Earlier this month, I finished reading the 25th anniversary edition of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, Ph. D., which was published in 2020. Last week, in reflecting on the book, I began what I intended to be a multi-part series on exploring what it means to be a HSP. This week, I continue the series, which I’ve decided will end here, by addressing a reader’s comment from last week:
I’ll be interested in hearing more about good coping strategies with this highly intrusive world.Deb Nance from the blog Readerbuzz
First of all, a caveat: I didn’t find everything Aron wrote useful. Personally, I couldn’t relate to her treating the body as you would an infant (or “your infant/body self”) and her splitting the world into two archetypes: royal advisors and warrior kings. I also thought she overemphasized case studies of HSPs with traumatic childhoods, even dedicating an entire chapter to “healing the deeper wounds”. All that said, I gleaned nuggets from the text about how to cope with this “highly intrusive world” as Deb puts it, especially from Chapter 3 on “General Health and Lifestyle for HSPs”.
The first thing to realize is that the more it [Aron is referring to the body, but I also would say the mind] avoids stimulation, the more arousing the stimulation becomes. A teacher of meditation once told the story of a man who wanted nothing to do with the stress of life, so he retreated to a cave to meditate day and night for the rest of his life. But soon, he came out again, driven to overwhelming distress by the sound of the dripping of water in his cave. The moral is that, at least to some extent, the stresses will always be there, for we bring our sensitivity with us. What we need is a new way of living with the stressors.
The second thing to realize, Aron writes, is that the more we habituate ourselves to the world, “the less difficult and arousing it becomes.”
The way to come to tolerate and then enjoy being involved in the world is by being in the world.
But how to be in or out too much is a balancing act. Two things that can help, she says, are “‘downtime’ just for unwinding and thinking over the day” and
“transcendence” – rising above it all, usually in the form of meditation, contemplation, or prayer. At least some of your transcendent time should be aimed at taking you out of all ordinary thinking, into pure consciousness, pure being, pure unity, or oneness with God. Even if your transcendence falls short of this, when you return, you will have a bigger, fresher perspective on your life.
Strategies for overarousal
Aron gives both psychological and physical methods for handling what she terms “overarousal”. Among the psychological methods are:
- Reframe the situation.
- Repeat a phrase, prayer, or mantra that, through daily practice, you have come to associate with deep inner calm.
- Witness your overarousal.
- Love the situation.
- Love your overarousal.
And if you cannot love the situation, it is vitally important and even more more essential that you love yourself in your state of not being able to love the situation.
Among the physical strategies are:
- Get out of the situation!
- Close your eyes to shut out some of the stimulation.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Go out-of-doors.
- Use water to take the stress away.
- Take a walk.
- Calm your breathing.
- Adjust your posture to be more relaxed and confident.
- Smile softly.
Smiling? Maybe it is just a smile for yourself. Why you are smiling does not matter.
Out of context, I realize that these sound trite, probably eliciting an eyeroll from you. Within the context of the book, though, they make sense. For example, using water doesn’t just mean staying hydrated. It also refers to getting out in nature, getting in water whether a bath or a pool.
And the last piece of advice, to smile, is meant for you to reflect a more relaxed demeanor. Don’t be like Wednesday Addams — who when she is asked to smile scares everyone. I think that’s where I’ll leave it: don’t be like Wednesday Addams, well, at least don’t wear that smile…all of the time.
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