076 Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), Veganism & Activism

Today we’re talking about Highly Sensitive People, or HSPs, and how being highly sensitive relates to being vegan and an activist. We talk about what an HSP is, how to tell if you are one, how to take pride in being an HSP, and lots of self-care tips for the highly sensitive among us.  

In This Episode

What is HSP?
A “highly sensitive person” is a phrase coined in the 1990s by psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron, and it is someone with sensory-processing sensitivity. It is an innate trait that has evolved in 15-20% of the human population, and is present in over 100 species of animals, including fruit flies, cats, dogs, horses, birds and fish. It is a survival trait that allows this segment of population to take in more stimuli and process it more thoroughly than others do. Think of a herd of prey animals, say like deer or antelope. The few that raise their heads and start running first, or sound the alarm, before the others are aware there is a threat are the highly sensitive ones. This has an obvious survival advantage in groups, but would not be useful for the entire population to have. It is NOT a condition, disease, or disadvantage. It’s a neutral trait Because we are hardwired to take in more stimuli, HSPs are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed, particularly by being in a world that caters to the 80-85% of non-HSP people, a world that favors big bold personalities, loud music, strong smells, and large crowds. Because HSPs process such subtlety and nuance, they experience the actual emotions of the person they are talking to or the movie they are watching, causing them to be seen as overly emotional or “too sensitive” to many. They also tend to take things personally, and can be seen as emotionally overr-eactive, or overanalyzers, or too defensive. It usually takes them a long time to make decisions because they are processing information and considering all angles Fun fact: ALL creative people, including all famous artists, musicians, etc., are highly sensitive, although not all HSPs are creative. Some HSPs, up to 30%, are extroverts and/or sensation seekers. Just like being an introvert, which most HSPs are, being an HSP does not necessarily mean that you are shy, isolated or quiet. In the U.S. where extrovert is king, being an HSP is highly undervalued, particularly in cisgender men, which causes a lot of HSPs in the U.S. to have low self-esteem. I read somewhere that I couldn’t seem to find a link to that a lot of Asian countries have a higher percentage of HSPs, up to 30%. Some cultures, like in Thailand, for instance, respect sensitivity in people and actually choose leaders for their sensitive traits. So being sensitive is not a universally discriminated trait. Resources: Signs you are HSP
– Easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input
– Aware of subtleties in your environment and appreciate delicate or fine things
– Other people’s moods affect you
– Sensitive to pain and resistant to pain killers
– Sensitive to caffeine or other stimulants
– On busy days, you may seek a dark, quiet room to be away from stimulation and alone
– You are deeply moved by arts or music
– You have a rich, complex inner life
– You may get rattled by having a lot to do in a short amount of time
– You are conscientious and always conscious of the comfort of others, polite/considerate
– You are deeply impacted by violent images and may make a point to avoid them
– When you get hungry, you lose your shit
– When people watch you do things, it makes you extremely nervous causing you to perform poorly. You may prefer to exercise alone or avoid team sports
– Get emotionally hurt by subtle things that others think are no big deal
– Know things about a person that others don’t see
– Incredibly empathetic, sometimes to the point of being more upset than the person affected Resources: Taking Pride in Your Sensitivity
HSPs are critical to activism and to the vegan movement. We are involved in a cause where the victims literally can’t speak for themselves. Given HSP’s deep ability for empathy, they are critical to our ability to connect with animals and be able to verbalize their experiences and their pain on their behalf to try to get others to care. Resource: General Self-care for Vegan/Activist HSPs
– Avoid perfumes, pesticides, harsh chemicals, to the best of your ability. Natural and organic everything helps a lot
– Soothe your nervous system: yoga, aromatherapy, quiet rooms, exercise, finding balance
– Get enough sleep
– Keep noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds handy
– Cognitive behavioral therapy can help
– Have blackout curtains and ear plugs or a way to reduce noise in your bedroom
– USE YOUR WORDS. Work on expressing your emotions or asking for what you need
– Establish firm boundaries around your life to make sure you are not committing to too much or putting yourself in situations where you are going to be overwhelmed
– Avoid watching slaughterhouse footage or graphic footage of animal violence – don’t be afraid to ask for content warnings on social media
– Find ways to take breaks in your activism, and find ways to see the good in humanity
– Work on developing a “zen” attitude towards other people
– Don’t be afraid to do things in off hours – Nichole LOVES going out to dinner at 4:30, or to the movies at off-times, like 4:00 on a Wednesday Resource: Diet-related Self-Care Tips
– Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, processed food, refined sugars – even chocolate and green tea
– Don’t let yourself get hungry, eat before you are starving, get regular meals
– Don’t overeat, getting stuffed full will make you feel tired and foggy
– We’re prone to digestion issues – eat gently, notice things that make you feel yucky and seek to avoid them
– Fats are important for a healthy functioning nervous system, HSPs may need more fats than others
– High raw diets are nearly impossible for an HSP, seek gentle cooked foods to balance out any raw foods (ex: blended soup with small salad)
– Do NOT juice fast or do intense detoxes – hunger is another stimulus, fasts end up creating more stress in the body than they relieve
– Consider supplementing with chlorella, magnesium and B-vitamins, especially in times of stress. Chlorophyll helps balance blood sugar between meals, magnesium and B-vitamins can be depleted by stress and are soothing to the nervous system Resource:
  • Diet Guidelines for the Highly Sensitive Person (Sarah’s Best Health)
From WebMD: 50,000 years ago, HSPs would have been happy in their isolated caves, coming out only when the world seemed safe. Today, we have a culture that forces everyone out of their caves everyday. Back then, and HSP would have been the safest person in the tribe, but today they are basically under physical attack every moment they are not in control of their environment. So try to have compassion or self-compassion. See the strength and beauty of being an HSP, while you work to learn good coping skills for some of the tougher parts of it.

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    • Wow! I had no idea! It’s incredible how so many of the symptoms are a combination of physical and emotional feelings, and that even eating certain foods can affect this. So interesting… I’m with you on getting emotionally hurt with subtle things (such a common issue with vegans I guess) and seeing things in other people that most don’t see. Loved it.
        • I feel like I’ve spent the last 7-10 years figuring out how my physical, emotional, and digestive aspects all work together. I remember the day I realized coffee was the cause of my generalized anxiety that had gotten out of control! It’s empowering to have this knowledge, but it can be frustrating to realize that the world is essentially set up in a way that’s so harmful for us sensitive types. Glad you enjoyed the episode, this is a very dear topic to me 🙂
          – Nichole

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