Happy girl jumping in a park

12 Things a 'Highly-Sensitive Person' Needs


If you’re a highly sensitive person like me, you know little things can be too much. Busy environments, violent images in movies or weekends with little downtime can stress you out. Because you’re so in tune with your environment and other people, life can be pretty exhausting, which makes you withdraw — and non-sensitives don’t understand.

But there’s nothing wrong with you and you’re not alone. High sensitivity is actually fairly common, found in 15 to 20 percent of the population, according to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of the book, “The Highly Sensitive Person

.” Both introverts and extroverts can be sensitive, as well as people of all personality types, although high sensitivity is probably more common among INFPs and INFJs.

If you’re highly sensitive, it means you need to take extra care of yourself — otherwise, your sensitive nature could aggravate existing conditions like depression and anxiety. Sadly, because many people don’t understand what high sensitivity is, you may have been told to “toughen up” or “just get over it.” You may have always felt different from other people, but you didn’t have a name for what you were.

High sensitivity can make life challenging but not impossible. When I’m in a routine and doing plenty of self-care, I forget about my sensitivity. But a recent trip reminded me of just how frazzled my senses can get. I was rushing from one activity to the next, hanging out in loud, crowded bars and restaurants, and meeting many new people. To top it all off, I wasn’t getting enough sleep or the kind of exercise that makes me feel good, like cardio and yoga. After five days of “vacation,” I was completely fried.

How can we as highly sensitive people cope with our trait? Here are 12 things we need to take care of our mental health:

1. Time to decompress.

Noisy, busy environments — like a crowded mall during the holidays, a concert or a big party — can wreak havoc on a sensitive person’s highly reactive nervous system. Likewise, packed schedules and high-pressure situations, like a job interview or the first day in a new school, are overstimulating. If you know you’ll be in situation that will frazzle you, plan some time to decompress in a quiet space afterward. It’s best if you can be alone.

2. Meaningful relationships.

We get bored or restless in relationships that lack meaningful interaction, according to Aron. This doesn’t mean we’re prone to relationship hopping, rather, we actually work harder to inspire intimacy and interesting conversation. It also means we’re selective about the people we let into our lives to begin with.

Interestingly, many sensitive people are great to be in a relationship with because they not only tune in to what’s good for them, but also to what’s good for others. They pay close attention to what their significant other wants. Aron calls this characteristic “mate sensitivity,” which means the ability to rapidly figure out what pleases their partner and act based on that intel. This behavior goes for friends, family members and co-workers as well.

Basically, it makes us happy to make others happy.

3. People who support us.

Sensitive people may cry or become emotional a lot. “Sensitive people can’t help but express what they’re feeling,” Aron told the Huffington Post. “They show their anger, they show their happiness. Appreciating that is really important.”

4. A gentle, healthy way of managing conflict.

No matter who you are, fighting with a loved one is miserable. But sensitive people tend to feel extra anxious when conflict arises — and an internal battle takes place. We feel torn between speaking up for what we believe is right and sitting back so we don’t provoke an angry reaction from the other person. Often we subjugate our own needs because we’d rather “go along to get along” than fight.

On the other hand, sensitive people can make great conflict resolvers, because we tend to see the other person’s perspective. We have high levels of empathy and can easily put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

5. Time to get things done.

Sensitive people like a slower pace of life. We like pondering all our options before making a decision and regularly reflecting on our experiences. We hate busy schedules and rushing from one event to the next. One of the hardest parts of my day during the work week is getting moving in the morning and leaving my apartment on time. Saturday mornings, when I don’t have to work, are for going at my own pace. It’s calming and restorative to know I don’t have to be dressed and ready to go anywhere anytime soon.

6. Plenty of sleep.

Lack of sleep (less than seven hours a night, for most people) makes the average person irritable and less productive, but lack of sleep for the sensitive person can make life almost unbearable. Getting enough sleep soothes my ramped-up senses and helps me process my thoughts and emotions. How much sleep I get can literally make or break my next day. Without proper sleep, every little stressor seems 10 times worse.

7. Healthy meals spaced regularly throughout the day.

When I don’t eat regularly, I get hangry. This is because, according to Aron, extreme hunger can mess up a sensitive person’s mood or concentration. To fend off feelings of crankiness and discombobulation, maintain a steady blood sugar level throughout the day by eating regular healthy meals and snacks.

8. Caffeine-free options.

Sensitive people (surprise, surprise) are sensitive to caffeine. I drink one cup of coffee in the morning to get me going, but I don’t have any caffeine past noon. Even a mug of green tea later in the day would leave me tossing and turning at night. Plus, having too much caffeine leaves me feeling jittery and wound up in an uncomfortable way.

If you’re sensitive, consider limiting your coffee, soda and tea intake. Watch out for sneaky sources of caffeine, like chocolate. Remember, the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine. For example, Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 31 milligrams of caffeine, which is almost as much as a can of Coke!

9. A space of our own.

If you live with others, make sure you have a quiet place you can retreat to when you need to get away from noise and people. Turn on your favorite music to drown out any unpleasant external noise.

10. Low lighting.

If possible, turn off the overhead lights in your home or office and substitute a lamp.

11. Time to adjust to change.

Transitions aren’t easy for anybody. (Hey! Who moved my cheese?)  But for sensitive people, transitions can be really rough. Even positive changes, like starting a new relationship or moving into a dream home, can be overstimulating and require an extra long period of adjustment. For example, I recently moved into a wonderful new apartment in a city I enjoy, but I literally felt off-kilter for months until I got used to my new situation.

12. Beauty and nature.

Like most sensitive people, I’m deeply affected by my surroundings, especially the way they look. Cluttered, chaotic or just plain ugly environments bother me. I feel calm spending time in nature, my city’s favorite neighborhoods or my simply decorated apartment (especially when it’s actually clean and tidy!).

When it comes down to it, the key is to embrace your sensitivity rather than work against it. Sensitive people make incredible leaders, partners and friends. We have high levels of empathy and we’re usually creative and perceptive. Maybe the world could use a little more of what we have.

This piece originally appeared on Introvert, Dear. Click here for more stories about being an introvert or highly sensitive person.

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To the Woman Taking Care of Everyone but Yourself


I turned 40 years old two months ago, and I believe I have a lot to show for these decades. I got married. And then divorced. I’ve been caretaker to my mom during her breast cancer. And again with her uterine cancer. I’ve traveled to 18 countries. I’ve lived in five states. I’ve mentored more than 50 women. I had my first breast tumor removed at 21 and my second at 22. I’ve had 40 breast ultrasounds and two mammograms to make sure we catch what’s next. I’ve given two eulogies. I’ve worked for eight companies. And I’ve founded three of my own.

Now I have new numbers to add. Two of my friends have multiple sclerosis (MS). One friend has uterine cancer. One has Cushing’s disease. And as of one week ago, my best friend since age 12 has tongue cancer. None of these five friends have reached 40.  

And their common denominator? All of them are oldest or only daughters.

I am not a scientist, a sociologist or an anthropologist. I do not write this bearing scientific proof, although I am now determined to find it. I do not write bearing any agenda except to open eyes a little wider. I do not write to protect a daughter, although I mother in many different ways.

All of us only/oldest daughters were raised to be the “helper,” the “big sister,” the “protector,” the “one to make things better” for everyone else. That was our role. A role mostly asked of us, given to us and many times, yes, assumed of us. We are a tribe of people-pleasers. Of self-de-prioritizers. We have to be reminded to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. We absorb resentment. We swallow the need for attention. We silence our own personal needs to champion our brothers, our younger sisters or our parents.

I have many, many more oldest/only daughter friends who are on the brink of disease. Who bathe in and out of depression medications. Who drink to numb their truth. Who pour themselves into work for the sake of validating their worth. For the sake of maybe finally being enough.  

This manifesto is a wake-up call to the incredible, the generous and the selfless women of my generation. I know I am not alone in having too many friends that are struggling with diagnoses too young.  

After three days together navigating a cancer center in Houston and now on a plane to LA for a second opinion, I watch as my best friend – whose own mom died of cancer when she was 5 – sleeps against the window. She’s done nothing in her life but mother her sister, be caretaker to her father, champion eight younger cousins and now be a single mom to her daughter. She’s done nothing but take care of others, and now it is her turn to be taken care of. Her one catalyst came in the form of cancer on the organ that is essential for her to be heard: her mouth. There’s no irony in this. Only the sobering truth of what she represents.   

I challenge you, selfless one, to embrace self-care. To acknowledge you are not invincible. To recognize it is time to put yourself first. How many catalysts does it/should it/must it take for you to finally stop fearing others’ judgments, and to understand the reality and the mortality of your own life? There is no embossed badge, no shiny trophy, no freshly baked chocolate chip cookie given to you for being sick with fear over others’ points of view instead of solely focusing on your own.

I challenge you, selfless one, to strive to give yourself the love and support you deserve.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Share a story about one moment or conversation related to a cancer diagnosis or experience that made an impact on you. Find out how to email us a story submission here.


25 Self-Care Strategies in the Wake of a Nightmarish Year


I’m heartbroken and exhausted.

I know I’m not alone in this.

When tragedy strikes, as it has repeatedly this year, I go through the same routine as many: I cry, I stay up too late watching the news coverage, I wake up and read story after story about the aftermath and the lives lost and impacted, I pray, I cry some more, I try to distract myself, I feel guilty about distracting myself, I pray some more, and then I go back to the news coverage. Obsessively.

I first experienced this cycle as a sophomore in college at Texas A&M, living out a nightmare after the Bonfire collapse on our campus killed 12 students and injured many others. Grief surrounded us. Not for days and weeks, but for years. We watched as logs and friends were carried away, and once the news cameras left, we tried to reconcile the life of a “carefree college student” with the tragedy we had witnessed.

Two years later, we huddled around campus televisions in horror as planes flew into the Twin Towers. Once again, classes and activities were canceled, and public mourning and tragedy became our education.

As someone who leans into grief, I never learned a healthy balance. And as a writer, I crave authentic stories. Whether it’s one life or hundreds lost, I’m left heartbroken and with an insatiable urge to learn more about those who died or are left behind.

I struggle with the self-care strategies I know I should be doing, because I feel guilty that I’m left unharmed and alive to actually do them. “Turn off the television and go meet some friends for dinner! Or pamper yourself with a massage or pedicure! Go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of nature!”

How? All I want to do is focus on whatever disaster or tragedy is in front of me, because tuning it out feels like turning a blind eye.

But, dear reader, please hear me when I say … it is OK to turn off the television. It is OK to log off social media and avert your eyes as you walk past newspaper and magazine stands. And it’s OK to excuse yourself from the conversation from time to time.

Self-care is not the same thing as selfishness.

Those of us who have depression and/or anxiety spend many days living in a darkness that feels beyond our control. When a different darkness presents itself in the form of unspeakable tragedy, we are allowed to control our exposure. In fact, we must.

Self-care is not selfish. It’s an act of love for ourselves and our families. It’s putting our oxygen mask on first so we still have the breath to help others when they need it.

Below is a list of 25 self-care strategies for the times you feel powerless and need to disengage, but also want to bring more light into the world.

1. Write a love letter.

2. Go through your home and select 15 items to donate to charity.

3. Actually donate the items that have been sitting in your car or closets for months.

4. Go for a run. Smile at someone as they pass you.

5. Pay for someone’s coffee.

6. Mail a $20 bill to your old address, or to your old college mailbox. Anonymously.

7. Pray.

8. Offer to treat a friend to lunch.

9. Deliver cookies to a local firehouse or police station.

10. Write a thank-you note to someone with a thankless job.

11. Go see a movie. Pay for a stranger’s movie ticket.

12. Listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. (Or other music, but seriously, start with “Hamilton.”)

13. Create something — art, music, crafts, a story, food, anything.

14. Get a haircut and donate your locks.

15. Visit your local children’s hospital website and see if they need any new toys or volunteers.

16. Take your dog for a long walk around the lake or park. Learn a dog owner’s name.

17. Read a magazine and then donate your old magazines to a doctor’s office for the waiting room.

18. Send a thank-you card to someone “just for being a friend.”

19. Invite your extended family over for a cookout or potluck.

20. Deliver a hot meal to a new mom. Hug that baby.

21. Play at the park with your kids. Volunteer with your kids. Hug your kids.

22. Take a bubble bath. Because they are awesome.

23. E-mail/tweet your favorite author or musician and let them know how much their work has meant to you. Then re-read or re-watch it.

24. Call your mom or dad. If they’re no longer living, share your favorite memory of them with a friend.

25. Get in the car and just drive. Someplace new, someplace familiar, anywhere. Just be out in the world, searching for goodness and beauty.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

25 Self-Care Strategies in the Wake of a Nightmarish Year

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indieGo Device Converts Any Wheelchair Into a Power Chair


What if any wheelchair could be transformed into a power wheelchair?

That’s the question John Damiao, director of the Power Mobility Program at The Center for Discovery, sought to answer. He works with children and adults who use wheelchairs, and grew frustrated that his students often couldn’t find a power chair that fit their unique needs, especially when it came to seating modifications.

So he decided to create a way to solve that problem: the indieGo, a universal device that rolls onto any manual wheelchair to convert it into a power chair.

And now, thanks to partnerships with the Center’s assistive technologies department and the Hurleyville Maker’s Lab, and a $1.125 million grant from Google.org’s Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities, the indieGo is becoming a reality. It’s currently being tested among residents at The Center for Discovery and is slated to be available to the public in late 2017.

“Whether the user uses a joystick or access switches, has a folding wheelchair or rigid wheelchair, the indieGo is designed to accommodate as many people as possible,” marketing lead Jason Kean told The Mighty. “We also understand the intricacies of having a device fit into someone’s life; that’s why we are designing indieGo to be highly portable so it can be easily placed in the trunk of a car or carried up a flight of steps.”

The three men behind indieGo – Kean, Damiao and project manager Mark McNamara – believe their product will redefine mobility.

“At the Center, we believe very strongly that everyone has the ‘Right to Move’ under their own volition,” Kean said. “indieGo is about enabling independent movement, regardless of wheelchair or ability.”

indieGo’s affordability, portability and open-source software open it up to a variety of applications.

“It can be an everyday power assist device for a manual wheelchair user in the community, a power mobility training tool for a rehabilitation center or hospital, a recreational device that can be shared for traveling long distances in a park, mall or museum, or a tool for learning and therapy for neuro-motor rehabilitation,” Kean said.

And it’ll retail for about $1,000 — about 1/7 of the price of a typical power wheelchair — making it ideal for both individual consumers and rehabilitation centers.

“indieGo is a device that is built to meet the needs of the underserved, to solve real everyday mobility problems,” Kean said. “By creating this device at an affordable price point, we are looking to give mobility to as many people as possible.”

That principle applies to access too; its controls can be adapted to each user’s abilities using joysticks, access switches and buttons.

Implications for the indieGo are broad, with an estimated 3.3 million wheelchair users in the United States alone and a power wheelchair market — too often plagued by sticker shock for consumers — projected to hit $3.9 billion by 2018.

McNamara summed up the premise of his team’s work in a promotional video:

“It’s going to blow the whole idea of wheelchairs out of the water.”


'Superhuman' and the Rest of Us: Paralympics, Disability and the Problem With the Media


I just saw the amazing new Channel 4 advert released for the Paralympic games. It’s a great piece of filmmaking and beautifully choreographed. Check it out here.

As happy as I am to see disabled people portrayed in such a positive and innovative light (aka like normal people doing normal people things… shock! horror!), my heart also sunk.

I do not in any way want to take away from the amazing athletes who participate in the Paralympic games. Seeing the range of things disabled people now have access to is wonderful, and I only hope funding continues to offer support and accessibility to give people the opportunity to participate in anything they want. Disability should never stop someone from achieving or pursuing something they want to do. Although, we all know there’s still a very, very long way to go.

The problem I have is with the media.

This happens every time we have a Paralympic games, and it also happens in a much more general way when we think about how disability is often presented. It’s either unbearably terrible “misery porn” or, the other extreme, disability “inspiration porn.”

As someone with an invisible illness, I’m constantly battling to be believed. Two things about this frustrates me:

1. When we talk about disability in the media it is often about the “traditional” understanding of disability. This makes it difficult for people with invisible disabilities to be believed and understood because it is still not socially acceptable. How can you be disabled when you look able bodied? I will add the caveat here that it’s a lot easier to present visible disabilities in an advert because, well, it’s kind of obvious why.

2. The problem with this near-fetishization of disability that happens during the Paralympics is we don’t look at these athletes as what they are — exceptional athletes — but as models on which society expects all disabled people to model themselves.

The nature of my disabilities means the sports these athletes do are entirely out of my league. In fact, getting out of bed most days is a pretty big achievement. But we are told to look at these amazing people and, “If we just tried harder” or “worked more” or “believed in ourselves” we could achieve just as much. But, and I really don’t mean to sound pessimistic, it’s just not possible for all people all the time. We wouldn’t go up to a perfectly healthy able-bodied acquaintance and tell them if they worked hard enough they could be the next Mo Farrah or Michael Phelps.

Sometimes people like to send me links about people who are sick and have done amazing things. It often makes me feel like I’m underachieving, even though I push my body way more than I know I should (and am making myself more unwell in the process). That being said, I know a lot of people can’t do the things I do. It’s all relative.

So yes, let’s celebrate these exceptional athletes. Let’s cheer them on in Rio and marvel at their skills, strength, determination and talent. The Paralympics gives an unprecedented opportunity to look at the way we treat disabled people in society and the opportunities available to them – but let’s be more mindful about how we look at and talk about these issues. We may not all be Rio-level “superhuman,” but we’re all fighting in our own way. Even if it doesn’t take us to Brazil. Even if it just means we’re getting out of bed and having a shower.

Image via YouTube/Channel 4 (UK Paralympic Broadcaster)

You can read my blog over at natashalipman.com and follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


Why We Need to Talk About Police Brutality and Disability


Out of respect for my friends in law enforcement and not wanting to fuel the flames, I have stayed relatively quiet about my views on police violence. But as the mother of Emily, a little girl with autism and an intellectual disability, who is growing up in a violent and frightening world, it’s time for me to speak up.

Carissa and Emily.
Carissa and Emily.

Lately when I hear “Hands up. Don’t shoot,” I get tears in my eyes. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to not worry about how my daughter would react to a police officer pointing a gun at her. The fact of the matter is, she will run. I know many don’t understand why I would even worry about such a thing considering that Emily is such a sweet child. But, what most of you don’t know is that she can become violent when she is hurt. Or that she has a lack of awareness about the impact her behavior has on others. She doesn’t understand when people are not laughing with her, but at her. Her behaviors can become very dangerous if she is egged on.

While many of parents have told me that my positive outlook about my child is inspiring, I have to admit that in some ways, it is just an act. I do a terrific job of hiding my fear, anger, and sadness about my daughter’s life journey. Regrettably, the world is a very cruel and unkind place to those who have disabilities, especially those with developmental, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities.

When Emily was in the second grade, I found her lying on her bed and sobbing. She was repeatedly crying, “I stupid.” Something had happened at school that made Emily realize she was different from the other children. A part of my soul died that day, as I realized I could no longer protect her from or keep her blissfully unaware of her reality; our overly perfectionistic, impatient and vain world won’t allow it.

Sadly, life is not easy for those who are in the minority. The challenges are real.

Several times a day I think about the way that a person’s disability will impact his or her life. As a mom it’s my job to help my daughter learn social and behavioral skills so she can be successful in life. As the executive director of a non-profit that empowers parents to advocate for their children with disabilities, it’s my job to positively impact the way society interacts with those who have disabilities. Often, though, I find that I am fighting an uphill battle.

Too often I have terrified parents call my office because a school resource officer has restrained or arrested a child with a disability who has done nothing wrong. Too often I hear the stories of distraught parents of a child with a disability who is suicidal because of school bullying. And nearly every school day, I learn of a child with a disability who has been traumatized at school or suspended.

Before we can tackle the issues that are plaguing society, we must recognize that a piece of the narrative has been missing:

• In the 2013-2014 school year, 11 percent of students on Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) received out-of-school suspension, compared to 5 percent of children without disabilities. Twenty-five percent of African American male students with disabilities were suspended. It’s even more alarming when you consider that children on IEPs make up just 13 percent of the school population.

• Research indicates that nearly 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a disability.

• Disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers. Stephon Watts, Freddie Gray and Kajieme Powell had something in common besides the color of their skin — they all had disabilities. Watts had autism, Gray had a developmental disability and Powell had a psychiatric disability.

Shamefully, there is very little media coverage regarding the ways society is failing individuals with disabilities. Let’s face it — when you can’t speak, are scared of crowds, or don’t have the physical strength to peacefully protest, it can be very difficult to get the attention of the news cameras. So, hopefully, this post may reach a few who are willing to effect change.

The majority of our police officers are upstanding, caring, and courageous individuals. I am grateful to those who are willing to protect and serve. Unfortunately, though, it’s hard to ignore the data that shows that people with disabilities are being subjected to a disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officers. According to research, police violence against an individual with a disability is often a result of lack of understanding and awareness by well-intentioned officers. Let me offer a few examples:

• A person who is deaf may appear to be ignoring a police officer’s commands.

• An individual with an intellectual or developmental disability may not process an officer’s commands quickly enough and appear to be non-compliant.

• An individual with autism may flee or walk away from an officer.

• Individuals with a sensory disorder may become violent if touched due to sensory defensiveness that provokes a “fight or flight” response.

• I could go on and on and on.

There is a community of individuals, many who are nonverbal, that have a higher risk of being shot and killed by law enforcement. If things don’t change, my daughter could be one of them. It’s time we stop allowing others to politicize the issues, and instead demand an open and honest dialogue.

Police officers need to receive more training on how to recognize a disability, and subdue an individual who has one without using violence. Schools need to stop suspending kids with disabilities and instead use positive behavior management. Children with disabilities must be taught alongside their typically developing peers. If they are not, most will have difficulty learning, and may never learn, self-regulation, executive function and social skills.

And, our society needs to understand that behavior is a form of language. Our actions speak louder than our words — just ask any parent of a child with autism. Our society must show compassion, patience, and tolerance for those who have different backgrounds, needs, and challenges.

It’s easy to point fingers at the police, politicians, or protest organizers. However, I challenge you to stop looking to others to effect change, and instead, consider the actions that you need to take. We are all responsible for making the world a safer place for our children.


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