Emotional Wellbeing

Sensitive in The City Why the impact of urban living can feel overwhelming to some and fine to others.

How does living and working in London feel to you? Stressful? Exciting? Tiring? Stimulating?

London is a wonderfully vibrant city. But let’s be honest. It can be stressful. The commuting, the pollution, the busyness, the sheer number of people and noise and stimulation everywhere.

For a significant minority of Londoners this sensory bombardment can feel more than just a bit tiring, it can be utterly overwhelming.

The noises seem louder, the lights brighter, the smells stronger, and they’re picking up on the moods of people around them.

Who are these people and why do they feel this way?

They’re people with the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity aka a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP).  You might have this trait and not even realise it.

In the early ‘90s psychologist Dr Elaine Aron carried out a study which found that 15-20% of people have a nervous system which is more sensitive to their surroundings and stimuli. It’s an innate temperament trait.

HSPs process their experiences more deeply; can reach a state of sensory saturation and overwhelm long before non-HSPs; they’re more emotionally reactive and empathetic; and are fine-tuned to sense the subtleties of their environment.

So, you can imagine why urban living creates such a challenge for sensitives.

While the honking of car horns and the constant traffic might annoy a non-HSP, it will startle the HSP and set their stress response going. The bad tempers of fellow commuters will be absorbed by the HSP – they’ll feel the negative feelings deeply and might find it difficult to shake them off. Working in open plan offices gives the HSP no respite from noise and stimulation.

HSPs can spend a lot of time in the stress-response of fight/flight/freeze mode, because they’re on high alert to all the stimuli in their surroundings.

If you tend to be very aware of the subtleties in your environment; if you pick up on other people’s moods; if you need quiet-time on very busy days; if you’re sensitive to caffeine; if you’re overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics; if you startle easy; if you have a rich inner life; then you may be a highly sensitive person too. If not, you’re likely to know someone who is.

But if you don’t realize you’re feeling on edge because it’s how your nervous system is wired, you may think there’s something wrong with you; that you need to toughen up; that you can’t cope with life.

Learning about high sensitivity helps us to understand why we feel as we do, or understand those close to us better. Knowing the self-care you need as a sensitive person means you can learn how to calm your nervous system’s stress response.

With knowledge comes the ability to embrace the gifts of sensitivity – and there are many. Highly Sensitive People tend to understand things deeply; they’re conscientious; they’re creative and have a rich, complex inner life; they’re compassionate; they’re finely tuned into life around them and delicately appreciate the subtleties of nature and music and art.

Here are some simple tips for daily life to help Highly Sensitive People thrive.

  1. Breathe

The most effective way to calm your nervous system response is to turn your awareness to your breath and breathe deeply and fully.

Breathe in to a count of four … Breathe out to a count of six. Feel your body becoming more and more relaxed with each out-breath.  Inhale peace and calm, exhale any stress.

Yes, it’s that simple. But you need to practise this. Regularly.

  1. Say goodbye to coffee

HSPs tend to be highly sensitive to caffeine because it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which in HSPs is already on high-alert. So, consider cutting out caffeinated drinks to give your nervous system a break.

  1. Get your nature fix

HSPs tend to love being out in natural surroundings. So, get out to one of the many beautiful parks in London. Smell the flowers. Be filled up as you connect to the grass and trees and space around you. Sit by a tree. Imagine its roots are your roots and you feel safe and still and grounded.

  1. Protect yourself

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stimuli or other people, imagine a circle of white light around you.  A bright, protective light. Other people’s energy and stressful stimuli just bounce back off it.  Nothing can come through this circle of light unless you choose to let it.

Stella Tomlinson is a Hampshire-based yoga & meditation teacher and Highly Sensitive Person. She uses her first-hand experience of how yoga can relieve stress and anxiety to teach those of us who often feel anxious and overwhelmed how to connect to inner strength, stillness and joy to find peace amidst the demands of everyday life. Visit her website to get your free Calm, Clear & Relaxed Tool Kit:  www.livingyogawithstella.com/free-relaxation

Take the Highly Sensitive Person test at: http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test