia.com) in 2004. Previously she worked as a development writer for the Bay of Bengal Project, a UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project based in Chennai, India. After moving to the Middle East in 2001, Lisa was editor of several consumer magazines in the region such as Aquarius, Jumeirah Beach Magazine and Property World Middle East. She was the editor-in-chief of NewYou, the region’s premier monthly publication dedicated to Integrative Health, Medical Aesthetics, Holistic Healing and optimal longevity and is now heading wellnessworld.blog. a portal dedicated to similar topics. Lisa has spent over 20 years living in emerging economies and has published over 30 books within the ‘Best of...’ annual series of publications across five continents.