Are you an HSP?

If you can answer yes to this question, you most likely know that an HSP is a Highly Sensitive Person.

Everything exists on a continuum; that includes the inherent trait of sensitivity that is tied to our temperament. As a general rule, HSP’s react more sensitively to the world around them; they tend to react more intensely and feel things more deeply. Here are some more specific characteristics of a highly sensitive person:

  • Other people’s moods will affect you and you are able to pick up on the subtleties of mood changes.
  • You are affected by loud noises and bright lights. You can be sensitive to clothing (no wool please!)
  • You startle easily.
  • You tend to shy away from watching anything too violent on TV.
  • You have a greater ability to empathize.
  • You are sensitive to pain.
  • Conflict and criticism are felt deeply and as a result, you tend to not do well with either.
  • You are perceptive and pick up things in the environment others might not notice.
  • You have a deep appreciation for the arts.

Being an HSP is not something you can change as it is part of your temperament. But it is important to be aware of how you process the world as many HSP’s can feel misunderstood, or don’t understand why they feel “different” than others around them. Understanding what it means to being a highly sensitive person is the first step in integrating and adjusting it into your self-care.

See yourself in this post? You may be interested in the following quiz:

Photo credit: http://Photo by John Reign Abarintos on Unsplash

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A Little Quote about Life

I love this little quote about life:

“We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize we only have one.” – Tom Hiddleston

To me this quote is about the ability we have to design our own life. It is about where we choose to spend our energy each day; the commitment to daily self-care, the connections we create in our comings and goings, the effort we place in self-reflection and growth, the time carved out for love, work, play and rest.

At the end of each day, busy or quiet, we want to be able to feel that we are in the driver’s seat of our own life. It isn’t about getting through each day, its about what we can create for ourselves; life by our own design 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Boosting the Feel Good Chemicals

In an article entitled “10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally” and featured on GoodTherapy, we read about different ways to increase the amount of our ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brain. Some of what they recommend brings us back to the basics of proper nutrition and exercise, but a few that they featured, gave me pause for thought:

  • Gratitude: “Scientific research has shown gratitude affects the brain’s reward system. It correlates with the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude has been directly linked to increased happiness.”
  • Goal Achievement: “When we achieve one of our goals, our brain releases dopamine. The brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. It seeks out more dopamine by working toward another goal. Larger goals typically come with increased dopamine. However, it’s best to start with small goals to improve your chances of success.”
  • Happy Memories: “Researchers have examined the interaction between mood and memory. They focused on the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with attention. People reliving sad memories produced less serotonin in that region. People dwelling on happy memories produced more serotonin.”

What I especially like about these suggestions is  that they are all doable. We can choose to jot down what we are grateful for, create our to-do list and start plugging away, look through old photos to trigger happy memories. Little boosts to the our brain and our feel good chemicals; sounds like a good plan to me 🙂

To read the full article:

Photo credit: http://Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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There is Comfort in Grief

As anyone who follows my blog regularly, you know that I lost my mom last November. Although I rely on the knowledge that grief has its own timeline, I also know inherently, that I will forever miss her. She played an integral role in my life, was a strong member of my support circle, and I consider her to be one of my kindred spirits. And although I still have times of deep, grief filled moments, I also have happy moments, peaceful moments, joyful moments.

The other day on my way to work I stopped at my parents house to pick up some pieces of foam that we are going to use for camping. I jammed them into my car, drove to work and quite contentedly put my day in; I saw 5 clients, and spent time outside reading at lunch. At the end of my day, I was heading to the car thinking about who knows what, when as soon as I opened the car door, what instantly greeted me was the smell of my parents home. I felt immediate comfort. (Then proceeded to smile and take in the biggest of deep breaths!)

From a logical perspective, I know it was the foam, retaining the smell of their home. From an emotional perspective, for just an instant, all was well with the world,  for I felt them with me. There is comfort in grief.

Photo credit: Me! This is a childhood picture visiting Montmerency Falls near Quebec City.

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Our ‘Hindsight Glasses’

When we are looking back in our life as a way of understanding something, we do so through our ‘hindsight glasses.’ These are the spectacles we put on long after the event or relationship is over as a way of trying to process who we were at the time or why we made the choices that we did.

As the old saying goes “Hindsight is 20/20.” Looking back, things are clearer for us and we can look at the situation more objectively. Our hindsight glasses bring clarity because much of the emotion has been processed and we are left with our rational brain. Although this process can often bring closure to clients, it also runs the risk of allowing ourselves undue blame. Although important to take accountability for the choices that we made so as to learn from them, our hindsight glasses can also see things so clearly that we turn on ourselves with questions such as “Why did I stay so long?” or “I should have known better. What is wrong with me?”

I like to remind clients that looking back is an important step in moving forward, but to remember that when we put on our hindsight glasses, we do that with all of the experience we have gained along the way. That is an important element, as our emotional maturity has grown over time and we will look at the situation differently and with a more critical eye.

And so, by all means, put on the hindsight glasses, but do so with compassion for yourself. For as Maya Angelou once said, “When we know better, we do better.”

Photo credit: http://Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash

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Two Common Thinking Traps of the Anxious Mind

There are times when our internal dialogue works against us. Sometimes this comes in the form of our core beliefs, but other times it can come from our thinking styles. For someone with anxiety, two common thinking traps tend to have the capacity to influence and reinforce their anxious mind:

  • Catastrophising: the tendency to magnify the situation; to blow things out of proportion. This is really the “what if” kind of thinking that can lead someone into a loop of rumination, as they work themselves into worst case scenario thinking. It is the type of thinking style that keeps you very centered on the future, and what you can’t control. Very often, what started out as a legitimate worry, becomes so magnified that it takes over the ability to rationalize it.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Very often, we imagine we know what others are thinking and begin to guess at what their actions mean; we become so focused on what it “could mean” that we lose sight of using effective communication, and end up in another all consuming thought loop.

The first step to changing a thinking style is simply to recognize it. Understanding that it has developed as a habit can give us permission to create newer, healthier thinking styles that focus more on the present and on what we know. Allowing our logic to play some role in our thinking will take away some of the power that our emotions have in those moments.

With the overall goal of having flexible thought, we can begin to recognize when we are feeling trapped by our thinking and remind ourselves to “Take a deep breath, focus on the facts, ask for clarification or support.”

Photo credit: http://Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

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A Great Quote by Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey, one of the funniest comics to come out of Canada, has also been transparent with the public about his struggle with mental illness. He has this to say about depression:

“I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.”

– Jim Carrey

We don’t always have a choice in feeling depressed; sometimes it can be due to circumstances as we might be experiencing grief and loss, other times, it comes from a chemical imbalance. In either case, we do have a choice in how we deal with it. And by lining ourselves up to best handle feeling blue, we are giving ourselves the proactive gift of being on the road to healing.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Jan Sedivy on Unsplash

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A Great Book On Attachment

If you have ever wanted to get an easy to read, common sense book on attachment, I have just finished reading one that I highly recommend!

Entitled “Attached.” by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, subtitled “The new science of adult attachment  how it can help you find – and keep – love,” this book will bring you through the three styles of attachment most commonly found in adult relationships:

Adult attachment designates three main ‘attachment styles’ or manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships, which parallel those found in children: Secure, Anxious and Avoidant. Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, and are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness. All people in our society fall into one of these categories, or more rarely, into a combination of the latter two (anxious and avoidant.) Just over 50% are secure, around 20% are anxious, 24% are avoidant, and the remaining 3 to 5% fall into the fourth, less common category.”

Levine and Heller help the reader to not only understand attachment theory in the context of our romantic relationships, they help us to identify which style we, and our partners, ascribe to (with quizzes – got to love those!) and chapters on how to create change so as to move towards secure attachment. I loved this quote about the importance of secure attachment as a way to independence:

If we had to describe the basic premise of adult attachment in one sentence, it would be: If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, find the right person to depend on and travel down it with that person. Once you understand this, you’ve grasped the essence of attachment theory.”

And finally:

“A relationship, from an attachment perspective, should make you feel more self-confident and give you peace of mind. If it doesn’t, this is a wake-up call.”

A real gem of a book; it will help you not only understand your partner, but most importantly, yourself, and the relationships that you have been drawn to based on the attachment style that was formed in your childhood. “Attached.” is a worthy read.

Photo credit: Me!

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Independence or Lack of Commitment?

We are a relationship species; we feel supported when connected to others. We thrive in our emotional life when we can be comfortable in our vulnerability; when we can depend on the people in our life who are stable and consistent in their love and action.

And so why do some people struggle with commitment? Sometimes it comes in the form of subtle distancing – being evasive as to making plans,  making independent decisions while in the context of a relationship, avoiding answering text messages, pulling away when feeling stressed. Sometimes lack of commitment plays the bigger hand and the relationship stalls when it is time to move in together or marry.

In either case, a dissonance is created, as the person who lacks commitment also desires attachment. The very system that allows someone to be open in their vulnerability can also create a defensive stance. For the person who holds love at an arm’s length, they have learned that although desirable, love is not dependable.

Understanding attachment is one of the easiest ways of getting a handle on why we may choose “independence” or commitment. I place independence in italics, as we need to both provide and receive emotional anchors in our life to be individualized in our relationships. Tomorrow I will feature a wonderful book and resource on attachment that I just finished reading. I loved every bit of it! 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Ana Toma on Unsplash

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The Back and Forth of Love

Very often, clients come to therapy because of a back and forth relationship; stuck between knowing that the relationship is no longer working for them and locked into their attachment system’s eternal hope that “things might change.”

I came across this song by Toronto artist Barbara Lica called “Before I Do.” To me, it embodies what I often refer to as the “change it, accept it, or leave it” work we need to do when faced with an issue we feel lost in.

Before I Do

Before I start to make the bed 
Before the pictures in my head 
Before I paint the walls a shade of blue 
To match the carpet in the living room 

Before I do 
Before you don’t 
Before I let my foolish heart begin to hope 
Before I ask you where you’ve been

Tell me, darling, are you out or are you in?

So if I give you all my time 
And let my stories flow like wine 
Should I believe you when you tell me how 
You’ve never felt the way you feel right now 

Tell me, darling, are you out 
Or are you in?

Tomorrow’s post will explore the trappings of the inability to commit.

To listen to Barbara Lica’s song:

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