A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Others may see downtime for HSPs as Idleness, laziness, or inactivity for no purpose. But is that true? Do we HSPs often fight our need for rest because of cultural norms? Can we model purposeful rest and rejuvenation for health for others?
We are slaves to a culture of doing. Our Puritan work ethic praises the incessant devotion to work activity and "always-on" engagement to fight the devil's idleness workshop. We have been bombarded throughout history with the virtue of combating sloth. From literature to religious admonishment to capitalist concepts of self-worth via work accomplishment, we are chided never to rest, always striving to be productive. Dante's Divine Comedy slams lazy and idle people and places them on the fourth level of purgatory. Even one of my childhood favorites, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, sets a man in an island paradise only to find him endlessly toiling away to improve his situation.
Human beings are not designed to be working 24/7 365. Our natural rhythms require that we rest and process both physical and mental inputs. Our need for sleep and rest is baked into our physical makeup. Downtime gives our brains the respite it needs to replenish our attention. The reflective time is used to rejuvenate our identity, fire up the DMN (default mode network), and spawn life-altering epiphanies from unconscious mental downtime.
Having worked for years in Information Technology, I learned that the expectation from management was that we mimic the incessant work virtue of the machines we managed. This unrealistic expectation has been birthed from the attention economy that demands our focus always and is in its own way a revival of the ancient and archaic notions of God's punishment for original sin.
The health consequences of lack of rest are high stress, inadequate sleep, and full-on engagement has begotten a myriad of illness and disease. We are killing ourselves over this capitalist-driven obsession with doing. Be active, be productive, be valuable. We forget that most religions of the world have origins in the ancient knowledge of being vs. doing. It is the modern world that has driven us astray.
Idleness and HSPs
So how does this affect HSPs? We have the same programming that all humans have for rest and relaxation with one key distinction. We can't ignore our internal clocks for rest. We are compelled inherently and by environmental factors to take downtime to function properly. Or we suffer immediate critical overwhelm and overstimulation. Our brains are wired differently. Some of the areas within our brains used to modulate or moderate overstimulation have weaker connections. This could be one of the main reasons we suffer from overwhelm.
And, our need for rest is not a bad thing. Research suggests that engaging in pleasurable activities not related to goals leads to more happiness in life. Idleness, as it has been referred to, is actually a virtue for HSPs. We have no choice. Overworking, overstimulation, or overwhelm, however, you phrase it, shuts us down. Many may see this as a weakness, but we are like the canary in the coal mine. A toxic environment full of overwork, stress, and lack of rest, will eventually fail for all humans. Therefore, I believe that HSPs can provide a working model for everyone on handling, dealing, and defeating overwork.
Moments of quiet reflection and contemplation have been lauded by the ancients and indigenous peoples around the world. However, the modern world looks down on reflective rest as not contributing to the bottom line and not delivering on productivity. Oddly, sleep studies of indigenous people show that their sleep patterns are more in sync with their modern counterparts and not dusk to dawn, we assume. Yet, sleep is not the same as rest. Rest can occur without sleep, and this, I believe, is the missing element in our modern world.
Without proper rest, HSPs shut down. Nature has designed HSPs as models for humanity on what enough work/stress looks like in the extreme. Granted, our highly sensing natures may make us seem unable to cope with modern stress, but when you are designed to be the warning system, it is better to blow the whistle earlier than later when it becomes too late to repair.
Ways to execute on Idleness
While we are at it, is it time to redefine what work is?
The employer, not the employee, has always defined labor. We need to get back to the idea of letting this be a cooperative process a return to the labor movement. This strategy does not have to be combative. There should be shared goals reached by incorporating each side's stated goals with the company's overarching goal.
Larger than that, we need to define this at a global level, a societal level. What boundaries exist or need to be determined between work and rest, stress and relaxation, stimulation and overwhelm. Let's reframe rest/idleness to equate with how we feel about nourishment, recreation, vacation, and balance these with the right livelihood, productivity, and work/life balance.
The health consequences of not resting are monumental. Ancient cultures did not fall apart if time was taken for feasts, rests, and relaxation. Look at the animal kingdom; aside from short life-spanned creatures that must struggle from birth to death, higher-order animals find time to rest and digest and, as humans, have the luxury of relaxing and reflecting.
Our larger, more active brains need the rest. Since we know from research that our brains are never off, we must allow ourselves to rest from stress and from constant conscious engagement "doing" stressful activities. The virtue of Idleness is life, peace, and, when correctly done, happiness.
We wrongly equate "always on" culture to moving society forward. But what kind of a world does it produce? Advanced, yet toxic? Is that what we want? I know HSPs don't want that. Why? Because we are the canaries.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.