Causes Of Social Phobia

Creative Commons License photo credit: CMMooney

It is useful for highly sensitive people to understand the causes of social phobia which often result in the crippling self consciousness and which can contribute to the HSP tendency to have an introverted personality.

Social Phobia is sometimes referred to either as Generalized Social Phobia, which NIMH states is the most common anxiety disorder, or Social Anxiety Disorder.

In 2008, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) released the results of a study: Social Phobia Patients Have Heightened Reactions to Negative Comments. The researchers used functional brain imaging tools, fMRI, to map brain reactions to a variety of negative verbal expressions.  It was found that those people with social phobia had heightened brain responses only to negative comments about themselves.

The study made evident that people with social phobia are extremely afraid of being judged by other people.  The researchers were able to observe that two different sections of the brain became activated when negative comments were made to people with social phobia: the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is involved in the sense and evaluation of self and the amygdala which is central to emotional processing.  According to the Free Library, “the medial prefrontal cortex is involved in imagining, thinking about yourself and “theory of mind,” which encompasses the ability to figure out what others think, feel or believe and to recognize that other people have different thoughts, feelings and beliefs from you.”

This would suggest a connection between criticism and fear in the person with social phobia.  In this research, the concern in the patient was raised by criticism, but only criticism towards themselves generated a brain reaction.  It raises a question about criticism that is worth exploring: why would one person be afraid of criticism and another would not be afraid?

As we learn more and more about our brains, it is becoming apparent that one way our brains develop is through social interaction.  The social group has been the cornerstone of our survival and our education from the earliest days of human history. When we are young we need  the support of our families and social group, and therefore must get along with them for our survival.  Rejection by our families is a serious matter, and in a child, will be perceived as a matter of life and death.

Therefore in families where criticism is perceived also as a rejection, a child will have a different experience and reaction than a child who grows up in a family that accepts him/her and criticism is not a sign of rejection.  In other words, when the child experiences affection in spite of a criticism they can have a different experience than the child who has the experience of criticism which is delivered in a rejecting or abusive way.

Since the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala areas of the brain are activated when social phobes are criticized, the implication is that criticism implies a serious imminent threat.  Many people with social phobia are HSP’s, which means they are different. For them, criticism may be seen as threatening because being different raises the potential of rejection by the group and therefore jeopardize their survival.

Perhaps being different for many highly sensitive people has meant the experience of significant early rejection or a significant fear of rejection that causes their brains respond to all criticism with concern.  Highly sensitive people can reduce their phobia if they can accept their uniqueness and find a way to make their uniqueness a valuable contribution to their social groups.


What Is Special About NIA?

The Joy of NIA

Photograph provided by Nia Technique (

What is special about NIA?

If I could pick one exercise program that I think would be great for highly sensitive people, it would be NIA.   NIA stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Movement.  It was founded in 1983 by Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas, two fitness trainers, who felt that there was a need for a better exercise program.

NIA , located online at NIANOW was the result of their effort to integrate martial arts, dance and healing arts disciplines into a program that celebrates movement and, as they say again and again, “the body’s way.   The story of NIA is a wonderfully uplifting tale of how two people searched for their wholeness and found it in their own creation, NIA, which they have made into a gift to the world.

Where did the idea come from that we have to fight and deprive our bodies?  Too often exercise is really a form of punishment and when we engage in punishing exercise we feel virtuous.   NIA is not a punishment so it dispenses with “no pain, no gain.”

One of the most amazing characteristics of NIA is how each move is really simple.  No complex movements that make you feel like an idiot!  You do not have to turn into a pretzel to be healthy.  You do not need special outfits, lots of equipment, not even shoes!  If you like walking barefoot in the grass, you will like NIA.

NIA treats the entire person. Now, NIA is not the only exercise discipline to consider the whole person.  Yoga is the best known and there are others.  They are all good exercise programs. So why is NIA different?  I think is it a combination of factors:

  1. Because the individual exercises are simple, each person can have a their own exercise experience at their own pace.  In many exercise programs, the technical side is so complicated that the individual focuses on the execution.  In NIA, the simple exercises make it possible for the exerciser to BECOME the movement, which means the integration of body, mind, emotions and even soul can occur.
  2. The physical integrative aspects of NIA are impressive.  I like the way all joints are exercised.  If you follow the exercises, you will also create an exceptional core.
  3. In my experience benefits are achieved quickly.  I have been impressed with the fast improvement in strength, back and arms.
  4. The program is portable, flexible, and it takes 15-30 minutes to do the basic exercises depending on the person and the amount the exercise.
Highly sensitive people need a simple effective way to become healthier and fit.  Since many HSP’s can be in a weakened state because of stress levels or illness, NIA is made to order for people who needs great results but without being expected to jump through more hoops than a circus tiger.
As their book, The NIA Technique, the Rosas write, “NIA is like chocolate”.  And it is.

How Does Stress Become A Stress Disorder?

Brown Door
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How does stress become a stress disorder?

We all suffer from stress which is a natural part of life.  Our challenging culture and busy lives are so ingrained that we have become too accepting of stressors so that we may minimize their effects.

Stress has many damaging consequences that are easy to overlook:

  1. Stress effects can last longer than we realize. It is easy to think of stress as something short term because we usually think of it as a temporary event or phenomenon.  A disagreement, someone cutting you off in traffic, these are each finite short term events.  A stress event is not necessarily isolated, and the accumulation of stress can overwhelm the body leading to diseases.  This is particularly true for highly sensitive people.
  2. The body has limited resources for dealing with stressful situations. Although we live in an age where limitless is the preferred idea about reality, it is a mistake to believe that we can or should transcend natural limits.  Unfortunately, we often live as if natural limits to not apply to our bodies, as well as the environment.  If we fail to respect our  limits, we can overtax our bodies to the point that they are severely and even permanently disabled.
  3. Stress can disable not only our nervous systems, but other bodily systems as well. Stresses are body wide.  So they affect every system and create further distress and potentially illness where the body is weak. Disease is a process.  When stress which creates body damaging free radicals overwhelms the body the disease process starts and can end in a disease that is life threatening.  Minimizing stress can be life saving.
How does stress become a stress disorder?  If a stressful situation is prolonged or a trauma severe an individual may develop a stress disorder. One example is PTSD which usually develops from a period of prolonged extreme stress.
Highly sensitive people are more affected by stress.  They take in more information and stimulus, and because their nervous systems are already sensitive, have difficulty processing stress through the body and releasing it.  Stress overload can pile up, and when it does, and when there is no relief, an individual, particularly an HSP, can develop a stress disorder.

Hitting The Bullseye

Crop Circle on a Tree © by Benimoto

From our earliest days we are taught that being right is very important.  We are taught right from wrong.  We go to schools that tell us with our grades and other badges of achievement what we have hit the mark and when we have missed.  So the importance of hitting the mark – the bullseye – remains significant if not essential in our eyes.

The bullseye or target has ancient roots since hunting was a primary survival skill for our ancestors.  For them missing the target likely meant that they were some animal’s dinner. The bullseye can also be thought of as a code for a value system.  When you conform to a set of accepted social standards you hit the social bullseye.  Not to do so can be very uncomfortable and a source of embarrassment and shame.

The bullseye has economic and societal implications as well.  Early shamans used their intuitive powers to help their tribes understand what was happening so that the tribe could manage all aspects of their uncertain world.  Being wrong often meant death, so being right was prized.

In some ways we are not much different today. Like all societies and economic systems we have values that are the bullseye or guiding values for achieving success in our daily lives. Growth is the current value that serves that purpose. Today corporations expend great effort setting expectations about performance and results to that that can meet or exceed their performance target because to miss causes all sorts of negative consequences.

Unfortunately, hitting a target is really a short term strategy designed to maintain our place in the existing system.  The internalized value that we are promoting often has more to do with our social world and little to do with our natural world and what is going on in it.  So these values often become an end unto themselves and cause a society to become detached from its environment, thereby risking its survival.

Once a systemic value is created and people organize their lives around it as the bullseye for what they strive for, often they are unable to shift their values until the system itself comes apart. That decline will often be seen as a failure when it is actually natural and desirable. In other words, in a ever changing world, that bullseye needs to be a moving target.

Understanding that societies go through phases can help make us wiser and able to perceive when a change is needed without recrimination. Now that as a species we are becoming smarter about patterns, perhaps we will become smarter about managing our transitions from one social system to another. Perhaps we can become wiser about our need to be right and learn to lighten up about it.  It’s a worthwhile dream.

Taming The Inner Killjoy

Things, Abusive © by typicalgenius

How do you taming the inner killjoy? The inner killjoy is a part of us – like it or not. Even when we are highly focused on an activity, it sits there waiting to pounce.

The inner killjoy is certain that something bad is going to happen.  It is closely related to the inner critic, they may even be fraternal twins. The inner killjoy is determined to protect us from all the ill in the world.  It puts a wall around us so that nothing bad can get us. Our natural joyful self is a real pain to the inner killjoy, and it is usually on high alert to prevent it from getting too enthused about life.

The inner killjoy, like the inner critic, has a problem – a major one.  It doesn’t really believe in the good. If you put two equal events on a scale, one positive and the other negative, the inner critic and inner killjoy would attach greater weight  to the negative event because the negative event mirriors their view of reality.  The positive event is a fluke, a bit of luck, something really intended for someone else and not relevant.  Only negative events are relevant with these two characters.

I have a great yoga teacher, Kathy Donnelly, at Columbia Yoga Center in Columbia, MD.  She made a wonderful point during one of my yoga classes that has stuck with me.  She said that when we open, which is one of the goals of yoga, we open to the natural goodness in ourselves. I thought that was a wonderful perception. The good in ourselves and others is often starved for recognition. The negative in the world often is so overweighted that we totally lose sight of the beauty, kindness and graciousness that surrounds us.

So this is my suggestion for your inner critic and inner killjoy. Since we are all creative beings, I suggest that you create an inner yoga class and send your inner critic and inner killjoy to yoga as frequently as needed. When they act up, tell them it’s time for Downward Facing Dog or Plank Pose – a hard one for me. Eventually they will probably come around, but until they do you will have some time to yourself while they are learning the Sun Salutation.

Why Gokshura Can Help With Diabetes

IMGP3720 – puncture vines – the bane of my barefoot summertime walks as a youth – because I was too lazy to put on shoes and socks © by niiicedave

Gokshura is also called puncture vine.  It is used in Ayurveda to treat genitourinary conditions and remove toxins from the body. Diabetes creates excessive urination which is why it is classified as a urinary disease in Ayurveda.   Gokshura which is used to support the urinary system of the body is considered an important herb for treating diabetic urinary symptoms in Ayurveda.

According to the Ayurveda Encyclopedia, gokshura impacts the health of four systems of the body:

  • the nervous system
  • reproductive system
  • respiratory system
  • urinary systems

Gokshura improves low testosterone levels and all of the conditions and symptoms associated with it. According to WebMD low testosterone is a factor in depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and sleep issues.  In improving testosterone, gokshura supports the strength and stamina of the entire body by building all of the tissues including the tissues of the reproductive system.

Gokshura has sweet, cooling and alkaline promoting properties which means it nourishes at the same time it improves the digestive fire.  It is one of the rare herbs that promotes digestive fire and cools at the same time, making it beneficial for pitta dosha which  in Ayurveda body typing means a naturally warm body temperature and also governs the digestive fire.

Gokshura improves our health by ” nourishing ojas, which is the semi-vibrational material that connects body and soul and gives strength to the whole body” according to Shaka Vansya Ayurveda.

Gokshura removes toxins from the genitourinary tract including acidic toxins which are common in the modern Western diet. It is beneficial for highly sensitive people with diabetes not only because it removes toxins that may contribute to the disease but also because it pacifies vata dosha. What this means is that HSP’s with diabetes can improve their excessive urination symptoms using gokshura and also heal their nervous system at the same time.

Diabetes can be created by an imbalance in any of the three Ayurvedic doshas: vata, pitta and kapha.  Vata is the dosha that has particular significance for highly sensitive people since it manages the brain and the nervous system.

Gokshura helps HSP’s improve their urinary system symptoms, improve their strength, heal their nervous systems, and detox as well.  It may improve depression and insomnia symptoms as well. It is helpful for diabetes treatment which makes it a good herb to know about.

7 Baby Steps For Stress Relief

newborn fawn just 2 minutes after birth © by slopjop

When we are under stress particularly severe stress, we often want to run away from it because it is so painful. Highly sensitive people struggle more than others with stress because their nervous systems are so attuned to the world around them. We pick up every hurt and dissonance, take it in and then need to process it.  The hardest part is trying to make sense of it and find a resolution when it may be beyond our control to do so. We end up not only in pain but also feeling helpless and disempowered.

There is no easy solution to these problems.  But there are some steps you can take to help yourself.  Sometimes when we try to handle our stress we go to our heads when our bodies and souls are hurting.  Sometimes we reach for the ice cream or a pill.  There is no easy answer for an awake heart.  But it is our treasure and gift.  We need to see it as a shining jewel inside of us, one that is meant to be shared.

Treasuring our hearts also means respecting their limits and setting healthy boundaries which sounds so easy but is a challenge for highly sensitive people with their big hearts. One way to improve your stress is to take baby steps to reduce it. Here are some ideas:

  • meditate daily.  It helps heal stress and supports a healthy nervous system, particularly Transcendental Meditation.
  • get exercise, since it is a great stress reducer and help protect you from disease. Yoga and walking are great choices.
  • eat a stress reducing diet of whole grains, legumes, rice, vegetables and fruit.
  • choose a vocation that is good for your heart.
  • choose social companions that are also good for your heart.
  • remove mean individuals from your life as much as possible.  You cannot change another person, but you can provide the feedback of not wanting to be around them and let them deal with their own behavior.
  • do what you can to support the humanitarian efforts being made around the globe as a way to support your heart.  Being a part of the solution is something to be proud of.

Each time you take steps to take care of your stress, your health and your heart, notice.  These are important and valuable actions that are worthy of your respect. By noticing how you contribute, you value yourself and all the little baby steps you make to create a better world.

Being a part of making a difference can only help you reduce stress, provided you take it one baby step at a time.

Stress, Addiction And Weight

stress eating © by ginnerobot

Scientists have been researching the link between stress, cortisol and weight. Because addiction and stress are related, scientists have been wondering if a similar relationship exists between stress and food.

The research is showing that people use drugs and food to self medicate when they are living in situations which pose an extreme threat to the self.The 2007 paper, Stress, eating and the reward system  by Tanja C. Adam, Elissa S. Epel of the University of California, San Francisco, Department of Psychiatry found that not all stressful situations create the conditions that induce an individual to eat or take drugs.

Chronic anxiety of the kind that is perceived as a direct threat to the self including situations of embarrassment and social rejection have the greatest potential to result in addiction or stress disorders.

Because we all have limits to the amount of pain we can handle and because we cannot be in severe pain and still function, any individual in a situation of chronic extreme stress will seek a way to survive and function. If a change of scenery is not possible, that individual will look for alternatives.

If there is so way to change the situation, the individual suffering from severe anxiety will often turn to a substance to handle their pain. In effect they are medicating their distress.

Once the individual successfully medicates the anxiety of a negative situation, a feedback loop is activated that reinforces the activity, paving the way to a food or substance addiction. Essentially a reward system has been activated; it effectively anesthetizes the suffering individual and reinforces a negative habit to relieve a negative situation.

Highly sensitive people are particularly susceptible to addiction and eating disorders because they are so sensitive to pain both in themselves and others. Their natural empathy makes it more difficult for them to handle chronic, extreme situations. Because long term highly negative stress creates changes to the feedback loops that regulate the body, highly sensitive people may have a number of biological imbalances that need to be corrected.

The disturbed feedback loops caused by chronic, severe anxiety destabilize the bodies’ internal balancing mechanisms including cortisol and insulin regulation. When an individual attempts to correct their behavior they are faced with a double whammy. If the individual is overweight and starts a diet, not only do they lose the substance that provided comfort and incur physical discomfort but they also have higher levels of the anxiety they were avoiding. So they have to deal with the lifestyle change and its discomfort as well as the return of the internal and external stressors that were creating the problem in the first place.

In some situations, that can seem like an overwhelming problem to deal with. An individual who is fully aware of the situation has a greater chance of developing successful strategies to handle their anxiety and maintain a healthy eating regimen than someone who tackles the undesired weight without realizing the causes of the problem. This is true of any stress-related addiction.

For highly sensitive people, having effective anxiety minimization strategies can make it possible for them to be successful in eliminating the unhealthy substances used for self medication.  There are numerous herbs and effective health practices that can help, as well as medication for severe stress and anxiety disorders. All of these alternatives offer HSP’s more relief than substances that can endanger one’s life.