Tag Archives: Depression

Four Practices for Highly Sensitive Personalities

Highly Sensitive Personalities (HSPs) are people with a very delicate and sensitive nervous system, who are overwhelmed and affected by the world around them. These people need lot of time alone for unwinding, has trouble handling stress and conflicts, are prone to negativity stress and depression and get severely affected by harsh, negative environments. At the same time, HSPs are generally very creative, intuitive and often psychic.
The world is increasing becoming more stressful and demanding, making it more and more difficult for HSPs to live a happy life. I lost a friend of mine recently because he could not put up with a harsh work environment.
Being a sensitive person myself, I have spent lot of time looking for techniques and processes that helps me safe guard myself from all the stress and negativity around. From my personal experience, I have handpicked four simple techniques that would help an HSP from being overwhelmed in this world.
I have written this small eBook detailing the practices, sincerely hoping that all those sensitive souls out there would benefit from it. I earnestly request you all to please forward this to those sensitive people you know, your own networks and anyone who would find this useful. May be that would help someone transform his life.
Four Practices for Highly Sensitive Personalities
I remember a story.
A man walking along a deserted beach at sunset, saw a young boy in the distance. The young boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the sea.
He was continuously doing this.
As the man approached closer, he saw that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and one at a time throwing them back into the water.
The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied, “I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,
“I made a huge difference to that one!”

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It’s just the difference between acting and reacting

A change is always tough. Most of us are sure that there are certain things that need to change in our lives. But when we attempt to change, there are all kinds of problems; uneasiness, fear, agony and depression. Even if we are able to change some thing (like a habit), there is a high probability of relapse after a period of uncertainty. I have wondered about it; often triggered by my attempts to stop smoking. When I did quit finally (rather easily), it gave me a new perception about the issue.

I think the problem is fundamentally with the point of change. Here is the theory : The difference between success and failure (or misery and happiness) is a simple choice between acting and reacting. Look at the picture below:

Action and Reaction

Say you are at the point Z and need to take a decision. You have two choices. One is to go by the patterns (or mind) which is usually the reactive path. The moment you align your mind in this way, mind starts further strengthening and reinforcing the point of view. You are then lead in one direction as indicated by the green line (the lines around it indicate the reinforcing mind patterns). There is another choice. That’s not to go by the patterns (mind), but to be aware or listen to your consciousness. This is the path of action, indicated by the red line. Even here, the mind does strengthen and reinforce the thinking.

Every moment in life we are actually at the point Z. If we can be aware and not get carried away by the mind, perhaps we can take right decisions for the future. This is rather simple.

But when it comes to change, the problem is more complex. The decision point is actually somewhere in the past and we have say taken a reactive approach and proceeded in one direction. Assume, it has taken us to Y. Now we want to change. We want to be at X. So we take a decision and convince ourselves to be at X. But this is just temporary. Soon the old patterns become dominant and you are mercilessly dragged to Y. When that happens the reinforcement is further strengthened and you are more convinced that you cannot change.

So where is the problem? You should actually be first moving to Z (and not X). This will demand that you work through the conditioning of the mind slowly and remove them. When you are at the point Z, look at the decision again. With the correct mindset or awareness, you can take the right decision and take the path towards X. Since the conditioning has been taken care of, they don’t trouble you hard and in no time new patterns are formed.

 Let’s understand this with an example. Take smoking. Assume you are a smoker (because at some point in your life, you decided to try it apparently for no reason) and you are trying to quit now. You are at Y, and have lot of stuff built already around it in the mind like – Smoking helps me relax, It reduces my stress, it’s difficult to stop this etc. You also want to escape and you want to be, say at X ,where you are free from the habit.

Action and Reaction eg

Now you project yourself to be at X (whatever method you use – Cold turkey, cutting down etc). For a day or two, you are better off (at X), but soon the patterns become active (and there are things going on in the mind like – perhaps this is not the right time, I should actually cut down etc..)  and you feel miserable. And soon you are pulled back to point Y (you relapse). The more this happens, you are even more convinced that you can never escape, because every failure reinforces your conviction that you cannot quit.

Why this happens? You were at the point Z, several times in your life; say whenever you are smoking or whenever you tried to resist the temptation. And when you decided to smoke, you actually said: This is enjoying and relaxing. This has taken you in one direction and all the conditioning is built around it. Even if you are successful with this approach to quit, you are likely to be depressed and miserable, because the basic decision is in question.

So in order to really escape, you need to go back to the point Z and rephrase the mindset. An example could be : “ This has been a dreadful disease that’s taken control of me, I am now stepping out. It feels so great to be free”.

Now there are three elements. You, Smoking and the act of Quitting (or not doing it). So at the point Z you have to use these three to construct a direction statement. You know what most smokers do? They construct it something like this : “ Though smoking helps me to relax, now because of my bad health, I have to somehow stop it. I am going to try it real hard. I am not sure if I will succeed, I have failed many times before. But I will try it hard this time”. This takes them straight to the path of misery. 

But if you can construct a direction statement like “ I am escaping from this dreadful disease, it is so great. I do not need to do this again”. You take the other direction.

It’s not just a simple affirmation statement in the mind. You need to use awareness (and reflection) to go deeper and deeper till you find the basic decision making point and make the change. And this change will be easy and permanent.

This might rather look simple, but if you understand it, it is the key to change.

Doubt, Negativity and the level of Prana

There are times when our minds become doubtful. All of a sudden, things look different. We start doubting people, situations, and intentions and finally start doubting ourselves (our capabilities, qualities, achievements etc). Sometimes this passes quickly, but at times it gets lodged firmly in the mind, difficult to shake off. When prolonged, this leads to psychosomatic disorders.

But where does all this doubt come from? It’s interesting to see that you were perfectly at peace with some situation till one fine day where you begin to ‘sense’ something wrong. A doubting mind soon develops negative tendencies and the negativity feeds on to doubt back. This could also lead to depression.

Typically we attribute ‘doubting’ to personality traits, thinking problems or even certain situations. But it’s interesting to see the point of view of Yoga. Yoga suggests that mind becomes doubtful when the Prana level goes down. Prana is what’s called the life force (or mental energy) which is alive in everyone. When your prana levels are low, that is when you feel down, disinterested in things, lethargic and develop a negative attitude in life.

So Yoga suggests that to keep doubts and negativity away, all you need to do is to keep your Prana levels high.

How do you do that? According to Yoga, there are four sources of energy: Food, Sleep, Breath and Meditation. Paying attention to them (if not all, at least one or two) will help you keep your energy.

Here is a brief overview of the four:

  • Food – According to Yoga, there are three types of food
    • Sattwik – Whole some food E.g Fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, cereals. They give lot of energy (greener the vegetable, more the prana)
    • Rajasik – This group causes lot of agitation in the mind. E.g Tea/Coffee, Spicy foods
    • Tamasik – That depletes energy and makes you dull and lethargic. E.g Alcohol, mushrooms, non vegetarian food, garlic, fried food, frozen food, refrigerated food etc.

If you are eating Tamasik food regularly, it can make you become very lethargic. Change your diet a bit and go for Satwik food. 

  •  Sleep : It’s important to have sufficient amount to quality uninterrupted sleep. If you have sleeping problems, sort it out. (See the post Tips for a good nights’ sleep )
  • Breath :  Look at your breath. Is it deep or shallow, is it long or short. A bad breathing pattern will fail to reenergize your body and mind as required. If you are badly down, completely devoid of energy, get on to some Pranayama practices. Things will turn around quickly. (Suryanamaskara is also a profound technique) Or try some aerobics. Paying attention to breath also brings some amount of present moment awarensss. 
  •  Meditation: A great source of energy. Needs some practice but can keep you really charged. There are several schools and techniques, choose what you find suitable for you.

Putting attention in these four sources for a few days, you will have a better prana level and even if you have been down for longh, you can see that in few days mind turns around.

H.H Sri Sri Ravishankar says in a talk – Doubt is always about positivity. When someone says “I love you”, you ask “really?”. But when someone says I hate you, you don’t question that. You don’t doubt your anger or depression, but you doubt all the positive qualities in you….

Also see Doubt and conditioning of the mind for the worse

Helplessness, Fear, Resistance and Stress

It is a common misapprehension that overworking leads to stress. While I agree that any demanding prolonged activity of the mind or body will lead to some sort of fatigue, I do not believe that this is what causes stress. Such a fatigue can be overcome (unless it is very prolonged and neglected) by breaks, some discipline in life or any activities that help you unwind.

What cause stress? When does it become a real serious issue? How do we know we are getting in to it? How do we overcome it? Here are some thoughts.

 Stress is caused by the mind and ego taking over an issue, typically in a relationship where there is some kind of hierarchy. A work place is a typical example; and that will be the focus here. Let’s see some common scenarios.

 To start with you have certain expectations on something or someone. You strongly believe that something needs to be done in a particular way and of course, you have your reasons.  Now you are asked by your boss to go ahead in a totally different way. You try to protest, but finally have to yield. This creates a conflict in the mind. The ego takes over and you feel wronged. You go ahead with the task but every mind your mind is churning out reasons why it wouldn’t work. Your ego really wants it to fail so that you can have your boss suffer for the wrong decision. Slowly the thought becomes obsessive. You wake up in the middle of the night and before you realize, the battle is already on in your mind. If you are a drinker or a smoker, you tend to over abuse, which aggravates the issue. You vent your frustration to your friends and they readily sympathize with you, which reinforces your feeling of misery. You don’t feel like going to office and secretly nurture a feeling of vengeance in not turning up for work. Before you realize, the stress catches up with your body and mind. And one fine day you wake up with a thumping heart and lump in your throat to realize that you lost the battle badly.

Look at another scenario. You are stuck in a situation where you are accountable but do not have power to solve it. A typical example from the Indian IT industry scenario is the role of a customer relationship manager. There is a fight going on between the customer and the offshore team and things have come in to a deadlock. There are big egos involved, which is obvious to you. But you cannot point this out. The management blames you for not resolving the issue. You are helpless and soon the stress gets it victim. The latter part of the story remains almost the same.

Another common scenario is responding to threat (not those obvious ones like – I will kill you, but those subtle ones). Typically many managers in India try to get work done by inducing subtle fear in the minds of team members. Your conscious mind may not realize this, but your subconscious mind reads the threat and you are preparing for a fight without realizing it. This also happens with intimidation – don’t try to act smart here, we know what to do. It leaves you badly hurt and because you cannot respond directly, you resort to playing those scripts in your mind.

In all the examples above, you can see helplessness, resistance and fear are common themes and I think our inability to deal with them gets us in to trouble. Sometimes we pull through, but to find us again in a fresh trap. It’s like a viral attack, every time the virus changes its structure and the body cannot find a permanent solution for it.

The trap is that we try to solve the issue always, and believe that everything will be peaceful after that. But the real problem is in our mind, which remains there as long as we understand.

So how do we tackle getting in to this mess? Here are some thoughts:

  • Speak out when needed. Even if it might be painful and your mind and ego will persuade you to avoid it.
  • Whatever be the case, if you cannot solve an issue and cannot escape from it, drop all your resistance and accept the situation
  • Don’t let issue based conflicts become people conflicts. Convey clearly to the person that you value him.
  • Seek help from someone whom you respect and who has a larger view of life. You are not helpless
  • If someone tries to instill fear in you, politely but firmly make it clear that you do not approve it
  • Do not respond emotionally to any issue, even if provoked. Stay calm not to feed the other person’s egoYour mind will tell you that the only way you can solve the issue is by getting out of the situation. Don’t believe this, unless you can really make that move. Otherwise, this creates a conditioning that makes you miserable.
  • Watch out for early signs, don’t neglect them. Typically the first symptoms are obsessive thoughts and disturbed sleep.
  • Finally, always have something that you really enjoy in life. May be a sports or some hobby, which will help you disconnect from the issue.

Escaping from such situations is not a long term solution, because you carry with you what really caused it – your mind and the ego. Stay firm and fight it out, and you have really learned something in your life.

Also Read:

  1. Surrender
  2. Why Cant we resolve our own issues by thinking?

Playing with Perceptions

We all form perceptions. We categorize and label people, situations, places and objects continuously, based on some cues that we pick and interpret. They are positive, negative or neutral and are generally harmless in most cases (except that it triggers a pre-conditioned approach or response). When we have formed a strong perception, we tend to avoid situations involving that anyway.

Why do we form perceptions in the first place? I think our minds are trained to logically analyze things around us and this ‘ability’ gets better as we grow. Lot of the work that we do demand this; be it analyzing a requirement or assessing a person. And before we know, it is our personality, and we conveniently label it as ‘sense making’. Even the tools that we use help us reinforce this behavior. Look at this blog itself; I have to categorize every post and add tags and build a meta-data around it.

When do perceptions become a problem? I think, in relationships which are egoistic and demanding in nature. The two most obvious are romance and work. The moment perceptions are taken over by mind and ego, there is trouble. Some times real serious trouble. I think in romance (marriage included) the impact is not that bad because there is some thing called ‘belongingness’ which at times can overrule all such negative tendencies.

So let’s look at work. Typically in Indian companies, managers are supposed to assess the employees not just based on the work done, but also the behavior, attitude and other soft skills. Perfect setting for forming perceptions, which are ‘professionally right’. I think this is one of the prime reasons for stress at workplace and people leaving jobs.

As I said, mostly perceptions are typically formed based on ‘cues’ and is not substantiated by evidences mostly. How the cues are interpreted depends on the person (and I think where is processed – ego or mind)

Look at this illustration that I think we all can relate to:

Alex is a manager in a company and Erich is a team member reporting in to him. There is another manager David who, Alex suspects to be working against him. All of a sudden, Alex finds that Erich and David are hanging out together often. He is curious but decides to wait and watch. Sometime later, in a meeting David brings up a particular point against Alex, one which Alex thinks is not possible for someone outside the team to know. Now Alex’s perception on David that he is working against him is reinforced, and Alex forms a new perception that Erich is actually bitching on him to David. (Alex’s ego takes over here). Alex gives a feedback to Erich that he is not seen at his desk often and has been taking too many breaks these days. Erich if offended. (His ego takes over). He is now wondering why Alex is trying to find fault with him, while he has been delivering what is expected on time. Erich forms a perception now that Alex is trying to intimidate him. (Why? May be my ideas are better than Alex’s).

Now Erich is careful and but also uncomfortable that Alex is watching him continuously. In the months that follow, Alex is actually searching for cues to reinforce his perception, while Erich is behaving quiet unnaturally, careful not to give Alex any chance to intimidate him. Alex picks some simple ‘cues’; for e.g when Alex gives a smile to Erich when they meet on the corridor, Erich returns just ‘half a smile’ and turns his face away. Fine, Alex is at least confident that he isn’t wrong. The relationship between Alex and Erich becomes very formal and uncomfortable and Erich is now avoiding Alex as far as possible. Alex is also watching who Erich is talking to in the team, subconsciously looking for any changes in their attitude also.

Now Erich talks to David about this and seeks his guidance and in the process David’s perception on Alex, that he is a man on mean thinking, is reinforced. Talking to David reinforces Erich’s perception on the situation that he is being victimized.

 In the next feedback cycle, Alex gives a comment that Erich is ‘spreading negative energy’. Erich is furious and offended (ego is hurt badly) and wants to now prove that Alex has a malicious intention to corner him. His mind is now sucked totally in to this and is completely disturbed. A week later, they meet up to discuss the feedback and Erich couldn’t hold his emotion back and vents out his frustration on Alex. This reinforces Alex’s perception and now he is more the sure that he was right. Alex tries to portray that he is helping Erich ‘improve’ by pointing out a ‘hidden’ problem and expects Erich to thank him for that. Now Erich’s perception is reinforced that Alex has some malicious motive in trying to find fault with him and brand him. Alex also sense that Erich is forming a perception on him, and this reinforces his perception on Erich further.

It’s easy to assume where this is heading to. But the sad part is that we get in to this trap often in life and it sucks all the creative energy in us and makes our lives miserable. What everyone missed in the above example that there could be a genuine positive reason for the connection between Erich and David. And the existing perception of Alex on David, prevented him from seeing it that way or trying to find it out.

One of the most important outcomes of letting perceptions rule relationships is that it creates ‘false identities’ for us. When someone has formed a perception that you are ‘moody’ (and you know it) you will automatically tend to be moody in his presence.

While I do not think that it’s not possible (and not needed too) to completely stop forming perceptions, I definitely think we can stop it from ruining our lives and the others around.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • I think the first thing is to see situations and people as they are, without the frills around it. Rather easy said than done. But you we are more mindful and understand how ego and mind works, I think you will be able to do this
  • Drop the notion that people are out there to get you. This arises out of fear, and leads to the wrong assumptions we make.
  • Even if you form perceptions, don’t let your ego latch on to it. Without the ‘ego’ playing our side, you will be able to solve it through discussions.
  • Whether you have formed a perception or fighting one, don’t go around discussing with people. It feeds your ego and further reinforces the perception. Seek help if needed from someone who can help.
  • If you are discussing with someone on a perception issue between the two, don’t let your emotions to take over. That will further aggravate the issue. Stay calm and don’t lose your balance
  • If you try are trying to change a perception someone has formed on you and it doesn’t work, just drop it. Understand that it is his problem and let him deal with it. Stay away.
  • Drop the conditioning that everyone has to have good and right perceptions on you. Try to resolve it only if it has any relevance to you. Don’t let your ego chase it.

 

After all perceptions are transient, they are bound to change. No one is going to hold on to a particular perception on forever.

Surrender

Surrender is a beautiful concept advocated by all the Indian religions. It is even placed superior to many of the spiritual practices.

But what does it mean really? What do one surrender? To whom? What happens after that?

I had my own problem understanding what surrender means. It is a tradition in India to offer your problems to a god, diety or a guru. This seemed to me the closest possible meaning of surrender, when I tried to undertsand this initially. 

This is how I experimented this.When I had a problem that I couldn’t solve or escape from, I said – God, I can’t handle this, I’m surrendering this to you. You take care. But it didn’t really work and soon it looked more like a ritual. I realized that such a surrender demanded complete faith (in whatever you surrender to), which was another abstract concept I needed to then understand. Without faith, the surrender was meaningless, because I doubted whether it would work or not and still continued pondering on it. Subconciously, I wished it would work, because my faith would grow then! So I had another chicken-egg situation. 

I dropped it for months till I became interested in  Mindfulness  and present moment. I decided to attempt to be ‘in the present moment’ for a week or so, just to feel it out ( I didn’t continue that for a reason; that’s for another post). As I became more and more mindful (in the present), surrender manifested all of a sudden! It was there in the present moment.

This brought about a totally diffrent meaning to Surrender. The real surrender is to drop all the resistance (to anything, may be after you failed to solve it or escape from) and just be in the situation. And the problem is no more there, simply because in present moment there are no problems.

Try it yourself. If there is a problem thats bothering you right now, just drop all your resistance to it, accept it fully and just be there. See what happens.(No cheating, be true to yourself, the acceptance has to be total and effortless)

I have tried this in some simple issues in my life and it works beautifully. But I think the challenge is to apply it to real serious issues (especially where ego is involved..)and that’s something I would like to start practicing.

Long way…

Need for the ‘High’

This post is related to the one on fighting depression. I believe, every human being has a strong need to feel “High” at times. Some common examples I can think of are : Someone appreciating me for something I have done , Someone expressing gratitude towards me , accomplishing something after some good effort, just getting lucky…

There are the bigger “Highs”. I think we need to have some of them intermittently to really start loving your life. It’s there fore important to have hobbies, learn something new, connect with people, involve in social activities, set goals in your life and put effort to achieve them, celebrate your success etc.
If life seems monotonous, it’s partly because the “High” is missing (just reflect, when was the last time you had a High in life?)
For creative people, I think the need is higher, because typically creativity looks for appreciation.
While for some people, the High is just a personal thing (doesn’t depend on others – this definitely needs a higher state of mind), but for most it’s got to do with other people around us.

If you are in the process of transforming your life, it’s very important to find out what gives you the real genuine “High”. Identify what gives you the High and put things in place to make sure you have it often. Here are some examples:

  • If you get High when someone appreciates you, then start appreciating others. The moment you start it, see how others will return it
  •  If achieving something hard gives you that high, set tough goals for you. Achieve it and celebrate…
  • If you have creative talents in life, take them out. Do a painting and show off to people, write a story …

What is described above is rather straightforward. But have you wondered, why does this not occur to us naturally? I think that’s because at a different level, in our daily lives, there is a constant need for those small “highs”. They slowly reinforce the patterns and form your personality. Once we have those small ‘highs’ in our daily life, in whatever we do, the ‘bigger Highs’ is just a natural extension of it.

But then what prevents us from having those small Highs? Some possibilities:

  • We are too busy and caught up with life, we do not have time. We are not aware of what we are doing.
  • We falsely associate highs with material gains (which is not really genuine I would say, Ask yourself – If the feeling you get by watching a sunset the same as the feeling you get when you made some profit in the stock market? You might argue both are essential, I too agree. But the point I am trying to drive here is that choose those things that touch your soul, not your mind..)
  • We are not true to ourselves. We have been trying to fit in to different roles in life, moving away from our natural state of being. We don’t realize this initially, but at some point you suddenly realize that there is no purpose in life, it’s so boring.. Mostly by then, you do not have the urge to come back; you rather just resign.

So the point is , if you are able to bring these small “Highs” in to your life, naturally the bigger ones will follow. Now how can you get these small “highs” in your life? Some examples here:

  •  Enjoy what you do, put your head where your heart is
  • Slow down in life, don’t keep chasing one after the other . Have breaks between activities
  • Maintain good relationships, communicate cheerfully with people, appreciate them..
  • Plan your day, accomplish what you planned..
  • Spend time for reflection, develop gratitude in life…
  • Cultivate Mindfulness in life

You might want to look at your own life and see where those Highs are. Get them back. It could just be that you have a photo of your kid on your office desk, as you glance your heart is filled with love, joy and affection for a short moment. That will do.

Getting this high is going to be your biggest aid when you are trying to change your life, especially getting rid of bad habits like smoking. Without you realizing, these habits give you a false illusion of ‘High’ which you are going to miss when you try escape. If you understand this and ensure that you have real genuine “highs” in life, you can get rid of any habits without any issues. If you are apprehensive, look at all those who quit smoking (without really undergoing months of misery & depression) easily have started something that they loved which actually gave them the high –be it a marathon runner, be it a social worker whatever it is.
This is the key to saying No to your habits….