Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person

I’m just going to come right out and say it…
I think February needs to be the new January.

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As you may have guessed, January 2017 was less than stellar in my books. I started off with some fantastic intentions (I do not make New Year’s resolutions), but the universe clearly had other plans of taking me down another path.

And I’m just going to be really honest here: I felt profound sadness. It was hard, and I did not do most of the things I said I was going to do. And then I got frustrated and angry with myself, and my sadness responded by doubling itself. And then some other stuff happened within my personal circle, and in reply my sadness tripled. And then more craziness ensued in the world, and my sadness multiplied exponentially. I felt as though I had the weight of the world sitting on my chest, crushing my tender heart and making it difficult to breathe.

I was left with no other choice than to acknowledge the feeling. I had to speak the words aloud, “I am sad. I am sad and I don’t even know why.” And then I had to feel it. But a miraculous thing happened. I felt the sadness, and then I also felt it dissipate.

There is no question in my mind that we’re living in a precarious, chaotic, and seemingly irrational time. The craziness of our world is a lot to process, never mind trying to achieve anything beyond the act of getting yourself out of bed in the morning. Needless to say, I think we should be awarding medals to everyone who made it through January. Like, seriously. If you’re reading this and you survived, I salute you. (Bonus points if your sanity is still intact.) Virtual high fives and big squishy hugs, all around!

The way I see it, a new month is the perfect antidote for the confusion, hurt, and disappointment that seemed to dominate my introduction to 2017. That’s why I’m taking a personal Mulligan. A do-over. I’m pressing the reset button, wiping the slate clean and starting anew, with a fresh perspective, renewed enthusiasm, pure energy, and a positive attitude.

But I’m also able to look back at the past month with a sense of appreciation—for teaching me, although painfully at times, some valuable and much-needed lessons. In retrospect, I can see how all the crappy stuff that happened was the universe’s way of getting all up in my face and creating the prime conditions for me to recognize my own self-destructive patterns. And, if I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure I heard the universe call me out.

A small, yet incredibly powerful voice from somewhere deep inside me began to ask: “How serious are you, really? How bad do you really want this stuff? When life gets hard, are you going to curl up into a ball, or do you want it bad enough to actually fight for it? What are you going to do now? How will you respond?”

January, in all its cruelty and harsh insensitivity, was a severe blow to my tender heart. In the past I may have been inclined to just crawl back into my bed, pull the covers up, snuggle in tight, and hide for a while. But after reflecting on both my experiences and reactions, and taking into consideration what has been working for me and what absolutely hasn’t, I’m pleased to say I’ve learned a thing or two—or maybe even eight.

And because sharing is caring, I’ve decided to post these lessons here, particularly for those of us who lean toward the more sensitive end of the spectrum, as my essential tips for surviving in this crazy world when nothing seems to make sense and the world seems to be slipping off its axis:

Begin with awareness

As with just about everything else in the known universe, surviving (and thriving) as a sensitive person in this world begins with awareness. What I’m really talking about here is self-awareness and having a clear understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. When you work on developing your own self-awareness, it allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude, and your response to them in the moment. Self-awareness really is the first and most important step toward creating what you want and living as the master of your own life. When you take a step back and witness yourself as an objective observer, what do you notice? Whether you are interested in stopping a specific kind of emotional reaction, changing beliefs or behavior, quieting the critical voice in your head, or creating more love and happiness in your life, you must begin with awareness.

Make self-love and self-care the top priority

I’m sure I’ve talked about this at least a thousand times, but this message is so important it bears repeating. And I will continue to shout it, loud and proud, from the rooftops, over and over again, until everyone who needs this message gets to hear it. Self-love and self-care are not selfish; they are absolutely essential. Who is going to take care of you, if not for you? Do not expect anyone else to do it for you, because if you do you are giving away your power and making yourself a victim. Sorry, I know I am starting to get a bit preachy here, but it’s only because I believe so wholeheartedly in the necessity of taking good care of yourself and loving yourself above all else. You can only take care of others if you take care of yourself first. You can only love and have successful relationships with others if you love yourself first. You and your needs are important, and you need to ensure your thoughts and actions line up with that reality. Do something nice for yourself everyday, just because you are you and you deserve it.

Feel all feelings

This is a doozy for anyone who identifies as a highly sensitive person, because we have so many feelings and experience them with great intensity, but it applies to everyone, all the same. By their nature, emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. It is so essential that we allow the energy of our emotions to move through us, rather than stuffing them down inside, numbing out, or denying the experience. Stifling emotion can actually be very detrimental to your well being—both physically and emotionally. Granted, it takes work and practice to feel your feelings, and can be a little uncomfortable, particularly in the beginning, but learning to identify feelings and exploring into the messages they bring us is an invaluable survival skill. Simply start with the awareness of noticing and then allowing the feelings to naturally come up and out, without controlling them. Depending on the intensity of the emotion, sometimes physical expression is called for. This might mean finding a safe place to scream into a pillow, letting the tears flow, or even kicking and punching into the air (make sure you have a large enough space around you to do this so you won’t hurt yourself or break anything). Turn on your favourite music and dance as if no one is watching to allow the energy of your emotion to move through you. Journaling and talking with a trusted friend, family member or professional are also great options. Although the context was entirely different for Shrek, no truer words have been spoken and the sentiment is the same when it comes to emotion: they’re “better out than in”.

Be realistic about goals and intentions

Another honesty alert: this is a really big one for me. As a highly-driven and self-critical perfectionist, I have a pattern of biting off more than I can chew, which usually results in overwhelm and frustration because I just can’t do it all. In follow up to this, my next tendency is to get mean and chastise myself for all of the places I’ve fallen short. I am seriously living and learning this in real time, right now, and so I speak from the heart when I say it’s best to be honest, practical, and realistic with yourself when it comes to setting goals and intentions. Even better, remember to keep it simple: start with one small thing at a time and allow yourself to fully master it so you can use your accomplishment as a building block to further success. Remember to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals, and break down the big stuff into smaller chunks with detailed action plan steps. In this way, you will be better able to see your progress in terms of the baby steps you make along the way. Please trust me when I say this can be very encouraging, as every bit of progress made in the direction of your goals counts as a win. I’ve recently started making lists again, and it’s truly incredible for keeping me focused and on track. One last note on this topic: please be very kind and extra gentle with yourself, and remember you are aiming for progress, not perfection.

Limit exposure to negativity

The bottom line on this one is that you basically should not, under any circumstances, listen to the haters. I know this is hard, considering the prevalence of negativity, doom, and gloom that seems to be all around us at the moment. But again, when we begin with the awareness of where negativity is coming from in our lives—be it a specific person or people, or mainstream and social media, we are better equipped to take action to protect ourselves from it. Please do not underestimate the fact that all of the sensory impressions we take in have an impact on us, and there is definitely a danger in being overexposed. We can become anxious and angry as we gradually and unknowingly take on the negativity as our own. for this very reason, coupled with my sensitivity, I’ve personally made the conscious decision to steer clear of the mainstream media for some time, and have also found it helpful to limit the amount of time I spend on social media platforms recently as well. I encourage you to take note of how you feel after spending time around certain people. Ask yourself what your triggers are. Listen to what your heart says and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your wellbeing.

Acknowledge the darkness and counter with the light

Yes, there is darkness in the world. Acknowledge and accept the reality. Know the truth of it. Even understand the necessity of it. Then find a piece of positivity to counter balance the darkness with a little bit of light. There are two ways I like to do this. This first is practicing gratitude, and before you go grumbling about how terrible everything in your life is, know you can always, always, always find something to be grateful for. Once you start looking for the good stuff by cultivating a gratitude practice, seeing it gets easier, and you’ll be re-wiring your brain in the process. Make practicing gratitude a daily habit, and watch what happens in your life as a result.

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The second tool for focusing on positivity is using mantras and affirmations. Repeating a personal mantra or affirmation is a way of feeding the subconscious with encouraging thoughts and messages. Come up with a set of personal mantras or affirmations that you can repeat to yourself many times a day, whether you’re encountering challenges or just want to set the tone for a positive experience throughout your day. You can also write your mantras/affirmations on sticky notes and place them in various places where you will see them throughout the day, such as a bathroom mirror, computer monitor, or on the dash of your car.

Always choose love over fear

Consider this scientifically proven fact: Fear is accompanied by a contraction of energy and vibrates at a relative resonance of 100, while love is an expansion of energy that vibrates at a relative resonance or speed of 500. Even if none of this makes any sense to you whatsoever, all you really need to know is that it’s always better for your actions to be underpinned and motivated by the energy of love, as opposed to that of fear. This is the simple science behind the reason why it’s always preferable to align yourself in support of something, instead of being against the opposite. This point, perhaps above all the others, is worth keeping at the top of our minds during these tumultuous times.

Allow time for rest

As humans, many of us have a crazy compulsion to stay in perpetual motion. We literally push ourselves to the point of exhaustion—and beyond, functioning on caffeine and fumes. We get antsy when someone asks us to sit still for a moment. There’s always just one (or maybe two or five) more items on our to-do list that have to be addressed, like, immediately. We view rest as something for the weak and meager, rather than an essential component of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. So, in case you haven’t picked up on what I’m putting down, I’m just going to spell it out for you: the importance of investing in rest cannot be overstated. Taking a five-minute break away from a hectic day to meditate and reset your nervous system can be extremely beneficial, translating in stress reduction and increased feelings of peace. All you need to do is set a timer for five minutes, close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Allow your thoughts to come and go, and just keep coming back to the breath, over and over. Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose—except for maybe anger, depression, anxiety, insecurity, and fear. In fact, I bet you’ll start to notice a difference with a consistent practice of as little as five minutes per day.

Once again, I speak from personal experience when I say the dangers of not getting enough sleep  are very real. When I am operating on a sleep-deficit, which is pretty much anything under eight hours a night, I am more emotional, cognitively impaired, and less able to deal with life in general. I’ve noticed the same to be true for my children and other adults with whom I interact on a regular basis. Although my children (and many others who suffer from lack of sleep) are reluctant to admit, they are more acutely sensitive and less able to deal with routine challenges and setbacks when they are over tired. The good news is that when you take control of the reigns by strictly enforcing a set bedtime for yourself, you will slowly and gradually begin to feel better and be more productive. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my mood and motivation levels as a result of sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule for the past five days, and I intend to continue to be fiercely protective of my bedtime because I don’t enjoy the consequences.

My apologies for the excessively long post, but I feel it was important to address all of the tools and strategies that are helping me along—and that I hope will help you, too. Do any of them resonate with you? Which ones? And is there anything you would add to the list? I’d love to hear from you.

One final note: As some of you may have read in my last blog post, the word I chose for myself in 2017 is metamorphosis. To be quite frank, one of the reasons I struggled as much as I did in January was because I chose this enormous theme for myself, and then I started to feel overwhelmed, and ultimately like I was writing cheques my ass couldn’t cash. I seriously began to question myself and feared the possibility that I would never fully become the metaphorical butterfly. But when I go back and reread the words I’ve just written—when I apply these concepts to my own life and couple it with the knowing that good things take time and anything worth achieving usually doesn’t come easily—I am more confident than ever that I definitely made the right choice.

So, I may not be ready to emerge as a butterfly…yet.
It’s just that I am still becoming.

All my love, always.
Andrea

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The Alchemy & Magic of Having My Picture Taken

Do you see yourself the way others see you?

If you asked me that very question only a few  weeks ago, I likely wouldn’t have known what to say, and my answer would have been different from today.

Allow me to explain…

When my dear friend and photographer, Linda Patterson, offered me the opportunity to participate in a photo shoot to celebrate my true essence, something very interesting happened. Despite my discomfort with being photographed, and before my inner Nelly naysayer had a chance to speak up, I agreed to do it. And with my intentions of not falling into old patterns and honouring my word of the year, TRUST, I knew I absolutely must follow through.

I’m rarely at a loss for words, particularly in my writing, but all I can say is what has happened within me since can only be described as a series of alchemical reactions  so powerful they surely must have been precipitated by magic.

You see, I’ve had it in the back of my mind for quite some time to have photos taken of myself before my 40th birthday, which is quickly approaching in September. But the problem was I never had any shortage of reasons to defer the timing. Too busy, need to lose 10 pounds first, face broke out again, and don’t like my current hairstyle were just a few of my many excuses.

What’s more, I had come to really dislike having my photo taken. I dubbed myself the Queen of Unflattering Photos for my uncanny ability to close my eyes and screw up my face at the exact moment the shutter closes. I warned Linda about all of this in advance, and I don’t think she believed me until she quickly learned she wouldn’t be able to use a flash during my session.

But with Linda’s quiet insistence and gentle encouragement, I was somehow able to get past all of the mental noise and nonsense. And as I’ve already alluded to, I’ve experienced significant changes and growth as a result. So, in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging others, I’d like to share some of the major themes and lessons that have developed for me.

My {Close-up}: A Focus on Me

Literally everything about the day of the photo shoot was about me and for me. Linda took care of all of the details, and all I needed to do was show up. She served lovely snacks and drinks. She made a playlist of all my favourite music. She arranged a professional makeup artist to style my hair and apply makeup to ensure I looked my best. This was integral to the experience, by the way, and after having the royal treatment—seeing (and feeling) the  results, and allowing the effects to ripple through and settle into my cells, I am finally starting to understand the psychology behind it. Us women, who are typically busy with life (taking care of our families and loved ones, running households, and fulfilling career goals) don’t often take the time to focus on ourselves. Putting the needs of others ahead of our own is natural and habitual, thus it is easy for us women to lose our sense of self in the wake of everything else.

But as Linda so wisely knows and demonstrates through her lovingly designed boutique photography service, women have every right to be taken care of, fussed over, and celebrated. While it may feel a little uncomfortable at first, allowing yourself to be the centre of attention and receive some well-deserved pampering is a beautiful gift every woman deserves to experience.

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Meeting Discomfort with Courage and Grace

Being in front of a camera can feel a little (ok, a lot) uncomfortable, particularly for those of us who are clearly not supermodels and have a less-than-stellar track record of unflattering photos to our credit. One might reasonably wonder where all this discomfort comes from. For me it has everything to do with being a {recovering} perfectionist, paired with the ever-present fear of not living up to my own impossible standards. Further, I am generally someone who prefers to fly under the radar, so being in front of a camera is naturally at odds with where I’m comfortable. And even further still, if it wasn’t a quantum leap for me just to have photos taken, I had to go ahead and up the stakes by doing some semi-nude shots. For me, this was as much about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone as anything, because I’ve come to understand, from direct experience on a very personal level, that when something scares the pants off of me (sorry, not sorry, for the intentionally placed pun), that is the reason I absolutely must do it!

Facing my fears to do something so extremely uncomfortable, and that I wasn’t sure I would be able to follow through with, was both liberating and empowering. It illustrated for me the sheer power of exercising mind over matter—that I can do absolutely anything I set my mind to. I’m not quite ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound and I don’t think I’m invincible (yet), but I do have a renewed sense of strength and confidence that I haven’t felt for  a very long time.

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Coming Face-to-Face with the Real Me

About one week before my photo session, Linda asked me some very specific questions about the personal qualities I wanted to connect with and the types of images I wanted to achieve from the shoot. It took me some time and serious thought to come up with the words to adequately convey how I wanted the images to feel, but I eventually settled on feminine, soft, and womanly. I chose these words or feelings knowing they were important aspects of me that I don’t necessarily show on a regular basis.

In photography, a multiple exposure is the superimposition of two or more exposures to create a single image. This concepts reminds me how we, as humans, have many different facets that comprise our personalities, working together to create the composite image of who we are. This process has allowed me to rediscover aspects of myself that I’d all but forgotten were there: my softness, femininity, and vulnerability, contrasted by my courage and fierce determination. And while I don’t necessarily show the world these traits all of the time, they are and always will be part of me. Allowing Linda to capture my true essence—and sharing these images with others—has reminded me how important it is to allow myself to be seen, and to step out of my own shadow and into my light.

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Learning to Accept Praise and Compliments

Over time, I’ve noticed how I deflect when someone pays me a compliment. If someone tells me I look nice, it would be typical for me to say, “Oh, ya, I actually spent some time getting ready today,” or “Really? I am so tired and the bags under my eyes are huge!” It’s quite an intricate dance to avoid actually allowing myself to accept kind words and feel good for a moment. But from this awareness I’ve been working on simply receiving a compliment—accepting it into my heart, letting it settle into my being, feeling OK about myself, and then moving on. When a person says something flattering about me, I am working on simply saying, “thank you”. And this is a big part of why I felt it was necessary to share these images and my story with others—not because I am trying to bolster my ego with further praise, but because it’s a helpful exercise for me in learning to accept a genuine compliment. And I can tell you the absolute best thing I’ve heard from sharing these photos was my friend telling me they portray exactly how she sees me all the time. Wow!

Loving Myself, Exactly As I Am

It’s appalling how easy it is to get tangled up in the trap of self-hatred, constantly picking myself apart based on my perceived flaws and imperfections. My own feelings of inadequacy are only perpetuated when I measure myself against the impossible and unrealistic standards that are perpetuated by our media-driven, beauty-and body-obsessed society.

This theme or lesson is the hardest one for me. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it, and it’s probably why I bawled my eyes out when Linda led me around the corner on the day of my viewing to be met with 20 beautiful images of myself looking back at me. Needless to say it was completely overwhelming, and my instinctual response was a giant stream of tears. I cried to see my true essence reflected back at me in pictures, and for the pieces of myself I felt I had lost that were found once again.

As I’ve said, one of my greatest challenges is resisting the terrible habit of picking myself apart. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, and it will most likely be something I need to continue working on for the rest of my life. Because self-condemnation is a slippery slope to self-loathing, and I’m learning it’s much better for my self-worth to take a kinder, gentler approach. This means remembering to view myself with kindness, compassion, and always through the lens of love—both in pictures and in life.

I’ve also come to understand the beauty of many photographic images comes from contrast. That contrast is often represented between the interplay of shadow and light. The greatest photos are great because they convey a depth of feeling that goes beyond  form. It’s a beautiful thing when a photo tells a person’s story or provides a glimpse into who they are on the inside, and that is precisely what Linda has done for me. She facilitated a way for me to see and appreciate my beauty—not in spite of my physical flaws and imperfections, but because of them. I am grateful to have these images as a reminder of some of the best parts of me, as I continue working to love every part of myself exactly as I am right now.

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A Few Final Thoughts

I feel incredibly honoured and blessed to have been invited to participate in this photo shoot with Linda. The process I have undergone since March 17, 2016 has been nothing short of amazing. In this very short time, I have experienced a series of changes—so powerful and necessary—I’m not even sure how to explain it.

What I can tell you is this: somehow through these beautiful images Linda held up a mirror that allowed me to see my true essence. A genuine smile has returned to my face. I have renewed sense of confidence. I am beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin. And I’ve had the chance to see myself the way others do.

If anyone can explain to me how this incredible journey of self-discovery could have transpired if not for the effects of alchemy and magic, I’d certainly love to hear about it.

*Linda Patterson of Vision Icon Photographic is a talented and passionate photographer  specializing in portraiture for women. She also happens to be the picture of warmth, kindness, compassion, and grace as a human being. If you’re a woman living in the Edmonton area, I would highly recommend scheduling an appointment with her. You certainly won’t regret it.

 

Remembering: A Love Letter to Ko Olina

I’ve been blessed to visit Ko Olina on the island of Oahu with my family a number of times, although there is some debate among us as to whether this year was our fifth or sixth trip. Regardless, our series of tropical vacations to this idyllic Polynesian paradise have not only offered me considerable time for relaxation and introspection, but also given me so much for which to be grateful. And you may be surprised to learn my gratitude extends well beyond the predictability of the precious memories I’ve created with my family.

Still, saying goodbye this time is a touch bittersweet when I think of all the fun we’ve had together on Oahu. Visiting the Dole Plantation, North Shore, Pearl Harbour, a few too many trips Leonard’s Bakery, Waimea Valley, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, and countless hours of fun in the sun are definitely among the highlights.

Although it is difficult to capture in words the depth of what Ko Olina means to me, it’s nonetheless important that I try to do so because this place of joy has effectively changed me. It is the birthplace of my spiritual awakening, and I can honestly say I don’t think I would be where I am today without having experienced the elixir of its inexplicable charm and intoxicating beauty.

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I’m not too sure exactly why it is or how it happened, but Ko Olina has woven some strange and powerful magic over me. Whether it’s the extreme relaxation it induces, the salty ocean air, being close to nature, the immersion in the Spirit of Aloha, or some combination of all of these, it’s nothing short of amazing how this place has opened my eyes to a world of possibility and led me to a deeper connection with my true self.

For anyone who may not be familiar (and even I had to look it up to be sure my understanding was correct), aloha is commonly used as both a greeting and a farewell throughout the Hawaiian islands. The word itself is difficult to translate, though, as it encompasses many different meanings ranging from love to a friendly attitude of acceptance toward all things. The definition of The Spirit of Aloha that really resonates for me is: To consciously manifest life joyously (or the joyful sharing of life energy) in the present.

It seems more synchronicity than coincidence to me that I’ve been working on being more conscious and aware, more joyful, and more focused on the present moment for each of the years we’ve been coming. As a result, I’ve softened in my natural state of being, yet I am more bold in my dreams and actions. My compassion for others has grown and my heart is more open.

Our trip in 2013 is particularly memorable, as it served as the punctuation mark (a semicolon) between leaving a job I had been in for 12 years and starting a new one. Then, by some further divine guidance during our trip in 2014, I began to hear my heart whispering that I needed to leave my corporate job if I wasn’t happy there. Not long after returning home I gave notice, and the time since has continued to be about listening and heeding my inner wisdom.

I’ve written before about the ensuing process, which has entailed digging deep to learn about myself, excavating limiting beliefs, and remembering the many enduring universal truths my soul always knew. Again, I owe Ko Olina a huge debt of gratitude for showing me the way forward and setting me on this path of self-discovery. At the very least, you could say she lulled me into a position of surrender, allowing my truth to bubble up to the surface and helping me find the courage to break free from my fears. It’s really incredible how, progressively along with each visit, this place of joy has amplified my intuitive voice and encouraged me to peel back the layers to reveal the more authentic version of myself.

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In her infinite wisdom, this year Ko Olina gently suggested that the big wide world is calling. With her blessing of loving reassurance, she signaled to me that the time has come for us to expand our horizons by changing up our Spring Break travel plans.

And with that I give thanks to this place of joy for the grace she has shown and all the many gifts she has bestowed upon me over the years. For it is here, right beside the vast blue Pacific, trade winds blowing and sun smiling down on me, that I found a magical place where my remembering and my light intersected.

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From this trip I am most grateful for:

  • Reading Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsh, as it helped me to remember the energetic nature of our world, the remarkable power of thought, the importance of gratitude, and while I do not consider myself religious, that I am free to engage in meaningful dialogue with my Creator whenever I choose.
  • Two weeks of morning meditation and moving toward the light. In these moments of silence and stillness, I remembered I am not my mind.
  • Among a slew of scantily clad strangers lounging poolside and playing in the ocean, I remembered I am not my body.
  • Amid the lush vegetation of the Waimea Valley, I remembered my spirit is most at home in nature.
  • New friends, the kindness of strangers, and all the other signs that helped me remember love will always find me if my heart is open.
  • The realization that, when I set aside labels and judgments, I am free to remember the truth of who I am.

I remember I am (So’ham = I am that):

Expanding awareness.
Infinite potential.
Pure love and light.

I am not the same person I was when I first visited Ko Olina, and for this I extend my heartfelt gratitude to her for helping me remember.

Aloha & Mahalo,
Andrea

“Each soul is a Master—though some do not remember their origins or their heritages. Yet each creates the situation and the circumstances for its own highest purpose and its own quickest remembering—in each moment called now.”
Neale Donald Walsh
Conversations with God

P.S. If you’re searching for your true self, I encourage you to get quiet so you can hear what your heart might tell you. You may even want to try the So’ham meditation technique. Instructions can be found in this article on the Yoga International website.