My friend Dinh raises many varieties of small, colorful killifish. He carefully adjusts the conditions in each aquarium to meet the needs of its inhabitants, and provides the food each fish likes best.
After years of observing and learning about killifish, he can identify a fish’s species, age, and general health at a glance.
At no point does he tell an ailing fish that it should be less sensitive to its environment, or that other fish like the conditions just fine, or that he finds it inconvenient to make adjustments. He simply works to provide the most comfortable environment for each fish. Unsurprisingly, his fish thrive.
When we humans notice our own sensitivities to our emotional and physical environment, we often judge ourselves as being “too sensitive,” or compare our tolerance to others around us. Sensitivities are often labeled as an illness or internal defect, for example celiac disease (sensitivity to wheat gluten) or environmental illness (sensitivity to scents and chemicals).
Moving toward self-care
Sensitivities can be a valuable guide to moving toward our ideal environment. While it can seem easier to go along with what is convenient for everyone else, sensitivity symptoms provide the motivation to speak up and take action to meet our needs. Symptoms can include ongoing fatigue, pain, digestive issues, respiratory issues, brain fog, irritability, and depression.
Are you noticing symptoms or emotions indicating that your environment is not ideal for you? Just as Dinh uses observation and small adjustments to care for his fish, you can take steps to notice your own reactions and experiment with changes.
1. Deserving care
As you consider doing the steps below, take some time to notice your beliefs and emotions around treating yourself with tender care.
Some people notice underlying beliefs about not deserving good treatment, especially if it involves extra effort from other people. The labels and associations around sensitivity can be frightening, and the thought of making changes can be overwhelming.
Gently notice whatever thoughts and feelings arise. Do any of the actions below feel possible? Is there a different action that is coming to your attention, now that you’re thinking about the topic of sensitivity and care?
2. Finding your Inner Nurturer
It can be helpful to find or create your Inner Nurturer, an internal voice who believes wholeheartedly that you always deserve the best of care, no matter what else happens. Your Inner Nurturer agrees firmly with the kindest person you’ve ever known, whether a beloved relative, friend, or story character. Some people call this voice their Inner Mommy, Grandma, or Guardian Angel. What name resonates for you?
The next step is neutral observation and record-keeping. There is no need for evaluation or judgment here, since you are simply gathering private data for your own benefit. You’ll be recording possible triggers as well as your body’s reactions for a week. Choose one of the following sets of triggers, or follow your intuition about what information would be useful for you.
- If you suspect that you have food intolerances or allergies, you might keep a food diary, recording everything you eat, including ingredients as far as you know them.
- If you’ve noticed reactions to scents or chemicals in the past, you can record exposures to those.
- If you think you might have pollen allergies, record when you’re outside, and note pollen levels in your area.
Also record your body’s reactions, including emotions, troublesome symptoms and times when you feel healthy and energized.
Now that you’ve been observing and recording for a week, do you see any patterns that might suggest an experiment? This can be any small change, avoiding one thing that might be a trigger, or doing more of one thing that is energizing.
This is a favor you are doing for yourself, not an obligation, so you can take as much time as you need to prepare for the experiment, and stop when you choose. Two weeks is a recommended length of time so that you can get past any withdrawal reactions you might notice in the first few days. Continuing to keep records will help guide your decisions in the future.
At the end of your experiment, notice how you feel. You can choose to continue with this change, or discontinue it. Keep track of how you feel after discontinuing it as well. Continue observing and experimenting until you find what works best for you. If strong symptoms continue, you may want to consult a doctor or naturopath for assistance.
Finding your best environment is a lifelong journey of observation and experiments. Even when you are not keeping written records, your sensitivities will remind you to stay aware of your environment and reactions, and your Inner Nurturer will help you move toward conditions where you’ll thrive.