I ran away from school in fourth grade. I blame it on those damn recorders in music class.
I really liked school, and I really liked my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Nagel, so it wasn’t their fault. I even liked music and music class. It’s just that one week, we started playing recorders in music class, as most elementary school students do, and it got so loud I couldn’t handle it anymore. Noisy students. Yelling. Recorders. Noisy hallways. More noisy students.
I didn’t think much about it, but after music class, I just slipped out the back door of school and walked home, which wasn’t too far away. My parents were running errands that day and weren’t home, and so I went over to my next door neighbor Carol’s house.
Me the Mystery
Of course, I completely failed to understand the panic that would ensue with the school when they realized I was missing and with my parents when the school called them and told them I was missing. Luckily, my neighbor was able to contact the school and my parents, and the mystery was quickly solved.
Well, one mystery was solved. I kind of became a mystery to myself that day. (Quaestio mihi factus sum–I have become a question to myself.*)
I partially realized that day that I get really overwhelmed with loud noise and lots of people and bright lights. I get overstimulated really, really easily. I didn’t completely understand why.
Maybe you get overstimulated easily, too.
Highly Sensitive People
It took me a long time to figure that I am a highly sensitive person and that this is actually a personality type that has been researched and written about a great deal. You can read more about it here, here, and here (and also here.)
Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) can be great—it often is correlated with gifts like creativity, empathy, and the ability to get along well with others. (About 20% of the population are HSPs. You can read about that here.)
Being a HSP can also be really challenging. HSPs are often prone to anxiety, and because they are so empathetic, they often pick up on everyone else’s emotions and even their physical pains sometimes.
I tend to absorb everything that is happening around me, and this is really difficult when there is a lot of stress or negative emotions or conflict or chaos. And if you add a lot of noise, bright light, and heat, well that wipes me out.
Highly Sensitive People and Nature Therapy
And this brings me to the point of this post: breathing and nature.
Several months ago, I realized that my nervous system was on overdrive and constantly overtaxed and overstimulated. This was primarily a result of some positive but major life changes I went through recently.
At the same time, I realized that my breathing patterns were erratic, and I was also experiencing more anxiety than normal. I decided to do a simple breathing exercise three times a day in order to re-calibrate my breathing and, hopefully, calm my nervous system. (You can read more about month one and two of my breathing experiment here and here. And, by the way, my breathing practice is just one of the tools I used to help me with my sensitivity.)
From almost the first day I began my breathing practice, I noticed myself calming down a great deal. I still get overstimulated, and I still get anxious. Those are just aspects of who I am, and they will never go completely away. And it’s okay, I accept them because they are tied to other really good personality traits.
However, my breathing practice is wonderful because it helps me realize that while I can’t control noisy, overstimulating things outside of me completely, I can cultivate a calm, peaceful, and stable space inside of me. This helps a great deal. (And of course I still try to minimize external stimulation.)
When I started to calm down, I also realized that I was able to spend more time outdoors. In the past, it has been hard for me to be outdoors a lot when I feel anxious and overstimulated because bright light and heat makes things worse.
As I began practicing breathing regularly, I realized I had more of a desire to go outside, to be in nature, and to walk. (You can read more about my adventures in nature here).
There is a beautiful arboretum by my house, and I have been walking a lot there. In fact, I have been seeing how far I can walk in one walk. Last month, I walked a ten mile walk. This month, I walked a fourteen mile walk, and I am working on a longer walk right now.
I also went on a hike at a nature sanctuary near my house with my friend, Joanna. (She gave me permission to include a selfie of us here)
I felt incredibly nourished and calmed by being around so much natural beauty and peacefulness.
And here is what I realized this month of breathing and walking: I need nature. I need trees and flowers and butterflies and birds and time away from cars and machinery and houses and technology.
And there is a legitimate reason for this (not that I need a reason to love being in nature). Research actually suggests that if you are a highly sensitive person, spending lots of time in nature is one of the best things you can do for yourself. You can read more about this here and here.
There are a lot of reasons why nature benefits HSPs so much, but one of the primary reasons is that green spaces help to calm our nervous system and cultivate a type of meditative state that helps us release negative emotions and connect with the lovely parts of being a HSP—like being creative.
I know for myself, personally, walking helps me come up with so many creative ideas about writing, art, philosophy, and just life in general.
My breathing, walking, and nature practices the last couple of months have reminded me that while there is a lot of stuff in life like politics and violence that are largely outside of our control, there are some pretty basic things that are completely within our control, and these things can make a profound difference in our life.
Stay tuned in August for month four of beautiful breathing.
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You can read about month four of my breathing practice here:
Month Four of Beautiful Breathing
This post describes the beginning of my breathing practice: