Introversion, HSP’s, Ayurveda
Out of the blue, Derek gave me the greatest gift: 2 days alone at home. He offered it up and I was like: “You see me.”
After I was introduced to Derek, I canceled four times before we finally went out. And I liked him! I wasn’t doing it to be flirty, either. I take my rest/downtime very, very seriously. It’s just necessary.
In those days, it was easier to have clear boundaries. I lived alone and didn’t have kids. I could hibernate as needed, and believe me, I did. Kids blur every known boundary, bless them.
Summer-time = Fun-Time?
People are getting together, enjoying the more raucous side of life. Makes sense, post-COVID. Summer is a natural time for people to come together, and we may be sorely in need of a reconnect with family and friends. I mean, 4th of July was nuts. Continuous fireworks for hours. Plenty of injuries at the ‘ol hospital.
Summer is meant for cook-outs, family reunions, camping with friends. Much socializing.
Summer, however, can be tough for people who are either introverts, HSPs (we’ll get to what HSPs are in a sec), or both. Most of us know about the extroversion/introversion thing, and you probably have some idea where you fall, but have you heard about HSPs? It’s a club to which about 15-20% of the population belong (myself included). And it’s not a club I have always wanted to be in.
What is an HSP?
At the grocery store a little girl, about 3, is crying, hard. Her face is beet-red and swollen. Big tears roll down. Dad is ignoring her. I wheel out of the salads and into the baby food aisle, where I can cry for a minute. Then I force myself to stop thinking about it.
At The Lion King, I start crying as the crowd swells for a standing ovation. While the show was good, I don’t feel any personal pull to be moved to tears. It is just happening. I am getting swept up in the tidal wave of human emotion. Grrr, annoying.
Both of those scenarios describe what some call empathic experiences. The term HSP describes a type of neurological make-up that has certain characteristic “traits”. Having these traits make empathic experiences much more likely. An HSP, or highly sensitive person, is not “woo-woo” at all. This trait has been studied extensively, and is even found among animals. BTW, I don’t personally think empath stuff is “woo-woo”, but I can see it getting shoved in with the random psychic stuff (which I also like).
The Highly Sensitive Person
Dr. Elaine Aron coined the term Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, in 1991. She was working as a researcher of HSP-type traits, published some results in the local paper, and had tons of people asking for more info. She wrote a book describing her findings. Couldn’t find a publisher, then sold 500,000 copies. People felt, like, vindicated. This was who they were!
Dr. Aron (an HSP herself), says: “HSPs are born with a trait that makes them aware of all kinds of subtle messages from outside and inside…we process more deeply (emphasis mine) the information we receive. We like to reflect.”
HSPs process it all really deeply, and sometimes in a prolonged manner. And they may need to process in the tub, or while asleep.
People who are highly sensitive “digest” information and stimulation more intensely than everybody else. HSPs have a lower threshold for reacting to unfamiliar places or situations. They are more prone to actual, physical over-arousal.
MRI studies have documented this over-active brain stimulation. This intense stimulation is something physical happening that an HSP has no control over, just like the color of their eyes (I was always singing “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and longing for deep brown eyes – not realizing that the song was going the other direction).
So in a crowded, noise-y or chaotic environment, your HSP pal will be fighting off a whole bunch of stuff coming at her. She might act weird.
The need to process at this deep level uses up a good amount of energy, so the person who is highly sensitive will tire out more quickly. Your friend may need to exit or bow out entirely (ahem, U2 Concert).
HSP’s get worn out because they notice everything – they “sense” every detail. They will require more daily quiet time alone (this is why I surrender nap time to No Man). They (we) need to sleep for longer periods (absolved!).
It Isn’t Easy Being Green
I used to feel shame around having these HSP attributes, because the “traits” are not what are considered “strong” in our society. We as a culture value things like the fast-paced, highly stressful jobs and the ability to put in long hours. The frequent travel. Loving roller-coasters.
And, since we are easily overaroused, HSPs have a bigger track record of “failing” under pressure. You should have seen me in “Blue Code” type of situations at the hospital. Not good. But I would marvel at how other people loved it!
Today, there are blogs dedicated to HSP’s (such as Highly Sensitive Refuge) and introverts (such as Introvert, Dear) that provide a community with other people who have this sensitivity stuff going on. There is lots of information, insights, and support to be found.
Highly Sensitive Attributes
- Search for meaning
- Good with infants, animals and plants
- Lead rich inner lives
- Philosophical or spiritual
- Are deeply moved by art or music
- Historically in roles as trackers, herbalists, shaman
- Dwell on criticism, losses, rejections, betrayals, deaths
- Startle easily
- Tend toward allergies
- Sensitive to pain medication, caffeine, alcohol
- More affected by hunger – need to eat on the reg
- More affected by childhood home environment – may dwell on a troubled past
- 70% of HSPs are introverted and 30% of HSPs are extroverted
If you are easily overwhelmed by:
- visual clutter
- scratchy fabrics
- “off” odors
- high-pressure situations
- bright lights, sirens, loud sounds
- violent TV
- temperature extremes
- intense people
- other people’s moods
- sudden changes in environment or feelings
- change in general
- emotional music
- being observed or scrutinized
- lack of down time or alone time
- emotional situations
- driving in stressful situations
…then you may be an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)
There is a test you can take to see if you are an HSP (I answered “true” to every single question). Pretty much, you recognize yourself.
Being an HSP is Not Synonymous with Being an Introvert, but Being and Introvert is OK; It’s Good.
An HSP is more likely to be an introvert, but there are extrovert HSPs around. An introvert recovers and gains energy from being alone, and an extrovert gains energy and pep from being in the company of others. Both kinds of peeps are so important in our world. Extroverts who are sensitive will need to honor the call for more downtime than the run-of-the-mill extrovert. And you don’t have to tell an introvert twice to go home. We are down with endless solitary care (if only we could find the time).
Ayurveda and Sensitivity
Ayurveda teaches us that everything is medicine, and everything is poison; it’s the context that tells us which. We must be aware of our surroundings and our reactions to them. Is the 3rd party this week poison or sweet nectar? What is best for us and what is needed? People who are HSPs need to plan well so that there is time in the schedule for self-care (I mean, everyone should be scheduling self-care, correct?). Sometimes this will mean disappointing others.
Ayurveda is about personal balance. Think about what brings you energy and what siphons it away. What foods make you feel well? How much sleep does it take? How much abhyanga can you get in?
I read an article detailing this “high sensitivity trait,” and from what I can tell, it connects sensitivity with the vata dosha. So HSPs might have a lot of vata dosha. I certainly do. I hit stuff with my car all the time. But sensitivity is also connected to the pitta dosha, and I have tons of that, too. I get inflamed and grumpy when I don’t have enough down time. I literally lose my sense of self. So, no concerts for me (except my kid’s violin concerts, which I have to work VERY hard not to cry at). The bottom line is always, know your dosha mix, work to balance it, and keep calm and carry on.
Bringing Down the Level of Stimulation with Ayurveda
Whether you are an HSP or not, summer is a time of intensity and stimulation. Overstimulation means overarousal. Everybody, whether they are sensitive or not, can become overstimulated. This overstimulation leads to physiological overarousal. So, overarousal leads to wear and tear on the system. You know you have had too much rousing stuff happening when you feel exhausted and overwhelmed. No fun!
The busy summer months are a time we all can use some body/mind respite (it’s where needing a vacation from my vacation kicks in). Use knowledge of the doshas to guide your course. Here are some summer respite ideas:
- walks in shady or sunny nature (shade = pitta; sun = vata; individual basis)
- Be Alone – miss somebody!
- swim (pitta)
- bike rides (easy does it – sun or shade)
- meditate (most important if manageable)
- take a nap
- drink water (room temp – surprising how easy room temp water is to get used to – try it)
- yoga nidra
I read somewhere that HSP’s can be even healthier than the general population, but if they aren’t pristine in their lifestyles, they will feel it more. Yikes, I’m kind of feeling it. #workingonit