4 Tips For Highly Sensitive People To Be Less Reactive To Life’s Ups & Downs

A roller coaster, representing the ups and downs of life that can be hard for a Highly Sensitive Person to manage

Life is filled with ups and downs for everyone. Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) tend to feel ups and downs even more intensely than people who are not Highly Sensitive. Tips to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs can help.

Reactivity isn’t a bad thing. It can make life more stressful, though and is considered a core challenge to being an HSP.

For anyone, reactivity is especially common when feeling overstimulated. Too many things are happening at once, and your whole system is overloaded. It makes sense why someone may respond by reacting quickly or in a way you’d not otherwise if you were in a state of calm.

Highly Sensitive People have stronger reactivity to external and internal stimuli. Examples of external stimuli include noise, light, or course fabric. Internal stimuli includes things like hunger, fatigue, or pain.

The tips to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs are definitely NOT a suggestion that there is something wrong with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Or that something about you is broken and needs fixing. You’ve likely heard those kinds of messages — “you’re toooo sensitive” — outright or insinuated by others for years. That is not what these tips are about.

Bottom line: As a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re genetically predisposed toward overstimulation and reactivity. As a result, you’re prone to have strong reactions to things. That is just what it means to be Highly Sensitive. And there is definitely a silver lining.

First, an example of Reactivity:

Let’s say you and a friend are wading in the ocean. The water is cold, so it takes you a little longer than your friend to walk in up to your knees. You’re enjoying the sound of gulls and happy children. The warm sun on your skin feels phenomenal, and you’re in the here and now. Deep in thought. And feeling calm and centered. Ahhhhh. It is great to be alive!

You peer into the clear ocean water to look for sea creatures. There are hermit crabs, starfish, and minnows swimming by. You start writing a book in your mind about hermit crabs and the way they go about choosing the shell they call home.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, your friend splashes the cold, salt water in your face and laughs. You freeze momentarily. Then anger surges through your body. You have an impulse to scream. But you squelch the scream and leave the water, ignoring your apologetic friend. You may even notice tears in your eyes while you are simultaneously stomping to shore.

Your nonHSP friend is perplexed by what she considers to be your overreaction. She was only being playful, after all, and being splashed is ‘no big deal’. You, on the other hand, need to sit in the shade by yourself and ‘chill’ for a few minutes. Your entire nervous system feels out of sorts. Doing anything else feels non-negotiable. There is no faking it til you make it.

The hardest part of having the High Sensitivity trait is managing emotional reactivity. Especially when your mind becomes so overstimulated with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

But there are ways to manage and ride the roller coaster. 

Here are other examples of Reactivity/Overstimulation triggers for HSPs:

  • Chemical smells
  • Too many items on the to-do list
  • Being late
  • Unexpected traffic
  • Cancellation of a planned event/appointment
  • An appliance, mobile device, or your vehicle malfunctioning
  • A dripping faucet
  • Being observed
  • Power outages
  • Unexpected visitors
  • Favorite food/drink being discontinued
  • A task taking much longer than expected
  • Transportation delays
  • Lights that are too bright
  • Doing a task under time pressure
  • A loud or gross smelling hotel room
  • The hum of a fan

These examples seem benign. And they can be But they can also be a source of ‘too muchness’ for HSPs. Especially if the things accumulate, and there’s a straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Whether a last minute change in plan–or you are splashed in the face with cold, salty water– reactivity is your system’s default mode.

While you can’t exactly alter your DNA and change this about your nervous system, there are other ways to navigate.

This is where tips come in handy for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive to life’s ups and downs.

Consider these 4 tips:

1. Tip #1 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive: Awareness:

Aka Be familiar with your Reactivity/Overstimulation triggers.

Pay attention to how being an HSP affects you and your day- to- day experience of life.

The more self-aware you are, the more agency you’ll have over choices available to you.

As you become familiar with how you roll, you’ll have a sense of what sets you off, why, and when.

Self–awareness puts you more in the driver’s seat. You can choose to head off overstimulating situations before you become reactive. Sometimes just knowing what could set you off can be helpful. (Which does not mean you ought to be on edge the whole time.)

Knowledge is power.

2. Tip #2 for Highly Sensitive People to be less reactive: Acceptance:

AKA Recognize that the trait has plusses and minuses.

There are so many aspects to being an HSP. It can be a superpower. Even reactivity can be a superpower. For example, if you’re watching a sunrise, your reactivity may cause you to become tearful. You re “verklempt” by the beauty of the sun’s rays and the start of the day.

Tips for HSPs to manage the ups and downs of life with less reactivity

Accept all facets of being Highly Sensitive. The hardest feature as an HSP to navigate is the reactivity to surprise, novelty, or aversive stimuli. Just knowing that is helpful.

Have self-compassion for yourself and your built in reactivity.

3. Tip #3 for Highly Sensitive People is to Anticipate:

AKA Certain scenarios, people, and feelings are more likely to cause you to be reactive.

But, not all HSPs react strongly to the same stimuli. (That is often due to the way nature and nurture affect development.)

You may for example find loud music enjoyable if you’re listening to it on your earbuds. But at a concert or in the car it’s too much. Someone else may prefer to listen to music at a concert and not just on their earbude. Anticipating the possibility of (or the equivalent of) nails on the chalkboard can provide you with some cushion (a soft, pleasant- to- the- touch- fabric kind of cushion, of course!). It may also provide an opportunity to have a conversation in advance to let others know you may be taking breaks and not to worry if you do.

4. Tip #4 is Self-care:

AKA Self-care is important for everyone, and a key tip for Highly Sensitive People to navigate life’s ups and downs with less reactivity.

HSPs feel things intensely. That includes our own or others’ emotions, the beauty of nature, or the stinging pain of a hangnail. Crowds, noises, and small talk can be hard to take.

Because of the extra stress we may be navigating and internalizing every single day, we have to treat our tender sensitivity as if it were a friend or loved one.

Speak in a caring tone to yourself, especially to the part that is prone to reactivity. Allow yourself to take breaks/time-outs. Schedule down time each day. Allow your units of energy to replenish.

Mindfulness exercises can be helpful. Examples of useful practices include deep breathing and body scans, as well as yoga and meditation. These are practices, not ‘perfects’.

Make note of how using any of the tips helps. Also note which ones need tweaking. Are any unhelpful?

Reactivity and overstimulation are known to cause stress, and stress contributes to physical ailments, including headaches, back pain, joint pain, insomnia, GI problems. A host of psychological challenges too. Such as anxiety, depression, and low self esteem.

Awareness, acceptance, and anticipation of situations that are more likely than not to cause reactivity is important.

Empower yourself by considering your options for how to proceed. Do you confide in a friend who will also be there, asking for their support? Or do you mention you may need to leave early? Do you make a promise to yourself to recognize when early signs of reactivity occur and then from there decide how to proceed?

Understand the indicators that extra rest or self-care are needed.

However you choose to handle the reactivity from life’s ups and downs, simultaneously recognize the many blessings and gifts that go along with being a Highly Sensitive Person.

You have those too.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA whose passion is to help HSPs thrive!

Why Are Some People Highly Sensitive & Most Aren’t?

A woman who appears to be a Highly Sensitive Person leaning against a fence watching horses

Ever wonder why some people are Highly Sensitive, but most people are not?

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are born that way. Highly Sensitive.

High Sensitivity is not a disorder. Nor is it an attempt to be dramatic or to get attention. It’s a trait in the same way eye color is a trait.

HSPs’ nervous system is calibrated differently than non HSPs’. The way HSPs process social, environmental, emotional, and physical stimulation is more intense and at a deeper level than people without the trait. It is biological.

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ve likely been called “too sensitive”, at least a thousand times. And advised more than a few times to “have a thicker skin” or to “lighten up.” (If I had a nickel for every time these comments were made to me….)

You may be among the 15-20% of people who is Highly Sensitive if, among other features, you tend to:

  • Notice nuance and details
  • Get stressed out or annoyed in chaotic environments – and need to retreat somewhere quiet to regroup
  • Feel rattled when there’s a lot to do in a short period of time
  • Find that you’re unable to watch violent movies or television shows – it’s just too disturbing
  • Experience peace and awe in nature
  • Need plenty of sleep, consistently, in order to function
  • Are prone to getting hangry

The High Sensitivity trait, which occurs equally in males and females, is a result of a combination of genes. In fact, scientists have discovered at least three different genetic combinations among Highly Sensitive People. The gene variants include different configurations of the following neurotransmitters:

  • Serotonin Transporter
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine

Let’s look at these in more detail.

1. Serotonin Transporter and Highly Sensitive People:

Serotonin transporter is a chemical that transports serotonin out of the brain. HSPs have a variant of this gene (officially called 5-HTTLPR).

The 5-HTTLPR gene variant increases sensitivity to surroundings and is associated with learning from experience. The presence of the gene enhances the effects of both good and adverse childhood experiences.

This may explain why childhood experiences–positive and adverse–impacts wellbeing so much for a Highly Sensitive adult. For better or worse, HSPs’ childhood experiences affect them more than does the childhood of a person without the trait.

2. Dopamine:

This neurotransmitter is known as the reward chemical.

If you have a sensitive nervous system, you don’t need much to feel “rewarded” by external stimuli. Chaotic, noisy, loud environments exhaust rather than excite you.

Let’s just say you don’t exactly get the same kind of dopamine hit that your non Highly Sensitive friends gets at a rock concert or other loud venue.

The same Dopamine variant is also relevant in understanding why HSPs feel more rewarded by positive social or emotional cues.

3. Norepinephrine and Highly Sensitive People:

Norepinephrine helps the body with the stress response.

And there’s one variant, common in HSPs, that boosts emotional vividness. If you have it, you tend to experience emotional aspects of the world intensely. You may also have more going on in parts of the brain that create internal emotional responses to experiences.

Most HSPs respond more strongly to emotions than do non-HSPs. In addition, they often notice emotional nuances where others don’t pick up on anything.

If you’re Highly Sensitive, this gene variant may be at least partly responsible. And it directly drives the level of empathy and awareness you have for others’ feelings.

Evolutionary Benefit

So if 15-20% of a population has something in common, such as High Sensitivity, it is not considered a disorder. The rate is a lot of people in total but still uncommon enough that HSPs often report feeling weird or different.

HS has been found in at least 100 species, including fish, horses, fruit flies, and chimpanzees.

Highly Sensitive People and HS animals pick up on more environmental cues, recognize things that others don’t, and make wise decisions in new settings. They don’t rely on routines, which non HSPs and non HS animals tend to do.

There is definite survival advantage to being keenly aware of your environment.

In general, people who take the time to notice environmental cues before making a decision come out ahead — even with a high cost to doing so. HSPs’ sensitivity means they make better and better decisions over time.

So, here is the key point: If the rate of High Sensitivity were 100%, everyone would notice nuance and details. No one would have any advantage. That could explain why HSPs are about 15-20 percent of the population rather than 90, 95, of 100 %!

No more wondering why no one else thinks things through the way HSPs do. HSPs are able to see things others don’t see and feel emotions others don’t feel, That in and of itself creates value.

Further, HSPs feel positive things and negative things more intensely. Highs can be joyous, and lows can be horrible. For the survival of our species, only a subset with those features could exist.

The world needs diversity of all kinds, including people who are Highly Sensitive. And people who are not.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist in MA who enjoys helping HSPs thrive. Contact her here.

6 Steps for Healing Anxiety and Depression

A woman's torso in a white blouse hopefully benefitting from 5 steps to heal anxiety and depression

Ever wonder what steps to take to heal anxiety and depression?

The kind of anxiety and depression I’m focusing on here is the everyday type. Not necessarily the more intense kind that is diagnosable.

Let’s start with the fundamentals.

Anxiety and depression are feelings. Feelings exist in the body.

As humans, most of us believe we’re cognitive, rational beings who sometimes feel.

However, we’re more like emotional beings who on occasion think.

Feeling emotions can be uncomfortable. Even painful. For many of us, a natural reaction is to turn away from emotion.

There’s at least one problem with the turn-away method. Turning away makes things worse. It will not help heal anxiety and depression.

Even benign attempts at distraction are very limited in effectiveness. If they do help, the relief tends not to last long.

A much better option is to lean into the emotion.

In other words, feel it to heal it.

Keep in mind that emotions have a beginning, middle, and end.

Emotions are like tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you get to the end.

If you get stuck in a tunnel, you don’t reach the end. Maybe you can’t find your way out. Or you get lost.

Just like if you get stuck in a feeling, the feeling stagnates. And so might you.

The feeling does not get to the end. Leaving you smack in the middle of the anxiety and depression. Yuck!

Anxiety and Depression: They’re just feelings

Not finding our way completely through. Getting lost. That’s one way to think about anxiety and depression.

They are normal human emotions.

Feelings are just that – feelings. Chemical changes in your body. They’re neither good nor bad.

Certain feelings are definitely more pleasant than others. Some feelings are more comfortable to have then others. That’s different from feelings being good or bad.

Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to stress. And, stress may be more about what you’re telling yourself than about what actually is.

Our perception of something easily becomes our reality. The ‘what if’s’ and other forms of catastrophizing are good examples of cognitive distortions that we believe. And then feel anxious and depressed as a result.

If depression and anxiety won’t go away, interfere with your life and relationships, and/or cause other problems for you, consider professional help. There is nothing wrong with that! Reaching out for help is courageous. And a wise choice.

Let’s say you decide to heal everyday forms of anxiety and depression, on your own. Or perhaps you want to work on healing your anxiety and depression at the same time you’re in formal treatment.

Here are 6 Steps for healing anxiety and depression:

1. Validate your own feelings.

Whatever you’re feeling is valid. Even if what you’re feeling is different from what others feel. Or what you perceive they feel. You may prefer to feel some other emotion than what you are feeling. Acknowledge what it is you do feel. You have a right to feel whatever it is you feel.

2. Name it to tame it.

Identify with specificity what emotion(s) you’re feeling. Instead of “I feel bad”, try words that are more descriptive of the actual emotion. Does feeling “bad” mean you feel like you could crawl out of your skin? Or more like a sense of hopelessness? Defeat? Some combination?

The fancy name for this technique is emotional granularity.

Examples of emotional granularity may help clarify this important point. Different aspects and levels exist for both anxiety and depression.

For example, anxiety could be described as: Angst, apprehension, fear, stress, uneasy, suffering, nervous, freaking out, panicky, restless, uncertain, dread are more nuanced ways to describe feeling ‘depression’.

In fact, a Google search found close to 100 synonyms for ‘anxiety’!

Even more synonyms exist for depression. At least according to Google. Examples include: Melancholy, sadness, gloomy, sorrow, unhappy, defeat, down in the dumps, woeful, tired, weary.

A great strategy for emotional granularity is to use an Emotion Wheel.

3. Create new neural pathways and let other pathways fill in to heal anxiety and depression.

Specifically the neural pathways that are traveled most often are the ones you’re strengthening.  What the heck does this even mean?

Your old stories—“I’m not good enough,” “I suck” —are literally keeping you stuck. 

Each time you think a particular thought, you are deepening that thought’s circuit. So we are always practicing and deepening something.

Rick Hanson puts it succinctly when he says, “Where your attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows.” 

So, whatever you pay attention to, wherever you put effort is what you get more of.

With our thoughts — just by thinking — we are always strengthening something.

So, think negatively and you’ll get more automatic negative thinking. Including more anxiety or depression. Or both.

In contrast, move from a place of strength, gratitude, or competence, and you will see more of your strengths and notice more to be grateful for.

Even thinking neutrally can be helpful.

4. Feel the feelings that exist in your body.

Use your body as an instrument to assist with processing the feeling. For helping the feeling make its way through the tunnel. Find what works for you, which may vary depending on the feeling and context.

Mindfulness, defined as nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment with acceptance of what you feel., may be helpful. “Welcome the feelings in for tea,” some Zen masters suggest.

Notice sensations associated with different emotions, and where the sensations are located. Doing so is a practice. The ease of identifying feelings and their location will vary over time and situations.

5. Move it.

Because feelings are located in the body, moving your body can be very helpful in processing feelings. This doesn’t have to be intense or considered “exercise”. Rather, just move around. Doing so activates serotonin neurons.

Why not take a walk in your neighborhood? Or groove to the beat of your favorite tunes.

6. Provide yourself self-compassion. Give yourself some grace!

You CAN heal from anxiety and depression. Be kind to yourself. Not in a woe- is-me, pity party kind of way. But in a way that reminds you of the shared humanity, the universality, of what you’re experiencing.

Practice using tools that help you personally heal anxiety and depression. If the tools work for others but not so much for you, that is ok. Keep practicing until you find what feels helpful.

Connect with other people in whose presence you feel supported. Consider Yoga. Meditation. Journaling. Something that is you-focused and as daily a practice as possible.

Remind yourself that you will not ALWAYS feel anxious or depressed. That this moment isn’t all moments. It’s just right now.

You won’t always feel this way. Even if it feels in the moment as if you will.

Over time you’ll learn what helps to heal anxiety and depression. For you. ‘

When you start to feel early signs of anxiety and depression, you may even recognize that it as a great time to access your tools.

Include your body in the healing of anxiety and depression. Mind-body-spirit are star players on Team Heal.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA specializing in helping people access and strengthen the healing within. You can contact me here.

How Do Eating Disorders Develop?

A school of orange fish representing the idea that fish dont know their wet in the same way as we often dont realize what could be causing an eating disorder

No one thing causes eating disorders to develop. It’s more like a perfect storm of genetics, biology, psychology, culture, and environment. Lots of factors merge together around the same time.

Genetics is one of many factors in how eating disorders develop

Genetics contribute for sure! In fact, they predispose individuals to eating disorders.

Eating disorders tend to run in families. And, the rate of eating disorders is higher in identical twins than in fraternal twins or other siblings.

Biochemistry is a factor in how eating disorders develop

Certain neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemicals are out of range among people with eating disorders. The levels are either too high or too low. These chemicals in our body are what regulate appetite, stress, mood, and sleep.

Among cis-gender girls, early menarche (compared to peers) can be part of the perfect storm.

Psychology is too

Psychological factors contribute to eating disorders. People with an eating disorder often also struggle with depression and/or anxiety. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is particularly common, occurirng in 25% – 69% of women with anorexia . Other psychological factors include:

  • Poor self esteem
  • Feeling a sense of hopelessness
  • Perfectionism

Certain personality temperaments put a person at higher risk for an eating disorder. Traits like reward dependence, harm avoidance, sensation seeking, and obsessive-compulsiveness may be part of that perfect storm.

Culture is another contributor in how eating disorders develop

We live in Diet Culture. It is so pervasive and sneaky. In fact, we often don’t even realize how very much we’re impacted by its toxicity. It’s omnipresent. Ubiquitous. The lens through which we see ourselves and the world.

Dieting, body dissatisfaction and a drive to be thin increase the risk for an eating disorder. Diet Culture encourages all three.

Diet Culture is sneakily disguised as ‘a healthy lifestyle’, ‘clean eating’, or as a trendy way to eat. Like Whole30, Keto, or Noom.

If it has rigid rules to follow or involves arithmetic, it is probably a diet.

Diet Culture contrbutes to eating disorders in many ways:

  • An over-emphasis on appearance, at the expense of valuing inner qualities, like kindness
  • Societal standards that promote an unrealistically thin body shape
  • Associating thinness with positive qualities like attractiveness, health, success and love
  • Media’s focus on dieting and striving for a slim and toned body for women
  • Messages that perpetuate a fear of fat and food; viewing fat as undesirable or foods as “good,” “bad” or “sinful”

Intuitive Eating is such a better alternative, on all fronts. Its first of ten guiding principles is to ‘reject Diet Culture’. Mind you, the principles are not mandates. They are gentle steps. And, they’re associated with improved well being – physical and psychological. Unlike anything in Diet Culture!

Environment is important to understand in how eating disorders develop

Your environment also plays a role in how eating disorders develop.

For example, what was your home environment like? How did family members communicate feelings? Did family members diet? Were/are they weight conscious?

What kinds of extracurriculars did you participate in? How about the kind of friend group you were part of?

Aspects of an environment that may be relevant to how eating disorders develop:

Family conflict
Physical or sexual abuse history
Activities that focus on weight, such as gymnastics, dancing, running, wrestling
Peer pressure
Being bullied because of weight or appearance in general

You have agency over some factors associated with how an eating disorder develops. But not all. Fish do not know they are wet. In the same way that you may not realize the extent to which you are immersed in Diet Culture.

However, you do have agency over many aspects of recovery.

With support, you can emerge. And you will. Stronger than ever. And as a true power source.

You will be the fish that went to school (pun intended), recognizes Diet Culture, and knows your way out of the storm.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a MA based psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and negative body image. Contact me for more information.

5 Tips For Happily Navigating Life As A Highly Sensitive Person

A woman siting on the steps of a porch demonstrating ways to happily navigate being a highly sensitive person

What is the #1 most important thing to know about how to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person? That’s an easy one to answer!

To happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) you must first and foremost recognize you have the trait. Dr Elaine Aron, a pioneer in the HSP field, says that knowing you have the trait AND understanding it are absolutely essential to benefitting from it. Pure and simple.

No worries if you’re feeling overwhelmed about this whole HSP thing. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand what it means to be Highly Sensitive. And you will then discover your own joys.

The scientific name for High Sensitivity is sensory processing sensitivity. When you identify that you are in fact one of the 15-20% of people with the High Sensitivity trait, you have the ticket for optimal navigation. The ticket doesn’t mean your navigation will be easy. But it will provide for a richer, more meaningful life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Sensory processing sensitivity is present at birth. You may as well learn to leverage the many benefits of the High Sensitivity trait. After all., like eye color, it’s part of who you are.

The four pillars of High Sensitivity include (aka what it means to live life as a Highly Sensitive Person):

Depth of Processing:

  • You tend to spend time reflecting.
  • And you take your time thinking through decisions.
  • Naturally you take in a lot of information around you and within you – without effort or intent.
  • You’re aware of subtlety and nuance that others simply are not.
  • And have strong intuition.
  • HSPs process everything MORE by relating and comparing present moment to past experiences and observations.
  • And you contemplate all options carefully.
  • You have more brain activation in a part of the brain called the insula.
  • The insula is responsible for our awareness of what is going on inside and outside of us.

Overstimulation:

  • You notice a lot in all situations.
  • You’re aware of details others aren’t.
  • You may feel people’s feelings, even when they don’t feel their own.
  • Because of all the stimulation, you’re more prone to feeling overwhelmed.
  • Because of all you notice, remember, hear, see, manage, and process, of course you’re more likely to feel overwhelm, and sooner.

Emotion responsivity/Empathy:

  • Your positive and negative emotional reactions are strong.
  • You’re in tune with other people’s emotions.
  • Empathy is purely natural for you.
  • You may even feel people’s energy field.
  • HSPs uniquely respond to pictures with a “positive valence” – especially if they had had a good childhood.
  • Vantage sensitivity” is the fancy phrase referring to HSPs’ tendency to benefit a disproportionate amount from positive conditions and interventions.
  • More active mirror neurons explain why HSPs naturally read emotion and have automatic deep empathy.

Sensitivity to subtleties:

  • Your senses are highly attuned because of how you process sensory information.
  • The attunement is not due to “bionic” hearing or sight, but rather to the way you process input from your senses.
  • Brain areas are very active when HSPs perceive things because of complex processing of sensory information.
art news GIF
Remember the 6 Million Dollar Man? Or the Bionic Woman?

What are 5 tips to happily navigate life as a Highly Sensitive Person?

1. Recognize you’re an HSP. Understand what being a Highly Sensitive Person means so you can enjoy life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

This is essential so you can reframe certain messages you’ve likely heard a million times. Messages such as being “too sensitive”, needing “to lighten up”, or having your feelings invalidated, downplayed, and dismissed in other ways.

You’re not too sensitive. You’re “just right” sensitive. And/or maybe the other person is not sensitive enough. Or even insensitive. Or how about “too insensitive”?

Total. Game. Changer.

2. Awareness of subtleties means you can access and enjoy simple pleasures in life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

These hydrangeas are my favorite! I took this photo in Chatham, MA. Chatham is known for their Hydrangeas!

For example, see all the gorgeous shades of lavender and pink in each Hydrangea? Beautiful! How about the differences in shape of all the blossoms? What you naturally see, people without the trait do not naturally see.

3. You can use your ability as a Highly Sensitive Person to tune into nonverbal cues strategically. Such as to assess someone’s trustworthiness.

While you don’t exactly have Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) like in the movies, you do have a sixth sense. You are aware of nonverbal cues and all kinds of subtleties. Trust your gut instincts.

4. Incorporate time to unwind after tasks, events, and times of day in your life as a Highly Sensitive Person. Consider downtime as an obligation to your nervous system.

Without sufficient time to recalibrate, your nervous system will be fried. And recalibration time can be as short as 1 minute, but preferably longer.

Downtime is kind of like lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser between courses of a fancy meal. It gives you a break from sensory stimulation, You can refresh in order to enjoy the next course. Just like your taste buds in the sorbet example!

For downtime ideas, you could pick from a hat. Write a bunch on pieces of paper and then close your eyes and pick one. You could choose from coloring in an adult coloring book, doing a word search, listening to a favorite song or track, taking a walk, or just going outside in nature and taking a few cleansing breaths.

5. Pace yourself. Avoid rushing! Savor life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Tune into yourself to determine what you need. Make the time to give yourself whatever that is, to the extent possible.

Try to resist any pressure to go with the pace of a crowd. If you go at the crowd’s pace, you’ll quite possibly become overstimulated. Remember, you take in soooo much more than people who are not Highly Sensitive.

So now you know the number one most important thing about being an HSP is understanding the trait. And allowing the trait to serve you well. Because it will.

Carpe diem!

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a private practice psychologist in MA. One of my passions is teaching HSPs to access their inherent, exquisite ability to thrive. Contact me to learn more!

How Social Media Affects Body Image For People Of All Ages

Two women are looking at social media and their body image is likely affected

There are plenty of articles about the terrible ways social media affects body image for people of all ages. And for good reason. It’s true.

Social media can be a huge body image killjoy.

You probably already know this, firsthand. Especially if you identify as female. And because, the United States, like most Western countries, is steeped in Diet Culture.

Scrolling through images of friends, acquaintances, and influencers can be a real downer. Especially if you’re competitive (or even if you’re not!) about who has the most ‘likes’, ‘loves’, or comments. The scrolling can be particularly tough on self-esteem. The same is true if you’re comparing yourself to determine who’s the hottest, most popular or other (fill-in-the-blank) est.

Social media provides 24/7 opportunity to compare yourself to countless others’ highlight reel. And, to internalize Diet Culture messages. Social media spreads toxic Diet Culture themes, such as:

  • Body dissatisfaction (for all genders, especially people who identify as LGBTQ)
  • Internalization of the cultural ideal
  • Disordered eating

A 2019 report suggests more than 3 billion people are active social media users. That’s nearly half of the world’s population. The impact of social media on how we think and behave is mind blowing.

Keeping up with the Kardashians and with other trends, looking a certain way, and having a particular aesthetic have become a given. And social media posts communicate this loud and clear.

Social media demonstrates beautifully that “comparison is the thief of joy”.

Even though Teddy Roosevelt was not referencing social media with this quote, it fits perfectly.

How are you using social media?

There are many different ways to use social media. How you use social media affects body image. For example, how do you consume what other people post? Are you taking, editing and uploading selfies? Do you follow close friends and family? Or a bunch of celebrities and influencers? Which platform do you tend to use most?

Most likely you do some combination of consuming, uploading, and following.

As we said, social media is toxic for body image, largely because of the built in comparing it promotes.

Self-objectification is at the heart of the problem.

What is self-objectification?

Self-objectification occurs when we internalize an observer’s view of our own body. As if our body is a mound of clay to measure, shape, and control. By viewing and treating our body as an object, we are essentially scrutinizing our own body in anticipation of being evaluated by others.

Our body becomes a ‘thing’/object to monitor, manage, and curate. Rather than how you express your life.


Is viewing social media always associated with poor body image?

This is a ‘no, but’.

Social media use is consistently and positively associated with negative body image. (That is the ‘but’.)

Scrolling through the feed of a Diet Culture oriented fitness instructor, for example, will likely worsen body image. However, researchers have identified some nuance in the effects of social media on body image.

For example, different social media platforms impact body image worse than others. In fact, a recent study suggests Instagram users spend more time looking at images of people; Facebook users spend more time looking at images without people in them. And FB users tend to read and write more content. It’s no surprise, then, that Instagram users report more appearance comparisons than Facebook users. Women in the study’s Instagram condition also reported thinking about their appearance significantly more than women in either the Facebook or online game (Bejeweled) conditions.

Another example in the ‘yes’ column: time spent on body positivity sites can improve body image.

Do #BoPo images really help people improve body image?

In social media language, #bopo refers to body positivity, The purpose of #bopo images is to encourage acceptance of and appreciation for all body types. 

Viewing body positive images, on social media sites can be associated with improved body image But not always.

The basic criticism of Body Positivity is that the focus is still on bodies. The ‘love your body at any size’ message of #bopo is lovely. But, again, focus is still on appearance.

Our bodies are more than something to look at. How strongly you identify with that belief system affects the impact #Bopo images has on you.

What about #Fitspo posts?

“Fitspiration”, aka #fitspo in Instagram language, is a popular social media category. #Fitspo images promote exercise and ‘healthy eating’ (aka Diet Culture) as a source of encouragement and inspiration.

(Please pardon the snark here: If the encouragement and inspiration are meant to inspire a nosedive in body image, mission accomplished.)

Exhibit A: In a A 2017 study, 160 female undergraduates viewed either #fitspo, self compassion quotes, or a mix of the two. Here are the findings:

  • #Fitspo viewers were low on self-compassion.  
  • “Fitspiration” images were associated with being self critical.
  • Compassionate quote viewers (e.g. “You’re perfect just the way you are”) were kinder to themselves AND thought more positively about their bodies.
  • Good news! For those who viewed #fitspo and self-compassion quotes, the benefits of self-compassion outweighed (pardon the pun) the negatives of #fitspo.

Geek alert: Much of the research on how social media affects body image is based on correlational studies. Which means we can’t say that one thing (social media posts) causes another (poor body image). Maybe instead social media and poor body image are linked for other reasons. For example, people with body image issues may be more likely to use social media.

What about posting selfies?

When it comes to posting pictures on social media, selfies prevail.

Selfies are photos taken of oneself or of oneself in a group. They’re often used on social media sites as a way to present oneself.

Modifying selfies so we appear more conventionally attractive (that is Diet Culture speak for thinner) is an automatic step in posting. We “edit” ourselves to accumulate more followers and boost our social media presence and reputation.

Among female college students (and probably among most people) taking and posting selfies, with and without photo-retouching, worsens mood and body image. This is true even when editing, filtering, or otherwise retouching selfies.

Selfie takers still tend to focus on what they don’t like about their looks. Retouching photos doesn’t prevent a body image decline. Maybe the anxiety of accumulating “likes” and “loves” interferes with better body image. After all, the likes and loves can only provide temporary boosts or relief. #Reality!

Some experts suggest spending a lot of time perfecting selfies may indicate a person is struggling with body image.

Is this just a female thing?

No.

Negative effects of social media posts on body image extend to people of all ages and genders. Men are not immune. For example, a study found that men who reported looking at male #fitspo content more frequently said they compared their own appearance to others more often and cared about having muscles more. As a result, they had more body dissatisfaction and appearance oriented motivation to exercise.

Among men, #Fitspo content is linked with concern about being muscular and lean for appearance sake.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in MA specializing in helping people improve their relationship with their body. Life is soooooooo much better when you and your body are on the same side!

What’s The Cure For Depression And Anxiety?

A photo of different size hands holding one another's, with the largest hand in the center.

Ever wonder about a cure for depression and anxiety? You should! Depression and anxiety are often misunderstood. And both are more common than you might think.

Depression affects more than 16.1 million American adults age 18+ in a given year. Struggles with depression can develop at any age, yet 32.5 years old is the median age of onset. According to the the National Center for Health Statistics, depression is most common in people ages 18 to 25.

Worldwide, 322 million people live with depression, according to the World Health Organization. Yikes! That’s a lot of people.

Speaking of a lot of people… Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the U.S. They affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. Yikes again!

The ways to cure depression and anxiety overlap.

Depression

What is depression?

Woman sitting on floor appearing depressed

Most people feel sad at times. It’s part of being human.

For people with depression, though, sadness is more intense, far reaching, and persistent. And is sooooo much more than “just” sadness.

Depression negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. When depressed, you may question if you’ll ever feel better. Sometimes there’s a triggering event, but not always.

Depression is clinically categorized by type. The most commonly diagnosed clinical form is Major Depressive Disorder.

Other symptoms of depression may include:

  • lack of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • feeling down or sad
  • trouble concentrating
  • low motivation
  • sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleeping too much and still feeling tired)
  • appetite/eating changes
  • thoughts of death – your own. someone else’s, or in general
  • feeling badly about yourself – like you are a failure or disappointment
  • walking/talking more slowly than usual, or the opposite – walking/talking more quickly

How about some good news: Depression is treatable.

“Treatable” means symptoms can be alleviated. However, there is no clinical cure for Depression.

Depression can go into remission, though. Definitions of remission vary. They have to do with no longer having symptoms. In other words, the disorder is “at rest”.

Please hear this: Clinically speaking about depression is one thing.

But how you live your life and feel is another thing.

Treatment options for depression include (among others):

Some treatment approaches require working with a professional. There are also many things you can do on your own.

A Catch-22 with depression is that the very things you know would be helpful are the same things you have a hard time motivating yourself to do.

Lifestyle Changes

Start small. What can you do? The more your lifestyle is geared toward a healthy mind and body, the better you’ll be able to cope with symptoms of depression. And with life in general.

Examples of lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Social connection
  • Caring for a pet
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation or yoga practice
  • Time in nature
  • Meaning and purpose in the everyday
  • Eliminating use of alcohol, tobacco, and other ‘ vices’
  • Gratitude

One of the best lifestyle changes you could work on is to ditch dieting. In my experience, quality of life soars when you’re no longer held hostage by Diet Culture rules. Try Intuitive Eating instead.

Psychotherapy

There are many different forms of therapy. And lots of experts to choose from. Providers vary in their credentials and theoretical approach.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a common and effective psychotherapy to treat Depression (and anxiety, Eating Disorders, and other things).

CBT focuses on changing a person’s thoughts and beliefs. It also highlights the impact of thoughts and beliefs on mood and actions. (More information on this is below.)

Support Groups

Participating in a support group can be an excellent way to help you feel better.

People with depression meet as part of a psychotherapy group to talk about their experiences. Usually there is a mental health professional who’s the group leader. Group members provide each other encouragement, understanding, and support.

Being in a support group is different from talking with supportive friends and family. People who have had similar experiences often have a deeper understanding. They know firsthand what depression feels like,

The main benefits of joining a depression support group: include:

  • Ongoing social contact with people in a similar position
  • Opportunities to share struggles and solutions
  • Advice from mental health professionals/co-facilitators

Medications

Depression medications are grouped into categories based on how they work.

The most common antidepressant categories include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibiters (SSRIs), Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibiters (SNRIs), and Atypical antidepressants.

  • SSRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Examples: Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac
  • SNRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Examples: Cymbalta, Effexor XR, Pristiq
  • Atypical antidepressants work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Examples: Trazodone, Wellbutrin XL, Remeron

Every person’s body is unique and metabolizes medications differently. Often, trial and error is needed to find a medication that works. A good place to start is with a medication that a first degree relative has had a good response to.

People often ask about side effects. As with every medicine, there may be some. The most common side effects are constipation, diarrhea, nausea, headache, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, difficulty sleeping and drowsiness.

Another common question is how long a medication will take to work. If it works, you’ll know within a month or so. Even when you find the “right” medication, you might not notice an improvement right away in how you feel.

What about Anxiety?

What is Anxiety?

Woman standing sideways with arm on wall appearing to have anxiety and wondering about a cure

Most people know what anxiety feels like because at some point they’ve felt anxious.

Anxiety is a natural human emotion that includes worry, tension, and changes within your body, such as increased pulse. As a species, we’re wired to respond to fear (by our fight, flight, or freeze response). That’s how we’ve survived as a species.

So anxiety can be a good thing! It helps you recognize potential threats and keeps you alert.

For some people, anxious feelings quickly come and go. For other people, not so much. They may have an Anxiety Disorder, for which more formal treatment is available.

So, anxiety is normal, not a flaw. However, people may get into patterns of coping that make anxiety feel like something is very wrong.

Especially when anxiety is persistent and overwhelming. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, it’s considered a disorder.

Anxiety can take different forms. Symptoms of anxiety, for example, exist as part of several mental health conditions, such as mood disorders and eating disorders.

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. How sad is that?

The seven most common “official” Anxiety Disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobias

Are there treatments for Anxiety?

Yes! As with depression, the treatments include (among others):

The specific type of anxiety is part of what determines the treatment approach.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES:

There are things you can do to help manage anxiety. They are useful to consider, and many are common sense. Things like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, having a mindfulness practice, and eating foods that benefit the brain.


Psychotherapy is another effective way to manage different sorts of anxiety.

One of THE best approaches to help with anxiety is Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Thoughts affected by depression or anxiety are often negative. You may not even realize the way you are thinking is problematic. Even though the negative thoughts bring you down and interfere with your daily life, you may think of them as facts.

We commonly take our thoughts as facts. But they aren’t necessarily facts. They are cognitive distortions, aka thinking mistakes that you can correct.

Examples of cognitive distortions include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: “I have to be perfect, or I suck.” or “I ate a ______ so now I can not eat the rest of the day.”
  • Filtering: “No one ever compliments me” (disregarding the times people have complimented you.)
  • Catastrophizing: “My friends did not invite me to join them. They hate me.”

There are more categories of cognitive distortions. When you know how to identify distortions, you can more easily identify them in your self-talk. In other words, name it to tame it!

Once you recognize distortions, you can reframe them so that the thoughts are more neutral and realistic.

Reframing is not about being Pollyanna. Nor is it toxic positivity.

Depending on the type of anxiety, medication may be prescribed.

While meds don’t cure anxiety, they can help with symptoms so you can function well and feel better in your day-to-day life.

Many types of medications are available. Because every person is different, your doctor may have to prescribe several different medications before finding the one that is right one for you.

Common medications to treat anxiety include:

SSRIs -to help improve symptoms of depressed mood and anxiety.

Fluoxetine (Prozac) is used to treat OCD, Bulimia, panic, and depression

Escitalopram (Lexapro) is used to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Sertraline (Zoloft) is used to treat OCD, PTSD, Social anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Depression

Fluvosamine (Luvox) to treat OCD, PTSD, Depression

Paroxetine (Paxil) to treat OCD, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Depression.


ANXIOLYTICS – to relieve anxiety and promote sleep.

Buspirone (Buspar) to treat anxiety. It works as well as benzodiazepines but with fewer side effects. Also, it is not habit-forming like benzodiazepines. It can also be used in addition to an SSRI.


BENZODIAZEPINES – to help calm your mind

Benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat different types of Anxiety Disorders, including panic disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder.  

Examples of Benzos include:

  •  (Xanax) alprazolam
  •  (Librium) chlordiazepoxide
  •  (Klonopin) clonazepam
  •  (Valium)/diazepam
  • (Ativan)/lorazepam

A downside of benzos is that they can be habit forming. They also tend to increase drowsiness and worsen balance and memory.

Other resources for you to learn more about a cure for anxiety and depression:

Mental Health America (MHA) is a community-based nonprofit dedicated to people living with mental illness and promoting overall mental health.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is a national peer-oriented mental health organization. Their mission is to provide support and education.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America is geared toward improving quality of life for people with anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD through education.

Chances are you or someone you love has been or will be affected by depression and anxiety. So learning more is important. Awareness and knowledge are empowering and provide a solid basis for getting help. Whether it is for you, a friend, loved one, or colleague.

Depression and anxiety can (and do) happen to anyone. Sometimes it’s obvious when someone is struggling with depression or anxiety. Many people hide it well though. They may deny anything is wrong – even though their struggles are beyond what other people deal with. Stigma can make it harder for people to be honest about feeling depressed or anxious..

While there’s no clinical permanent cure yet, the way you deal with anxiety and depression can cure you. And, even as you read this, clinicians are working to find a permanent clinical cure. It’s just a matter of time.

In the meantime, you have resources within you to help you through.

If you are feeling unsafe, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255) — it’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and all calls are confidential.

I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a private practice clinical psychologist in MA, specializing in helping people develop skills to navigate life’s ups and downs.

How To Know If Your Child’s Body Image Problems Are Cause For Concern

Black and white photo of children suggesting an image of helping children overcome body image problems

How do you know if your child’s body image problems are cause for concern?

If you’re thinking, “Oh great! Now this to worry about?” I get it. Just what you need –yet another thing on the mile long list of concerns.

Please don’t panic!

At every phase of body image development, parents can do lots of things to support their children’s body image. And address signs of body image problems.

Whatever your child’s age, their relationship with their body is important. In fact, their body image is central to their sense of who they are. And lays the foundation for well being throughout their life.

What is body image?

Body image is how your child feels and thinks about their body.

Positive body image means they’re relatively happy with how their body looks and moves. A child’s positive body image is central to confidence and self esteem.

If a child has poor body image, they feel negatively about their body. They may not like how their body looks, or for some other reason feel unhappy about their body. Feeling badly about their body lowers confidence and self-esteem.

A child’s relationship with their body is one of the most important relationships they’ll ever have.

Children and Body Image

Everyone with a body has a body image. A relationship with their body. As with teens and adults, children can have body image problems too.

Babies and Toddlers

  • We are all born with a body. And that is where body image begins – as a newborn, with a body.
Dad holding a newborn in his arms, demonstrating the initial development of the infant's body image.
  • A year or so later, babies become toddlers and learn to crawl, stand, and walk. They take pride in doing things themselves.
A toddler proudly standing on a couch, demonstrating no body image problems;
  • Parents can help babies and toddlers feel good about their bodies. You may do this through smiles and praise. Or by cuddling and playing. And by tuning into and responding to your their needs.
  • Spend time 1:1 if possible, and have direct eye contact.
parents' hands around infant feet, obviously without the baby having body image problems.

Children

  • Body image grows as your child grows.
Dad holding twin girls, walking in a field, behind his son who is running ahead. None appear to have body image problems.
  • Poor body image occurs in children as young as 3-5 years of age.
  • For each child, positive body image moments look different. Like when your child smiles in the mirror after a dental cleaning, delighting in their ‘shiny whites’. Or when you two plant a garden together, as she enjoys the feel of the dirt on her hands.
Dad and daughter are planting a flower in a garden, working cooperatively and by so doing positively impacting her body image.
  • All of these moments are based in body image. And are an opportunity for you to support your child’s relationship with their body.
  • Children naturally want to feel good about their body and how it looks. They want to be able to do what other kids can do.
  • As your child gets older, he will likely compare himself to others. To do so is normal. But, comparisons can go south over time. and cause body image problems.

According to research on body image among children:

  • More than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as ages 6 to 8 say their ideal weight is to be thinner than they are.
  • By age 7, one in four kids has attempted some sort of dieting behavior.
  • As many as 41 percent of girls say they use social media to “make themselves look cooler.”
  • A whopping 87 percent of female characters on TV that are between the ages of 10 and 17 are below the average weight.
A group of 6 smiling girls, ranging in age from about 7-11, appearing not to have body image problems.

Body image problems are most likely during adolescence

  • Puberty is one of the most challenging times for body image – and for lots of other things. So much is in flux at this time in your child’s life. The way they feel about their body may be one of many changes, happening all at once.
  • Body image problems are common during this phase of development.
  • Your teenager may be excited about the way their body is changing. Or feel shy and modest. Or somewhere in between. All of it is normal.
  • Being in a body that is changing can be stressful. Hair grows where it had never been. Body shape changes. Weight gain is biologically natural and common.
  • Adjusting to a changing body is about more than just looks. Boys’ voices become more like men’s. Girls begin to menstruate.
A red headed boy who looks like he is about 14, smiling awkwardly.
A teenage girl in front of a blue car with her hands on her face, as if she is surprised.

Getting used to a body that looks and feels different takes time. It’s an adjustment.

There may be more body image problems than victories. And that is ok.

  • Kids who develop early may feel super awkward at first. Some feel proud.
  • Teens who develop late may be excited to finally fit in with their friends.
  • Or maybe their self esteem has already taken a hit.
  • Your role as a parent is to educate, support, and provide assurance.

Being in a teenager ‘s body can = body image problems: What’s normal?

  • Adolescence is a time your son or daughter is prone to worry about weight.
  • Kids become more aware of looks around the time bodies start to change.
  • This can make physical changes difficult to deal with.
  • Some kids grow wider before they grow taller.
  • Some become taller and then fill out.
  • Their relationship with their body can be challenged, especially if their growth sequence causes them to feel like they don’t fit in.
  • Preteens and teens may try out new looks and styles. Or dress to fit in or to stand out.
An image of a 'cool boy' with sunglasses.
An image of a girl African American girl with sunglasses.
  • Some kids focus on what they don’t like about their body.
  • Boys may wish they had more muscles. Girls may wish they were thinner or had a bigger butt.
  • Being self-critical about looks hurts everyone’s body image. This is especially true for teens.
  • In addition to speaking negatively to themselves, some kids are teased or shamed about their body.
  • Bullying in all forms, including cyberbullying, is harmful. Whether it happens on social media or in person.

Bullying can easily trigger to body image problems.

Especially when you consider that kids in larger or smaller bodies are at higher risk for being bullied.

THe back of a girl, who

What can parents do to help with body image problems?

It seems almost inevitable that at some point, Aunt Phyllis or other well-intentioned person will make a comment about your child’s body. Maybe the comment is in the form of a diet recommendation. Any such talk is likely inappropriate and may negatively affect kids’ body image.

Parents have limited control of outside forces, such as peers, media, social media, classmates, and teachers. But, parents do have some agency in their child’s relationship with their own body.

If you’re reading this article, you’re clearly a parent who wants to do their best to encourage their teens to feel comfortable in their body.

Remind yourself and your teen that health and happiness are not equated with weight loss or weight gain, nor with appearance in general.

You and your teen could focus on their talents, passions, strengths, and other valuable qualities, along with appearance.

Talk with and listen to your child. About everyday things. About their life. And even about bodies.

Show interest in your child’s interests, hobbies, opinions, and schoolwork.

Minimize the focus on appearance. Encourage your child’s passions. Help them find their special skill, talent, and/or joy.

A healthy body image comes from accepting one’s body, liking it, and taking care of it. Even when there are things kids can’t do, they can feel good about what they can do.

Talk about your own body in positive ways. Accept your own body, and take good care of it. Kids will pick up on this and do the same for themselves.

A child’s body image can improve, even if it’s been hurt.

The most important thing for you as a parent is to be a good body image role model.

Dr Elayne Daniels is in private practice in the Boston area. Areas of expertise include body image and eating disorders. She’s passionate about helping people improve their relationship with food and their body.

Unexpected Challenges and Joys Of Being Married to a Highly Sensitive Person

Sillhouette of a couple dancing together in the front of a large moon.

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Or married to a Highly Sensitive Person? Either way, you’re a lucky duck! Especially when you understand what being an HSP means. Certainly the more you know about High Sensitivity, the more ease you’ll have navigating unexpected challenges. And enhancing unexpected joys.

Don’t worry if you’re feeling frustrated or confused about your spouse’s High Sensitivity. Once you understand what it is, you’ll be able to identify and will also discover all the joys of being married to someone who is Highly Sensitive.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

An HSP’s nervous system is hardwired to process subtleties and notice details others often miss.

Dr Elaine Aron literally wrote the book on HSPs. She and her husband have conducted extensive research since the 1990s with HSPs.

The only way to definitively determine if someone is an HSP is a brain scan. Using questionnaires is more practical and common. Approximately 15-20% of people are HSPs, with an equal distribution of gender.

High Sensitivity has four main features, present from birth and throughout life. The acronym “DOES” is a handy way to remember the core characteristics.

The four characteristics of an HSP include:

D: Depth of Processing:

"The Thinker" statue

Depth of processing is at the core of High Sensitivity. And is central to the challenges and joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person or Highly Sensitive.

HSPs process just about everything deeply, thanks to the insula. The insula is part of the brain that increases self-awareness and perception.

You can’t see depth of processing externally. But, you can definitely notice it indirectly. Such as when your HSP spouse is deep in thought. Or responding strongly to something happening nearby.

Here’s another way to think of depth of processing: Everything HSPs experience leaves “residue”. The residue may be in the form of thoughts, feelings, impressions, bodily sensations, or memories.

HSPs deeply experience the negatives and positives in life. Stress and fatigue naturally result. Deeply experiencing life can be tiring, even when life is filled with lots of positives and good things!

“Pause and reflect” is standard operating procedure. (Aka deep processing) A slower transition between tasks is common.

O: Over-arousal/Overstimulation:

A black and white photo of a woman appearing overstimulated

HSPs react to what happens in the environment and then deeply process it. Reactions include observations, reflections, and feelings.

Overstimulation is likely because of all the deep processing. And can quickly lead to over-arousal. Things become “too much”.

High arousal levels affect cognition. Maybe in the form of poor concentration or suddenly blanking on words. Or becoming tongue tied, especially when you’re put on the spot. And then feeling tense or anxious.

HSPs become over-aroused and overstimulated more quickly than Non-HSPs. High levels of input can be exhausting.

E: Emotional responsiveness/Empathy:

black and white photo of two children walking with arms around each other

From the first moments of life, HSPs experience emotions intensely. Even as young children, HSPs have deep empathy. They are the children who insist on bringing the spider outdoors instead of flushing it down the toilet. They can also tell when a classmate feels sad, and may feel compelled to offer comfort.

HSPs tend to respond more emotionally than Non-HSPs to the same situation. This is true whether the things are good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.

Brain studies demonstrate that HSPs’ mirror neurons are more active than are Non-HSPs. This explains why capacity for empathy is so intense.

S: Sensitivity to stimuli/Sensory awareness:

an open hand immersed in what appears to be a shallow river

A personality trait called sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS, is present at birth.

HSPs are born with SPS. That is why Highly Sensitive People respond strongly to internal AND external stimuli.

Examples include hunger and pain, noise and light. HSPs for instance are more likely to feel the uncomfortable effects of getting too hungry. They tend to feel pain more intensely than Non-HSPs too. Their response to things like sounds and light in the environment also tends to be greater.

What are unexpected joys of being a Highly Sensitive Person?

1. They’re thoughtful and conscientious, with a commitment to do things the right way. They can be quite principled.

2. HSPs are intuitive and perceptive. They naturally pick up on nuance, micro-expressions, and nonverbal cues.

3. Creativity and imagination are common among HSPs. Vivid dreams and a rich inner world are too.

4. HSPs are emotionally responsive toward people and animals. They’re caring and have lots of empathy.

5. Most HSPs are spiritual and feel a connection with nature.

6. Everyday beauty and joy are deeply moving to HSPs.

7. HSPs notice little things that others miss. Like the cloud formation that looks just like a happy smile.

HSPs thrive in environments –and relationships — conducive to their DOES needs. Perception, empathy, creativity, and spirituality prevail when HSPs thrive. (This is called vantage sensitivity.)

What are unexpected challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person?

  1. HSPs are prone to ruminate, feel overwhelmed and have a hard time making decisions.

2. Transitions are difficult and take longer.

3. HSPs often feel misunderstood, different, weird, and/or lonely. The world isn’t set up for HSPs.

4. HSPs tend to feel guilty if they prioritize their needs.

5. They perform worse when observed.

6. HSPS are more prone to anxiety, depression, and sleep deficits.

7. Effects of lights, noise, scents, and textures are amplified for HSPs.

HSPs don’t function as well in overstimulating environments. Why? They feel anxious, ill at ease, depressed, irritable and have trouble concentrating. Challenges prevail over joy.

What are typical challenges and joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person?

The same HSP qualities can be a challenge or joy, expected or unexpected — depending on context and perspective. This is true for both the Highly Sensitive Person as well as the spouse.

Here are four challenges of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person:

  1. HSPs need time to recharge their battery. Especially at the end of the day, after a social event, or even upon the start or end of a vacation. Takingtime to process, rest, and restore each day is a necessity. Not simply a luxury.

    Non-HSPs aren’t likely to consistently need to take time to process, rest, and restore. Their “battery” tends to remain sufficiently charged.

    The difference in need for downtime can create a challenge if you don’t recognize and honor each other’s needs.
  2. HSPs can rapidly go from feeling totally in the mood, i.e. sexually turned on, to shut down.

    HSPs have the capacity for intense passion and pleasure. They can be super in tune with their own experiences of ecstasy and seamlessly join with yours. However, one seemingly “minor” (but not minor to you) remark can shut down the whole scene, just like that. Especially if she feels rejected or unfavorably compared to.

    An unexpected noise, the doorbell or phone ringing, or the kids’ voices can cause her to lose interest. And……it is over.
  3. The ‘thin skin’ of HSPs means they’re vulnerable to hurt feelings. “I’m just joking” comments sting HSPs. And the sting lasts. There is no “just get over it”.

    You may lament that you have to think before you speak, or that at times you’re walking on eggshells.

    Further, you may have such thoughts as “Why is she soooooo damn sensitive?” or “I was just kidding. She really needs to find a way to take a joke” Or how about “I don’t even know what I said to upset you.” (Which can make her feel even worse.)
  4. Hunger and low blood sugar levels quickly become hanger. Feeling tired and ready for bed easily turn into utter exhaustion. The need to eat and to sleep are non-negotiable.

    So telling your HS spouse to just wait a couple hours and you’ll grab a meal is not going to work. She WILL become hangry – irritable, out of sorts, and even mean. The same thing happens when she is tired. As an HSP, sleep is central to her well being. She can’t skimp on sleep without negative effects.

    And, she probably knows from experience that having snacks with her is essential!

Here are four joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person:

  1. When HSPs have downtime after a period of stimulation, they recalibrate their nervous system. Their creativity, humor, silliness, and best self shine. They go from being a wilted flower to bright and perky.

    The joys that ‘stem’ (pun intended) from their replenishment remind you that her High Sensitivity can be a beautiful thing!
  2. HSPs deeply experience sexual pleasure. When they feel sexual desire, you become the recipient of stuff dreams are made of! Being present to the delight she is feeling in her body and in yours is a turn on that’s unlikely to get stale.
  3. Sincere compliments and everyday thoughtfulness go a long way. Her love language often includes all five! HSPs are loyal and love deeply.
  4. When an HSPs system is well balanced physically, you know it. She functions best when she has had enough sleep, is properly nourished and hydrated, and has had time in nature. The formula for optimal functioning is simple and consistent.

The gifts HSPs bring to the world – and to your relationship – are meaningful and unique. Especially if keeping the High Sensitivity trait in mind and openly communicating.

You’ll minimize/avoid inevitable pitfalls by remembering that your Highly Sensitive spouse’s brain is fine tuned to notice and interpret just about everything around her — including things you say and do. Even when you may not be aware of what you are saying or doing. Or mean anything personal by it.

Keep in mind that HSPs are not deliberately monitoring your every move. Although it can certainly feel that way if you’re unfamiliar with “DOES”.

Your HSP spouse processes information on a deep level. She sees multiple connections between things in the world. And she profoundly cares about people, the environment, and social issues. Her everyday experience of sounds, sights, tastes, fragrances, and touch is intense. All of this is her nature. At most, she may be able to override her DOES for short periods of time. And will likely require a longer period thereafter to recalibrate.

Exploring and understanding the unexpected challenges and joys of being married to a Highly Sensitive Person is an investment in your relationship. And in the quality, depth, and meaning of your own life.

Your HSP spouse has superpowers. Understanding the High Sensitivity trait benefits you, your spouse, and your relationship. And beyond.

I would even say to the moon and back.

Hi! I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in the Boston area specializing in helping Highly Sensitive People thrive. Click here if you’d like to learn more about working with me.

How To Avoid Burnout If You Have High-Functioning Anxiety And Depression

Five vertical matches, each of which represents varying levels of burnout

Anxiety, depression, and burnout zap the joy out of life. Sometimes they co-occur and may be hard to distinguish from one another. Avoiding burnout if you have high functioning (or not so high functioning) anxiety or depression can be extra tricky. Especially with overlapping signs and symptoms. And, because of anxiety and depression, your resilience to stress is less than it would otherwise be. Anxiety and depression lower your threshold for staying engaged in life. That lower threshold makes burnout more likely.

What is burnout? How do you know if you are burned out?

This is a good question. You need to know what you’re looking for in order to identify it and do something about it.

Burnout can happen to anyone and goes deeper than merely feeling tired and stressed. When burned out, people feel mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Drained. They tend to be pessimistic and feel like they have nothing left to give. Dealing with everyday responsibilities becomes too much. Even getting out of bed is daunting.

The backside of a woman sitting on the edge of a bed looking out the window while in her bathrobe.

Burnout happens as a result of chronic stress.

A common example is caretaking while juggling other home and work demands. Or exposure to negative health or political news day after day.

The recent political climate surrounding the 2020 election led to burnout for many, as has living through the Pandemic.

Along with an increase is burnout rates, anxiety and depression rates have also increased during this time.

Burnout tends not to go away on its own.

Its signs include exhaustion, isolation, anxiety, depression, and feeling numb. The emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion of burnout worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

When a battery loses its charge, it must be recharged in order to function. Burnout creates the same scenario for us humans.

What is high functioning anxiety?

The term “high functioning” anxiety is not a real thing in the world of official diagnoses. There are no objective criteria. But we all kind of know what the phrase is referring to.

For some people, high functioning anxiety may refer to a person who worries, stresses out, and has episodes of physical signs of Anxiety. Examples include increased heart rate, headaches, and racing thoughts. But, she does not show any symptoms to the world. For others it may mean periodic anxiety symptoms that do not last long enough or become intense enough to interfere with their day to day life.

Let’s say a person with high functioning anxiety does not appear anxious on the outside. In fact, she appears to have her act together. She is kind, friendly, productive, and organized. This hypothetical high functioning person with anxiety does not appear anxious. However, on the inside she overthinks everything and often believes she can’t measure up. She’s filled with self doubt and has difficulty saying ‘no’ to requests.

What is high functioning depression?

The term “high functioning” depression, just like “high functioning” anxiety, is not clinically valid nor a real thing diagnostically. In other words, there is no standard definition. Different people may mean different things by the phrase “high functioning”. For some, it may suggest having symptoms of depression, such as sadness, low energy, appetite changes, and insomnia. BUT, that person purposely doesn’t outwardly display any depression symptoms. Instead, on the outside, the person appears to be functioning well in life – at work, home, and with friends and family. High functioning depression could also refer to people who have bouts of depression that are short lived, relatively mild, and don’t cause much derailment in their life .

Anxiety and depression are considered psychiatric conditions. Burnout is a reaction to stress.

There are treatments for anxiety and depression. The usual ‘treatment’ for burnout is to take time off. Or to recharge your ‘battery’ in some other way that involves resting and restoring. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Especially for the majority of people who don’t have the kind of financial or job security or back-up contingencies to be able to take time off.

The emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion of burnout worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The ways to avoid burnout are similar whether you have high functioning anxiety and depression or not.

How can you avoid burnout if you have high functioning anxiety and depression?

If you’re already anxious and depressed, you’re more prone to burnout. Recognizing and addressing anxiety and depression before they are worsened by burnout is tough but certainly ideal. If your stress tolerance is low due to anxiety and depression, going below that bar into the burnout zone doesn’t take much.

Self-awareness is key to avoiding burnout. So is self-care.

You decrease the likelihood of burnout by prioritizing self care. Maybe that means going for more walks. Talking more often with friends. Or saying ‘no’ more consistently to requests at work. Whatever it is that helps you to replenish. Maybe it is even that Netflix series you watch while your puppy is snuggled up next to you.

Or, my favorite, visit nature. Go outside and get a few breaths of fresh air. Look around at the trees, smell the flowers, feel the breeze on your cheeks.

Self-care is often more of a mindset than a prescription for pedicures and bubble baths. (But those are ok too!)

It is about being on your own side. Treating yourself as you would a loved one.

The likelihood of burnout decreases when self-care is part of your daily routine. Even if you’re working long hours or taking care of elderly parents. Your obligation is to add moments of joy and/or peace into each day. Again, it is a mindset.

Small self-care gestures can stop stress from taking over and causing burnout. And those same gestures – talking with loved ones for support, being playful, finding things to laugh about, being outside in nature–are helpful for general well being anyway.


I am a MA licensed psychologist in private practice. If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression, and would like to learn more about working with me, please contact me here.