by Harry Hong
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of the national bestseller Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), about 15 to 20 percent of the population may have the trait of high sensitivity. Being an HSP, your nervous system is more sensitive to your surroundings. Your brain reacts deeper to the signals sent by your sense organs. You are easily overstimulated, stressed out and overwhelmed by stresses others think nothing of. According to Aron, you are probably an HSP if you:
• Are easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics or sirens nearby
• Become stressed when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time
• Need to withdraw after a busy day into a place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation
• Notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds or works of art
• Have a rich and complex inner life
• When you were a child, your parents or teachers saw you as a sensitive or shy kid
Psychological aspects of the HSP have been well studied, however physiological aspects have not. Here, I introduce a new term: the Highly Sensitive Body (HSB), a model system to study physiological characteristics of this special population, their unique health concerns and the special lifestyle and dietary requirements for them to maintain a healthy and balanced life. One of the important characteristics of the HSB is the sensitivity to emotions. Emotions have deeper impact on the HSB and more easily cause long-term psychological, behavioral and physiological issues.
All of the body’s critical functions, i.e. heartbeat, blood pressure, hormone secretion, immune function and digestion, are controlled automatically by the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis
Our conscious mind is not able to control these functions except during stress situations. When danger comes, the conscious mind sends a stress signal to the autonomic nervous system and triggers “fight or flight” response, a cascade of neural and hormonal responses that cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure to supply blood to the brain and muscles as well as a decrease of blood flow to internal organs. After the danger passes, the stress signal stops and the body’s function returns to normal.
Modern lifestyles, such as busy schedules, lack of sleep, the overuse of brain functions, are often the source of stress for developing chronic illnesses. However, emotional stress, a factor that sometimes can be overlooked, is one of the main stress signals sent from the conscious mind. Emotion is a subjective experience or feeling of the consciousness. Emotion is not only the driving force behind motivation and decision making, but also a hidden factor leading to physiological consequences. A deeper impact from emotions due to the sensitive nature of the HSB may lead to a unique profile of clinical symptoms and imbalances.
Ancient Chinese medicine believes that emotion is an energetic activity within the body’s energetic network called meridians. Modern energy medicine further suggests that inside our body there exists an energetic controlling system corresponding to the nervous system, circulatory system and related connective tissue. This energetic system covers every part of the body. It is reasonable to believe that emotional signals generated within the energy network interfere with the normal energetic control mechanism. This explains why positive emotions such as love, compassion and joy make the body strong and functioning better, while the negative ones such as anger, sadness, worry and fear make the body weak and dysfunctional.
Based on ancient philosophy—the Five-Element theory, Chinese medicine suggests that each negative emotion specifically interferes with the controlling mechanism of certain organs or systems. Modern interpretation of the emotion-physiology correlation is shown in the groupings below.
Heart and Circulatory system
Lungs and Respiratory system
Adrenal (HPA system
According to the Five-Element theory, vibrational frequency generated from anger and rage hurts the energetic control mechanism of the liver more than other organs, while the dysfunction of the liver also results in anger and rage more than other emotions. This theory of emotion-physiology connection has been extremely helpful for traditional Chinese doctors to address psychological issues with physiological approaches like acupuncture and herbs. Modern holistic practitioners have also adopted this theory by treating correlated organs and systems with natural therapies for specific emotional issues.
Clinically, we often see people with anger issues have liver problems, toxin accumulation and high inflammation. Excess norepinephrine and dopamine cannot be efficiently detoxified and balanced by the liver. Anti-inflammatory therapies with detoxification and liver support are necessary for this condition. Even for the irritability issue during women’s pre-menstruation, supporting liver detox function can have favorable results.
Too much worry, anguish and distress for long periods of time may result in depression and anxiety disorder. This condition is related to overproduction of norepinephrine but lack of serotonin and dopamine. Clinically, the majority of people in this group have digestive issues, including indigestion, constipation and loose stool. Addressing digestive problems such as Candida and bacteria overgrowth as well as leaky gut syndrome becomes the core therapy for these patients. Reducing adrenal stress and improving sleep quality are also critical to help this condition.
People who experience extreme fear and terror often have panic attacks, which is possibly caused by over production of dopamine but lack of norepinephrine and serotonin. Adrenal fatigue syndrome is the main cause for the deficiency of norepinephrine. Supporting adrenal function is the main therapy for this condition, including supplementation and lifestyle changes such as reducing stress in life, introducing relaxation and efficient sleep, etc. Digestive therapy is also needed to improve serotonin production.
People suffering from depression always feel sad or shame and cry easily. This condition shows overall deficiency of the neurotransmitters. According to Chinese medicine, the Lung system is the center of the Qi, the energy production. Addressing overall energy production by balancing hormones, especially thyroid and adrenal hormones, is the key to treat depression. Low thyroid function is the common cause for the overall reduction of the metabolism and energy production. Female and male hormone imbalances as well as liver detoxification also must be checked and corrected.
Emotional blockages can also be treated with an energetic approach such as Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) and Thought Field Therapy (TFT) as well as many of their derivatives. Energy psychological technique combines Chinese meridian stimulation with modern psychological approach and helps the body to release specific emotional holdings through related meridian pathways. European Flower Essences can also be used to reduce emotional stress to the body. Holistic medicine treats emotional diseases on both physiological and psychological levels. A synergistic combination of all of the techniques should be used at the same time to reach optimal results.
Harry Hong is a licensed acupuncturist specializing in holistic healing for the Highly Sensitive. With his own systematic IBMT protocol which includes Chinese medicine, modern homeopathy, energetic testing and allergy desensitization, he helps the highly sensitive regain their immune strength and get their life back. He has offices in South Florida and Chicago. For more information, email [email protected] or visit HighlySensitiveBody.com.