Updated: Feb 25, 2021
This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring my experience in working with the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in my naturopathic practice. In the first article, I pondered why stress might have a greater impact on HSP’s than non-HSPs and suggested some treatment options. They can certainly live a happy and healthy life but it can take a bit more effort for self-care. In my second HSP article, I discussed the benefits of spending time in nature and reducing the time spent in front of a screen for HSP’s. What follows is another way that someone can adjust their lifestyle to accommodate their highly sensitive nervous system.
Just getting through a regular day can be an emotional rollercoaster for a Highly Sensitive Person. Sensory overstimulation, relationship stress and/or harsh words from friends or colleagues, can challenge an HSP to just “let it go” or “shrug it off”. This can result in persistent thoughts – thoughts of self-doubt and negativity that can lead to anxiety or lower self esteem. At other times, an HSP might get overwhelmed by emotions or energies in a room, but get confused about which feelings are originating internally and which are from other people in the vicinity. This, over time, puts the nervous system on overdrive leaving the HSP exhausted, and can lead to burnout or other mental health challenges. For these reasons and more, many an HSP has found great solace in a daily meditation practice. Meditation – in particular, mindfulness meditation- teaches us how to experience our thoughts in a new way – watching them come and go instead of getting caught up in past hurts or future worries.
Research backs up the effectiveness of meditation. A 2013 study out of Thailand measured a significant drop in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in medical students before and after a 4-day mindfulness meditation workshop. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, studies the effects of meditation on mental health. One of her recent studies found that a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, better than stress management training. Herbert Benson from the Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has been researching the health impacts of meditation – or, how they term it, “the relaxation response” – since 1968. The institute is investigating the science behind the relaxation response and applying what is learned to treat patients and help prevent stress related illnesses.
Many of my highly sensitive patients have started thinking about meditation, maybe tried some on their own, but have not made it a habit. And sometimes when sitting down, their thoughts take over and increase their anxiety. I find for myself that taking a class was a great way to develop my skills and help establish a meaningful meditation routine. It wasn’t until I had an ongoing weekly class (here) that I was able to bring my practice to the next level where I could really experience the benefits of meditation. Dr. Teresa Casteels, a KW psychologist, runs an 8-wk Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy group session for people interested in experiencing the health benefits of stress reduction through mindfulness practice.
To get a sense of mindfulness meditation, you can try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free here. My favourite meditation app is headspace.