Tips For The Urban HSP

Tips For Urban HSPs

As an HSP, I sometimes think I must be truly nuts to be living in New York City, a place that seems like the very embodiment of the word “overstimulation.”

Crowded, loud, bright and always on, it can be a nightmare for the senses.

If you let it.

I’ve lived here for nearly 15 years now, and I’ve found ways to make it work. (I have a bit of a dream writing job, and this is one of the only places I can really do it, which is why I don’t leave, in case you’re wondering. Also, nearly everyone I love is here, which adds weight to the case for sticking around.)

 Attitude For An Urban HSP

I think the lessons I’ve learned as a Big Apple HSP can be helpful for all, particularly those who might be living in other, smaller urban environments. I think you have to start by just seeing city life slightly differently than many. Here, I think there’s often a default attitude of, “Only in New York! Gotta love it!” when, for example, you’re on a crowded train at 9 a.m. and all of a sudden theres’s a mariachi band furiously playing, mere inches away from your face.

No.

You actually don’t have to love it. (I suspect very few people love it, but I applaud their generally optimistic ability to pretend that they do.)

So here are a few of the survival tips I’ve come up with to make being an NYC urban HSP work for me.

Protect Your Hearing

1) Get good headphones, and don’t be afraid to use them.
I’ve always been shocked that so many people are willing to put up with the crappy white headphones that come with an Apple product. They make my ears sore after only a few minutes of listening, and they don’t fit well enough to filter out ambient noise (nor do they stop everyone around you from hearing your music, one of my big pet peeves about public transportation these days: if you’re not wearing headphones yourself, you are more often than not subjected to the contents of someone else’s).

No, I’m talking about getting some of those little rubbery ear buds, or, if you’re loaded, a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones (they’re on my wish list). A little of your own curated music can radically change a walk through a chaotic city street, a subway car filled with yammering people and blaring conductor announcements, or a store where four overly cheerful salespeople come up to you within the span of a minute and say, “How ARE you today? Can I help you find anything?” Just point sheepishly to your headphones, as if they are surgically implanted in your head and totally beyond your control, and move away.

2) If you’ve got a smartphone, get a white noise app.
Music is good in many situations, but I find that when I need to really concentrate on reading or writing something, it’s too distracting. My white noise app is the best thing about my iPhone by far. Mine lets me create my own mixes of soothing sounds: beach waves crashing and light rain! Tree frogs and oscillating fan! Or just plain old white noise. Actually, brown noise, which is softer than white noise. Check it out, you’ll see what I mean. Any of these will instantly reduce my HSP stress by half. It’s also genius for hotel rooms while traveling (more on this in my upcoming sleep tips post).

Protect Your Boundaries

3) Make subway rides work for you. As Elaine Aron might put it, use your boundaries. Don’t worry about everyone else’s feelings so much. My instinct is generally to try to make other people feel good, so I’m not all that comfortable saying no or shutting things down even when I really need a break from human beings (which is pretty often).

But I’ve found that in order to stay sane, you have to just power through that instinct and be a little protective of yourself. For example: when riding on the train, someone sits down next to me eating an egg sandwich. She seems perfectly nice otherwise and part of me doesn’t want her to feel like a leper if I get up and move. But you know what? An egg sandwich smells disgusting, and it’s ruining the precious half-hour of down time I have in the morning. So I’m gone.

Ditto someone who’s having a loud, laughing cell phone conversation next to me. Or twitching just slightly oddly in a way that suggests they might be a bit off. Or wearing pungent perfume. Just get up and move. You’ll feel so much better when you do.

Similarly, when I’m leaving work and someone tries to catch me and take the train with me, I generally come up with a reason to split off (“I have to make a call first,” or “I have to run an errand”). I find that when my subway ride gets diverted into chitchat or small talk, I tend to reach my destination feeling depleted and annoyed, which reduces my ability to be present for whatever my next activity was. So I just find non-mean ways of getting out of the shared subway ride.

It’s best for everyone.

The Challenge Of Smelly Air

4) Get an air filter
One of my least favorite things about New York is the smells. And I’m not even talking about the stereotypical pee and garbage aromas, which tend, in my experience, to be a bit overstated. No, it’s the cooking smells that really do me in.

Apartment building living just inevitably comes with having to share the air with other people who like different food than you, and if you’re an HSP, those odors can feel like a punch in the face. Someone down the hall from me must, I think, own a deep fryer, because nearly every night it smells like Popeye’s in the hallway. This is not OK. This smell makes me deeply sad. But I can deal with it, because I have a pretty decent air filter going in my apartment’s entryway. It also just offers some psychological support, knowing I have a little mechanical sentry between me and the olfactory chaos going on outside my door. (In a pinch, I find that a Yankee Candle also works pretty well. Who knew? But it’s nothing compared to an air filter.)

Bottom line, just because you live surrounded by other people doesn’t mean you have to feel violated by their ill-advised culinary choices.

Create Your Own Lifestyle

5) Get a dog
In a way, this might seem odd advice, because a dog does come with its own set of stressors: they cost money, they require lots of attention, they may wake you up barking at absolutely nothing in the middle of the night. But if you get a good one, they can also offer a brilliantly convenient excuse for getting out of things and living a lower-key life than you might otherwise be expected to do as a city-dweller.

Everyone in your office going out for happy hour, and you’re sort of expected to go, even though the thought of being stuck in a noisy bar making small talk makes you want to bang your head against a wall? Don’t sweat it, you have to go home and walk the dog. Sorry! Additionally, your dog will ensure that you must go on multiple rambles around the neighborhood daily, which is a practice that’s highly beneficial for soothing the HSP’s system. Which brings me to my next tip.

6) Live near a park
It doesn’t have to be Central Park (or your city’s version of Central Park). But if you have someplace you can get to reasonably easily where you can be among trees instead of human beings, that’s going to increase your quality of life a whole lot. (As well as your dog’s.) Go regularly. Go every day. Take deep breaths and always know, when you’re in the midst of the urban circus, that this will always be here waiting for you. Don’t live near a park? Make it a habit to walk through one on your way to work, if you can. Get off the train a few stops early and incorporate a park walk into your commute.

7) Get plants
Plants! It’s like having a mini park in your apartment.

8) When all else fails, Xanax.
Just kidding. (Not really.)

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Are Left-Handed People More Likely To Be Highly Sensitive?

writing © by Vassilis Online

If you have an allergic reaction to a lot of noise are you highly sensitive?

If you can’t stand crowds, are you highly sensitive?

If you are left-handed, are you highly sensitive?

Maybe.

The Elusive Trait Of High Sensitivity

The highly sensitive trait is not easy to pin down.

There are many different types of sensitivity associated with being an HSP, and they can vary in intensity. It is hard to identify a highly sensitive person because:

  1. the many different types of sensitivities can make it hard to identity
  2. many sensitivities can coexist on one person
  3. many highly sensitive people have characteristics like left-handedness that are not obviously associated with being highly sensitive
  4. many HSP’s also have other medical conditions like lupus, diabetes and learning difficulties
  5. childhood abuse can make the symptoms worse and add psychological conditions that may mask the HSP condition.

Why It Is Hard To Identify Highly Sensitive People

The manifestations of the highly sensitive trait can be so diverse that it is sometime hard to see sensitivity as one trait. In the past, people who were highly sensitive were often considered damaged in some way.

Throughout the centuries, the characteristics of sensitivity were often treated as isolated symptoms rather than one of a family of possible sensitivity characteristics. Lack of knowledge made identification of the HSP trait difficult.

Today we have a different challenge. We have – although only recently – identified the highly sensitive trait, thanks to the work of Elaine Aron, Ph.D. and Dr. Norman Geschwind.

However, our culture has so much overstimulation and toxicity it can be hard to identify whether or not you are in fact highly sensitive. Perhaps you are manifesting the symptoms of being overstressed.  Overstimulation can affect anyone including non-HSP’s. Perhaps you are suffering the impact of other forms of toxicity. The damage from water, food and workplace toxicity are real to everyone not just HSP’s.

So how do we separate out those who are  highly sensitive from those non-HSP’s suffering from toxic overload?

How The Research On Left-Handedness Helps Identify HSP’s

Left handedness has always been with us. Historically it was perceived as an anomaly and a defect so as children, left handed people were “trained” out of left handedness. Because of concern about left handedness, there has been much research done on left handed people over the years.

Dr. Norman Geschwind’s research from the 1980’s, often called the Geschwind Theory, gives us a clue on how the highly sensitive trait develops. He identified the relationship between maternal testosterone, lefthandedness, and genetic diseases.

According to his study, stress during pregnancy increases testosterone in the mother causing the fetus to develop differently. The result can be any number of conditions and genetic diseases including left-handedness. (The New York Times profiled the study in their article: Left vs. Right: Brain function Tied to Hormone in the Womb.)

The research on left-handedness over the years has been helpful because lefthandedness has been correlated with many other conditions and diseases. In investigating the relationship between left handedness and other conditions, the research community has unwittingly been providing us with clues to the highly sensitive trait.

It is only since Elaine Aron, Ph.D. wrote The Highly Sensitive Person in the 1990’s that we had a name to go with the condition that left handedness was pointing us to.

One of the best resources for highly sensitive people on the relationship between left handedness and genetic diseases is the H.I.S.S. of the A.S.P,written by David Ritchey. It shows the relationship between prenatal testosterone in the mother due to stress, and the creation of the highly sensitive person. He cites the Geschwind Theory along with other research including his own showing the prevalence of lefthandedness and genetic disorders among highly sensitive people or anomalous sensitive people  – his name for highly sensitive people.

Of course, the highly sensitive condition can also be inherited one the genetic profile exists in a family and frequently is.

Identifying Highly Sensitive People

There are a number of ways to determine if you are highly sensitive. Many quizzes are available on the internet which help individuals identify their sensitivity. HSP’s have a set of traits related to their make-up that sets them apart from non-HSP’s. They work differently, process information differently, and experience life differently.  The quizzes are a great place to start.

Another way to identify the trait is through an investigation of your family history. Do you have any genetic conditions that show up in the family? Although a genetic condition is not proof that an individual is an HSP, it may show that there has been at one time a pregnancy in the family where the mother had the kind of stress that caused a genetic condition to develop.

It is worth investigating your family history to get an idea for genetic transfer of health conditions. Taking a quiz can help as well. If you think that you may be an HSP, it is worth seeking the help of an advisor experienced in helping HSP’s develop skills at handling their sensitivity.

5 Reasons Why We Need Highly Sensitive People

5 Reasons Why We Need Highly Sensitive People - HSP Health Blog

African Penguin© by zoutedrop

Why do we need highly sensitive people?

HSP’s make up approximately 20% of the population. Highly sensitive people have received increased interest lately because of books like Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person and Susan Cain’s book Quiet, which are helping us to understand more about the quiet members of our world.

Our culture is predominantly as an extrovert culture. Extroverts are externally driven to seek rewards, prestige and power. Introverts bring an important and different perspective that we need.

This is what they give us:

  1. highly sensitive people’s take in all kinds of stimulus. Their sensitivity means that they see what others do not. Extroverts often are very fast in their actions, however, speed often means mistakes. The insights from HSPs can protect us from the mistakes that come from going too fast.
  2. highly sensitive people are often deep thinkers. They can see connections and factors that are important in a particular situation that others may not be aware of. They are able to notice pitfalls and potential land mines in our plans and strategies saving us needless headaches.
  3. highly sensitive people are holistic thinkers. This means that they offer an antidote to our fragmented society.  Fragmentation increases the disconnection between different parts of a group, company, or an entire society. Holistic HSP’s see and act as bridges between different parts of social or economic ecology to ease and improve problem solving.
  4. HSP’s are sensitive to all the various forces at any given point in time. They often work from a longer time frame which enables them to see current, emerging and dying forces at the same time. This ability to notice makes it possible for HSP’s to set priorities from  a big picture and longer term perspective.
  5. HSP empathy and sensitivity can reduce polarization between different groups or parts of organizations.

HSP’s are very sensitive to potential consequences of actions and therefore provide an important balancing function in a fast paced world and fragmented society making them valuable members of our homes, companies and communities.

Stress in the Womb

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There is a growing awareness that stress in the womb plays a major role in the creation of genetic diseases and the highly sensitive trait.  Maternal stress during pregnancy results in higher levels of testosterone in the body and by extension a fetus. The higher levels of testosterone change brain development increasing the chance of genetic diseases, the highly sensitive trait as well as high creativity and giftedness.

The BBC  Mum’s stress is passed to baby in the womb reported recently about a study in the journal Translational Psychiatry showing that women under the stress of potential violence have children with a genetic change in the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), which regulates the response to stress, making the children more sensitive to stress.

The article discusses how a change occurs in methyation, an important biological process in “gene expression.”  The best lay explanation comes from Discovery. This is their description:

“Methylation is a process by which a gene’s behavior is altered, but the gene itself isn’t changed. This is almost like following all the directions in baking a batch of cookies correctly, except for the oven temperature. Even though all of the ingredients are the same, those cookies won’t bake — or behave — the same way when baked a couple hundred degrees lower than they should be.In methylation,  environmental exposures or different lifestyle choices have the potential to cause methyl groups, which are groups of one carbon and three hydrogens, to land on top of our genes and change how they are expressed. This, in turn, changes the ability of our genes to share the directions they contain for making our bodies’ proteins.”

Apparently, stress in the womb affects the methylation process during pregnancy, altering gene expression.  Methylation seems to be a major factor in the biochemical processes responsible for a fetus becoming a highly sensitive person.

This is just one study, but it points to an increasing awareness of the impact of stress in the womb in the creation of highly sensitive people.  It is an important tool for developing approaches to minimize genetic diseases of all kinds and shows us how genetic mutations and environmental factors can create unintended results.

For more information about the traits of highly sensitive people, HSP Health offers information about the biology and characteristics of HSP’s.

What Causes the HSP Trait?

 


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Creative Commons License photo credit: Fotosafarines

What causes the HSP trait? In the 1980’s the findings of an important medical study were released.  The study laid a biological and scientific basis for understanding the highly sensitive trait.

Dr. Norman Geschwind, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study of 3000 people with Dr. Peter Behan, a neurologist at the University of Glasgow.  He was attempting to discover the correlation between left handedness, learning disorders and genetic diseases.  The report, titled  “Cerebral Dominance” revealed his findings.

Apparently what causes the HSP trait is stress during pregnancy which sets a chain of events in motion that results in changes to the development of the child.  Higher levels of testosterone in the mother caused by stress cause the fetus to develop differently because the testosterone creates reserve lateralization of the brain. Reverse lateralization of the brain slows the left brain’s development as a result of the increased testosterone and advances a greater developed right brain.

One result is that brain functions may be located in atypical places in the brain -an example would be language skills changed to a location in the right brain;  speech problems may be a result.  Another result is a greater chance of  left-handedness, a known characteristic of highly sensitive people.  Since each side of the brain controls the opposite handed, handedness located in the right brain results in left-handedness – an HSP effect that is more pronounced in males than females.

The study that Dr. Geschwind did with Dr. Behan showed left-handed people were 2 and 1/2 more times more likely to have autoimmune disorders and 10 times more likely to have learning disabilities.  Near relatives of left-handed people can also be affected and may acquire HSP traits.  Apparently there is a familial genetic basis for these conditions so that any family member can be right handed and also experience learning difficulties, autoimmune disorders and other human genetic diseases because the family has a history of left-handedness and the highly sensitive trait.  It is possible that what causes the HSP trait in some individuals is a familial genetic condition, possibly from a prior generation where stress during pregnancy resulted in the birth on an HSP child.

It is amazing that stress can be so powerful that it can cause a human being to become a different person – that it can effect such a powerful change in a human being.  Violence and the threat of violence are bad enough under ordinary circumstance.  When they occur during pregnancy, a human being can be born with a variety of sensitivities as well as any number of genetic diseases.  That’s a lot of damage!  What causes the HSP trait is stress.  In a world of 7 billion people, reducing stress would seem to be a humane solution to the consequences of excess stress.

Are We All Becoming Highly Sensitive People?

 

DSC_0098 © by fantasy prof

Are we all becoming HSP’s?  The question recently crossed my mind for a number of reasons:

  • when I tell someone that I write about highly sensitive people, frequently people whisper to me that they are highly sensitive too.
  • the recent love affairs we have had with the penguin, Happy Feet, in New Zealand and the race horse, Zenyatta, in the United States tell me that there is a inner longing for a happier, friendlier world.
  • I suspect that Arab spring and other uprisings are an expression of exasperation at the systemic violence in that part of the world and a move toward a more humanitarian model of society.

What do all of these things have to do with the highly sensitive trait?  For starters, one of the main characteristics of highly sensitive people is their empathy.  Whether we are identifying empathy in ourselves, having empathy for an animal in trouble, an animal with a great spirit, or empathy for those who may be suffering extreme poverty, all of these actions speak to evidence of empathic sensitivity. Although systemic abuse like racism has been challenged for the past half century, social media is now making evident how far we have come as we stretch across borders and boundaries of all kinds to extend a helping hand to each other.

Many people do not know that there is a relationship between violence and the highly sensitive trait. According to this Time Magazine article about a study by Dr. Norman Geschwind of Harvard University, people who are born highly sensitive do so because the mother experiences severe and violent stress during pregnancy increasing testosterone in her system which causes developmental changes in the fetus.  The result is a highly sensitive person with great empathy and an inability to tolerate the pain of violence in any form.

The upside is that HSP’s are holistic, complex thinkers with significant creativity, although they may also suffer from any number of genetically based diseases.According to Elaine Aron, PhD, and the author of the Highly Sensitive Person, highly sensitive people are one out of every five people.  Essentially HSP’s are 20% of the people on the planet – over 1 billion people!  That’s a lot of people.

Empathy seems to be on the rise; perhaps the violent early years of human life have brought us to a point where we are becoming nonviolent.  That would be truly wonderful.