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the ultimate guide

highly sensitive person self care

“Keep watering yourself. You’re growing.”

E. RUSSELL

why self care is such a big deal for highly sensitive people

Self care is a big deal for highly sensitive people.  All people need self care of course, but there are a few reasons why highly sensitive people need to be particularly diligent about it.

1. HSPS ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO STRESS

HSPs have a more reactive stress response system than non-HSPs. In other words, it takes less to trigger an HSP's body to produce stress hormones and to go into a fight-or-flight reaction than it takes to trigger a non-HSP's body. The research evidence for this is nicely summarized by Dr. W. Thomas Boyce in The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive.

2. EXCESSIVE STRESS MAKES YOU VULNERABLE TO ILLNESS

Stress is a physical phenomenon. Whenever your stress response is activated, it impacts your blood sugar levels, hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, and immune system. And when this happens too often or for too long, your body can buckle under the pressure and fall ill. To give you a sampling of illnesses potentially caused by or exacerbated by stress, this article from WebMD lists 10 stress-related health problems.

Because HSPs' bodies are more likely to be triggered into the stress response, they are also more likely to get sick.  Dr. Boyce, for example, found in his research that children who had higher stress reactivity (ie. highly sensitive children) and who lived in a stressful family environment had more frequent and more severe illnesses than children with lower stress reactivity who also lived in a stressful family environment.

So the same level of stress in the environment, but the highly sensitive children would get sick more. It makes sense when you think about the fact that the highly sensitive children's bodies would be more easily impacted by the stressful environment.

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3. SELF CARE PLAYS A ROLE IN STRESS RESILIENCE AND STRESS RECOVERY

So this sucks, right? We are more vulnerable to stress, and therefore, more vulnerable to illness.

Luckily though, it’s not all doom and gloom.  Let me share with you two pieces of good news.

First of all, Dr. Boyce found that in a secure environment, the children with higher stress reactivity got sick less than the children with lower stress reactivity.  Even though they did worse than other kids in a "bad" environment, they did better than other kids in a "good" environment. So put HSPs in the right setting and expect us to thrive. :)

The second piece of good news is that if stress is negatively impacting you, then there's a whole host of things that can be done to improve the situation. Stress is a beast that CAN be tamed and self care is a big part of that equation.  Certain kinds of self care can help you be more resilient against stress as well as recover quicker when your stress response does get activated.  

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COMPONENTS OF SELF CARE FOR HIGHLY SENSITIVE PEOPLE

Sometimes self care is seen as having bubble baths and getting your nails done.  There’s nothing wrong with that genre of activity, but for most highly sensitive people, self care is much broader than that.  Here are three components of self care that are crucial for most highly sensitive people to pay attention to.

1. SPECIAL ATTENTION TO BASIC NEEDS

Your body and brain need enough rest, movement, and nutrition to function optimally.  If these needs are not sufficiently met, it constitutes an internal stressor that makes it harder for you to face external stressors.  I’m sure you have already experienced these principles in action.  How does it feel to do life when you are well rested, moving regularly, and feeding yourself lots of nourishing whole foods?  How does it feel to do life when you are sleep deprived, have no time to work out, and are surviving on mostly processed foods?  Anyone will notice the difference, but attending to these basic needs is particularly important for HSPs because of our vulnerability to stress.  When we take care of our bodies, we help ourselves stay more resilient and put ourselves in a better, stronger position for dealing with the stressors “out in the wild”.

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2. MORE DOWN TIME

HSPs feel more and process more.  Our own emotions are triggered more easily and more intensely than non-HSPs.  And as if that wasn’t enough, we also carry other people’s emotions in our bodies.  Add to that the mental energy expenditure from our penchant for deep processing and thinking things through.  Even if we have learned strategies for lessening the impact of all that, it’s still a lot.  This means that our brains and bodies are taxed more and we need more rest.  Down time.  Quiet time.  Recharging.  Relaxation.  Call it what you want, but as an HSP, you need it. 🙂    

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3. TOOLS AND STRATEGIES FOR REGULATING EMOTIONS AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

Rest is a must, but the thing about feeling all those feelings is that it’s not just an energy sink.  When the emotions are not processed - when you have no way to move through and release all that nervous system activation - you stay stuck a lot and accumulate a lot of trauma in your body.  Luckily, there are lots of tools and strategies that can help with regulating and processing emotions.  My faves are breathwork, compassion meditation, and Parts Work.

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