The description "highly sensitive person" (HSP) is obviously a blanket term for men and women.
However, I've been thinking about one thing that makes the experience of being a HSP woman different from the experience of a HSP man.
The difference is that the HSP woman has a uterus. We have cycles. And for the first time I'm realizing that difference could also be impacting my HSP traits.
A few months ago, I came off the pill. It was causing hair loss, and I didn't like how I was starting to feel overall. So I got off the pill and started training with the Sympto-thermal method instead.
I didn't realize how much of an impact not having natural cycles was having on me. I thought I was sensitive when I was on the pill, but when I got off of it, my experience of the world changed more than I expected.
Ovulation and Over-stimulation
The follicular phase and ovulatory phase are the parts of the cycle when a woman has the most energy. When on the pill, ovulation doesn't happen, and the follicular phase is also absent.
When I came off the pill and my body started ovulating again, insomnia became a problem. Lack of sleep is rough on HSPs because it makes us more susceptible to over-stimulation. Just the fact that ovulation is a time of more energy is a reason to be extra aware of falling into over-stimulation.
During this phase of the cycle, it's more important for me to take naps and create other kinds of breaks throughout the day. However, sticking to it is tough because I just want to keep going!
I find I'm more sensitive to smells and temperature. I tend to eat less and irregularly which isn't good because I tend to get "hangry." Also I try my best to avoid caffeine because I'm already sleeping way less than normal.
The upside to the extra energy is that it's a great time for me to engage in what I enjoy. My energy combined with my sensitivity allows me to appreciate positive experiences more deeply and reach out for them.
On the other hand, I have to make sure I don't reach out too much and take a break from being on the go.
PMS and Emotional Distress
After ovulation is the luteal phase, which is known for those infamous PMS symptoms due to the drop in estrogen.
As I was coming off the pill, I read Take Control of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. I think that every woman, regardless of where she is in life on the pill or not should read it. And men should read it too.
Her explanation of how a woman's body actually works puts sex-ed programs to shame.
One of my favorite chapters in her book is about PMS. I like how she brings out that mood swings are not illogical reactions. Basically, this phase of the cycle is a time of increased emotional intensity for some women.
So when a woman experiences something upsetting during PMS, those feelings often make sense in the context. The problem is that she is more likely to react to that situation with way more intensity than at other phases of her cycle.
HSPs are emotionally sensitive in general. So I think it's important for the HSP woman to be aware that her emotional sensitivity can be more intense than usual during this phase of her cycle.
This is definitely a time to load up on those comforting, self-care routines. Honestly, I used to have a reputation of lashing out in anger before my period, especially when I was in my teens and early twenties.
Nowadays, I try to keep an environment of calm. If I'm calm in general, I'm less likely to get swept away by the intensity of my emotions. Plus, when I feel that I'm getting irritated, I refrain from reacting right away. When I pause, I'm able to sort things out and see if my reaction is equal to the offense. Taking a moment to write about how I feel--even for 5 minutes--before coming back to that situation with a response has worked very well.
However, PMS is more than just anger and rampaging. Just think--this is a time of increased emotional sensitivity.
That means as an HSP woman, you are also more open to feelings such as joy, love, excitement, humor, and calm. During the luteal/pre-menstural phase, do all that you can to bring the positive feelings into your life. Relax with your favorite books, food, movies, music, and people.
If you're an HSP woman who's not on the pill, I highly recommend doing cycle tracking. Then you can chart what impact your cycle could be having on your HSP traits.
And menstruation,although uncomfortable, is the perfect time to slow down, shut out the world, sleep, and refill. For HSP women, that time for retreat is built into our biology. Take advantage of it.