Overstimulated Alarm System – Three Steps to Confronting Fear in the Everyday Life of an HSP

Jennifer wants to talk to Brent. He’s been on her romantic radar ever since their first introduction weeks before. Now is her opportunity. She’s practiced her possible openings, bolstered her confidence with positive, reinforcing self-talk, and waited patiently for a chance to talk to him alone. She sees him across the room and forces her feet forward.

She takes five steps toward Brent. He looks up and their eyes meet. To her horror, she stops dead in her tracks. Before a cohesive thought can form in her mind, her body turns and her feet, in their quickest pace, skitter toward the exit.

Outside the door, she stops her progression just as she gets somewhere in the parking lot. Her heart is beating wildly in her chest. Her breathing is quick and she has begun sweating. If she could glimpse herself in a mirror, she would also see that her pupils have dilated and her skin has become either pale or flushed as her blood flow moves toward her muscles used for her escape and away from other body parts.

As her physical symptoms return to normal, embarrassment kicks in. What kind of bizarre behavior has she just committed?

The truth is that Jennifer has just experienced a fight-or-flight (or freeze) reaction to stress. Completely normal given her circumstances.

Image: “Brick-moji: Face screaming in fear” by Ochre Jelly is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Let’s start with the fact that Jennifer is a highly sensitive person.

In Dr. Elaine Aron’s acronym DOES that describes what an HSP is like, we see why Jennifer’s reaction was completely normal:

D – Depth of processing: In the weeks between meeting Brent and her opportunity to talk to him alone, Jennifer mulled her possibilities over in her mind, thinking through every possible scenario.

O – Overstimulation: Awareness and processing of daily stimuli made Jennifer exhausted and in constant survival mode. One major stressor added on top of that base easily sent her into fight-or-flight (or freeze) mode.

E – Emotionally responsive and empathy: Her anxiety at interacting with a man to whom she was romantically attracted to built on the stress she’d created while preparing for her encounter.

S – Sensitive to subtle stimuli: When their eyes met, Jennifer’s empathy and sensitivity to subtle stimuli kicked in. She may have gleaned a responsiveness to her in his eyes, overwhelming her already overloaded emotional barometer.

What can you, as well as Jennifer, do to better handle situations of stress?

Step One: Acknowledge Your Difference

You are not going to act like someone else. You are different. One of those differences is an overactive amygdala, the organ in which the fight-or-flight (or freeze) response originates. It is crucial you accept your differences as normal. Being an HSP is normal. It is your normal.

Step Two: Relax Your Amygdala

Meditation, physical activity, progressive relaxation, deep breathing. Set up a schedule to perform these activities daily. Yoga, tai chi or simple stretching exercises may also be effective in reducing over activity in the amygdala. It is critical to everyday health for an HSP to make time for this practice.

Step Three: Educate Others

Your gift is special. The world is slowly beginning to become aware of and realize that we do exist. And that we are normal people with different reactions to different situations. Spreading the word about our differences will help all of us (and our reactions) find acceptance.

Be courageous as you live your life. Your gifts help the rest of the population in ways they can never fully appreciate. Let your light and your love shine. But take care of yourself in the meantime.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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