We can’t get enough of ants, those “little things that run the world” as they were described by renowned biologist E.O. Wilson. Myrmecology (the study of ants) still entices many scientists because there is plenty more to reveal. Here are some of the most interesting things that we’ve learned lately about ants.
An Inspiration To Professional Boxers
Sometimes, intense strife can disturb the extremely well-organized communities of ants. Entomologists at the University of Illinois and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences used high-speed cameras to record ant-to-ant fights in four species of trap-jaw ants.
Trap-jaw ants have powerful mandibles capable of snapping shut at over 40 meters (130 ft) per second. Their jaws are so powerful that the ants also use them to hurl themselves into the air to escape predators.
However, when trap-jaw ants fight among themselves, they prefer to leave their deadly jaws out of it. Instead, they face off ant to ant and strike at each other with their antennae, much like boxers throwing punches.
According to the footage, different species of ants can throw from 20 to 42 strikes per second at their opponents. The record was set by the Florida-dwelling competitor Odontomachus brunneus. According to the researchers, trap-jaw ants are the fastest boxers ever recorded.
Not So Hardworking After All
Although ants are often praised for their incessant labor, they really aren’t that different from the lazy grasshopper in Aesop’s fable.
Ant colonies thrive on an efficient division of labor. Members engage in activities that range from feeding the larvae to foraging for food to building underground edifices.
Then there are the slackers—inactive ants that specialize in doing nothing. Entomologists at the University of Arizona observed five ant colonies (250Temnothorax rugatulus ants) in their lab for two weeks.
The ants were marked with distinguishing paint spots and were constantly recorded. The results were surprising: Over 25 percent of the worker ants never actually worked, and more than 70 percent worked less than half the time. Around 3 percent bore all the burden.
But things might not be as straightforward as they seem. In fact, the idlers could be vital to the proper functioning of the colony. Maybe they perform a job that was not caught on camera.
It’s also possible that their tasks were less obvious, like storing food for the hungry workers in their own stomachs or passing on chemical messages. Perhaps it’s related to their ages—too young or too old to work. But the researchers have not dismissed the idea of ants just being selfish.
Neat And Tiny Indoor Toilets
Ants display interesting bathroom habits. A study of 21 lab-grown colonies of black garden ants by biologists at the University of Regensburg found that these creatures maintain at least one designated area for going to the bathroom, a smart decision in a crowded nest.
The insects were fed a sugar solution colored with food dye, which turned their feces blue or red so that the researchers could track the frass (waste). Soon, colored piles were visible in certain areas of their nests, especially in the corners.
On the other hand, dead ants, food scraps, and other debris were dumped outside the nest, which makes the scientists wonder why the ants keep the frass inside in special “rooms.”
There are some possible answers: The waste could have antimicrobial properties, be used to feed the babies, mark the ants’ territory, or double as a building material.
Taking On The Pesticide Market
The goal of meeting future global food demand in a more sustainable way has found an unlikely ally. According to a review published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, ants can be more effective than pesticides as well as safer and cheaper.
The review is based on recent studies of the use of weaver ants as a pest control method for different crops grown in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. When ants were used as a pest deterrent, the yields of crops—from cashew to citrus to mango trees—were just as good as or even better than those sprayed with pesticides.
Investigations were focused mostly on weaver ants, which live in trees and are highly territorial. They control huge territories—from the top of the tree to the ground—and respond aggressively to any intruders.
That’s why they have been serving as agricultural pests for over a millennium. But other ant species can be just as effective.
Like a few other species, some ants appear to have found the fountain of youth. According to scientists, ants from the species Pheidole dentata are not affected by senescence (biological aging).
During their 140-day lives in the laboratory, these ants showed no signs of aging, such as more cell death in the brain or a decline in levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Furthermore, the older ants were more dynamic and even improved some of their skills, such as being able to track scents longer than the youngsters. According to researchers, the ants’ effective social organization may play an important role in keeping them in shape.
But they are not immortal, which begs the question of how the ants die. As the study didn’t cover the final days of the ants, scientists assume that they fast-forward through some kind of aging process just before they die.
Fire ants have a ferocious sting. As for crazy ants—the name says it all about their conduct. Both are widely known as invasive species and a threat to the environment.
When the two species cross paths, a relentless battle inevitably begins. But a study by researchers at the University of Texas has revealed that this ant rivalry is largely one-sided.
Although fire ants are equipped with extremely toxic poison, crazy ants carry the antidote. When they are splashed with the otherwise lethal toxin from fire ants, crazy ants discharge a drop of formic acid, their own chemical weapon. They apply the formic acid all over their bodies to neutralize the venom. Then they jump back into the fight.
This research explains how crazy ants (aka tawny crazy ants or raspberry crazy ants) managed to end the decades of dominance by fire ants in the southern US. As crazy ants seem determined to take over the area, the costs for the American economy—as well as the ecosystem—could be huge.
Diligent Sanitation Workers
Thanks to their enormous appetites, ants and other arthropods provide helpful sanitation services to New York City. As demonstrated by a study from North Carolina State University, these small creatures can devour tons of trash on the streets.
Researchers planted dishes of junk food all across Manhattan. Some boxes were designed in a manner that allowed only small insects to penetrate them. The team returned to check the dishes the next day.
Based on the amount of food consumed in 24 hours, they calculated that the pavement arthropods (insects that we see along the pavement and sidewalks) are able to eat up to 6 kilograms (14 lb) of waste per block each year.
This is extremely helpful when you consider that New York produces about 3 million tons of garbage every year. The ants’ impressive appetites also help cities to limit rat populations because ants and rats compete for food.
A team at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland has found that ants change careers just like honeybees do, fitting into a complex age-based hierarchy within the colony.
Every member in six colonies of carpenter ants was tagged with a unique symbol that was readable by a computer and tracked by a camera for 41 days. The study showed that the ants took riskier jobs as they aged.
After starting as nurses that took care of the queen and the babies, the ants became cleaners and eventually progressed to foragers. Except for the cleaners, the ants only interfered with other ants from the same professional group, probably for efficiency reasons.
There were exceptions to this age-based work progression. Some ants were more vocation driven, sticking with the same work for a lifetime or taking a high-profile job in their early days.
Ants know when they are sick. They also know exactly what they need to get better, joining the list of animals that use plants to self-medicate in a process called zoopharmacognosy.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki found that ants infected with a life-threatening fungus opted for food laced with a substance that included hydrogen peroxide—which is otherwise poisonous to ants—to fight the disease.
Belonging to the Formica fusca species, all the observed ants had access to this medicine, but only the contaminated ones ate it to increase their chances of survival.
Also, they were careful not to overdose because this substance usually kills healthy ants. The medicine is also available in aphids or decaying dead ants.
Author: Camelia Sisea
We do a lot of stuff every day that most of us never even think about. It’s too bad, because the explanations behind some of our most ordinary functions are quite fascinating.
Though it’s mostly thought of as an old wives’ tale, the idea that gentlemen prefer blondes has biological grounding. The average woman with blonde hair is likely to have light skin, and skin with a paler pigment will more noticeably show physical defects. So a male prefers female mate with blonde hair because he can more easily see how healthy their offspring will be.
Of course, females seek out and avoid the same qualities in males, so perhaps the adage should be that everyone prefers blondes.
Cheating on a Partner
There are many reasons for someone to be unfaithful, but aside from the psychological, it’s possible some people literally have cheating in their DNA. Scientists have discovered a gene they call RS3 334, which is colloquially becoming known as the divorce gene. In tests where men and women were asked to fill out detailed (and anonymous) questionnaires about their marriage, couples where the male of the relationship had one or more of the RS3 334 genes scored low, both describing unhappiness and frequent domestic troubles. It is thought the gene affects the body’s vasopressin release, a chemical responsible for human bonding and monogamy.
A lot of actions have become so ingrained in our culture that we don’t stop to think about why we are doing them. Hugging is essentially grabbing someone for no reason and with no outcomes or time limit planned. It seems strange when analyzed like that, but the reasons can be explained: close contact with another human, such as that experienced through hugging, is linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone responsible for attachment and trust. It’s particularly useful in a relationship because the body contact occurring during sex releases oxcytocin with the aim of pairing the two together for raising offspring.
Don’t have anyone to cuddle? Don’t worry: your brain also releases oxytocin for things like meaningful eye contact, generous acts, and even patting a dog.
The fear of strangers most children feel can be explained chemically. Oxytocin, the very same hormone that helps us bond with people we are close with, will also compel us to distrust people we don’t know.
There have been studies where participants inhale either oxytocin or a placebo and engage in group games with incentives to cooperate. When the groups featured people the participants already knew in some manner, the oxytocin caused their cooperation to rise—but when the groups consisted of strangers, it caused cooperation to fall. This is possibly left over from our ancestors, who needed to trust their own tribe while maintaining a healthy, defensive fear of other tribes they came across.
We scratch all the time, but do we benefit from it at all? Scratching, or more accurately having an itch, is your body’s way of eliminating potentially harmful irritants or external objects. For example: an ant crawls onto your foot, so that area of your foot itches; you scratch that area and brush the ant away.
So it does help us, but why do we scratch so often? It’s not like we are covered in bugs all the time. Well, from an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense to scratch at anything that might be dangerous. While scratching something that wasn’t a threat is fine, not scratching something that is dangerous can lead to problems.
Arguing With Yourself
Someone offers you some chocolate. On one hand, you want to eat it, but on the other hand you are worried about weight gain. You make a deal: “I can have the chocolate now, as long as I promise to go the gym tomorrow.” Who exactly are you making that deal with? Technically, another person—at least according to your brain.
Its severity differs for everyone, but in many cases the same part of the brain that lights up when you think about others is also used to think about your future self. Subconsciously, you literally consider your future self a different person.
Laughing is another activity that, when analyzed, seems absurd: a series of strange whooping noises following any number of things a human might find amusing. The areas of the brain that regulate laughing also regulate breathing and speech, so laughter is a very primal part of our functioning, so it surely has a purpose—but what?
Scientists think that when we laugh, we communicate a playful intent, indicating to others we trust them as a group member. This explains why laughing is contagious, and tests have shown that humans are far less likely to laugh when alone.
Getting Tired at Night
Everyone knows we sleep at night and wake in the day—but what exactly controls that? Most of us can’t make ourselves fall asleep or wake up at will, so what does?
The answer is melatonin. In the morning, exposure to light triggers a variety of chemical and hormone releases that get us going and assist us in our daily activities, and the same thing occurs for the opposite reason at night. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps us sleep. It’s made by your pineal gland which only turns on when darkness occurs. Melatonin levels will stay fairly high for roughly 12 hours before exposure to light the next morning causes them to decrease.
The problem is that our pineal gland doesn’t understand artificial light, so being in dark rooms during the day or bright rooms at night drastically affects our body clock.
Have you ever wondered why people “lose” their temper? Anger and aggression are perhaps the feelings we feel like we can least control, and sometimes we really do have no control at all. The amygdala is one area of the brain that has been shown to cause aggression, and damage to this area results in amplified aggressive behavior. The prefrontal cortex receives impulses from the amygdala and processes other information to decide if it should take action. Damage to the amygdala through physical trauma, tumor, or birth defect can result in those impulses becoming overwhelming, causing a urges and impulses towards aggressive acts the person might not morally agree with.
Pedophilia is of course not a common or acceptable trait for humans, but in some cases it can be explained physically. In 2000, a married man suddenly developed a severe pornography addiction and pedophilic thoughts accompanied by excruciating headaches. He sought help and it was soon discovered that the man had a tumor the size of an egg growing in his brain, pressing on his prefrontal cortex, which (as previously discussed) regulates urges. When the tumor was removed, the man’s behavior returned to normal and his unsavory sexual desires evaporated.
This kind of case is rare, but nevertheless possible. While we don’t normally experience such severe swings, it raises the question: do you control your actions or is it just all those chemicals?
He’s Incredibly Charming
He is Highly Manipulative
He Has an Enormous Ego
He Rushes the Relationship Along too Quickly
He Lacks Empathy and Guilt
A little-understood inherited temperament could be impacting your life or someone you love in surprising ways.
Psychologist Elaine Aron‘s research on a temperament category she describes as the “highly sensitive person” (HSP) has been gaining increased attention in recent years, and giving many people a big “aha” moment. Could you be among the 15-20 percent of the population she believes make up this group? I’ve learned that I am, and finding this out has changed the way I look at…everything.
When I was a kid, the taste of many foods was unbearably intense, and certain sounds were, too. I had a vivid imagination and experienced acute awareness of emotions — both my own and those of others. Yet I was not shy. Sometimes I would get so overstimulated I would find myself talking constantly, a tendency that earned me the nickname “Loquacious Lynn” from my mother and demerit points in school. I was transfixed by odd things: once, at summer camp, I stood paralyzed by the side of a stream, knowing that when I reached the other side I would be older and could never reverse the flow of time. I felt and saw things that enchanted and sometimes frightened me.
I grew up thinking I was most definitely weird, if not a tad crazy, and tried to send these peculiarities underground so I’d appear “normal.” The effort was exhausting.
According to Aron, a lot of kids grow up feeling flawed (and perhaps medicated on that assumption) when they are not really flawed at all — they are just expressing a trait well within the normal human range: high sensitivity. In some cultures, such as Japan, the trait is highly valued, though sadly, this is often not the case in Western society, and such children can experience negative or confused reactions from peers and adults. In the 2011 documentary Bully, a child who commits suicide in response to bullying shows his first signs of being “different” as high sensitivity to loud noises, a fact no one comments upon as linked to his distressing experiences at school.
An HSP’s temperament appears to be largely inherited (revealed through twin studies and other research), though environment plays a key role in how it develops. If the child is either overprotected or chastised for expressing what is for him or her perfectly normal, problems develop. Researchers who study the brain find that HSPs are aroused by stimuli that may not be detected by others and their difference has to do with how the brain processes information. They can’t change what they are, though they can learn how to cope and monitor themselves.
High sensitivity can be seen in other higher animals, too. From an evolutionary standpoint, the trait is valuable in a group. While you don’t want everyone, or even most members to have it, heightened sensitivity in some individuals is beneficial: They can warn of potential danger, make acute observations of the behavior of other animals, and share the wisdom of their tendency toward greater reflection. In history, HSPs would be the priest-advisors in the community. Today they are often the artists, teachers, researchers, and judges.
In the modern world, the trait has both positive and negative aspects. On the good side, you may be better able to spot errors and process information to deeper levels in your brain. On the bad side, you can react to false alarms and become rattled by loud noises and other stimuli. Caffeine and medicines may cause you to react more than most. Aron has also observed in her work that HSPs who had difficult childhoods are particularly prone to anxiety as adults.
According to Aron, this trait is not a new discovery, but it is something that has often been misunderstood and culturally devalued, making life challenging for people who live with it. Here are some things that tend to be associated with HSPs. (You can also take a self-test online.)
1. You were described as sensitive or shy as a child:
You were the kid who knew what somebody was about to say before they said it. You reacted strongly to changes in your environment. Maybe you were the one who paused to watch before jumping into the game. Aron emphasizes that while most HSPs have been labeled shy, a full 30 percent have not and would be described as extroverted. She notes that some observers, like Susan Cain in her best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, may really be talking about sensitivity when they discuss introversion. Being highly reactive to stimuli does not necessarily mean you don’t seek out crowds or new acquaintances, although it often does. The key underlying trait is sensitivity, not inhibition. Some HSPs are actually sensation-seekers — stimuli can bring them intense pleasure as well as discomfort.
2. You pick up subtleties in your environment:
The HSP’s brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. One thing HSPs share is the tendency to notice things others might not pick up on so readily, like the mood of a teacher or the rearrangment of furniture in a room. An artificial sweetener might taste like a chemical experiment, and someone’s slightly off-key singing might sound like a fingernail on a chalkboard. HSPs might also have noticed a tendency to detect when someone is telling a lie, or intuit another person’s feelings.
3. You can easily become overwhelmed:
Too much intensity, chaos and noise can wreak havoc on an HSP, which is why they often work better in quiet environments. When they are able to concentrate, HSPs are excellent at work that requires deep thinking and fast turnover. But turn up the volume around them and ask them to do too many things at once and they become overloaded. If you’re the kind of person who feels the need to retreat by yourself after a trip or an outing with friends or a busy day, you might be an HSP. Part of managing life for an HSP (or somebody who is close to one) is understanding and respecting the need for extra time to regroup and making allowances for your particular work style.
4. You fall hard and fast:
Aron has devoted an entire book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, to the topic of HSPs and their style of loving. When they fall in love, they often feel tremendous ecstasy, and often very quickly, but they also feel anxiety, overstimulation and difficulty processing their intense emotions. Overstimulation and intensity can make intimacy difficult for HSPs, who are also the type of people who naturally seek it out. For HSPs, the risk of heartbreak and unhappy relationships is unfortunately higher than average, but understanding the trait and finding a partner who can be patient with it can increase the odds of success.
5. You are conscientious:
HSPs tend to be conscientious people who try hard to perform their duties well and execute their work at their very best level. They often have particularly good manners, and notice when others don’t. Rudeness and work that is full of errors drive them nuts. HSPs are often especially concerned with issues of social justice, and will fight hard to right wrongs in the world.
6. You have a vivid imagination:
HSPs are often very creative people. They have vivid dreams and can wander off into imaginary realms in their minds. They are also very empathetic and can imagine the thoughts and feelings of others. An interest in art, philosophy and spirituality is common. Carl Jung was one of the early psychologists most interested in HSPs (he used a different term), probably because he himself was one. He thought that people with “innate sensitivity,” as he put it, were more in touch with the unconscious mind and could be especially insightful.
If all of this sounds like you, you might just be a highly sensitive person, equipped with a temperament that requires special skills and knowledge to deal with. As I’m learning more about how this trait works in my own life, I’m grateful that Aron does not pathologize it, but treats it as something that simply is. Even for people who are not HSPs, information on the topic can surely be useful to parents, teachers, partners, and co-workers who have an HSP among them.
Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weak or broken. But to feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the characteristic of a truly alive and compassionate human being. It is not the sensitive person who is broken, it is society’s understanding that has become dysfunctional and emotionally incapacitated. There is zero shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being ‘too emotional’ or ‘complicated’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more thoughtful, caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your feelings, smiles and tears shine a light in this world.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, because it can be so confusing, right? … Why you get overwhelmed by run-of-the-mill tasks that others take in stride. Why you mull over slights that ought to be forgotten. Why subtleties are magnified for you and yet lost on others.
It’s like you were born missing a protective layer of skin that others seem to have.
You try to hide it. Numb it. Tune it out. But the comments still pierce your armor: “You’re overthinking things. You’re too sensitive. Toughen up!”
You’re left wondering what on earth is wrong with you.
I know, because I was in my mid-40s when I stumbled across the term ‘highly sensitive people.’ This led me to discover how delicious it feels to be one of thousands saying, “You do that? Me too!”
Since then, I’ve learned that many sensitive people feel isolated from others. They feel misunderstood and different, and they usually don’t know why. They just don’t realize that they have a simple trait that explains their confusing array of symptoms and quirks.
There’s even a scientific term for it: Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist and researcher, estimates that 15-20% of people have nervous systems that process stimuli intensely. They think deeply. They feel deeply (physically and emotionally). They easily become over-stimulated.
According to my research several successful historical figures were highly sensitive, such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, and Steve Jobs. I see this as great news, because it means us sensitive types aren’t inherently disadvantaged.
But when we don’t realize how to handle our sensitivity, we end up pushing too hard to keep up with everyone else. We try to do what others seem to handle with ease, and try to do it better than them. And this leads to problems.
For a time, we do a first-rate job of using our natural gifts: we’re creative students, conscientious employees, and devoted family members. But when we hammer on beyond our limits, doing so can eventually take its toll. It shows up in things like unrelenting health conditions, muscle tension we can’t get rid of, and being endlessly fatigued or on edge for no good reason.
If you resonate with any of this, here are 10 actions you can take to stop struggling and start thriving:
1. Quit searching for someone or something to fix you.
Sensitivity is a temperament trait, not a medical disorder. So nothing is inherently wrong with you. Sadly, though, many certified health practitioners don’t understand this because sensory processing sensitivity is a recent area of health research.
Sure, highly sensitive people are more likely to have allergies or sensitivities to food, chemicals, medication, and so forth. And they’re more prone to overstimulation, thus quicker to feel stress — which can lead to other health issues. But sensitivity in itself is not something that needs fixing.
Successful sensitive types realize that they’re not “broken.” If your mind is exhausted from busily researching yet another solution to take away your “flaws,” know that the answers to living in harmony with your sensitive nature lie inside you.
2. Tell yourself, as often as necessary, that you are not a fraud.
Impostor syndrome isn’t exclusive to highly sensitive people. Many conscientious and high achieving people fall victim to this nagging fear. But the simmering discomfort about being found out is often constant for a sensitive person.
Why wouldn’t it be, considering you’ve spent a lifetime of feeling different from others and trying to fit in? Maybe you blame your tears on dust in your eye during that cheesy TV commercial; or you sign up for the company fun run, even though you hate running and you know you’ll feel ashamed of how long your body takes to recover. But even if you grew up displaying your sensitivity with pride, it’s unlikely you escaped the cultural pressure motivating you to disguise your real self to fit the norms.
Successful sensitive types respect that their nervous systems are wired differently from 80-85% of people. If you’re constantly thinking about who you should be but aren’t, and what you should be doing but can’t, understand that valuing your achievements and signature strengths allows you to show yourself as you truly are, more comfortably — even when you’re the odd one out.
3. Seek out kindred spirits (and know that you are NOT alone).
You probably feel different and alone. But the truth is, you’re not. Many have experienced confusion in isolation before discovering that hordes of people have some idea of what it’s like to be you. They’ve felt the surge of power that comes from being supported by like-minded souls. And they want to pay it forward.
The key whenever possible is to hang out with sensitive people who are already flourishing, or at least open to those possibilities. They understand not only how to manage their sensitivity, but also how to wield its superpowers. They know what it’s like for you to feel endlessly under siege, and they can offer firsthand experience and wisdom to help you make your sensitivities work in your favor.
Successful sensitive types appreciate and relish the strengths of sensitivity, in themselves and others. If you’re feeling unsupported or misunderstood, find a sensitively knowledgeable coach, mentor, or community who gets you … and nurture that connection.
4. Look for the hidden positivity in every situation and soak it up.
The brain is a powerful filter that molds experiences and perceptions of reality. If you think the world is a dangerous place, your brain is wired to hunt for evidence of danger. If you believe it’s a loving place, you spot more loving opportunities. What you focus on, you get more of.
As a highly sensitive person, the more negative the environment, the more you suffer. But the opposite is also true — the more positive, the more you thrive (even compared to others).
Thoughts are stimuli for your nervous system. One of the most important things a sensitive person can do is acknowledge the negative (not ignore it — because what you resist, persists), but then let it go… immerse yourself in positive thoughts and situations that make you feel good, or at least give you a soothing sense of relief.
Successful sensitive types decide to see the world brimming with opportunities to feel grateful for, and to marinate in that positive vibe. If you’re feeling at the mercy of your emotions and circumstances, understand that your thoughts (and the emotional charges they trigger) are always within your control.
5. Find new spins on old flaws.
Your gifts of sensitivity include deep reflection and an instinct to see all angles and consequences. But by being so deeply tuned in to details, you’re easily overwhelmed and exhausted by unyielding stimulation. And when you don’t understand why you feel and behave in the ways you do, it’s easy to frame these as flaws.
In truth, these “weaknesses” are simply your unmet needs and unique gifts to nourish. In reframing your past and nurturing your present, you set yourself up for success in your future.
Successful sensitive types rethink old perceptions in light of their deeper understandings of sensitivity. If you’re weighed down by the hypersensitive and neglected (even, despised) parts of yourself, seek to discover the other side of the coin … where you’ll find some of your greatest strengths: intuition, vision, conscientiousness — and the list goes on.
6. Treat yourself with compassion.
As a highly sensitive person you are deeply compassionate. So much so that putting others’ comfort and needs before your own is second nature. On top of that, you’re often your own biggest critic. You push yourself hard, and then you beat up on yourself when you miss the mark. You criticize yourself in ways you’d never dream of judging others.
Controlling your nagging inner critic is essential to self-compassion. But contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t do so by relentlessly ignoring it. Deep thinking is one of your gifts, so why not embrace that power? Take control by hearing your thoughts without judgment (after all, there might be gems of wisdom hidden deep) and then pivoting to thoughts that trigger kinder and more loving emotions in your body. From that better-feeling place, you’re better able to choose actions to care for yourself and others.
Successful sensitive types show themselves the same loving compassion that they’re naturally good at giving others. It may feel selfish or vain at first, but it’s not. If your critical inner voice is devaluing who you are, answer back with self-kindness … this is the antidote.
7. Create healthy boundaries, not rigid emotional walls.
We live in a culture that values “take a painkiller and push on” far more than it values sensitivity. We grow up hearing: “no pain, no gain; survival of the fittest; life isn’t fair — get used to it.” We admire those who show grit to prevail over their terrible plights.
As a highly sensitive person your reflex reaction may be to freeze up or struggle to toughen up. You build walls to shield yourself from hurt … Emotional walls, such as suppressing feelings or creating dramatic turmoil to distract from the real causes of pain. Physical walls, such as piling on layers of weight to hide behind. Mental walls, such as tuning out with alcohol or drugs.
Or, you may let all your boundaries collapse at once, thereby unconsciously absorbing others’ energies and feeling devoured by unpredictable events and emotions. You try to escape the feelings by getting caught up in overthinking everything: endlessly planning and searching and analyzing, while completely losing touch with your intuition. And in the process you confuse conscientiousness with overwork, empathy with over-identification, compassion with over-tolerance. So you beat yourself up about how you know you should have better boundaries. It’s a vicious cycle.
Successful sensitive types embody gentle but firm personal boundaries. If you struggle to put your own needs first (which doesn’t come naturally to a highly sensitive person), make a conscious choice to practice the skill of saying “no” with love and grace, or carving out alone time to recharge … and decide to feel good about that.
8. Tune in to your body (to avoid seesawing between emotional extremes).
Many highly sensitive people learn to ignore the messages their bodies are sending them. They switch it off to avoid overwhelm or they tune in to others’ needs instead of their own to meet what’s expected of them. Does this sound familiar?
Doing so leaves you swinging like a pendulum. Too much, too little. Too fast, too slow. Too in, too out. Back and forth between being over-stimulated and mind-numbingly bored, dieting and then bingeing, or exercising hard and then needing several days to recover. And so on and so forth.
Successful sensitive types tune in to the physical sensations in their bodies; they accept that it’s not always comfortable, but they trust their bodies to guide them. If you have a habit of hiding from feelings or passing the point of overwhelm, learn to recognize your body’s subtle signs of overstimulation. You’ll spend less time being thrown out of balance, and more time swaying gently within your nervous system’s range of optimal arousal.
9. Design healthy habits that fit your unique needs.
Eventually, it all catches up with you. Grueling hours at work, followed by hard sweat at the gym and keeping on top of chaos around home — all fueled by crappy diets and minimal sleep or downtime. It’s an easy trap to fall into because you’re simply living the way you see most people get by on.
What’s more, some seemingly healthy habits hit hard on a sensitive nervous system — like “health” foods that are heavily processed and pumped with sugar and artificial additives, or intense exercise that’s not balanced with ample recovery time.
If you allow too much stimulation and too lousy replenishment, you run the risk of chronic illnesses (as many sensitive types have learned the hard way). At the same time, if you overprotect yourself, your genius goes unexpressed, and that also can lead to stress and ill health.
Successful sensitive types practice habits that truly nourish them. If you struggle with energy or well-being issues, prioritize habits that nurture these areas of your life (such as more sleep and alone time), and limit those that over-stimulate or drain you (such as too many high pressures activities — even if they are so-called healthy).
10. Stop smothering your sensitivity.
After a lifetime of being bombarded by stimuli, it becomes second nature to push sensitivity out of the conscious awareness. Tuning out from relentless sensations, for example, so you can pretend you don’t give a darn. Toning down intense feelings (good and bad) so you aren’t on a roller coaster. Suppressing emotions to get a break from feeling anything at all.
This self-protective mechanism might fool your conscious mind, but it doesn’t fool your sensitive body. This oozes into your health, your relationships, your career, every aspect of your life … or, it builds tension inside until something has to give.
Successful sensitive types let go of the grasp for control. When you free the energy used to hold yourself tight, you free the gifts of sensitivity that have been lost to you: empathy, creativity, and heightened joy, to name a few. And you allow your true potential to blossom.
As you’re working through the tips above, keep in mind that the key to thriving as a highly sensitive person, more than anything else, is to recognize that it’s perfectly OK to be sensitive — with its challenges and strengths.
Use your deep-thinking mind to recognize hidden understandings, and deliberately refocus on positivity and possibilities.
Use your deep-feeling body to tune in your emotions and sensations, and stay within your optimal range of arousal as often as possible.
Use your heightened awareness to dance to whatever beat you darn well please, even if that seems odd to a lot of people.
Because somewhere, others are dancing with you.
What are you sensitive about? What’s something you do that helps you thrive as a sensitive person? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.