Image courtesy of Gualberto 107 at Freedigital photos.net/ Anxious or Understimulated? Change how you feel with Sensory Modulation.
Upon re-reading Elaine Aron’s “The Highly Sensitive Person”, which I have also reviewed in Self Avenue, it has given me the best understanding of how being sensitive can be managed without needing, or complementing, the use of medications.
The basic cause of being sensitive has its roots in the sensory system, which is overaroused to a significantly greater degree than four fifths of the population. Highly sensitive people are often, but not always, introverts. This may be a stereotype but I have suspicions that a lot of writers are introverts, and thus would benefit from my sharing a few ideas to deal with a world that may not seem so sensitive.
However, I want to stress that non-highly sensitive people are capable of the same level of empathy and kindness – by sensitivity it more means that the sensory system is more aroused, sometimes to a degree that is unpleasant by noise, bright lights, crowded rooms and the like. Also sensitivity is on a spectrum in how much they can identify with the trait “checklist” at the beginning of the book.
We all have an optimal arousal level – too little and we are bored – these tend to be extraverts who will compensate for their underarousal with caffeine, parties and prefer to have a lot going on around them. If overaroused, one may feel anxious, jittery and therefore feel the need to withdraw. I can identify with another type of person –one who becomes underaroused and overaroused easily. I also identified with being highly sensitive though. If you feel you are easily overaroused by situations or overaroused and underaroused easily then you are by definition a highly sensitive person.
There is an intervention known as Sensory Modulation which can help you find natural ways of adjusting and adapting your arousal state, so you do not suffer the chronic effects of being overaroused, for example, chronically high levels of cortisol. One of the implications of raised levels of cortisol that persists is lowered immunity, to name one example. If underaroused, you may find unhealthy ways to feel more alert – such as excess caffeine intake,, or smoking because it is another stimulant. These, particularly the latter is also detrimental to our health.
Therefore I am going to list some ways of naturally managing levels of underarousal and overarousal I have found useful.
For states of overarousal:
1. Adequate ‘quiet time’
2. Frequent breaks
3. Frequent small meals with a low glycemic index. If you google glycemic index, it will give you examples of what foods fall into this category. The idea of frequent meals, is that highly sensitive people seem have their concentration and mood more affected by feelings of hunger. A low glycemic index means that blood sugar levels stay at a more steady level so you don’t get a quick burst of energy and arousal followed by tiredness. Essentially it can help to keep your mood and concentration more balanced.
4. An appreciation for who you are. There are also positives to being highly sensitive such as being highly attuned to others needs, appreciating subtleties in the environment, having a rich, complex inner world, and a gentle personality.
5. Adequate sleep. Highly sensitive people may find adopting a sleep hygiene pattern of even more importance, because we are so easily stimulated. For example, avoid stimulating activities before sleep, hot showers and meditation music may help. Googling “sleep hygiene” will help you find more suggestions.
6. Walking The slow steady rhythm can calm you.
7. Herbal teas, such as chamomile. Highly sensitive people are particularly sensitive to the stimulating effects of caffeine. Warmth in any way is relaxing, including hot showers and heat packs.
8. Find other sensitive people in your life for support – for example at book clubs, bush walking groups and the like. However, equally welcome people who don’t have such an easily aroused nervous system in your life. They also have their particular attributes. No group is better than the other. However, if you completely withdraw and try to avoid stimulating circumstances altogether this can actually make you more sensitive. It can also increase fear by feeling you can not, but instil confidence. However, be gentle with yourself.
9. Avoiding self-medicating with alcohol. By relying on an external substance to modulate your mood, you are decreasing your confidence that you are able to manage your emotions. There is a huge repertoire of other strategies to use. They may not be a ‘quick fix’ but over time, you will improve in your ability to hone your intuition to pick and choose which are right for you.
For states of underarousal:
1 Upbeat music
3. Getting out there with things you enjoy. This may be shopping, abseiling, a new exciting challenge.
4. Watching something dramatic or funny on television.
5. A work project that you find particularly stimulating.
6. Particular people you find stimulating to talk to. I am an introvert yet I know people who naturally stimulate and uplift me because I find them so interesting. Remember it’s not as much about personality, though, as it is about states of arousal.
7. Caffeine in moderation. No more than 3 cups per day is recommended.
Also, for both over and under arousal different scents and smells may stimulate for some, but relax for another. You need to experiment a little on what works for you. However, lavender, for example is a reputed relaxant.
In conclusion, sensory modulation provides quite a large toolbox to help you if you are too anxious in an environment, or would like to be more stimulated.