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The Intricate Dance of High Sensitivity and Health

You may have seen articles on the web regarding the health challenges faced by Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and migraines often feature prominently in these. In her most recent article, Dr. Elaine Aron seeks to unravel the complex relationship between high sensitivity and physical health.

If you’re highly sensing (my preferred term), I hope you’ll take the time to read her full article, for good information on HSPs and health, and a great overall summary of the trait.

The main message from Elaine: While HSPs may indeed experience health issues related to their sensitivity, there exists no conclusive evidence establishing a direct causation between being an HSP and physical illness. If you’re highly sensing, you don’t have to assume that you’ll be more prone to poor health!

Differential Susceptibility and Stress

However, delving deeper into the subject reveals a nuanced narrative.

The sensitivity trait is a survival strategy employed by a significant minority of individuals; it involves a heightened attention to details, a propensity for deep processing of stimuli, and a remarkable adaptability to surroundings. You may be surprised about this last one, but it holds true.

HSPs often navigate social environments with subtlety. When conditions are favorable, their trait remains largely invisible, allowing them to seamlessly blend in. However, Dr. Aron contends that the visibility of HSPs (their differences or struggles) escalates when childhood experiences shape maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, leading to manifestations of stress, anxiety, or depression.

The concept of “differential susceptibility” emerges as a pivotal element in understanding the dynamics of the trait. HSPs who had positive childhood experiences are more adept at adapting to social environments, whereas those with challenging upbringings may exhibit stress-related symptoms, making them more visible in various contexts. But, successful adult functioning is not contingent on having a favorable childhood. The key aspect is the ability to learn from childhood experiences, preparing individuals for survival in similar environments later in life.

While offering findings from a variety of research studies, which shed light on associations between sensitivity and physical symptoms, Elaine notes that the common denominator in any uptick in illness by sensitives is stress. Stress emerges as a significant contributor to health problems in general, and HSPs, due to their heightened sensitivity to the environment, may be more susceptible to stress-related issues.

So, if you’re highly sensing, you won’t necessarily experience poorer health…maybe even the opposite, but it’s very impacted by your experienced stress level.

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Dr. Aron does refer to a medication sensitivity study, which, while not directly related to health problems, serves to underscore the importance of understanding sensitivity in various contexts. It does appear that HSPs, being more sensitive to the environment and experiencing a deeper processing of input, may experience a greater likelihood of sensitivity to medications. 

In my own experience, this includes natural supplements. While I used to assume there are some things I just cannot ingest without negative effects, I’ve more recently come to realize that dosage is the issue; I can tolerate some things at lower dosages that seemed out of the question at full strength.

I seek out liquid or tablet forms for supplements or medications so I can start with 1/4 dose if possible, then 1/2. If I take more than my body wants, I’ll know and be able to stay at the tolerable dosage. It’s challenging to do this if they come only in capsules, which can’t be divided.

Taking Charge of Your Health

The bottom line regarding HSPs and health is a resounding call to action for reduction in stress responses. By prioritizing this through activities like meditation, proper nutrition, exercise, and boundary setting, HSPs can potentially be healthier than their non-sensitive counterparts.  HSPs are encouraged to leverage their unique observational skills to navigate and improve their well-being in a world that may not always align with their heightened sensitivity.

If you’re struggling with stress, overwhelm or anxiety, it could be affecting your overall health significantly. There are many tools for calming the nervous system and maintaining a strong self care practice, and ways to shift thinking in order to change the meaning and the resulting effects of life’s experiences.

If this seems out of the realm of possibility for you, if you’re so overwhelmed you don’t know which way to turn, please reach out and let’s talk about how to create a pathway to calm and good health.

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