Your Needs are Not an Afterthought

When I first started my Embracing Intensity Podcast journey, I was connected with the accomplished J.J. Flizanes as an ideal guest. I made contact, but then when the project got delayed, my communication fizzled out. Last week when I got the chance to share in a podcast group we are both in, she said she really related to it, so I asked her for an interview and got one with her that week!

J.J. is a gifted woman if I ever met one! She described her experiences of feeling "different" growing up and coming off as too intense when she met new friends. She threw herself into her work - first acting, then personal training and now wrapping it all up together with lots of personal empowerment work including a best-selling book and a 6 day a week podcast!

Like everything she does, she dove into her business with intensity and drive. She pushed herself into adrenal fatigue and cycled between burning the candles at both ends to burning out and taking an extended break. She finally came to a point where she realized she needed to incorporate self-care into her everyday routine in order to maintain equilibrium and not keep pushing herself to the brink. 

Two key practices she uses to help with this include a daily grattitude practice and the use of Nonviolent Communication as a tool to connect with her own feelings and needs. This is a tool that we have both found extremely useful both for communicating with ourselves and being able to communicate our needs to others. I use the acronym STAR to remember the steps in the process:

Stop - Stop and observe the situation. What are your feelings? What needs are or are not being met? (you can find great lists of feelings and needs here) What judgements are you having about this situation?

Think - What strategies can you think of that might meet your needs? It is important to understand that there are many ways to meet the same need, and avoid getting stuck on one particular strategy. Get creative!

Act - Once you've found a strategy that you think might work (and doesn't violate the needs of someone else), act out your strategy. 

Request - This may come before or after you act. Think of who can help you meet your needs and make a request of them to help out. Be sure that you are clear that they can say no so it does not feel like a demand. People respond much better when they come from a place of empathy rather than a sense of "duty."

I think we both find this tool so valuable for self-awareness because intense and sensitive people so often push themselves and put other people's needs before their own that their own needs become an afterthought. When you do that continually though, you have a tendency to burnout. You can keep living in that burn - burnout cycle, or start taking the time now to get clear on your needs and take care of them as you move forward. In the end, this strategy will make you more effective when you do feel the need to push. 

This post is a part of the Hoagies' Gifted Education Blog Hop on Emotional Intelligence

Intensity, Sensitivity and Your Own Worst Critic - You

Whew! It has been an eventful month! Since laying down the foundation of my new website and programs, my ultimate goal has been that of building community. In the last month I launched both my first live community event and my Embracing Intensity Podcast

For my live events in the greater Portland area, my goal is to bring together a community of passionate teacher, healers and creatives who want to make a difference in the world but are easily burnt out by the the realities of the "system" from which they are trying to make a difference. Earlier this month I had the lovely Elizabeth Spitzer come talk about how "One Person Can Change The System," and we had an inspiring conversation that left us invigorated and renewed our spirits. 

Next week I will be hosting Shannon Meade, of Supporting Balance, in her talk on "Calling Out Your Inner Critic" where I expect a lively discussion on how our own self-talk impacts how we treat ourselves and others. 

I decided that this topic was so important because gifted, sensitive and creative people are some of the most self-critical people I know. They have so much to offer the world, but are sometimes so accutely aware of their faults that it can get in the way of getting out and contributing their work to the world. 

I found this so true in the women that I interviewed on my podcast

Amy Pearson was so caught up in chasing gold stars and gaining approval from others, that she lost sight of her own self-approval. When she tried to please everyone, she just became invisible to her own tribe. When she finally gave up what other people think, she connected with herself and then in turn connected with her people. 

Wendy Holthaus found herself a square peg in a round peg family and thought there was something wrong with her sensitivity and intense emotions. Escaping the void led to addictons and she was finally able to pull herself out. Finding out she was a Highly Sensitive Person and Highly Excitable helped her to channel her power for good rather than evil.

Mely Brown was burning the candle at both ends. She pushed herself to keep up with her nonsensitive peers and burned herself out in the process. She thought there was something wrong with her until she realized that sensitivity could be both a challenge and a blessing if you learn how to practice effective self-care. 

All of these women pushed themselves to be someone they were not and escaped into their idea of what they should be until they connected with the power of what they really were. 

If you are in the Portland metro area, you should totally come out and join us at the beautiful Quinn Mountain Retreat to talk about Calling Out Your Inner Critic. Wherever you are, you should totally give a listen to my Embracing Intensity Podcast and spread the word about how what you may think of as your greatest excesses or liabilities can, in fact, be your greatest strengths! 

Get in "The Zone"

When I first decided to go into coaching, I said that I wanted to help people with "self-regulation," but very few people got what I meant by that. I figured it was something they teach to kids in schools these days, so it should be pretty basic right? 

Self-regulation is a fancy word for controlling your own emotions, behaviors and physical state. This can be a challenge for those of us who are highly excitable because we experience the world so intensely!

We are starting to see the importance of teaching this to kids, but for adults it's assumed we already know how to do this. But let me tell you, I think this is something most of us struggle with. We may not be exploding or throwing tantrums, but it is likely we may be turning things in on ourselves and making ourselves sick. 

Self-regulation is not about being something you are not, or ignoring the negative to focus only on rainbows and unicorns. According to this post on self-regulation in Psychology Today

"Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values. (Violation of one's deepest values causes guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine well being.) Emotionally, self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you're upset and cheer yourself up when you're down."

The problem is that when you get too revved up, or when your energy is depleted, it can be a challenge to find that optimal state in which you can make decisions that are "consistent with your deepest values." 

When under stress, our fight, flight or freeze brain kicks in and can undermine our ability to think clearly and objectively. 

You can build your own Power Zone Toolkit to help you develop tools that you can have at the ready when you find yourself thrown off course. In order to start building your toolkit, you must first consider what each zone looks like for you, and what strategies you already know help to get you back into "The Zone."

In "The Zone" - When you are in the Power Zone, you are harnessing your own immense power! You feel connected to what is happening and in flow. You are in a state of calm alert. What does that look like for you personally? What strategies help you get in or stay in "The Zone"?

Revved Up - When you are revved up, you might feel restless or even anxious or angry. You lack focus and your fight, flight or freeze mechanism may kick in. When you are in survival mode, your rational brain shuts down, so having calming tools at the ready will help you to get back in "the zone." What does that look like for you personally? What strategies help you get back to a calm and alert state?

Feeling Down - When you are feeling down, your energy is low. You might be sad or depressed or just drained. It is hard for you to muster the energy to do the things that you know will pick you back up again. You may get in a cycle where you know what to do, but can't follow through. What does that look like for you personally? What strategies help you to regain your energy?

I created the Power Zone Toolkit to provide you with tools to help you: 

  • Ground yourself when you're feeling restless or out of control,
  • Raise yourself up when you're feeling down, and
  • Keep your best tools at hand to pull you out of stressful brain shut-down. 

Do you ever feel like you're too much?

Do you ever feel like you are too much? ~ Free Find Your Superpower Course Included

Do you ever feel like you’re too much? Too emotional? Too analytical? Too intense? Too sensitive?

The truth is half the time you feel like you’ve been shot out of a cannon, you’re so wired you just can’t seem to stop, the rest of the time you crash so hard you’re not good for much of anything.

You’ve tried a bunch of approaches, but nothing seems to make a difference right away so you give up quickly.

Your loved ones may say you’re overreacting, but for you life really is that intense.

So let me ask you.

Is this you…

  • When you’re working it’s go, go, go but the second you have a break you collapse from exhaustion, feeling like a slug.
  • Meaningful connection is important but when you do finally have some time you end up canceling on your friends (you’re just too exhausted to go out).
  • You have this weird ability to focus on certain things but you can get so lost in your work that you completely lose track of your basic needs (even going to the bathroom!)
  • Sometimes you push so hard that by the weekend your body shuts down, you find yourself dizzy, light-headed (brain fog), and – without getting into too much detail… your stomach isn’t happy.
  • You feel stifled creatively, since you became a mom and/or got a “real” job, you’ve  been feeling trapped because you never have time to do the creative work you crave.
  • You’re a serial hobbyist — you collect passions and interests and cycle through them the same way that a chameleon changes color.
  • And speaking of that “real” job, you got into it because you wanted to make a difference but you notice there’s a lot of stuff about the work that feels meaningless — endless paperwork, writing useless reports and all those budget meetings.
  • You set ridiculously high standards for yourself (in fact other people are often intimidated by you) but you always seem to fall short — it just seems that everybody else is so much more “together” than you.

If you relate, you’re probably a Highly Excitable Person. You may have heard of the term Highly Sensitive Person but this is a little different.

So what do I mean by highly excitable? Highly excitable people have an increased ability to perceive and respond to their environment. In other words……

You pick up on things that other people don’t and respond more intensely than the average Joe — you might break down in tears, you might find yourself obsessively thinking and thinking about a situation, you might actually get a stomach ache, you might get so lost in worst case scenario thinking that you startle when your friend says your name… There’s a feeling of “wired but tired,” until you’re just completely exhausted. All the while you wonder why you’re the only one who seems to be responding in this way…

People often describe you as dynamic, intense, sensitive, fiery, restless, passionate or spirited.

Because you react so intensely to your world you have this unique ability to literally make yourself sick. Many Highly Excitable People suffer from things like adrenal fatigue, chronic pain, exhaustion and/or digestive problems.  You might notice yourself getting sick a lot and/or it takes you FOREVER to recover from things, especially when you’re stressed out.

Anxiety is a factor too. You react so intensely to life —  your work, dating, your kids– you get so preoccupied with worry, fear or anticipation that it keeps you up at night, keeps you from being able to focus on what you want to do and impacts the way you eat (at the exact time when you should be eating well you reach for that container of chocolate peanut butter cups).

The Good News Is…

You have super powers.

There are five types of excitability: Emotional, Sensual,  Psychomotor, Intellectual and Imaginational.

Highly Excitable People have the unique ability to (depending on your type of excitability)…

… form deep connections with other people and living things.

… read other people in a way that most people can’t.

… pick up on tiny nuances in their environment.

People often describe you as dynamic, intense, sensitive, fiery, restless, passionate or spirited. ~ Do you ever feel like you're too much?

… deeply appreciate beauty and often create beautiful, even moving, pieces of art.

… use their dynamic energy to bring people together.

… be able to think things through to create brilliant connections .

…  uncover unique angles and perspectives that solve problems and introduce new ways of thinking.

… synthesizing seemingly unrelated pieces of information in a way that creates new ideas and approaches.

… master many kinds of unrelated things at the same time.

… influence others through art or and their intellectual pursuits, understanding the big picture and each individual perspective.

The truth is anyone who has achieved anything great is probably highly excitable in one of the five areas.

Here are some Highly Excitable People throughout history:

  • Jane Goodall (Emotional)
  • Ansel Adams (Sensual)
  • Robin Williams (Psychomotor)
  • Albert Einstein (Intellectual)
  • Walt Disney (Imaginational)

So Imagine:

  • Getting home from a full day of work and having the energy to call up a friend and meet her for dinner.
  • Having some extra time to take a hot bath (with salts!) without obsessing over all the things you should be doing. To your utter shock you actually enjoy yourself in the moment!
  • Sitting down at the end of a busy day, with a cup of tea, and feeling like you got it done — you didn’t spin your wheels, you were actually able to be focused and present on what was important.
  • Looking back over the year and smiling to yourself because of all you were able to do and accomplish.
  • Sitting down with your family for dinner, looking around the room, and feeling happy, not anxious, not preoccupied, just happy.
  • Knowing how to handle the everyday stress of life — family visits, temper tantrums, employee evaluations, traffic jams — without crumpling up in a ball (or screaming back).
  • Have a routine in your life that works, so you write every day, make sure to take a walk, drink your water, etc. but know how to adapt when you need to.
  • Having a clear sense of “having something special to offer” as opposed to always wondered why you’re the one who is always so sick, wired and tired.
  • Being called a thought leader, brilliant or a genius by people you respect.
  • Being asked to write, speak or teach about what is passionate to you.

Yes it really is possible!

My mission is to help Highly Excitable people use their fire without getting burned or burned out by connecting with their unique powers, balance their energy and feel a sense of accomplishment in their life.

To help you explore your own unique gifts and how to use them, I created a free Find Your Superpower Course to help you: Identify your individual areas of excitability with an excitability checklist; Customize the name of your own unique superpower; & Explore how you can harness your own power instead of suppressing it or letting it get out of control.

My Weird Brain

My Weird Brain

Reviewing google search terms that led to my website, I was impressed with how many people actually looked up the term "excitable," but my favorite search so far was, "i can be spacey but im actually very smart and do notice things others don't"

Well that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

I got on a tangent today after reading an online "IQ" post and then getting it in my head to look for the test I took in college and the nonverbal one I gave myself before I knew the answers.

I was unsuccessful in finding the distinct pink file folder that I know it is in, but in the meantime, I found one labeled "ADHD" full of articles I never read and two checklists from when I was 20 and tried to get diagnosed but never followed through and lost all my school records. Funny how little has changed in 20 years! I commented at the top of one of the checklists: "I don't like this test too much, some of the questions are vague and some of the answers depend on specific details."

Before I learned about ADHD, I had been tested in college for a learning disability, but I scored high enough on the academics that the tester asked me why I bothered to take the test. He said I got into that school so clearly I was doing OK. Clearly I was not because I dropped out of that school after sophomore year.

I used to be called a gifted underachiever, now I feel more like a scattered overachiever - at least when it comes to the things I'm interested in.

I went into school psychology to help others understand their own brains, but the rigid system of state mandated tests and criterion scores often makes the testing feel less meaningful than it could be if there is no significant pattern of strengths and weakness.

It wasn't until my son went to school and I discovered the word "excitability" in a search for behavior problems in gifted kids, that it all kind of made sense to me.

Excitability in short means responding more intensely to things. Intellectual excitable are often identified as gifted. There are four other types of excitability as well, and each one comes with it's own gifts as well as pains. As for my excitabilities:

  • Intellectual is cool and all, but when my brain won't shut the heck up, it can be super annoying and keep me from falling asleep or focusing on the task at hand.
  • Sensory has felt like the plague of my life - with chronic pain and fatigue since my teens, but I have found as I've connected and listened more to my body that I can also experience things as intensely pleasurable when I don't tune myself out.
  • Psychomotor can provide dynamic energy, but push me to the brink in a constant state of wired but tired.
  • Emotional felt like a big roller coaster - especially as a kid. Now I'm working on reconnecting where I used to try to tone myself down.
  • Imaginational can give me great ideas, but I cycle through things I'd love to do and rarely finish any of them without an external deadline or commitment.

So yeah, I'm smart AND spacey but I'm starting to get a hang of this whole harnessing my own power thing!

My weird brain

This has been a part of the June Hoagies' Gifted Education Blog Hop.

Top posts of 2015

2015 was an eventful year indeed! In the fall alone, I went back to my "day job" full time, got married, turned 40, and acquired a small retreat center. I also got a new computer, which switched up my fonts and images a bit. Needless to say, I've been a little preoccupied to post weekly, but there have been some well followed posts along the way. Special thanks to Hoagies Gifted Education blog hops for connecting me to a wider audience even when I haven't had the chance to widely promote my work. For the first part of 2016, my plan is to focus on self-care and get comfortable in my new home. I plan to start a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program in the new year and to keep a journal about my experience. I'd like to start weekly blog posts again, so keep your eye out.

In the fall, I will plan to launch my Embracing Intensity podcast and find ways to share our new Quinn Mountain community through in-person coaching and small retreats

For now, enjoy my top posts from 2015!

5. An Orange In the Apple Barrel

Bonus - 25 Things Only a Highly Excitable Person Would Understand - Not posted in 2015, but by far my most visited post this year!

An Orange in the Apple Barrel

Last month I got married, and shared why I wore orange to my wedding. The expression "she's not a smaller apple, she's an orange," became my motto for many years. It helped me to understand why I didn't fit the traditional school mold even though I would later be identified as gifted (in hindsight I was probably what they would call "twice exceptional" with unidentified auditory processing and attention issues).

I embraced my orangeness in an apple world. I might have been considered a hipster before it was remotely considered "hip." This was especially true in the way that I dressed. My senior year of high school, when the grunge movement started, I remember bemoaning the fact that the same people who used to mock my style were now complementing me. When I went to school in a patchwork dress I designed myself, I expected weird looks but instead got complements instead.

I was so contrary in my dress that even when I went to the more alternative scene of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, where most people wore black and possibly lingerie, I wore things like a cute little vintage green and white gingham jumper with daisies. I got into wearing garter belts, but with cotton stockings I tie died myself.

I was fortunate enough to be raised with family and the Unitarian Universalist community that supported expression of individuality. School, however, didn't always do this. Although the school was very diverse, there were not a lot of mixed ethnicity groups on campus. My band of misfit friends was an exception. Because of this, you'd almost think we were popular if you looked at my senior yearbook because that year's theme was diversity and my friends represented that concept well.

My last husband was in a band with some of those friends. I knew we were destined to meet when a friend told me, "he's weird, he's even weirder than you!" This was a flag we both carried proudly.

Being weird just for the sake of being weird was a developmental stage of adolescence for me. It was my own form of rebellion since in most other ways I was a sweet and obedient child. I knew I would never "fit in," so instead I strove to stand out.

I remember meeting a person who read auras who once told me that I cared a lot about what other people thought of me. I laughed at the time because I thought I didn't care at all, when in fact I know that I cared a little too much, so I created an image of myself that I could control to some degree and when people didn't like me I could brush it off that they just didn't "get" me.

Over the years though, I saw my deliberate unconventionality as a sign of imaturity and began to tone myself down to fit with the other apples. I didn't see it as loosing myself, just as part of growing up.

While it is true that doing things just for the sake of getting attention no longer feels like the right fit for me, neither does doing things simply to fit the mold.

As Dr. Seuss said, "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"

This post is part of a blog hop that starts in November on ages and stages of giftedness for Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

Why I Wore Orange to my Wedding

I started school very young, so it should be no surprise that I was not as mature as my peers. I was a bit extra hyper and asked way too many questions for the teacher's taste. When they tried to hold me back in Kindergarten, my parents had me tested and the psychologist who worked with me said, "she's not a smaller apple, she's an orange."

Over the years orange continued to be my favorite color. It was vibrant and happy, just as I usually saw myself. As the years passed and I became a "mature adult" though, my tendency to wear orange started to fade away.

When I was divorced about seven years ago, orange slowly started to creep back into my wardrobe. I remember one time my best college friend I only saw on occasion these days said to me, "you've got your orange back!"

I continued to find myself attracted to people who saw the same flaws in me that I saw in myself. I lacked a filter, was too scattered and lacking the qualities of a responsible adult. It would make sense then that I would be drawn to "more responsible" and often therefore more critical partners.

Not that I didn't have relationships with men that weren't critical, but for me those always seemed to fall short, or lack some spark. I started to worry that it was me, not them, that was the problem.

I decided to take a year or so off of dating to "fix" myself so that I could be drawn to the right person. I worked on listening to my body, improving my health, and most importantly getting out of my head and more into my heart and gut. About half way through this process I had a thought...

What if rather than fixing myself to find love, I needed to really open my heart to heal?

Within a week of having that thought, I came in contact with my Guy. I knew pretty early on something was different this time. Not that it was all easy - he had a challenging past I couldn't help but worry would come out in some surprising way.

As I've seen it, it has come out in a beautiful spirit that lives life with great acceptance and humor. He appreciates everything he has and loves me because of my quirks rather than despite them.

When we decided to get married, I knew that orange was the only choice for my dress, and my amazing sister Laurinda, from ReCrochetions, managed to make this awesome dress in about three months. She was not sure about trying a technique she'd never done before, but I told her I had full faith in her. I was clearly not disappointed!

What do Brene Brown and Lady Gaga Have in Common?

Dr. Brene Brown @ Texas Conference for Women - Oct. 24, 2012, Austin

Lady Gaga, ARTPOP Ball Tour, Bell Center, Montréal, 2 July 2014 (119)

In her new book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown says, "When I was a child, the smallest glimpse into a new world could unleash a torrent of curiosity within me... I wanted to know more about everything. Except emotion."

In Daring Greatly, she describes her family motto as "lock and load," which contributed to an "aversion to uncertainty and emotional exposure." She also, however, "inherited a huge heart and ready empathy."

Starting in middle school she started developing "different suits of armor" that kept her safe from vulnerability. She tried on varied roles ranging from "the good girl" to "angry activist" to "out of control party girl." These roles helped keep her numbed and tuned out so she wouldn't become overly engaged.

She embraced her intense intellect while suppressing her intense emotions.

The turning point for her came when her mom went into therapy. Suddenly the family that didn't discuss emotions started to put everything on the table. It was messy, but as Brene points out, she wouldn't be who she is today without it.  "This experience and how it played out over the years ignited within me a spark of curiosity about emotions that has continued to grow."

Even in her young adult life though, she avoided vulnerability and uncertainty. In her viral TED talk on vulnerability, she talks about how she went into research because she wanted to take messy topics such as emotions and make them "not messy."

When she discovered that embracing vulnerability was the key to "whole heartedness," she had what she called a "breakdown," and her therapist called a "spiritual awakening."  This was the catalyst that sparked her life changing work as an author, researcher, storyteller and speaker.

She now helps people around the world to accept themselves for their own imperfections and open themselves up to uncertainty and vulnerability so that they can be their best selves.

Lady Gaga, or Stefani Germanotta, on the other hand, had a different kind of childhood. It was not her family who discouraged displays of intense emotion or expressing herself, it was her peers.

This article on her early years shares that "Gaga described herself in high school as 'very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined' but also 'a bit insecure' as she told in an interview, 'I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn’t fit in, and I felt like a freak.'"

She found an outlet in drama and music and honed her talent for songwriting at an early age. She also "honed her writing skills by composing essays and analytical papers focusing on topics such as art, religion and socio-policital order."

Career-wise, her early work was described as "wedding band-ish," not really standing out from the crowd. It wasn't until she embraced her own excentricity in her work that she became a pop sensation.

In 2011, she founded the Born This Way Foundation with her mother, which aims to inspire youth and build better communities through empowerment and anti-bullying education. She has also been actively involved in LGBT and Women's rights advocacy. Her mission is "to inspire bravery" in youth so that they can embrace who they really are.

Both of these women have intense intellect, emotions and creativity. They got the message at some point in their lives that something about them was "too much," so they toned themselves down and/or tuned themselves out. It was not until they reconnected with the power of their intensity, however, that they truly shined and helped shine their light to guide others.

Stories like these are what I am gathering for my upcoming Embracing Intensity Podcast. I have already started interviewing some remarkable women who are using their fire and helping others do the same! You can preview excerpts from their stories in the video below.

You can also receive updates on the podcast release by signing up for my free Power Zone Toolkit: 7 Days to More Focus, Energy and Fun.

On Being "Too Much"

I must learn to love the fool in me - the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. ~ Theadore Isaac Rubin


It's an all too familiar story I've heard from many incredible women: An intense creative child is told that part of growing up means toning herself down. She tries to meet this expectation but still fears that she's "too much." In the process of toning down she learns to tune herself out and disconnects from her body and gut.

If this goes along long enough, she's likely to feel lost and/or develop chronic pain. She might push herself beyond her limits or just lose sight of who she truly is.

What she might not realize is that this "too muchness" she fears is the key to her greatest powers!

According to Kazimierz Dabrowski, heightened excitability, or above average reactions to stimuli, is a sign of positive developmental potential. This means that intensity is an asset when it comes to personal growth.

There are five types of excitability: intellectual, imaginative, emotional, sensory and psychomotor. Many people who have been identified as gifted experience one or more of these overexcitabilities.

After interviewing many remarkable women who have harnessed the power of their intensity in their lives and careers for my upcoming Embracing Intensity podcast, I have picked up on some common themes that have helped them reconnect with and direct their excitability.

Self Awareness - Being aware of how your excitablilities affect you and knowing that you are not alone can go a long way toward using them in a positive way. When you aren't connected with that part of yourself, you are likely to label some aspects that are not as socially acceptable as faults. This type of self-criticism is entirely unproductive. If you can be aware of how your intensity looks when well harnessed as well as how it looks when it feels out of control or suppressed, you can use your fire without getting burned.

Intuition - A common theme that came up was reconnecting with your intuition. Many of us get stuck in our head and stop listening to our heart or gut. David Richo describes the importance of connecting with your "inner trio," your head, your heart and your gut when making important decisions. If you ignore the last two, you are likely to follow a path that may leave you feeling stuck.

Vulnerability - Opening up and being yourself is the only way that you can really connect with the people who can most relate to you. If you protect yourself from vulnerability, you may have success on the outside, but on the inside something feels "off." You may "fit in" but to truly belong, it's crucial to have at least one person you can be vulnerable with.

Self-Care - Finally, finding time for self-care was crucial for most highly excitable women to ground themselves and decompress. For many, this involved getting out in nature. For others exercise, meditation and yoga were daily practices. Whatever you need to do to recharge your batteries, be sure to do it before they are completely dead.

So, if you've been spending your time toning yourself down or tuning yourself out, take some time to reconnect with the power of your own intensity. You may find that your greatest excesses are, in fact, your greatest assets!

The Difference Between Sensitivity and Drama

When I was young I was super sensitive to tone of voice. I remember telling people not to yell at me and they would respond that they weren't yelling. While they might not have been raising their voices, I was picking up on an angry or annoyed tone and made the assumption that they were yelling.

In my first marriage, the tone I was sensitive was one of judgement, but I blew it off as just me being over sensitive. I know now that I was right in my interpretation.

When you intuitively sense things beyond what is said (or even what the person is aware of in themselves), it can leave you questioning your own judgement. For me this led to quite a bit of defensiveness and drama in the past.

I always thought drama was an inevitable byproduct of two intense and sensitive people getting together. Now that I'm getting married again to an intense but low-drama partner, I see that I was dead wrong. I think when it comes down to it, the difference between sensitivity and drama is in how we interpret and communicate about our sensitivity.

I've heard many emotionally sensitive friends talk about how they have been accused of being irrational. I actually find that often highly sensitive people are the most rational of all because they can see many sides of an issue. The intense emotional response is a highly rational reaction to the fact that there's a lot of cruelty and unfairness in the world. The drama comes in when we react before have time to fully process...

  • Sensitivity may mean reacting more emotionally than average. Drama is taking everything personally.
  • Sensitivity might involve intuitively picking up on subtleties others might not notice. Drama is making assumptions based on those feelings without clarification.
  • Sensitivity could be reacting more intensely to the thoughtless acts of others. Drama is blaming others for your feelings and actions.
  • Sensitivity often involves considering a variety of perspectives. Drama is looking for others to reinforce your own perspective.
  • Sensitivity is being considerate of the needs of others. Drama is playing a martyr.

There are two resources that I've found invaluable in handling my sensitivity while reducing the drama. One is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz: Be impeccable with your word; Don’t take anything personally; Don’t make assumptions; and Always do your best.

The other, more active, tool I use is Nonviolent Communication. NVC is all about communicating our needs in a way that respects the needs of others. It empowers us to take assertive action and live out the Four Agreements. I developed a four step process to help sensitive and intense people use the elements of Nonviolent Communication to embrace their sensitivities in a positive and proactive way. I use the acronym STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Request) to remember the steps.

Stop - Develop a self-care toolkit to help you reach a calm state and objectively observe your situation.

Think - Consider your feelings and needs around the situation then think of strategies that might meet your needs.

Act - Choose a strategy and do it.

Request - If someone can help you meet a need, make a request of them. Be sure that it is indeed a request, rather than a demand.

I share a more detailed post about the STAR process here.

We can not control the actions of others, but we can control how we respond. Considering the Four Agreements and using the STAR process we can communicate our needs in a drama-free way and live our lives proactively rather than reactively.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Books

I first diagnosed myself as an undergraduate psychology student as having, "overactive dendrites," which essentially meant that I was highly sensitive but I didn't know that term at the time. There were a lot of things I connect with about being highly sensitive, but some of it didn't quite fit as I am also a high sensation seeker and an extrovert. As I researched more about my own son's intensity I realized that I was highly excitable, which means I both perceive and respond to the world more intensely than others, not just in my senses as described by high sensitivity, but also in my mind, imagination, feelings and body.

Over the last few years, I've read all kinds of personal development in order to explore the best ways to harness the power of excitability. These are a few that have had the most impact on myself and my work (Amazon affiliate links included):

The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius(tm) by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. Jacobsen describes a gifted adult as intense, complex and driven. She doesn't so much focus on intellect so much as the personal characteristics they share. This book is a great start to help understand your own gifts and intensities and use them in a positive way.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope by James T. Webb. I've found quite a few books aimed at bright or intellectually gifted adults to be either extremely academic, overly self-admiring, or focused more on problems than solutions. Webb's book does an amazing job of describing the existential dilemmas that more intense people face and describes both negative and positive coping skills for those facing disillusionment.

Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults edited by Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski. This is literally THE book on excitability. I appreciate that it looks at intensity at all stages of life. Some of the essays are more academic in nature, but others are more personal and compelling.

The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. This was by far the most entertaining personal development book I've ever read! Chris Hardwick was a "has been" MTV V-jay turned highly successful blogger and podcaster. He shares how he transformed his life by approaching it like a roleplaying game.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. Nonviolent communication is a tool I use throughout my work. When I first learned about it, it appealed to me right away because it was close to my own natural style of communication, and I believe why I've had a skills with communicating in difficult situations. While the actual "language" of NVC can feel a little awkward, the spirit of understanding the underlying needs we are trying to meet with our actions is invaluable. It also gives tools for making objective, unbiased, observations and understanding our feelings better.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. This was one of the first personal development books that had a profound affect on me. Such simple concepts that really made sense to me. The four agreements are: Be impeccable with your word; Don't take anything personally; Don't make assumptions; and Always do your best. Easy to understand, but sometimes difficult to implement. It's helpful for me to revisit these concepts every now and then.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. I kind of blew off The 7 Habits for a long time as too mainstream and cliche. When I finally got around to reading it though, I realized that these were inarguable truths. The 7 habits include: Be proactive, Begin with an end in mind; Put first things first; Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; Synergize; and Sharpen the saw.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown.  I pretty much love anything written by Brene Brown. Her TED talk on Vulnerability was the first TED talk I ever saw and set the bar for all future talks. In Daring Greatly, she takes her research and gives practical applications. I especially appreciated her chapter on wholehearted parenting. The Gifts of Imperfection is another great book!

How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo. I got this book to "save" my marriage, but it also helped me to let go. The five keys include attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. He also talks about stages of relationships and how to choose a suitable partner. His book How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration is also a great one, but sometimes it's hard to hand someone a book called "How to Be an Adult" without extensive explanation. It addresses tools to move on from your past and take ownership of your life. My favorite chapter is on how to be assertive in getting your needs met rather than passive or aggressive. It's a great companion to NVC concepts.

Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit. You might ask what this has to do with intensity or personal development, but I've found I'm not the only one who has experienced persistent fatigue from experiencing the world more intensely. I've picked up so many chronic pain and fatigue books over the years and nothing ever really clicked. I love Montpetit's approach because she looks at energy balance not just from a health perspective but from a psychological or spiritual perspective. I share some of her most useful tools for balancing your energy in my post What's Your Energy Balance.

There are a lot more amazing books out there, but I thought I'd cap it off at 10. I'd love it if you'd share below what books have had a positive influence on using your own intensity for good!

You Don't Really Want to Get Better

A few years ago I was wandering a holiday bizarre when I found a booth where they were selling magnetic jewelry that was supposed to help relieve pain. I asked the man if he'd seen any success using it for Fibromyalgia and he said, "I've found that people with Fibromyalgia don't really WANT to get better."

Umm.... Excuse me?

I spent years buying self-help books and trying new therapies in the attempt to relieve my chronic pain and fatigue.

But then I never really stuck to anything long enough for it to help, so was there some truth in what he said?

I call bulshit!

The reason it's hard to stick to anything is because chronic pain and fatigue deplete our resources of self-control.

Last week, when talking about focusing on health rather than weight, a client said to me, "but the problem is I don't really believe that my pain and fatigue will be fixed by losing weight."

This made me step back and look at my own experience. I had lost 40 pounds and kept it off without trying for almost two years and felt much better than I had. I said, "I still have issues with fatigue and pain, but I'm a hell of a lot happier."

I'm more in tune with my body's messages, I have an easier time falling asleep and don't wake up every day feeling like a truck hit me and I completely transformed the way I eat. I'm also working on projects that I feel passionate about and helping others harness the power of their own intensity. Once I gave up the idea that I had to "fix" myself before I could find the right partner, I opened myself up and found a partner who loves me BECAUSE of my quirks instead of despite them.

My friend Kathy Carlisle once said she had been looking for something outside of herself to "fix her," when it really came from within.

Our western medical approach is all about fixing the symptoms, but it doesn't really get at the core issues that drove the symptoms in the first place. Kathy is an inspiration because she managed to heal from her MS diagnosis without medication.

If there's a drug that stops the symptoms, many people end there.

Perhaps that's why this man felt that people with Fibromyalgia don't really want to get better - there are very few drugs or therapies proven to relieve the symptoms so many of us have given up on ever finding relief.

Looking beyond symptoms, I've found a few core issues in the highly excitable, intense and/or sensitive people that I've worked with that may play in to pain and fatigue:

  • The world is more intense for them than average.
  • They have a history of tuning themselves out and ignoring their body because it's usually uncomfortable.
  • They try to tone themselves down to fit in and not appear "too much."
  • They have a strong drive to make a difference in the world, while at the same time needing extra self-care due to their sensitivities.
  • Their willpower reserves have been depleted.
  • They have a really difficult time putting themselves first.

Here are some things that have helped me tremendously in healing from within:

Become an ally with your body. In an inspirational interview I did with Anna Chapman, she said that she used to see her body as an enemy, but now she can see that everything her body has done was in an effort to protect her. I see that in myself after trying so hard to "fight" my body and beat it into submission. After years of tuning it out, it screamed back at me to listen. When I was asked to stop every hour and rate my pain and tension I was able to feel headaches creeping up my neck and stop them in their tracks. Even now, I have to remind myself to check in with my body and make sure I'm not pushing it too hard. When I am more in tune with myself, I'm actually more productive because I don't crash so hard as soon as I don't have a deadline over my head.

Get clear on your purpose. When you are clear on your life purpose and vision for the future, you can make decisions that are in line with that vision. It helps to bring you clarity and direction. You can move from beating yourself up about what should be and focus on what could be. When you have a sense of purpose, your passion and intensity can be channeled in a positive direction instead of spinning your wheels unnecessarily.

Do exactly what you want to do. When I first started my coaching journey I wanted to help women with chronic pain and fatigue issues improve their self-regulation skills so that they could follow through on the things that would make them feel better. I realize now that I was completely missing the mark. It's not about forcing yourself to do things you don't want to do, but about doing exactly the things that make you feel alive! In my post on energy balance, I point out that If we can activate our courage, spirit of play, self-care, sense of power and be mindful in the moment, our activities are a lot more energizing. If, on the other hand, we are motivated by fear, duty, responsibility for others, powerlessness, dwelling on the past or ruminating about the future, we are bound to be drained. This is why so many approaches to healing can backfire - because we approach them out of fear and duty.

If you are listening to your body and your purpose, you can find things that align with both and make decisions that feel good instead of forcing yourself to do the things you think you "should."

What has helped you heal from within?

Are you a Highly Sensitive Extrovert?

I got into the field of education because I thrive on connecting with others. But as the expectations on educators go up and the funding goes down, there is understandably a lot of stress around me that I have a tendency to pick up. This is a common problem of Highly Sensitive and Highly Excitable People who often find themselves in helping professions.

It is useful to step back and get some alone time to regroup. Being an extrovert though, I gain energy from being around people. So how does one find balance when a part of you is easily overstimulated and a part of you needs to go out and engage. These are some things that I've found helpful for myself:

Learn to be alone. When I was single, I did everything I could not to be alone. If I wasn't working or with my son, I was almost always out with my friends. I used to pull cards from a deck with transitional themes and occasionally I would get the "void" card, which describes itself by saying, "you may be covering up the emptiness or pain through an addiction." Now for me, addiction didn't come in substances or typical "addictive" activities, but in my fear of being alone and fear of missing out. If my friends were out and I were free, I wanted to be there. If I were home alone, I would do anything go get out of the house. Once I started a meaningful business though, and I felt some direction with my time outside of my "day job," I was able to enjoy and savor my alone time. Now that I have another adult in the house, I don't feel the need to go out as much, and I value the time I have to just do my own thing.

Choose your company. I used to pride myself on my ability to get along with challenging people. I was flattered that picky people wanted to spend time with me. Now I realize that the biggest challenge for me is not in having people like me but in setting limits and inviting people into my life that nourish me instead of ones that drain me. I still cast a wide social net, but there are only a few people that I am super close to. Those I spend the most time with I am consistently energized by, though of course we all have our rough times. I once ended a relationship with a great man because for some reason I felt consistently drained when we were together. We maintain a high respect for eachother, but in a relationship we just didn't work.

Find your purpose. As I mentioned above, once I felt a sense of purpose outside of my "day job", I was able to enjoy my alone time more. Finding a sense of purpose can help guide you in deciding exactly what choices in your life will feed that purpose and what will detract from it. This will help in deciding what social activities will be energizing and what you might find more draining.

Just say no. Learn to say no to things that aren't fun or in line with your purpose. Take a close look at how you spend your time and decide what things are really worth the investment. Time is one of your most valuable resources, so spend it well. This includes making time for play and self-care. If you are tempted to go out, but not really sure if you should. Step back and look at why you want to go. Are you afraid of missing out on something? Are you avoiding time alone with yourself? Or is this something that really will revitalize you? By all means, don't be afraid to say yes as well - just know what you are saying yes too.

To be a Highly Sensitive extrovert is anything but boring. If you embrace all aspects of yourself and learn your limits though, it can be a fun adventure!

10 Free Tools for Embracing Your Intensity

As a highly excitable, intense, sensitive and/or creative person, it can be hard to sift through helpful information. There's so much good free stuff out there on the internet that it's hard to know where to begin! Fortunately for you, I've spent the last couple of years going through websites, blogs and coach materials and would like to share with you the ones who stood out for their relevance to helping use excitability for good as well as their generosity and integrity.

I focused on people and materials that help make the most of your intensity, sensitivity and/or creativity. Many of these lovely people have also agreed to be interviewed for my upcoming Embracing Intensity podcast, and I look forward to sharing their deeper story of how they've used their powers for good in their own lives!

Organize and Beautify your life with the Queen Sweep. Anna Kunnecke offers this amazing six week class for free once a year every spring! Each week she helps you go through an aspect of your life (such as your closet, or your wallet) and make it more organized and beautiful. It is arranged in a spiral format so that you can start as small as you want and revisit each year to take it deeper. The goal of the program is to create: a physical space that feels beautiful, restful, and inspiring; a streamlined closet that reflects your best self; a clear inventory of your finances and a game plan; confidence saying ‘no’ to draining obligations; feeling more present and relaxed in your life; and the ability to close loops so that you can turn off at the end of the day. You can also check out her other free classes here.

Get out of your head and connect with the real you with Our Real Work. One common issue for us excitables is that we get stuck in our head with our mind spinning and sometimes forget to check back in with our gut. Jess Ryan focuses on reconnecting with your intuition so that you can make the decisions that are right for you in your life. You can check out her free Intuition Indicator Quiz to find out your intuition style and why it's so important to living the REAL you, and/or her Chakra Cheat Sheet with practical info to help you access the Real You in the real world.

Improve your health with The 4 Areas of Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People. Mely Brown goes above and beyond with her free e-guide that provides simple yet effective tips that support your sensitive neurology. So you can embrace the right healthy habits that suit you to create better energy, comfort and flow. It covers: the 4 characteristics of high sensitivity that can make some seemingly healthy habits hurt the sensitive woman & her self-esteem; the 4 key areas of health — most wellness programs miss out at least 2 of them, so no wonder they’re doomed to fail you; smarter (not harder) sensitive-friendly self-care tips you can blend easily into your life; plus coaching tip on how to know which healthy habits to prioritize in your self-care, right now.

Love your body and yourself with the Body Love Newsletter.  Anna Chapmann is one of the most inspiring humans I know! She is on a mission to help her fellow soul-sisters navigate old body image beliefs, social stigmas about what beauty is, and most importantly to defend against and purify the negative self talk we don't even realize we are saying to ourselves everyday. She has been featured on The Elephant Journal and has a very down to earth approach to self-love.

Stop looking for approval with the Approval Seeking Personality Type Quiz. I first discovered Amy Pearson looking at life coach websites in the Portland area. Her newsletter quickly became one of the few I consistently opened. She is all about being the full strength unedited version of you. And she self-identifies as a highly excitable person! I have had the pleasure of working with her one-on-one and got so much from her insights and experience. She also helps coaches to connect with their tribe and focus on the things that will help build their business in the most leveraged way.

Embrace your multiple passions with this Resource Guide for Multipotentialites. People who are excitable in mind and/or imagination may find they have so many interests that it's hard to focus on just one.  If this is true for you, you might be a multipotentialite. A multipotentialite is someone with many interests and creative pursuits. Emily Wapnick of puttylike.com shares how being a multipotentialite can be a great thing in her Ted talk on Multipotentiality. She also has a membership based online community forum called the Putty Tribe where multipotentialites can gather and discuss their varied passions and interests.

Grow your happy sensitive intuition with this free kit from the Happy Sensitive. Caroline Van Kimmenade has set out to build a community of happy sensitives. She shares tips and insights on using your empathy and perfectionism in a positive way. She also has several programs that are presented in a variety of formats that make them accessible to anyone looking to explore using their sensitivity in a positive way. I've just started her practical perfectionism course and my favorite thing so far is her perfectionism flow chart that gets you thinking about whether striving perfection in this moment is useful.

Explore your creative side with this Access Your Infinite Creativity Guided Meditation or How to Craft a Talisman e-book. Cynthia Topp has dedicated herself to: helping blocked artists find their playful inner child so they can live in an endless flow of creativity, helping entrepreneurs plot their path and overcome fears so they can create the business they envision and helping YOU dare to take a leap into the unknown so you can follow your dreams and create your best life. Her passion is to help creative, artistic people work through their mind clutter, limiting beliefs, and other assorted junk, to take their art to a place of infinite flow, and their business to a place of ridiculous profitability.

Attract your own tribe in your business with Stella Orange's guide: They Won't Pay You Gourmet Prices If Your Copy Screams Fast Food. Stella had me at "are you writing for muggles or wizards?" Since many highly excitables have a passion for making a difference, entrepreneurship is a common goal. If you are like me though, the whole selling part of the job might not come easy. Stella approaches copywriting for your business in a fun way, and has developed a great community of business owners who are making a difference. She thrives on encouraging people to use what makes them different and stand out as the super powers that they are.

Balance Your Energy with my Self-Care ToolkitYou want to make a difference in the world so you push yourself as far as you can. You tend to be self-critical and put other people's needs before your own. You're afraid to stop because you know you'll just crash and your affect on others is your best motivation to move forward! But here's the thing, research has shown that a happy person is a more productive person. If you don't take the time to take care of yourself, you will not be as effective in your attempts to change the world. Plus, believe it or not, you deserve a little TLC. In fact, your drive to make difference is connected to the very reason you need extra self-care. You are highly attuned to your environment. You pick up on things many others don't and respond more intensely. For this reason, you are more likely to burn out if you don't take care.

Wherever you are at in your mission to harness the power of your excitability, these tools are a good starting off point to explore their work and decide if you want to dive deeper. They are all about celebrating the uniqueness of you and using your differences as strengths.

I will be adding additional resources I've found useful in embracing intensity in the comments below. Please share any that come to mind for you as well!

Choose Your Own Adventure!

You always knew there was something different about you. Perhaps your inquisitive mind goes a mile a minute and you got in trouble for asking too many questions. Maybe you felt like an emotional roller coaster, and puzzled at how everyone around you stayed so flat. It could be you lived in your own little world that was as vivid to you as what others called the "real world." Perchance your senses were so strong you had to start tuning yourself out. Or else, you felt a constant restlessness and need to take action without quite knowing the right direction to move.

Whatever your experience, as a Highly Excitable person, you can be assured that it has been an intense ride compared to the norm. You may have tried to tone yourself down or tune yourself out to fit in or just to survive.

But as Dr. Seuss said, "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"

Now all that holding back might be taking it's toll with fatigue or that feeling that you just keep spinning your wheels without getting anywhere. Or perhaps you've picked up some patterns or habits that no longer serve you.

We are each as unique as our individual quirks, but if you have related to my blog, there are a few things I can guess about you:

  • You have a strong desire to make a difference in the world.
  • Self-care doesn't come easy for you.
  • You are starting to realize that improving your self-care will enhance your ability to make a difference in the world.

How that self-care looks is as individual as you!

This month I decided that instead of offering a one size fits all approach, I would branch out and offer a free one hour Choose Your Own Adventure Strategy Call.

In this call, you will:

  • Finally stop feeling like something is wrong with you and learn how Excitability directly contributes to your fatigue and/or feeling stuck..
  • Learn how Excitability, when channeled in the right way, can be your greatest asset.
  • Create a crystal clear plan to move toward balancing your energy and feeling a sense of accomplishment in life.

Choices for the call format include:

Break Free From Fatigue

  • Identify constructive ways that you can use Excitability in your life right away to go from feeling "powerless to powerful."
  • Learn one thing you can do right away to instantly feel more energized.

Stop Spinning Your Wheels

  • Identify your procrastination profile and what you can do about it.
  • Learn prioritization tools so you can focus on what is important and stop spinning your wheels on things that feel urgent but aren’t really important in the scheme of things.

Unblock Your Path

  • Identify one life pattern or habit that has been getting in your way.
  • Dislodge your blocks so that you can move forward with positive change.

To access your free session, complete this survey and I will contact you with available dates.

Intensity X2

The first time I got married I had observed that we both had highly intense parents that had divorced and remarried less intense partners, but this wouldn't stop us because we were clearly "meant to be." Now I won't dispute that thought because we were meant to produce our amazing son, but it did ultimately end. I believe this was not because we were both intense people, but because our particular brands of intensity did not entirely mesh well together.

The early stages of meshing together were a challenge. In hindsight I see that I mistook drama for passion and assumed it was just a part of two intense people connecting. Over time we were able to find a pretty good balance that was based on open communication, but our communication styles were very different so that took quite a bit of work to maintain. Still, I was taken by surprize when it ended. I had so many friends who complained about their spouses in a way that showed a lack of respect and I never felt that personally on either end.

What was lacking to some degree was complete acceptance. There were always things about each other that the other could not completely accept. I always wanted him to be less moody and he wanted me to have more of a filter. This seemed fair because I think these were things we couldn't completely accept in ourselves either.

For you Buffy fans out there, I used to complain that I didn't understand why everyone got all woozy over Angel when he was so broody. When things ended, I remember him saying that he was an Angel and what I really needed was a Spike (we're talking post soul here by the way).

Over the years I tried dating people who were less intense, but there was always something lacking for me.

Fast forward seven years and I have found someone who loves me because of my quirks, not despite them. Not to say that there is nothing we would change about the other, but we accept each other as we are. In fact, my Guy once said, I "accept the shit" out of him, and he does the same. He makes it pretty easy since despite a challenging past, he fully appreciates everything he has in his life. That's not to say it's all roses and no thorns, but the thorns are brief and we can talk about anything! He doesn't take things personally at all, and I'm working on it. We share the five As that David Richo says are essential in a healthy relationship, acceptance, attention, appreciation, affection and allowing.

After seven years of single parenthood, I'm moving back into the world of marriage again when I wasn't sure I ever would. If I've learned anything from my years of relationships and dating it's this - drama is not the same as passion or an inevitable outcome of two intense people meshing, and compatible communication styles save a lot of drama. Also, until you completely accept yourself, it will be difficult to find someone who completely accepts you. If you do, and it's mutual - treasure that!

Highly Sensitive or Highly Excitable?

I've been asked a lot recently about the difference between being highly sensitive and being highly excitable. I've written a few posts on being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and how it relates to excitability, but as I've spent the last year immersing myself in the two I've gotten more clarity on them both. First let's take a look at how the terms are defined.

According to Merriam-Webster... 

Sensitive: receptive to sense impressions; capable of being stimulated or excited by external agents (as light, gravity, or contact); highly responsive or susceptible; easily hurt or damaged; especially easily hurt emotionally; delicately aware of the attitudes and feelings of others

Excitable: capable of being readily roused into action or a state of excitement or irritability; capable of being activated by and reacting to stimuli <excitable cells>

According to Dr. Aron’s definition, the highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.

According to a summary of Kazimierz Dabrowski's work, overexcitability is a characteristic of the nervous system involving higher than average sensitivity to stimuli (a lower threshold to stimuli) and a higher than average response to stimuli.

Pretty similar eh? 

The short answer on the difference between high sensitivity and excitability is that high sensitivity focuses primarily on sensory and emotional sensitivity. Excitability includes sensory and emotional sensitivity, but it also includes intellectual, imaginative and psychomotor sensitivities. If you have a heightened sensitivity and/or intensity of experience in any of these five areas, you would fit the definition of highly excitable.

What's in name?

If you identify as a Highly Sensitive Person and that describes you quite well - you certainly don't need to go looking for new labels to add to your collection. Even though HSP falls under the definition, the term excitability might not feel quite right. If you are like me though, the concept of the HSP fits in many ways, but does not alone explain the big picture. From what I have observed, while those who identify as HSP often feel that the world is "too much" those who identify as excitable also worry that they might be "too much" for the world. This is due to the intensity not only of how they perceive the world but in how they react to it. They also struggle to find balance between the high need for self-care they have from being HSP with a strong drive and/or pressure on themselves to live up to their idealized selves and do something remarkable in the world.

Another difference I've seen is that the people I've talked to who identify as excitable, might be more likely to be High Sensation Seekers (HSS). HSS HSPs are highly sensitive to their environment, but they also seek stimulation and novelty. This combination of traits may leave you feeling like you have "one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake." I see intellectual and psychomotor excitabilities as the most likely connected to the HSS traits. If you are intellectually excitable, you may be attracted to novelty and intellectual stimulation by looking for new problems or puzzles to solve. If you have psychomotor excitability you may experience a feeling of restlessness and need to move. Some experience a tendency toward excess energy and/or hyperactivity, but it is possible to have psychomotor excitability and fatigue, which may show up in feeling "wired but tired."

So are you Highly Sensitive, Highly Excitable or Both?

If you identify as more sensitive or intense than average in the areas of senses and emotions, you are likely both. If you identify as more sensitive or intense in the areas of thought, imagination and/or body movement you might be highly excitable, but not identify as HSP unless you have the sensory and emotional components as well.

Driving Forward

During my first relationship after my divorce I finally gave in to taking medication to help deal with the anxiety and mild depression issues I was dealing with as a single parent. For me this showed up as extreme irritability, excessive worries over things I couldn't control and ruminations that kept me from focusing on work and sleeping. I had taken them once before and it had given me a fresh perspective, so I thought it worth a shot.

Sure enough, I felt happier after a while and the formidable task of dating was made a bit less daunting. After a couple of years though I realized something. Since I'd been on the medication, not only had I gained 40 pounds, but I had been completely sapped of all motivation! Turns out I need a little anxiety to push me forward. So, as I did the first time around, I quit the meds cold turkey during one of the most stressful times in my life.  Maybe not the best approach, but I think there's something to fully experiencing those life lows.

Both times I went on medication, I experienced a shift in perspective. The first, as a teen going into college, allowed me to see when I went off that those things that were annoying me about my roommate did not used to annoy me, so it must be me not her. The second time allowed me to get through the most anxiety inducing thing I've ever experienced - post divorce dating, until I could reach a point of navigating it on my own.

For me though, in the end, a little anxiety can be a good thing.

According to Kazimierz Dabrowski, "The theory of positive disintegration has it that most states of anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of psychoneurosis are necessary conditions for positive development of the individual." (Positive Disintegration p.111) This is because we must experience some degree of dissatisfaction with life before we can improve it. It's when we get stuck in it that it can become a problem.

In The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen describes three defining characteristics of the gifted as complexity, intensity and drive. Complexity and intensity can contribute to anxiety. Anxiety can both push you toward drive and hold you back from it. If it's productive anxiety it can push you forward. If, on the other hand, it keeps you spinning your wheels, it is useful to find some things that help move you forward.

Here are some things that have helped me over the years:

Manage your expectations - As you may have picked up, the most horrifyingly anxiety inducing thing I've ever done is dating after divorce (I was a pretty anxious dater before I got married, so I was glad to be out of that scene young). There I was not only doing something that terrified me and I was bad at, but I had the added trauma of knowing that my last relationship was not at all what I thought it was. When I was corresponding with a kind man I connected with for the first time, I was an absolute mess. I couldn't focus at work and I not only had trouble falling asleep (not uncommon) but I kept waking in the night for about a month. I held on to that relationship longer than I should have because he was nice and I didn't want to get back out there. Ultimately though, I knew it was not the right fit. Gradually, I learned that the best approach for me was to hope for the best but expect nothing. If I didn't expect to hear back from anyone, or to connect with them when we met, then I was pleasantly surprised when I did.

Expose yourself - My next several years became one big experiment in desensitization. Part of what made me so anxious was that having had so little experience with connecting with men, every time there was a mutual attraction, it felt like a HUGE deal. The advent of online dating has been a wonderful thing in this regard because even with the limitations of being a single parent, there were people I could connect with enough that it stopped being such a big deal.

Change your focus - My last relationship was pretty good, but ultimately still not a great fit and it was starting to drain energy that I wanted to be using to build a business.  So I took a 6 month break from dating to focus on my business.  When I went back to it, it was almost an afterthought, and without much energy at all, I met my amazing Guy!

Keep your humor - I ended up with a few experiences that could have gone really bad if I'd let it. Instead of getting wrapped up in the drama of it all though, I stepped back and laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Not to say that I never felt the drama, but as long as I could see the humor in it, it wouldn't last long.

Build your optimism and resilience - In the end, I got through by seeing how each and every experience that I had taught me something and brought me one step closer to where I wanted to be. I had hopes and desires, but I tried not to let them become expectations or attachments to one particular outcome.  I could see that there was a world of possible outcomes out there for me and I wouldn't know which was right for me until I was in it.  This turned out to be very true for me.

In Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope, James Webb shares some more positive coping skills that are often effective for anxiety, as well as existential depression.

So what's your best strategy for moving forward with your anxiety?

What is Your Energy Balance?

I don't know about you, but I've read a ton of health and self-help books over the years trying to "fix" my chronic pain and fatigue.  Last year I found a book called Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit.  Instead of listing a bunch of "cures" that may or not work, this book takes a more holistic look at exploring your energy.

One of the most useful chapters for me was Chapter 3, From Chaos to Energy Balance. In this chapter she suggests examining your activities for their energy balance.

To start, pick an activity you might do on an energy draining day.  Could be something related to personal hygiene, productivity or leisure.  Now consider these aspects of the activity:


Does the activity activate your sympathetic (calm) or parasympathetic (fight/flight) nervous system?The sympathetic branch of your nervous system was designed to perform under crisis. It activates our fight or flight response. This is handy if you are being chased by a tiger, but in our modern fast paced world it is often over active. Add to that the tendency to pick up on things and react to them more intensely of the highly excitable person, and you have a recipe for Adrenal Fatigue!  The parasympathetic branch acts as our "break pedal."  It helps us to stop and rest so that we can recuperate.  Things that decrease the heart and breathing rate, such as meditation and taking a hot bath, can activate the parasympathetic branch.


When you think about this activity do you feel scared or brave? If you are doing something out of guilt, shame or apprehension then it will be draining to you.  If, on the other hand, your actions are motivated by assertiveness, joy and goodwill, it will be more energizing to you.


Do you see this activity as an obligation or a joy? Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life, is fond of saying, "don't do anything that isn't play." (p.135) If we do things only out of a sense of duty, not only is it draining for us, but will eventually engender resistance to perform the activity.  He encourages a shift by translating "have to" to "choose to."  To do this you acknowledge that you are choosing to do something because you like the outcome. Instead of saying, "I have to ___", say "I choose to ___ because I want ___."  For example,  I might say, "I choose to clean my house because I want to enjoy peaceful surroundings."


Are you doing the activity for others or for yourself? It is one thing to do something for others because you enjoy contributing to their wellbeing.  If you are doing it for approval or recognition though, it is likely to get draining fast.  Even if we are doing it for the enjoyment of making their lives better, if we put their needs before our own we don't get the chance to recharge our own batteries.  As Montpetit says, "Over time, what we enjoy doing for others ends up becoming an obligation when we continually deprive ourselves in order to be able to do this activity." (p.66)


When doing this activity do you feel connected or disconnected? According to Montpetit, a sense of powerlessness comes of feeling alone (or disconnected) in the universe. (p.67) This leaves you feeling on guard and forcing things in the direction you want them to go.  Eventually you might resign yourself to a feeling of helplessness. When you feel connected and powerful, on the other hand, you have an inner feeling of well-being and a sense that you are part of a whole greater than yourself.  You come to a place of acceptance where power comes from working with reality instead of pushing against it.

Time Focus

When you do this activity, is your focus on the past and/or future or is it on the present? This concept was actually brought up in a later chapter, but I think it is another element to consider when taking stock of your energy balance. In our culture we are often focused on striving toward the future or pondering the past without taking the time to really be in the present.  This is why mindfulness meditation has taken off and helped a lot of people. If your mind is on the past or future, your energy is more likely to be drained. Bring yourself to the present moment to help recharge your battery.

What I particularly like about Lucie Montpetit's approach is that while some of these elements are clearly draining or energizing, a lot of it is in how we perceive them.  If we can activate our courage, spirit of play, self-care, sense of power and be mindful in the moment, some of the same activities can become a lot more energizing.

Taking these elements into account, what is something that renews your energy that you would like to make more time for into your day? What is something you are already doing that could be made more energizing by shifting your perspective a bit?