At 2:30 this morning, thunder rolled outside my window and my nervous system kicked into high gear. Awakened by the storm, my mind clicked on and my chest and stomach responded by tightening and producing acid, respectively. I do not have any reason to be particularly anxious at this time but this is how my system works. My mind and body are easily stimulated. Thoughts of responsibilities and relationships flood my circuits in a matter of minutes and if I am not vigilant, I’ll wind up a weakened, emotional version of myself.
I am calm and capable… most of the time
I spend three-fourths of my life feeling balanced, valued and excited about life and the other fourth off-balance, unsure and anxious. I go through cycles of mental and emotional confidence followed by mental and emotional trepidation. The reasons for such fluctuations? Hormones, intense relationships and my innate sensitivity.
Yeah, I feel it all
I’m not mentally ill, just highly attuned and introspective. I notice emotional nuances and slight changes in body language. I pay deep attention to my inner world/voice/feelings. I feel both the positive and negative reactions. I couldn’t stop any of that if I wanted to (and I’ve wanted to) but I have learned how to channel my intuition, deflect feelings of overwhelm, increase oxytocin and wriggle free from the downward spiral.
HSPs (highly sensitive persons) have nervous systems that pick up more on subtleties in the world and reflect on them deeply. That means, for starters, that they will tend to demand more depth in their relationships in order to be satisfied; see more threatening consequences in their partners’ flaws or behaviors; reflect more and, if the signs indicate it, worry about how things are going. — Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D author of The Highly Sensitive Person via Highly Sensitive and Creative
Introducing James Altucher
With help from author and entrepreneur, James Altucher, I’ll let you in on my secrets to living an engaged, mentally balanced and fulfilling life, most of the time.
I like James Altucher because he is a sensitive, inward-focused, somewhat nervous and deeply thoughtful being. I relate to him. He has written more than ten books, built and lost more than fifteen companies, earned and lost millions, interviewed oodles of fascinating people and has been interviewed countless times himself. He’s a man with experience living the high and the low life. So… he knows how to bounce back. He has learned from his own experiences and those of the brilliant and successful people he’s met along the way. He’s figured out what it takes to be mentally strong. Below are the ten aspects of mentally strong people James Altucher gleaned from interviewing daring and successful people.
10 Keys to Keeping It Together
1. Relationships: Surround yourself with supportive, positive, healthy individuals. If they kill your spirit, shed them. If you cannot respect each other, lose them. If they provide endless inspiration, love, respect, levity and trust, hold them tightly. They will make you stronger. I had to make difficult decisions regarding who could remain in my life. Ultimately, I am in a better place mentally and emotionally for choosing to end my marriage. It was the hardest decision I ever made but it created a space for me to grow stronger on my own and allowed other nourishing relationships to flourish.
2. Honesty: Be honest and you’ll never have to worry about getting caught. You won’t have to use energy to cover up your lies. You’ll sleep better. Be honest and your story will resonate with others. You will feel validated and understood. The more vulnerable and forthright I have been, the more true connections I have made.
3. Help Others: It really is not about you. It is about learning your gifts and using them to benefit others. Find meaningful work that goes beyond your own little world and your spirit will soar. Whenever I start to feel alone, unvalued and small, I think about ways to help someone else. Sometimes I simply call a friend who I haven’t talked to in a while. Other times, I focus on my writing or coaching clients. I admit, I get overwhelmed if I try to be there for too many people. I have to prioritize, but helping others takes the focus off of my own worries.
4. Reading: Reading takes you to other worlds. It gives you the perspective of individuals vastly different from you. The possibilities are endless with reading. Nothing relaxes and inspires me more than reading. It is my go-to therapy. If I read, I never feel alone or bored. Words on a page expand and feed my mind. Books, articles, poems, etc. are the spark to my creativity. Some of my most satisfied moments have been while reading. I can honestly say there are books/authors that have changed my life.
5. Health: If you do not have your health, you have nothing. Think about it, a simple cold can put you in a funk. High quality sleep, food and exercise can change your whole outlook. I have recently increased my sleep requirements from seven to eight hours per night. i always thought seven was enough. I was lying to myself. For the last year I have been on a high protein/low carb diet. I added ‘good fats’ without hesitation. The result? I got fat. Well, not super fat but i gained weight in places I never had before. My revised
diet includes more complex carbohydrates and fewer ‘good’ fats. I also kicked up my workouts. My goal is three workouts per week including running 3-5 miles per week (have to be mindful of weak knee ligaments) and challenging strength training. Last year i gave up running and whimped out during weight training. I only run 1-2 miles per session now but I’m grateful to be able to do that. I use weights that make my face contort when doing the last few reps.
6. Curiosity: Mentally strong people are endlessly curious. The world is their treasure chest. They are rarely bored. My dad instilled a high level of curiosity in us kids. He always pointed out interesting aspects of nature or showed us how much we could learn from different kinds of people. He had us try new foods and had no qualms about getting in the car and driving with no destination in mind. We learned to go with the flow and see what we could see. We saw the world as free entertainment. I still do.
7. Learning: Learning and curiosity go hand-in-hand. If you’re curious, you are always learning. Mentally and emotionally strong people usually have a love of learning. It may not be academic learning but there is a deep interest in discovering and problem solving. The thrill of learning is enough to remove me from the blues. I take a class, start reading a new non-fiction book or talk to someone who knows something about something I have no clue about. My wheels start turning and I’m saved from anxiety/depression/fear.
8. Ideas: The world can become tedious and flat if we only deal in facts and concrete information. Ideas add energy to conversations and mental thoughts. Ideas are rays of sunshine shooting from clouds. Allow yourself to think of ideas and you can change your whole outlook. Talk ideas and concepts with me and you’ll have my undying devotion. Inhibit my idea-generating impulses and I will withdraw and probably shed you (see #1).
9. Permission to fail and goof off. Mentally strong people allow themselves to make mistakes. They even allow others to make mistakes. They allow themselves to lighten up and take it easy. Not every second has to be hard-core productivity and perfection. I want my home to be a safe place for my kids and myself to voice our opinions, ideas, dreams and thoughts. Pointless criticism and spirit-crushing ‘kidding’ is not welcome. Useful feedback is. I am getting better at differentiating between the two. I am getting better at shaking off mistakes. My writing hero, Brenda Ueland, says to congratulate yourself for making daring, honorable, ridiculous mistakes. I try to remember that when I mess up. I am learning not to take myself or others too seriously. I watch mindless but entertaining shows like The Bachelorette just for fun. When I’m on my game, I use humor instead of yelling to get my kids to do things.
10. Presence: No ruminating about regrets from the past. No stressing about the future. No time traveling, as James Altucher calls it. Stay in the moment. At this very moment, everything is fine. I worry more about the future than the past. Thinking about everything I have to do and maintaining critical relationships gets my cortisol levels up. I have learned to plod along one step at a time. I work selectively but consistently (with mental breaks for laughing, canoodling and watching The Bachelorette). I deal with issues as they arise and try to avoid projecting and predicting.
In his book, Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream, Altucher talks about increasing the good mood ‘God hormone’, oxytocin, in your body. I intended to talk about how to do that but this post is already ridiculously long so I’ll save it for another time. If you can’t wait, check out Altucher’s book. I recommend it and I have no affiliation with him.
Peace after the storm
I was able to shut down my mind this morning by getting up, going to the bathroom and then returning to bed to read. Coincidentally, I read from Altucher’s Choose Yourself.
As a sensitive person, do you have to work to maintain a stable nature? If so, how do you do it? How do you keep your mind strong and positive?
If this post resonated with you or changed you in a positive way, please share it. I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you so much,