Saturday, December 22, 2012

HSPs and Health Worries-- More on Positive Framing

My previous post "High Sensitivity is not an "Illness:" Framing our lives in a more positive fashion" got a lot of attention-- along with a lot of feedback (some good, some not so good) through various HSP forums and groups.

Today-- on the day following what many (mistakenly) believed would mark "The End of the World," I wanted to follow up with some more thoughts on how we can sometimes "create our own problems," simply by virtue of how we think about-- and act on-- things that happen to us all the time, in our everyday lives. This day seemed appropriate, in the wake of so many people "freaking out and panicking" based on only the flimsiest-- or none at all-- "evidence" that the world might come to an end... essentially, mass hysteria based in fear.

Specifically, I wanted to delve into the often "delicate" issue of HSPs and health... and our propensity for often making things worse than they are. Don't get me wrong-- it's no secret that many HSPs struggle with an array of "health-related issues."

However, some of these issues can also be viewed from the angle of "creating a negative reality."  Specifically, I wanted to examine that tricky issue of what is part of being an HSP and what is not part of being an HSP... including the fact that excessive worry about your health can actually be bad for your health!

Most people will agree that part of being a Highly Sensitive Person is being extremely "tuned in" to ourselves and to our surrounding environment. This higher awareness can be a really good thing-- it can (in particular) help us detect problems before they become problems. Now, we can also consider HSPs-- as a group of people-- and determine that we tend to be fairly health conscious. I should add here that this does not necessarily mean "healthy," just "health CONSCIOUS."

Being aware of things happening in your body-- tiny changes in how you feel; tiny twinges; even the rhythms of your own heart and breathing-- is definitely a part of being an HSP. Certain more psychic-intuitive HSPs may even be able to "see" what is happening within them, and make a correct assessment not only as to what is going on, but as to whether or not it is "serious." But that's effectively about where it ends.

Which brings us around to the issue of "creating a negative reality." An surprisingly large number of HSPs "interpret" these tiny changes and twinges in their bodies from a deeply "fatalistic" perspective. There's a tiny pale spot on their arm (noticed, because they are highly sensitive) and their first thought is that they have skin cancer, and then are off to see 47 specialists. Or they have a tiny twinge in their midsection... and immediately attribute it to a rare gastro-intestinal illness. Or a tiny twitch in their big toe... which is automatically interpreted as a dangerous neurological condition.

What is the deal, here? I'm talking about otherwise well-adjusted people, here.

Being "aware" of tiny things happening to how you're feeling is definitely part of being an HSP... however, "going off" and having something akin to an anxiety attack each time you feel one is very likely NOT.

Certainly, "awareness" is part of a bigger picture that makes us HSPs-- as I wrote previously, "being highly AWARE" is a defining part of the trait. However, HOW WE RESPOND is an individual "thing" that is largely an individual choice. And overall, "blaming" our extreme responses on the trait hardly serves us very well.

The good news about all this is... well...  that "having a health anxiety attack," is something you can definitely seek help for, work on and move past.

A deeper concern is that when we see the tiny pale spot on our arm and immediately respond with "OMG! I have cancer!" we are subconsciously focusing a large amount of our energy on "cancer," thereby making it (at the very least) more likely that we'll actually get/have cancer!

Whether we believe in the metaphysical aspects of the equation, it's well documented that thoughts do have a way of turning into things.

Now, I recognize this probably a "touchy" subject for many HSPs-- and I can already hear a couple of unhappy peanut galleries "going off" on me for writing these words.

One of them is pointing to "that one time" when their shoulder itched and it was a precursor to a heart condition. I absolutely honor that. You were totally right.

Our lovely dog Daisy barks incessantly at EVERYthing. People in the street, squirrels crossing the lawn, the wind, a leaf falling... we (only halfway) joke that she'll go off "because a butterfly farted, three counties away." Daisy's "sensitivity" is not only annoying (noisy) to us, it's annoying to neighbors as well... and the bottom line is that nothing she has barked at here has ever been an actual threat. We do truly appreciate her "awareness" and we know she's a good guard dog... BUT unlike most dogs (even "sensitive" dogs)-- who might raise an eyebrow or an ear in "awareness," Daisy always "goes off" on a long barrage of noisy barking when a leaf falls. She does not know the meaning of a "measured and proportional response."

We're gently and lovingly trying to teach Daisy that she's a wonderful guard dog, but not everything is "a threat." What's my point? As HSPs, we sometimes need to retrain ourselves from "barking too much," before we can make sure that the "something" we're barking at... really IS something to bark at.

The other peanut gallery is going on about about how "we can't just shut it off" and-- by extension-- insisting that "we can't HELP it."

I'm not suggesting that anything be shut off. Of course you "can't help" feeling all these things in your body and your environment. However, you can "help" how you respond to them. Instead of running off to see an ear, nose and throat specialist because you just sneezed once... you might take a moment to pause and observe "Oh, I sneezed. I should keep an eye on that and see if I feel any different in a few hours-- maybe it was just stray pollen."

The issue with HSPs and feeling health-related things is not that they feel something, but how they choose to respond.

You might be thinking I'm "picking on HSPs" (I'm not-- especially since I am one, myself) and asking why I am even concerned. Two reasons: One, perceiving every tiny twinge in your body as a "health threat" is actively focusing your energy and intent on everything in your vicinity actually being a health threat. As I have written many times, thoughts become things! Intent creates.

The second reason I'm concerned has to do with having a clear understanding of what it "means" to be highly sensitive... heightened awareness IS definitely part of the trait... but extreme reactions to what we are "aware of" is not. In many cases, if you truly feel that you "can't help" how you react to things you feel... it may not be "because" you're an HSP-- it's most likely because you actually do have an anxiety or panic disorder of some kind.... and addressing that one issue can help you not have to spend the rest of your life feeling like you are "dealing with something terrible" every time your big toe feels a little "odd."

As we enter these times of "Awakening" and "Ascension," one of the common threads is love and compassion-- for others, and for the self. One of the things we can do for ourselves is to not respond from fear, when something happens within us.

Talk Back! Are you generally a healthy person? Do you often worry about your health? Do small changes in the way you feel cause you to feel alarmed? Have you ever been told that you "worry too much" about your health? Do you feel like you have a balanced sense of where your feelings are simply "because you're an HSP," and where you might actually BE "worrying too much?" Do you sometimes feel like you might be better off you could "worry less?" Share your experience-- leave a comment!

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  1. Thank you for this article! I think it's fantastic and absolutely spot on. I've had a ton of health problems growing up, many of which, I believe, have been the result of thoughts like "oh no, my face feels congested. I probably have another sinus infection. Sinus infections feel terrible! Now I need to go to the doctor. Ah, I don't have time to go to the doctor. If I go to the doctor, I'm going to be stuck in line and end up wasting my whole day. And then I'll be tired and cranky and sick and I won't be able to go to work tomorrow. I can't miss work! Man, now that I'm thinking about it, work is so stressful! Life sucks!"

    And on and on and on. This is how my brain works. I stress myself out so much over every sniffle to the point that it DOES become a sinus infection, even if it really wasn't one before. I think I could probably avoid a lot of illness if I could chill out a little bit.

    This is definitely one of the things I'm trying to work on - thinking "okay, I'm a little stuffy. This happens. Life will go on" instead of the previously mentioned panic attack type of reaction. If I can do this, I think I will end up being much healthier and happier in the future.

    Really enjoy reading your articles - you acknowledge real concerns HSPs have and offer realistic, useful suggestions to reframe and respond positively. Keep 'em coming!


    PS - my parents have a dog named Daisy, too, who is also on extremely high alert ALL the time! We call her our HSD - Highly Sensitive Dog.

  2. I completely agree with the overall thinking in this article and I've experienced this phenomenon with my in-laws. The entire family becomes over-focused on health concerns so then they end up living in a bubble. What they don't realize is that I would wager that 3/4 of that bubble is of their own mental and emotional contrivance; not physical. That doesn't mean that they don't experience some of their physical symptoms or that they don't have certain diagnoses. Either way, I do think it's important to approach this topic from a "non-blaming" aspect and in order to do that it helps to offer alternatives. I have been reading the blog Conscious Transitions by Sheryl Paul for awhile now. Even though her work tends to focus on relationship anxiety, overall, she also focuses on highly sensitive people. She frankly states on her blog that if you are sensitive you may be more prone to anxiety. And, the big "solution" point that she makes which I LOVE is that we can treat anxiety as a messenger instead of making it this "bad" thing or some "disorder." In other words, maybe that twinge in your big toe doesn't mean you have a neurological disorder, but maybe it means you've got some emotions that you're stuffing down. The point is to be investigative and open-minded instead of jumping to the most "surface" conclusion to a thought or sensation. I highly recommend her site if you'd like to learn more. She's much better at explaining it than I am.


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