Have You Tried Ecstatic Dance?

 

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask you on of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the seet territory of silence?

So begins the forward to Gabrielle Roth‘s book, Maps To Ecstasy written by Angeles Arrien, Ph.D., a cultural anthropologist who has written The Four Fold Way and Signs of Life. Maps to Ecstasyis an introduction to the wonders of ecstatic dance.

Why Dance Is Making A Comeback

It’s noteworthy that dance is making a comeback at this point in time. Dance has never died. However its role is changing aided by several popular dance shows, Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Although dance has always had a social role, increasingly its healing role is being recognized.  So You Think You Can Dance in particular has presented this therapeutic role of dance using dance for emotional, psychological and cultural healing.

These changes are not accidental. As institutional structures fracture and a new way of life comes into being, dance has the ability to help us not only heal the past but also to be more fully engaged in the present. You have to be present to dance, otherwise you trip over your feet or worse.

Dance gets us out of our heads. It heals the mind-body connection.  Dancing helps us be fully in our power and lets us see that we are OK and can trust ourselves.

Tribal Dance

It’s in the air. We can feel it.  As our monolithic economic system breaks up, the world is becoming more tribal. Tribes have had a negative reputation in maintream culture for a long time. Tribes have been depicted as ignorant, dangerous, worshiping many gods and having strange practices.

We are now learning a different story about tribes. Tribes have skills that we are very removed from: understanding nature, healing skills, and ecstatic dance skills to name a few.

Tribal dance is very old and has many functions. Many of us have heard of rain dances, but tribal dances actually had another function. Tribal dances have been used for emotional healing and psychological growth for thousands of years. Tribal dances let the dancer enter into the energy of their lives, relate to, accept it and let go. It is a way of processing deep emotional issues that is both non-harming and healing. It is a way of staying in right relation to life and the world around you.

Tribal dances are used at important life transitions to help an individual process the emotions they are experiencing so that they can release and be clear for the next events in their lives. Blocked and unprocessed emotions are inevitably harmful and prevent us from wholeheartedly engaging with life. Tribal dance prevents people from becoming frozen in an emotional state by using the free form dance to help the individual to move through their feelings.

Ecstatic Dance

Ecstatic dance is a freeform dance. Modern Ecstatic dance is the brainchild of Gabrielle Roth, who has used dance as a therapeutic method for many decades.

Gabrielle has written extensively about dance as a way to reclaim our ecstatic experience of life. Ecstatic dance gets us out of our heads into our bodies and helps us see ourselves as the actors in our on lives. It creates unity between ourselves and the life force of the planet. It helps us be one with the stages of life and accept and move through them gracefully.

Gabrielle has identified five universal life energies that she has incorporated into her dance. Interestingly they are also the stages of the creative process. She describes the five rhythms as:

  • the flowing rhythm: a teacher of fluidity and grace. Flowing is like a warm up, when we start to engage. It is gentle and curious.
  • the staccato rhythm: the teacher of definition and refinement. Staccato is structure and order, like working with building blocks. Staccato works with what is.
  • the rhythm of chaos: the rhythm of creativity seeking form. chaos occurs when we go beyond what is. We have worked staccato and now move into a creative phase with what we have been working on. All the curiosity of flowing and working of staccato prepares for chaos.
  • the lyrical rhythm: the rhythm of synthesis and integration. In the chaos phase of our creativity we open to the new and consider many possibilities until we find what will work. Lyrical is the integration and synthesis of that new information or solution.
  • the stillness rhythm: the rhythm of contentment and peace. After synthesis and integration, we can stand back, consider what we have done and gracefully let go, releasing ourselves and our work until we engage again.

The Value Of Ecstatic Dance For HSP’s And Everyone Else

As we enter a more tribal age, we each need to be in our own power and connection at the same time. For so long we have been glued to computers, assembly lines, and other structures of the industrial age, that many of us are stiff in our bodies, hearts and minds.

Ecstatic dance loosens it all up, gets our energy flowing, helps us see what we can control and what we have to let go of. Ecstatic dance is a dance for helping is to heal into a more mature and joyful time.

Ecstatic dance can help you learn to lead, to follow and to get out of the way, each in its own way at the right time. It can make us whole at a time when we desperately need whole human beings. Becoming more whole will also help us to respect and like ourselves more and in doing so we can like each other more as well, making a better world possible.

If you are a highly sensitive person, ecstatic dance can help you remain connected and remove stress so that you can stay more in your natural creativity. If you are a non-HSP, ecstatic dance can help you safely step out of your mind into you body and help you feel your connection to all things. If you have suffered harm or trauma, ecstatic dance can help you move through your feeling so that you feel like living again.

Ecstatic dance is a wonderful safe practice that can help each of us feel better and connect better. I can’t think of anything better for each of us than ecstatic dance.

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Why Ayurveda Works For Stress Reduction In HSPs

Ayurveda For Stress Reduction - HSP Health Blog

As a highly sensitive person, I experience a lot of stress.

Most highly sensitive people do.

It is not a choice. Our nervous systems are sponges for the stimulus around us.

We become flooded and overwhelmed. If we are not careful we can drown and become unable to function.

Stress Reduction: A Necessity For Highly Sensitive People

Stress reduction is as much a necessity for highly sensitive people as air is for everyone. We simply cannot live without it.

When the pace of the world was slower, highly sensitive people could manage the stresses of their nervous systems better. Now that there is so much activity in our social space, the challenge of stress reduction for highly sensitive people has become more difficult and even acute.

Highly sensitive people require:

  • the opportunity to process whatever they take in
  • rest when their nervous systems are overtaxed
  • a lifestyle that supports their stress reduction requirements
  • work that supports their health and quality of life.

How Stress Reduction Problems Become Worse

Highly sensitive people can suffer more when their lifestyles do not support their needs or make their health challenges worse.

The demands of being highly sensitive require that we commit a certain amount of our energy to it. When our energy is too low or diverted elsewhere, then we will suffer and most likely become sick.

The following can make it more difficult for us to handle our sensitive natures:

  1. water, air, and noise pollution
  2. processes food
  3. food with additives
  4. GMO foods
  5. leftover foods
  6. fried and fermented foods
  7. meat which is harder to digest than other foods
  8. staying up too late
  9. lack of exercise
  10. an irregular schedule which will upset the nervous system
  11. work that is too high pressure or too much drudgery
  12. relationships that are unsupportive, competitive or demanding

Much of the modern Western lifestyle is aggravating to highly sensitive people. It is not a fault of highly sensitive people but is is a reality we have to deal with.

Why Ayurveda Makes Stress Reduction Easier For Highly Sensitive People

There are so many challenges in modern life that make life hard for highly sensitive people.

I have tried many different methods to become healthier including juicing, vitamins, supplements of various kinds, meditation, Ayurveda, reiki, affirmations and the Sedona Method. I have read many books about health and well being.

I have discovered that most methods are a form of “managing the symptoms.” I did not just want to manage symptoms. I wanted to be healthy.

Being healthy is a different goal than not having symptoms of illness. I have learned that few approaches really get the job done.

Only one that I have found has really helped me to become well and that is Ayurveda.

Why Ayurveda Works For Stress Reduction In Highly Sensitive People

As a highly sensitive person, I need to simplify whenever I can.

Health can be complicated since we are complex beings – particularly if you are highly sensitive.

Ayurveda is the one discipline that actually lets me simplify my health regimen because

  • it is a group of health practices customized to support the highest well being of each individual
  • it is holistic and total.
  • it offers a set of daily practices that let me be at my best
  • its diet strategies ensure that the problems of food in our current world are not my problem
  • TM, the Ayurvedic meditation practice is easy. It relieves stress, heals the nervous system and supports the higher self. I have been doing it for almost 20 years and love it..
  • Ayurveda has a magnificent understanding of food and herbs. Their herbal remedies have helped me immensely.

There is a lot to learn in Ayurveda. Frankly I consider myself a student and always will.

Implementing Ayurveda

I have been integrating Ayurveda into my life slowly over time. I have noticed, however, that the more I do the less I am affected by stress.

I use the following Ayurvedic practices:

  • TM has been especially helpful since I find I am less affected by drama around me after practicing TM for so long. I have been told that it works on the nervous system and heals it, which I have found to be the case.
  • I find that the daily schedule has helped me reduce stress. I like to go to bed around 9PM and rise between 5-6AM.
  • I also like the daily massage, called Abhyangha. It is self massage using oil. It helps with detoxification and stress reduction.
  • the diet is very soothing. When you eat food that is wrong for you, it creates stress in the body. The digestive system becomes weaker and toxins build up in the body. The Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle work to prevent that outcome.
  • There are times when I have had difficulty maintaining the diet for schedule reasons. I have however, maintained a regimen of herbal remedies that support me and help me detox in spite of dietary lapses. The two herbs that I use religiously are triphala and neem.
  • Ayurveda offers herbs for stress. Ashwaghandha is the best known and I take it for stress relief.

I highly recommend Ayurveda for highly sensitive people for relieving stress and putting themselves onto a path that can work to achieve quality of life: something we deserve.

I believe that it is better to put your effort into becoming adept at a health system that eliminates problems that to continually try to fix that which does not work. Micromanaging health symptoms is not the same as becoming healthy.

The best book for learning about Ayurveda as a beginner is Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health. It is a very accessible introduction to an old and skillful health tradition.

I love Ayurveda and hope you will give it a try.

How Highly Sensitive People Can Prevent Burnout

How To Prevent Burnout - HSP Health Blog

 

If you feel stretched beyond your limit you are not alone. The crushing workloads and stress of so many highly sensitive people  are a prescription for burnout.

You would think that avoiding burnout would simply be a matter of not crossing a threshold of fatigue.

Burnout is not that simple.

Many people in our fast-paced world burn out from the daily demands even if they are not highly sensitive.

For highly sensitive people the problem of burnout is amplified by their naturally higher stress levels caused. The overstimulation we experience is caused by a fast paced, noisy and sensory intense world.

Sources Of Burnout For Highly Sensitive People

Burnout can come from many sources for highly sensitive people:

  • work because we are increasingly expected to be as highly productive and fast-paced as our economic system demands
  • creative burnout since HSPs tend to be highly creative. Creativity does not follow a rigid schedule. However,  the expectation is that it will. Creativity can create pressure all by itself, but with time pressures added, creative burnout can be a result.
  • high empathy can result in serious burnout problems. Our empathy may cause us to dig deep and be extremely conscientious which is an added demand that we place on ourselves. It may not be rewarded, but is something we do to be at peace with ourselves.
  • too much sensory stimulation from all forms of noise, light, chemicals, and electronics to name a few can add also to our burnout potential.
  • toxic relationships, at home and at work are contributing factors as well.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is not just an emotional problem. Merriam-Webster  defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”

These factors sound simple and probably reflect the reality of non=HSPs. However that does not mean that they do not apply equally to highly sensitive people.

In the case of HSPs, both can be serious factors because our need for rest is high and frequent and because many forms of work do not suit us, in particular all forms of drudgery.

But there are additional factors for highly sensitive people:

  • the rest we need from being around people too much
  • the rest we need from all forms of excessive stimulation:
    • light
    • sound
    • fabric and touch
    • entertainment
    • crowds
    • high pressure situations
    • competitive situations
    • toxic social environments

Work burnout can also occur

  1. when the work we are doing doesn’t suit our skills or interests.
  2. when we know we are not interested in a particular job or task and force ourselves to do it too often
  3. when our work environment is fear-based and highly political
  4. when we have too many emergencies, both at work and at home
  5. when we are sick or a family member is sick causing us to burn the candle at both ends.

Work is a particularly challenging subject for highly sensitive people since we have the need for work that is meaningful, self-paced and our “calling.”

All these factors – the presence of some or absence of others create stress for highly sensitive people. Since our systems are so sensitive, poor health habits will only make all of the potential burnout factors worse.

When we are well we can withstand some turbulence in our lives. When rough spots last too long they start to debilitate us. Life is not meant to be a long emergency.

Assessing Burnout Potential In Your Life

To assess burnout potential in your life, evaluate each aspect of your life below on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being low in stress and burnout potential and 10 being extreme burnout potential.

  1. consider your physical condition:
    • if you are strong and have physical reserves, you may be an HSP who has the ability to withstand long-term stressful situations.
    • if you are an HSP with lower resilience, you need to be careful about how much stress you tolerate and make adjustments to prevent physical burnout.
    • you become fatigued easily
    • you are sick or get sick easily
  2. consider your work situation.
    • are you valued?
    • are you doing work you love r is a lot of it drudgery?
    • do you have the skills you need to succeed in your field?
    • do you work with people who are good for you including taking your sensitivity into account?
    • is the organization well managed so that you are not affected by constant emergencies?
    • do you have to overwork too much?
    • are you compensated well? Are your benefits good?
  3. consider your relationships.
    • start with your family. Is it a warm, loving and supportive family? Are you accepted or are you generally frustrated by the disregard and unhappiness in your family?
    • do you have close supportive friends who accept and understand your sensitivity?
    • do you have a community you are a part of that is also supportive of your HSP trait?
    • are you happy with your social life?
    • are your work relationships good and productive?
  4. consider the time of year.
    • are there certain times when you are more overloaded than others and at risk of burnout?
    • are there times when the people around you are overloaded and your responsibilities increase as a result?
  5. consider the overall stress conditions in your life?
    • do you have burnout in some or two area spilling over into others and are you able to take time to heal?
    • do you see the potential for burnout to develop in any area in the future?
    • when you look at your burnout assessment how does it look to you? piece of cake? manageable? serious burnout potential?

There are no right answers and no score to determine your burnout potential. Your assessment is a map of your current situation so that you can easily get a high level view of your current situation.

With your assessment in hand, it might be useful to consider whether your burnout challenges are people challenges, time management challenges, or a need to develop skills. Sometimes we lack a skill set that could make our life easier, save time and reduce stress.

Steps To Prevent Burnout

Anyone can suffer from burnout. Highly sensitive people are likely to be more quickly affected than others by a high demand culture. But there are some steps you can take to insulate from the worst effects of burnout.

Here are 9 things you can do to prevent your sensitivity from turning into full blown burnout:

  1. strengthen your body first.  Improve your energy by getting a great night’s sleep, exercising, keeping hydrated and eating well.  Detox your body since toxins can build up causing debility over time. Take herbs to support your nervous system and defuse the impact of stress on your body.
  2. learn to meditate to relieve stress and help you with emotional balance. A long term meditation practice can help you detach from toxic people and helps restore your nervous system.
  3. make a list of all the areas of your health that you need to work on and set priorities for them.
  4. research on the internet about areas of your life that need significant improvement. Do not be afraid to tackle large issues like career choices and family problems.
  5. do not be afraid to cut back on commitments that are too draining.  Your other commitments will benefit from your improved attention. You are not responsible for others expectations.
  6. upgrade your skills to keep yourself marketable and functioning well and minimize job stress.
  7. for the tasks you hate, you have several options: drop them if they are really unimportant, break them up into small bite size work units so that you only have to so it for a short time, delegate them, or trade your undesired task with someone else’s undesired task. Avoid drudgery. It is notoriously draining for HSPs.
  8. determine what is most important to you so that you increase your time spent on your high value activities and therefore increase your satisfaction. It will cushion you from less pleasant experiences.
  9. treat burnout as a life-time concern that you can eliminate but taking good care of your life. It is a serious challenge for HSPs but one worth taking on.

Everyone’s life matters and everyone deserves to enjoy their life.

HSPs need to learn to say no. You do not have to carry the world on your shoulders.

When you are flexible, mindful about commitments and your highly sensitive nature and take excellent care of yourself you are doing what is necessary to beat burnout.

Preventing burnout is one of the most important things a highly sensitive person can do.

It is worth the effort.

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HSPs And Self-Care: Putting Yourself First Is Not Selfish

Highly Sensitive Persons– as a group– tend to be very giving individuals, often putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a giving nature, but the issue many HSPs end up facing is that they “give and give and give” and end up burning out, at which point there’s nothing left for them to give to the people who are– perhaps– dependent on them.

Is Saying “No” Selfish?

Over the years I’ve met a number of HSPs suffering from such burnout. After a brief conversation, it becomes evident that they may be excellent at caring for everyone else, but they are utterly clueless when it comes to taking care of themselves. In fact they would rather just ignore their own needs altogether.

The conversation might continue for a bit, and we discuss how they have to “take care of Bob’s dogs while he’s away,” and are “doing Susan’s overtime at work while she’s recovering from surgery,” and “helping the neighborhood association with their fundraiser,” and then there’s “this and that family event” involving some family members it turns out this particular HSP doesn’t even like.  It quickly becomes quite evident that they are overloaded, overstimulated and frustrated by the sheer load they are carrying, as a result of caring for the rest of the world.

Have you ever considered simply saying no to some of these people?” I will ask.

Oh, no, no… I couldn’t do that!” comes the reply, “they are depending on me. They need me. Besides, that would be very selfish of me!

Respecting Limits Is Not Selfish

HSPs often struggle with poor or “soft” personal boundaries. They especially struggle with taking on too many things in service of being helpful, and fear using the word “no,” even when it is perfectly appropriate to do so.

One of the most pervasive issues we face as HSPs is how to manage overstimulation; how to deal with a life that simply has “too much stuff” in it. There’s lots of advice out there– seminars, workshops and guidebooks on how to better manage time, and how to “have it all” through any number of time management systems. For an HSP, however, the problem with all these systems is that their focus is on how to juggle “too many balls,” rather than on how to avoid overextending yourself, in the first place– i.e. how to not pick up too many balls to juggle. This is problematic because a central part of healthy self-care for HSPs is about keeping our load down to a manageable size.

When I mention “taking care of yourself” to an overburdened  HSP, the response I often get is that I am asking them to be “selfish.” And that saying no to someone who’s asking for help just can’t– and shouldn’t– be done. Regardless of whether such a response is the result of a helping and idealistic nature, or questionable self-esteem, fact remains that we need to take care of ourselves!

Bottom line: What good are you to ANYone, if you’re too exhausted to keep your promises?

It’s Not Selfish To Be At Your Best For Others

Putting yourself first– when it comes to staying balanced and healthy– is not selfish. This may sound painfully obvious, but when I make that observation I am often facing an assortment of protests. So, when I do point out to someone that they must focus on themselves– and objections arise– I like to distinguish between the words “selfish” (as in, someone who is self-absorbed and self-involved) and “self-ish” (meaning someone who takes healthy care of themselves). I also like to use another metaphor, for illustration purposes. Most of us have been on an airplane. Before the flight starts the flight attendants will go through their “safety on board” demonstration. This includes how to use the oxygen masks, in case of a high altitude decompression. The key element to remember, which they always say: “If you are traveling with a child or someone else who needs your help, please put on your OWN mask before helping the other person.

It’s an important reminder that we HSPs must take care of ourselves before we get too busy taking care of others. And if staying healthy requires it, we must be willing to say “no” to the next person or project clamoring for our attention, if that’s what’s required of us!

What My Yoga Therapist Taught Me About My Food Cravings

What My Yoga Therapist Taught Me About My Food Cravings - HSP Health Blog

Have you ever gotten to the point where you feel helpless and hopeless about something in your life?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “Yes” you have. If you are an HSP reading this you most likely have felt this way in your at some point. Life can feel a little jumpy and bumpy from where we stand, right?

Yoga And The Burden Of Chronic Pain

For myself, my hopeless feeling stemmed from living with chronic pain from an old back injury. I can keep the pain at bay, for the most part, through yoga and exercise. But as an HSP, I am also very sensitive to pain and I know that I feel things very intensely.

Even though I’ve lived with pain for years, the pain seems to shift and change. It’s as if I’m chasing it. Being the overachiever that I am, I wanted to stay ahead of the pain. I wanted to know how to “tackle” it when it got bad.

I decided to seek help from a yoga therapist. I am a yoga teacher myself and appreciate all the practice has done for my body and mind. But I was still feeling defeated, like I needed a new perspective outside of myself.

Yoga, Food Cravings And Routine

My new yoga therapist gave me exercises to do at home. Having a plan in place felt good to me. Natural. As an HSP, I thrive off of routine and love to know what to expect. However, living this way is also what kept me in a rut for so long, stuck in unnecessary pain because I was nervous to change up my routine.

Doing that meant that I wasn’t truly listening to my body and what it was craving. I kept trying to get better by doing the same old same old. I wanted relief but was afraid to change in order to get there.

While I loved routine, I also had to be flexible enough to branch out and try something new in order to really honor the needs of my body.
What I hadn’t connected up until this point was that just as I loved and did so well with a plan of sorts in place for my yoga practice, I also did my best with a plan in place for the food I was eating.

A plan that wasn’t too rigid. A plan that was centered around what my body truly craved.

The thing is, I steered clear of this for a long time after being too rigid with food. If I didn’t have complete control over every part of my eating, I felt overwhelmed. This unhealthy relationship with food is something I’ve worked hard to change—into something kinder, softer, more flexible.

So while lying in my very gentle side twist one night (feels amazing on my lower back), I realized something. I put two and two together, finally. The way I practice yoga is the way I eat.

I had been tackling my yoga practice like I was tackling my food cravings, and doing this wasn’t serving me or my body.

Lovingly listening to my body during yoga began to serve as a beautiful example of how I can also listen to my body’s food cravings. I could prepare my meals ahead of time—with care and attention—all with the intention of giving my body what it craves.

I began to ask myself questions like, “How do I want to feel after eating food?” and “Can I slow down, chew, and be more present during this meal?” and “Will this food hurt my belly me or make me feel nourished?”

And perhaps most importantly… “What food is my body actually craving?”

Learning From Food Cravings

I have a sensitive digestion and know that if I eat X (potentially harmful trigger food) I will most likely feel X (tired, bloated, cranky, etc).

I tend to breeze through eating, even through food choices themselves, without really pausing to get present and real what my body is actually calling for.

My adventures in yoga therapy taught me to feel what my body most wanted in the present moment. My body wants to feel free and at ease. It wants to feel peaceful. It doesn’t want to feel weighed down with pain and discomfort and tension.

My body wants to be listened to. Deeply. On my yoga mat and in my kitchen.

So I did that.

I started to turn off the TV when I was eating so that I could feel when I was full. I put my fork down once in a while during meals to help me pause and inhale oxygen, a crucial component to any dish. I relaxed into the act of eating. I chose foods that I knew would make me feel relaxed and free and ready for whatever is next, instead of sluggish and irritated.

I didn’t need to “tackle” anything—with the pain that sent me off to a yoga therapist in the first place or with my relationship with food. When I created a space for something new, I was amazed at what was possible for me. When I got quiet enough to listen to my body and what it was truly craving—that’s when I discovered what real freedom felt like.

I didn’t have much to do after that. Having a plan in place to rehab my body or eat healthy meals that my body wants are both important. But what allows for that plan to be there is my willingness to listen, love, and support myself.

HSPs And The Struggle With Body Image

Source: 738run-lilya4ever-secondsky - Flickr

Growing up highly sensitive can have its disadvantages, for sure. You already know that, and it’s different for each and every HSP. There’s a lot of crossover between us, but we each get to have our very own unique experience. It’s such a journey, right?

What I want to talk to you about today is what I would consider one of the more common “crossover” themes that we experience as HSPs: poor body image.

More specifically—working on perfecting your body.

Self Acceptance And Body Image

As an HSP, I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. This way I am not so overwhelmed. A certain degree of control is healthy and good. The control I’m talking about today is when the control goes to a place where we are sacrificing health to be perfect.

I’m talking about those of us who feel we need to be a different weight to fit in. I’m talking about the ones who feel like they are struggling on a daily basis with loving their bodies, just as they are.

Years ago, before I knew anything about my HSP trait, I was always trying to “get better.” Somehow I landed on using my body image as a way to improve myself. I could not see what was right with me. When I looked in the mirror I focused on every ounce that needed improvement: the scars on my face, the cellulite on my thighs, the bloat in my belly. I set out on a journey to get better quick—because once I got to that magical place surely I would feel less overwhelmed.

I truly felt like people were fixated on my every flaw, just as I was. I believed my thoughts (a dangerous habit for HSPs) and even got into the habit of creating other people’s thoughts for them. My thoughts were so loud, I felt that other people could hear them and were saying things like, “Yes,” in agreement, “you need to lose a few pounds.”

I often joked around that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody. I lived life from that place of not having enough and not being enough. Happiness was surely on the other side of having attained firmer thighs and a flatter tummy – the elusive perfect body image.

So in the midst of working out and trying to control my every bite with food, tirelessly creating my “perfect body” so that I could finally feel free in my own skin and love myself, my therapist at the time had other ideas. She burst right through my perfect bubble when she said something to me that stung hard.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Um, excuse me?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Speechless.

How dare she! Couldn’t she see that my body wasn’t perfect yet? Did she not see how hard I was working?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

It stayed with me like an echo. I couldn’t shake it.

And she wasn’t talking about a smaller size.

Reframing My Body Image

At the time, I was nowhere close to being overweight. But the thing was—I had never (ever!) considered gaining weight. Why would I do that? It went against everything I had ever learned. I needed to control my weight, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do so that I can feel good about myself?

I felt so found out. Did I need to gain weight? It didn’t matter. I was put face to face with a new possibility, which was exactly where I needed to be. Somebody saw me, really saw me, and let me know about something new. The rest was up to me to figure out.

We are saturated with images—daily. We see how we are “supposed” to look, what we are “supposed” to eat, how we are “supposed” to be. The message is seemingly simple: if we succeed—if we become more and more “perfect”—we are granted access to happiness, feeling amazing in our bodies, and feeling loved by everyone around us.

Let me tell you—that is one hard path for anyone to follow, especially if you are an HSP. So why would you want to? It leads to more suffering and more overwhelm. The very things we already often have plenty of in our lives.

Of course, I didn’t get what my therapist said right away. I just took offense to it. I internalized it as I do with most everything and eventually came out on the other side having finally heard what I needed to hear. The message that came through for me was that I get to love myself NOW. In this body. And that I get to love myself in the future—at whatever size body I become.

Somewhere in between now and the future is some “bettering” myself, sure. But the self love can start right now. There’s no need to wait for my thighs to become “bikini ready” (they’re ready NOW when I put on my bathing suit, thanks!)

What do you think? Do you struggle with body image and how do you deal? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Self Sacrifice Can Make You Sick

Self sacrifice is very hard to escape.

It is so conditioned into us that whether you are an HSP or non-HSP doesn’t matter. You are subject to the expectation.

Self sacrifice carried to an extreme will make you sick, emotionally and physically.

Why is self-sacrifice such a problem?

Self Sacrifice Solves A Lot Of Problems

Self sacrifice solves so may problems:

  • if there are scarce resources, self sacrifice ensures that there is “enough”
  • if someone is abusive, expecting self sacrifice from victims “erases” a problem and injustice
  • if life is unfair, it is because self sacrifice is your “lot” in life
  • if the system does not work, self sacrifice enables us to avoid dealing with the problem
  • expectations of self sacrifice ensure that social inequities remain in place by allocating support only to some
  • expectations of self sacrifice maintain unequal relationships and relationships that are one way streets. They maintain power imbalances and the status quo.

How Self Sacrifice Affects An Individual

Self sacrifice feels devastating to the individual who experiences it. It is more than feeling like you are less than others. It is a way of appropriating the life force of one individual for the benefit of others.

For highly sensitive people for whom emotional vampires are a danger, a life of self sacrifice can be even more cruel since you are being both emotionally and usually physically exploited without any hope for reciprocity and care.

People stuck in self denying situations often feel angry depleted and robbed of their lives.

They are right!

Self Sacrifice Destroys Relationships

Self sacrifice is culturally conditioned. That means it is expeted and is often the basis of social and familial approval.

When such an arrangement is socially supported, change becomes more difficult, because the social support for change is not there. Generally some people benefit from the arrangement and therefore will not want to end it.

A sacrificing arrangement takes away the power from the person who is sacrificing, because it is in the nature of the relationships to deny the validity of any claims from the individual who is being used. That is why many people who have been in self sacrificing situations will feel rage and powerlessness at the same time: wo uncomfortable emotions and even more hurtful together.

An unequal self sacrificing relationship is set by expectation and social custom, therefore, it is not always possible to negotiate a beter arrangement, and if improvements are possible they are often hard won and hard maintained.

Without appearing too gloomy, it is important to be honest about the deep difficulties faced by those individuals and groups whose lives have been damaged by individual, group and systemic exploitation. When you grasp and feel the intractability of racism and sexism, you can have some compassion for those recovering from those forms of discrimination.

Self sacrifice may be physically and emotionally devartating to the victim, but it is also spiritually damaging, even more so for the perpetrator than the victim, although both are harmed, nonetheless.

Changing Your Life

Changing your life to one of healthy living and wellbeing is very challenging. It is important to treat oneself with respect during the difficult process of change.

People who seek more equal and more respectful relationships are often considered troublemakers, and misanthropes by those who gain from the inequity.

We see this resistance to change all over as our world gradually evolves to one where individuals share the world more fully. As desirable as equality is, it takes time to make a transition to an equality based life and can take a long time depending on the support that you have and receive.

As individuals recovering from racism can attest, the road to full acceptance can be a long one.

There are steps you can take to make the process easier:

  1. assess your skills and resources
  2. develop skills so that you can survive in the world
  3. determine shat your basic necessities are and get them met s that you need as little as possible during the process of creating a self respecting life for yourself.
  4. find support among people who share your desire and vision for a better way of life
  5. expect the process of change to take time
  6. honor yourself for making the journey

Developing a self respecting life is a hero’s journey. Those who undertake it deserve compassion and respect.

HSP Toolbox: Mindful Walking

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HSP Toolbox: Mindful Walking - HSP Health Blog (file1761263062467)

Source: Morguefiles

As highly sensitive people, it’s easy for us to get stuck in our heads. Sometimes we’re unable to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations, which influence us to replay situations over and over in our heads. “Did I say the wrong thing?” “Is she angry with me?” These and other familiar scripts rob us of time and energy. How do we break the cycle and rejuvenate?

Mindful Walking

Mindful walking is taking a stroll in nature and gently coaching your mind to stay focused on the present moment and your current surroundings. If possible, make this a part of your daily ritual or self-care routine.

  1. Choose your path. Whether it’s the local park, the beach, or just a few blocks in your neighborhood, choose a path that’s accessible. You can also practice mindful walking in a mall or store, but nothing beats fresh air and sunshine.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing. Avoid flip flops or shoes with little support. Walking shoes are ideal, and barefoot in the sand can be soothing. Dress appropriately for the weather.
  3. Give yourself time. You can set aside any amount of time to practice this exercise, but thirty minutes allows you to really enjoy the experience. Wander for fifteen minutes and use the last fifteen to get yourself back.
  4. Unplug. If you can, put your phone on silent or leave it behind. Sending text messages or checking your social media takes away from the mindfulness practice!
  5. Go for it! Just start walking. Every time you notice your mind wandering to something that doesn’t involve your immediate surroundings, gently redirect your awareness.
  6. Let your senses be your guide. Breathe in fresh air. Notice the colors of the leaves, the sky, the grass, and the flowers. Listen to the sound of your feet hitting the ground. Feel the breeze brush against your cheeks. Tie your mind to your senses so you can stay present.
  7. Don’t give up. Sometimes you’ll notice that you’ve been worrying about something or replaying a conversation in your head. That’s okay! Be compassionate with yourself and kindly bring your mind back to the present moment.

According to the American Heart Association, making a brisk 30-minute walk part of your daily routine can improve blood pressure, reduce risk for conditions such as heart disease, and enhance mental well-being. As for mindfulness practice, the American Psychological Association indicates that it  can reduce rumination, emotional reactivity, and stress while improving memory, focus, and cognitive flexibility. You can combine this practice with the Breathing Meditation and Daily Journaling to create a self-care ritual to start or end your day.

HSP Toolbox: Breathing Meditation

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file000186656904In the article How You Breathe Matters, Maria Hill discussed the importance of breath and oxygen to the body, especially for highly sensitive people. She explains that when we are stressed, our body runs on emergency stores of oxygen as our breath becomes quick and shallow. In a stimulating and extraverted world, highly sensitive people need to begin the habit of stopping and tuning into the breath to make sure they are nourishing themselves with stress-relieving oxygen.

Breathing Meditation

This exercise is great for meditators of every level and easy to do in any environment.

  1. Direct your attention to your breath. Listen to it. Feel it. Take note of the way it sounds and how it feels passing through your nostrils and down your throat.
  2. Don’t worry about changing your breath, but you might naturally breathe deeper just because you’re paying attention.
  3. Make room for your breath by adjusting your posture; try to sit up straight with shoulders back and hands in your lap or by your sides. Imagine the crown of your head floating toward the sky.
  4. Fix your eyes on one spot in front of you or on the floor. You can also close your eyes if you’d like.
  5. The most important part: smile. Just a small lift of the corners of your lips will do. (You can try doing this meditation without smiling. Note the difference.)
  6. Count through eight (8) cycles of breath. That means one inhale and one exhale equals one cycle.
  7. When you’re done, you can choose to keep going or go about your business.

Benefits

  • Redirects awareness away from external stimuli and stressful circumstances.
  • Increases oxygen intake.
  • Resets breathing pattern.
  • Enhances mood, especially if you smile!
  • Discrete and non-disruptive.
  • Can be done anywhere at anytime.
  • Cultivates mindfulness.

Building the Habit

Breathing meditation has no prerequisites. You can do it in the morning or before bed. You can do it on your commute or in the shower. You don’t need a meditation cushion or special posture. This exercise is meant to be a natural part of your everyday life. After a few sessions and experiencing the benefits, you might find yourself weaving it into your daily regimen. Just keep it in your self-care toolbox and use it whenever you need to refocus.

2 Herbs To Relieve Anxiety

Emotional Healing - HSP Health Blog

Nervous system tree © by Mizrak

As a highly sensitive person, do you experience anxiety?

Highly sensitive people are like the nervous system tree above –  a large hypersensitive nervous system often on overhead.

Each HSP handles overstimulation differently.

Some who suffer from excessive stress as well as sensory overload, develop anxiety.

Could that be you?

Why HSP’s Need Strategies For Anxiety

Whether you feel you anxiety symptoms are manageable or whether you are concerned that your symptoms are chronic and increasingly debilitating, as a highly sensitive person you need to develop strategies to handle stress and anxiety.

Highly sensitive people cannot escape the affect of chronic demands on their nervous systems. At some point, the consequences of excess anxiety will show up as an illness. Excessive stress overtime raises the blood sugar. It puts the body into a state of emergency which draws on all the energy stores of the body.

No one can withstand a constant state of emergency on the body. If unaddressed many people develop metabolic disorder and eventually diabetes. Highly sensitive people are in danger of developing a chronic disease if they do not manage their stress and anxiety well.

What Can You Do To Relieve Your Anxiety?

There are some obvious things you can do for anxiety:

  • take stock of you life and consider what is essential and what is not.
  • remove anything that is draining your time and energy and making it harder to manage your stress levels. I know that this can be easier said than done, but it is important to do. There are ways to make it easier:
    • you can start small and do it gradually.
    • under other circumstances it is better to tackle the most anxiety producing problem first. Perhaps some people need to be told that you will be unavailable for awhile due to other commitments (you), or some activities that you feel pressured to do, community activities would be an example, will need to be tabled.
  • learn to meditate. It works wonders to relieve the brain and creates mental rest.
  • try to do a little exercise each day. Yoga, NIA and ecstatic dance can all be done in a few minutes and will help your stress levels.
  • get a good nights sleep. Your body will process the days events and help repair your nervous system during your sleeping hours.
  • healthy food and water make a difference as well. A good meal makes your body feel good and that helps relax it. The wrong food does not feel good to your body and creates its own form of stress.

How To Relieve Anxiety While You Are Changing Your Life

All of the above suggestions take time. Creating a healthy life for yourself is a process. It is important to make sure you can see it through. In order to do so, there are a number of Ayurvedic herbs that can help you relieve stress while you are making changes:

  1. ashwaghandha: this herb is a very well known herb considered the most important for relieving stress symptoms. Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwaghandha helps you resist many forms of stress. It improves your body’s defenses by strengthening your physical defenses, and provides healing for the nervous system. Ashwaghanda relieves symptoms of stress like insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It acts as a sedative to the nervous system which enables you to recover from nervous stress and exhaustion. In addition, it works on the brain and nervous system and is known to reduce cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol levels over time lead to metabolic disorder and create the conditions for other illnesses to energy.
  2. brahmi  is another useful herb to use. It fulfills a slightly different function. Brahmi works more on the brain to improve mental functioning, including cognitive function and memory problems. When under stress we often do not think well. Brahmi helps your brain function better under conditions of stress and anxiety.

Anxiety Relief Strategies

Relieving anxiety for highly sensitive people is a big challenge. Each person needs to develop what works for them.

It is important to make space for change in your life. Any healthy living practices will bring relief to the body but it is often better to make one or two changes at a time and fully integrate them. Although it is a process, it will result in more permanent change and make it easier for you to handle the anxiety you already have while minimizing the anxiety of change.

NOTE: HSP Health has an affiliate relationship with Lifespa.