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The Highly Sensitive Person’s Toolkit- Techniques For Highly Sensitive Performers To Thrive

The-highly-sensitive-person’s-toolkit

Oh the feels. Being sensitive can make you feel a little like carrying round a packet of tissues carefully labelled ‘in case of feels’ at all times. Now disclaimer, being sensitive does not mean ‘weak.’ It simply means that you are part of that shiny group of people whose nervous systems are scientifically more sensitive and therefore you quite literally feel things a bit more deeply. FYI, this refers to all emotions– the good as well! Yay! (Most of the time, I’m pretty happy-go-lucky.)

It is more about having on tap access to that pool of emotion. It wasn’t until I talked to some of my friends that I realised that some people go months or even YEARS without crying. When I have 10 days in a row without a cry that is a good run; I start strutting round like a peacock, feeling quite proud of myself.

Now being a sensitive performer is both an organ and a blade. It brings both a great sensitivity and availability of emotion to your work but also can HURT you, therefore having useful techniques for highly sensitive people to use is essential. It is not uncommon for people to say that if you’re going to survive the industry you need to toughen up. Growing up, you get told you’ll need a ‘thick skin.’ This is not the case; emotion demands to be felt and to hear this implies that there’s something wrong with you, something that needs fixing. No! You are perfect just as you are. Sensitivity can be an incredible gift, it’s just that you may need to have some tools to reinforce the perimeter so that you can hold the shape of that sensitivity from a strong, grounded place.

So below I’ve compiled the highly sensitive person’s toolkit- 4 tools you can use to handle and work through tricky emotions when they arise, and mend any bruises along the way. Think of it like your emotional medicine cabinet. These tools are great for anyone, regardless of whether you would class yourself as highly sensitive or not, so check them out below!

The Highly Sensitive Person’s Best Ally- EFT

The-highly-sensitive-persons-ally-EFTEFT (short for Emotional Freedom Technique also known as Tapping) is one of the best techniques for highly sensitive people we have at our disposal. It may sound and feel a little weird at first, but honestly once you feel it’s effects, you won’t look back. A lot of self care techniques rely on meeting the emotion or finding ways to avoid triggering yourself overly. However, EFT goes one step further than both of these. It involves changing and clearing emotions and how you respond to triggers at their SOURCE. Whenever we feel a strong negative emotion, our amygdala- (the part of the brain which registers threat) fires and this creates a strong pathway to a particular emotion attached to a situation or thoughts we might be feeling. But with EFT, we tap on certain points on our body which activate a calming response (the parasympathetic nervous system) whilst working through the difficult emotion or thoughts therefore changing the pathways in our brain so that it doesn’t produce the same negative reaction. This can be a massive game changer! If you’d like to learn more about EFT and how to use it, stay tuned for my post coming next week.

Practise Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation-as-a-tool-for-the-highly-sensitive-personMindfulness is a skill that requires practise, just like learning a musical instrument. Contrary to popular belief mindfulness meditation isn’t about emptying your mind, but training yourself to focus your attention, observing thoughts when they come up, and then disengaging and bringing yourself back to your point of focus.

This also strengthens being able to switch to an observer mindset. Now when we meditate, we are in a fairly neutral space. However, when we are dealing with intense emotions, we are in a highly charged state and it is harder to disengage. So by practising from a neutral space, we increase our observational muscle to be able to switch to this with more ease when we are emotionally challenged (experiencing stress or negative emotions.) Cultivating a daily practise is key in keeping up this skill. The brain operates on a ‘use it or lose it’ principle so it’s important to keep it up to be able to use it effectively as a tool. In much the same way we wouldn’t expect our strength to stay at it’s peak if we stopped lifting weights, the same can be true of meditation. Meditation is an amazing tool for anyone, and even more so for the highly sensitive person’s needs as it provides an empowering way of weathering their emotional terrain which garners much relief, and can physically change the brain.

observer-mindset-meditation

Next time you get a negative emotion, take some time to observe it rather than just reacting to it. Try to keep really focused on the physical sensation rather than just replaying what has upset you. This anchors you and calms you down, whilst also giving you some of your control back and taking away part of the pain.

Then when you’re ready, you can respond. A good slogan is:

Respond, not react.

Create Anchors

Anchor-yourselfIn a situation that is emotionally charged, or even just uncertain (such as change for a new job for example) one thing you can do is create anchors to make you feel more settled, safe and which generally generate positive emotions. This can be objects that feel homey and remind you of home (photos, scented candles, a piece of jewellery given to you by someone you love, a particular blanket etc, fairy lights, objects with particular colours etc)

It can also be people, so phoning a friend, family member or partner is another way to anchor yourself. The highly sensitive person’s main need when change is occurring is to feel connection and a sense of familiarity, as even positive changes can be quite overwhelming, so creating emotional anchors works beautifully. Setting aside specific time for yourself eg half an hour on your own to journal, meditate or read, listening to particular music which makes you feel safe, happy, loved, empowered etc, or even a particular affirmation for what it is you are needing can be a great way to integrate this. Highly sensitive people often like a structure or knowing what to expect, so creating a plan amidst the chaos is key.

Use Positive Self Talk

Self-talk-and-self-loveWe have an internal dialogue, which will be a mash up of the conscious and unconscious beliefs and thoughts. By utilising positive self talk, we can gently guide our focus and help ourselves to feel better. It’s important to differentiate that positive self-talk is not about ego or unrealistic expectations, but more about self-love, compassion and empowerment.

Let’s look at some examples of negative to positive self talk:

N ‘There’s nothing I can do about it. I give up!’

P ‘I might not be able to control the situation, but I can control how I respond.’

N ‘I always do the wrong thing.’

P ‘I’ve made some mistakes but I can learn from them. What do I need to learn?’

N ‘I’m not good enough.’

P ‘Attempting to do this took courage and I’m proud of myself for trying. What can I work on for next time?’

Or, ‘I am enough. And I am worthy.’

N ‘I never get anything right.’

P ‘I haven’t figured it out… Yet.’

N ‘I can’t do it.’

P ‘What information do I need to practise being able to do it?

This is one of the most powerful techniques for highly sensitive people. The more you can practise turning these negative thoughts around, the more natural and easy it becomes.

Conclusion

Kind-and-consistent-practiseSo there we go- the highly sensitive person’s toolkit. These 4 things can work wonders if they are used with persistence and consistency as feelings arise. I’ve kept the number of techniques short, because although small they are mighty! And when retraining the brain and habits I find simplicity works best. Let me know what you find most helpful below, or if you have any suggestions to add I’d love to hear them 🙂

10 Comments

  • David Buckley

    Hi Nat. What a lovely well written post. I like the way your description flows, and you can get a real sense of how you feel. The tips that you provide go well with the feelings that you provide and enhance the power of overcoming vulnerabilities. You are obviously a sensitive soul and as you say, its a strength and not a weakness. Well done.

  • Partha Banerjee

    Hi Natalie.

    I see myself in a lot of what you have written here.

    I guess I am a highly sensitive person, as I tend to wear my heart of my sleeve, and therefore my emotions are pretty obvious to all around me (and typically that sensitive streak in me is always on show).

    You actually piqued my interest when you spoke of your tendency to cry, as I’m the complete opposite.

    I cannot recall they last time I cried, and I have been through a number of grief-stricken experiences over the last few years that would usually have the most hard-hearted person in tears.

    Strange, as I am quite an emotionally-fuelled person.

    The techniques you mention, such mindfulness meditation and positive self-talk are concepts I have introduced into my life over the past couple of years, and to great effect, although I still struggle with mindfulness during my everyday life.

    I’ve heard of people often using a trigger phrase whenever they experience negative emotions, which is the spark to view what they’re feeling in a mindful manner.

    Any further recommendations you have about remaining mindful during difficult times would be greatly appreciated?

    Thanks Natalie I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

    Partha

    • Natalie

      Hi Partha,

      I’m so glad this post resonated with you, it definitely sounds like you have a high sensitivity which is a wonderful thing. With regards to crying, what might help clear the confusion is that people have different emotional responses to grief and ways it affects them- for some it might feel more like a depression, for others they may feel anger at the unfairness of the situation, for others it’s intense sadness. All are ways of feeling equally deeply, it just might be that your grief is a stiller sadness. The other thing that might be going on, is sometimes when people are highly sensitive, the pain is too much and they can shut down as it feels too painful, so it may also be a case of that. What can be a key is when you think about your grieving experiences, what emotion if any comes to the surface for you now? If that pain has been shut off, it may be hard to attach a feeling but whatever indication you can get even if subtle is a good place to start. As you bring that to the surface for healing, you may then find other emotions come to the surface to be moved through. Sometimes it is a case of starting small, especially if it’s something big. Quite often, other emotions will be underneath the one presenting itself. EFT is an excellent way to move through this. Often when I use EFT on myself for anxiety for example, I’ll start tapping and then I’ll realise I might feel angry but then as I move through that, I’ll realise what I’m feeling underneath that is pain or sadness. EFT is an amazing way of bringing emotions to the surface to be healed in a very safe and controlled way so I would highly recommend this. I’m currently training as an EFT practitioner so if you have any other questions with regards to it, let me know 🙂

      The idea of using a trigger phrase is great! I hadn’t heard of this so will definitely remember that one!

      I think one thing that can really help with mindfulness during difficult times, is to make a list of your triggers. If you can then recognise them at the onset and then name it as soon as it starts to happen, you will begin to be able to change those pathways before they escalate. It also sorts through the confusion as our thoughts can often be fleeting when our emotion builds and then we can’t even remember all the reasons we’re feeling the way we are, to work on them. When we feel negative emotions (particularly fear and anxiety) it triggers the part of our brain that registers threat. Once it gets to a certain point, it shuts off the thinking part of our brain temporarily (the prefrontal cortex) and so mindfulness becomes difficult. At this point, the three things that will calm this down are deep breathing, exercise and tension and release.

      I’m so sorry to hear you have been through some hard grief-stricken experiences in life. The other thing that might be helpful if you have found it hard to grieve and process, would be to deal with the subconscious. For this I would advise Timeline therapy. It deals with a specific event that’s traumatic and helps take the pain away from that event so you are able to move forward. It is fast and can normally be done in one session. It is ideal if you want to move forward and not be held back by past trauma as it deals with it fully and you won’t need to keep talking about it after.

      I hope this is helpful and if you have any other questions let me know 🙂

      • Partha Banerjee

        Hi Natalie,

        Thank you so much for such a wonderful and detailed response.

        I think you’ve certainly hit the nail on the head for me.

        I know for a fact whenever I feel an emotional response (typically connected to my grief) I immediately shut down, turn off, and think about something else.

        It’s almost as though I don’t want to deal with it.

        I have actually read that this is something that many people do, but unfortunately their grief or sadness never goes away until it is “dealt with”.

        I like to think of myself as an emotional person (in a good way), and I know it’s definitely not a “macho, I’m a man” thing, as I don’t act like this in my everyday life.

        I’ve also read about EFT before, but in truth, I simply glossed over it.

        I am very much going through a transitional period in my life, especially in terms of understanding my own thoughts and emotions, and trying to learn about methods and techniques that I may have previously avoided and ignored.

        What I have learned so far certainly makes a lot of sense to me, and much of what you’ve spoken about here is along the same lines.

        I’m very much looking forward to your post on EFT, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of questions on that subject too.

        Thanks again Natalie, I appreciate you taking the time to respond in such an informative way.

        Partha

        • Natalie

          Hi Partha,

          You’re very welcome 🙂 I think this is a very common response to anything that is too painful. Quite often that takes us into the dorsal vagal part of the nervous system- the part responsible for shut down, typically our ‘freeze response.’ And your right, unfortunately it’s one of those have to move through it situations to stop it happening. However the good news is that this doesn’t have to be done all at once once, and I would recommend having an experienced practitioner or therapist to guide you through it, as it is very hard to do on our own. Any of these healing modalities will have a profound effect on your nervous system and neural pathways and help you to move through the grief and come out the other side- I hugely recommend anything like EFT, EMDR, timeline therapy or certain types of hypnotherapy as dealing with the subconscious is key in these types of situations.

          I will definitely let you know when I do a post specifically on Eft as it is such a useful tool (I use it most days when needed) and it is something you can do to help yourself feel better straight away. I wish you all the best on your healing journey and let me know how you get on with EFT 🙂

  • Andrew

    These are really good tips as they help us gain insight into how we function as individuals.
    I like how you say ‘The brain operates on a ‘use it or lose it’ principle.’ This is so true, and the more we can affirm to our mind positive affirmations, the stronger and more resilient our character will become.
    The anchors are a great way of disconnecting ourselves from the emotion and bringing us back to the present moment where we can actually process what is going on and then decide how to deal with it in the most appropriate way.
    I’m a great fan of meditation and mindfulness as ways of gaining more control over our automatic/unconscious responses to lives events. Any time we can pause, take a breath and evaluatate the situation before reacting is to our advantage.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Natalie

      Hi Andrew, glad you like the tools. Yes, anchoring is a great way of recreating a desirable emotional state, therefore steering us away from negative emotions we feel in the present. I totally agree about meditation, it gives us a chance to pause automatic responses and make a different choice for ourselves, so is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Glad you enjoyed this post 🙂

  • Christine

    Hi Natalie,

    I am a very sensitive person, one can always tell how I feel or what I think by looking at my face. I can’t hide any emotion … I also feel other people’s emotions easily, good, bad, and sad ones … I am often attuned to it, I can’t explain how and why, but it happens to me a lot.
    I did the tapping technique once, and I liked it. I was reading a book and it mentioned EFT in one of its chapters, adding a tapping exercise. I did that exercise several times and it was very helpful. Then, after I put the book down, I forgot about it, but I would like to learn more about it and practice it more. So, I am really interested in reading your post next week. Please let me know when it will be out 🙂
    I have done meditation before, but I have not focused on midfullness meditation. How can I start doing that as a beginner? I have a nice, quite spot outside where I can meditate, and I use a meditation app, but I also would like to do it without the app.

    • Natalie

      Hi Christine, I totally relate to what you’re saying. It’s that feeling of wearing your heart on your sleeve, isn’t it? And as you describe, being sensitive is a truly amazing gift, but it can also be a little exhausting, can’t it?

      From what you’ve described, it sounds like you might be an empath so this might be helpful for you to look into as knowing how to look after yourself within that can be really helpful. I think one of the main reasons for this, might be because in everyone’s brain there is something called mirror neurons. It is the part of our brain responsible for picking up emotional cues off of other people and what helps us to be able to identify with them. It is thought that in the case of empathy, they have a heightened mirror neuron network, so this might be why empathy feel others emotions more deeply.

      In terms of EFT, it’s such a great resource and I’m so glad you found it helpful! My following post is here: https://practisedtoprodance.com/the-highly-sensitive-persons-toolkit-techniques-for-highly-sensitive-performers-to-thrive/

      I’m also planning on doing a separate post on EFT as am currently in the process of training up as an EFT practitioner, so can drop you a link when I post that if you would like? I do recommend guided meditation to begin with, just as it helps you concentrate on training your focus and helps you notice when your mind starts to drift- what I find can be quite helpful if you don’t want to use an app us to download a guided meditation on your phone that you don’t need internet for, so you can just sit down and hit play. But if you would like to try it unassisted, I recommend just starting with focusing on your breath. Then switching to what you can hear, then just doing a body scan really focusing on what you can feel: starting with your head, then your shoulders, your back, your sit bones your feet etc. It’s important to note that your mind might try and boomerang back to what your we’re focusing on before eg if you switch from sounds to body sensations so it’s important here to just reorient your mind on what you’re currently focusing on. I’d also recommend to begin, just starting with 5-10 minutes, as it takes time to get used to that level of concentration. One 5 minute session of good concentration is better than 20 minutes with your mind drifting for most of it, coz we’re not used to it. (At least this is what I’ve found has worked best for me when building it up :D) Hope this helps and if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask! 🙂

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