High sensitivity (HS) in a nutshell has to do with the amount of information that a person has to process.
The highly sensitive individual has a cognitive style that allows more sensory information to enter and also processes this flow of information in more detail. While HS is often related in the public mind to sensitivity to sounds, smells, and light, it is also related to human interactions, such as being aware of other people’s emotional and physical responses and detailed processing. of conversational or theoretical information.
For example, highly sensitive people (HPS) often feel like they have to work harder than others to engage in quick conversations. You might say that by the time you have successfully thought about what one person said, two others have already added more ideas to the mix. Sometimes it can seem impossible to keep up. For very sensitive people, the world often seems to move very fast. Even a hundred years ago, in the days of Ford Model-Ts and telegraph cables, a highly sensitive individual might have complained that the world was running incomprehensibly fast.
Environmental Sensitivities and ADD … We Are All Getting “Overly Sensitive” But sometime in the last thirty years or so, our technology and speed of life has outpaced the ability to keep up with even the non-sentient among us. Increasingly, as a culture, we feel overwhelmed and stressed by the pace of life around us.
Call center workers need to speed up the pace of their calls. Technology makes it unnecessary to spend even the few seconds required to enter a phone number manually. High-powered executives get up at 2 a.m. to check on the opening of the stock market in Europe or field calls from subsidiaries in Asia. More and more children and adults suffer from environmental sensitivities and sensory integration difficulties as the world moves forward faster than any of us can process. In fact, George Washington University neurologist and professor Richard Restak suggests: “As a result of the increasing demands on our attention and focus, our brains try to adapt by rapidly shifting attention from one activity to another, a strategy that is now almost a requirement for survival. As a consequence, attention deficit disorder is becoming an epidemic in both children and adults. ” It could even be more accurate to propose that our attention capacities are not “deficient” but overwhelmed.
Every weekend it seems that the local newspaper sends us a double message. “There are so many exciting, necessary or possible things to do in your life.” At the same time, the health pages are packed with other articles reflecting on the damaging effects of fast-paced life on the family and in the workplace. Articles appear about children with excessive hours and stress on pets. My neighbor is no longer on the other side of the fence. I can Skype her in her hotel room in Beijing to ask if I should water her garden.
When the speed of life increases for no reason, our physical body suffers and we become aware of it. We can look to the environment for reasons for the way we feel, and we can try to eliminate “environmental hazards” that we think we can control, such as chemicals in the copier, additives in our food, and perfume from our neighbors. While this may be a natural response, sometimes we may be barking up the wrong tree if other relevant interpersonal, emotional, and arousal-related pressures are not addressed as well.
A personal experience …
In New York City I dined at a table for 16 in a room with 250 other people. The noise level was incredible. We took it up with a “leisurely” stroll through the busy streets of New York and ended at 11pm in Times Square, surrounded by flashing lights, story-tall electronic billboards, and thousands of people moving chaotically. The cumulative effect of that now “normal” stimulation was to leave me feeling overwhelmed, panicky, and wanting to escape to my hotel room to digest the experience. I had reached my “subjective limit” of overstimulation and wanted outside!
The subjective experience of overstimulation is the same for everyone.
Highly sensitive or just sensitive, we can all get to the point of being overstimulated and when we do the inner experience is exactly the same for all of us … aversion, irritation, guilt of self or others and a terrifying desire to escape.
As our social and physical environment becomes increasingly complex and fast-paced, more and more of us reach moments or levels of overstimulation that are difficult to tolerate.
As the world speeds up around us, we all begin to respond as if we are “highly sensitive people” because we all constantly live too close to our personal edge of overstimulation.
Whenever we reach our personal point of overstimulation, and when that experience becomes more and more frequent, our choices become identical to those of the highly sensitive person. We can melt away and expect others to take care of us, we can misbehave and coercively in an attempt to change or control the situation, we can lash out in anger, run away, or isolate ourselves too rigidly.
Alternatively, we may respond by acting consciously and responsibly to reduce our righ now stimulation level or proactively working to reduce the overall level of stimulation we are exposed to
The skills of the highly sensitive person become relevant to all of us.
The idea that we might want or need to set voluntary limits on ourselves … the wisdom to track our own responses, physical and emotional, the requirement to be responsible for our own personal care, our willingness to accept that we may not be capable to do everything, to do it all the time or as fast or for as long as other people do … it needs to be strengthened.
We need to be more in tune with our own nature and that of others around us. We need to learn to recognize the signs of overstimulation and stress in ourselves and in those we love. We need to be willing to control and reduce our level of stimulation and that of those around us.
Reduce overstimulation, increase self-respect.
Reducing the stress caused by overstimulation requires a special kind of discipline, an inner will to “buck the bias” and to set limits on ourselves. It can even mean having the personal strength to risk appearing “slow” compared to others at times. At the same time, being willing to respect your own realistic limits is an act of great self-respect.
As a result, taking a stand and asking others to respect your individual limits in terms of stimulation increases feelings of control, efficacy, and leads directly to increased feelings of self-worth.
Restak, R. (2003) The new brain, how the modern age is reconfiguring your mind, Emmaus, PA., P. 45