Here are some physical strategies Aron mentions if you find yourself overaroused and about to have a meltdown (like I did in Toys-R-Us). She offers psychological methods, too, but I’ve found it more helpful to start with these physical suggestions. (Then again, that’s coming from a person who has difficulty meditating if she’s not burning calories.) The commentary is mine. (I got sick of the brackets, so I thought I’d just fly with my own descriptions of each suggestion.)
1. Get out of the situation!
For example, leave your kids with your husband and walk out of Toys-R-Us before you throw Elmo and his whistling buddies across the store. Or if a conversation about global warming, consumerism, or the trash crisis in the US is overwhelming you, simply walk away from it. My great aunt, Gigi, mastered this point. She knew her triggers, and if a conversation or setting was anywhere near her trigger point, she simply put one foot in front of another, and went bye-bye.
2. Close your eyes to shut out some of the stimulation.
Ever since my mom came down with a neurological tick of the eyelid called blepharospasm, I’ve become aware of how important shutting our eyes is to the nervous system. Her only option to keep her eyes open was to have an operation that would do just that…but then she wouldn’t be able to shut them, and that would be even more detrimental to her well-being and ability to function. My mom’s disorder is very much like an extreme arousal of the nervous system, and she often has to retreat somewhere to close her eyes. Only then can she retain her balance and her proper focus.
The only time I recommend not using this technique is on the road (if you’re driving). (My mom and I argue about that all the time.)
3. Take frequent breaks.
This can be challenging if you are at work, or at home with kids as creative and energetic as mine (I can’t pee without someone getting whacked in my absence). But HSPs need breaks to let the nervous system regenerate.
I must have known I was a HSP back in college, because three out of my four years, I opted for a tiny single room (a nun’s closet, quite literally), rather than going in on a killer room if I roomed with three other people.
“Nope,” I said to my prospective roomies. “Can’t do it. Need my alone time, or else none of you would want to be around me. Trust me.”
I would go to the extent of pasting black cardboard on my window, so that no one could tell if I was there, and I’d get my hours of solitude that I needed (of course I was also depressed).
Be creative. Take your break. Any way you can. Even it involves black construction paper.
4. Go outdoors.
This is a true saver for me. I need to be outside for at least an hour every day to get my sanity fix. Granted, I’m extremely lucky to be able to do so as a stay-at-home mom. But I think I would somehow shove it into my schedule even if I had to commute into DC everyday. Or maybe I would quit my DC job, because the commute was making me into a monster.
Even if I’m not walking or running or biking or swimming, being outside calms me in a way that the right pharmaceuticals do. With an hour with nature, I go from being a very bossy, opinionated, angry, cynical, uptight person into a bossy, opinionated, cynical relaxed person. And that makes the difference between having friends and a husband to have dinner with and a world that tells me to go eat a frozen dinner by myself because they don’t want to catch whatever grumpy bug I have.
5. Use water to take the stress away.
While watching Disney’s “Pocahantas” the other day with Katherine, I realized I must be part Native American. The sheer joy that Indian woman of healthy proportions (thank you, Disney, for not releasing another animated anorexic princess) shows upon paddling down the river, singing about how she is one with the water, makes me realize how universal the mood effect of water is, and especially to a HSP.
On the rainy or snowy days that I can’t walk the double jogger over to Spa Creek or Back Creek, I do something the global-warming guys say not to, and take a long shower, imagining that I am in the middle of a beautiful Hawaii rain forest. I’ve always needed to chill out on the side of a lake, pond, creek, or bay–even the dirty St. Joseph’s river in South Bend, Indiana, or Caesar Creek State Park (the closest thing to nature) near Dayton, Ohio.
“Water helps in many ways,” writes Aron. “When overaroused, keep drinking it–a big glass of it once an hour. Walk beside some water, look at it, listen to it. Get into some if you can, for a bath or a swim. Hot tubs and hot springs are popular for good reasons.”
6. Take a walk and calm your breathing.
A method that combines both of those things is walking meditation, a form of mindfulness meditation that involves focusing on the details of your movement and breath at the same time. Sayadaw U. Silananda, the Buddhist monk and scholar, compares the practice of mindfulness meditation to boiling water in his article “The Benefits of Walking Meditation“:
If one wants to boil water, one puts the water in a kettle, puts the kettle on a stove, and then turns the heat on. But if the heat is turned off, even for an instant, the water will not boil, even though the heat is turned on again later. If one continues to turn the heat on and off again, the water will never boil. In the same way, if there are gaps between the moments of mindfulness, one cannot gain momentum, and so one cannot attain concentration. That is why yogis at our retreats are instructed to practice mindfulness all the time that they are awake, from the moment they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night. Consequently, walking meditation is integral to the continuous development of mindfulness.