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Are you too sensitive?

Roll with the punches

No, we're not picking on you -- just trying to make you feel better. Seven tips to help you roll with the punches this season.

Find the Nearest Exit

When a comment stings you, breathe deeply several times, and then figure out a way to excuse yourself from the conversation (even if that means you have to make something up). Aron says this works because it incorporates the two main principles of anger management: Focusing on your breath distracts you from the initial surge of temper that follows a barb, and leaving the situation gives you time to form an appropriate response. "Most of us make poor word choices when our pulse goes above 100," says Aron. She's a big believer in the 24-hour rule — waiting a full day before responding, if at all. "In some cases, especially at work, revealing that a remark makes you feel defensive can really hurt you, by making you seem insecure."

Look Who's Talking

Suppose a colleague implies that you're careless to let your 20-year-old daughter go on a road trip with her friends. Before you take the remark to heart, consider the source. How much does this person actually know about raising kids? How well does she know you or your daughter? Is she an over-parenter? "Then run the comment by someone who really knows what kind of a mother you are," says Aron. "Maybe your critic has a point, and you're reacting defensively because you agree with her. Or maybe she just doesn't have a clue."

Just This Once, Don't Call a Friend

Researchers from the University of Missouri at Columbia tracked children and adolescents who shared their hurt feelings with friends, and came to a startling conclusion: The girls who "co-ruminated" the most had more supportive friendships, but also greater levels of anxiety and depression. "Excessive focus on problems probably makes them seem even bigger and harder to resolve," says Amanda Rose, Ph.D., the lead author. "And it likely gets in the way of finding positive, healthy distractions," such as reading a good book or going for a walk.

Check Your Ego

Supersensitivity is sometimes the result of "it's all about me" syndrome. I confess, this is sometimes my issue. When my neighbor doesn't wave back, I automatically start a mental checklist: Did my dogs get loose recently? Have my kids been blasting music? My close pals rib me about this. "Get over yourself, Sarah," they'll say. "Everything can't be your fault." Maybe my neighbor is simply lost in thought.

Meditate, Don't Ruminate

Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of California at San Diego found that mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to treat stress, anxiety, and depression, is especially good at helping brooders stop replaying a hurtful remark over and over. I tried this strategy the other night after a heated spat with my 16-year-old. She had yelled, "You're so sensitive, Mom! It makes it hard to tell you things." Despite just writing an entire story on the subject, I shouted back, "That's not true at all!" Feeling hurt, I slunk into the bedroom, dusted off an old meditation CD, and listened to the soothing music and gentle bells. Sure enough, after 15 minutes, I had regained enough composure to snicker at myself. I went back to the living room, tossed a pillow at her, and said, smiling, "OK, maybe I am a little sensitive."

Sing Your Own Praises

Make a list of your strong suits. The more conscious you are of them, the less likely you'll be to crumble when criticized. "Sensitive people often make the mistake of taking an insult as a criticism of their entire personality instead of just one tiny aspect of it," says Aron. When I drove to my next carpool pickup, I road tested this technique. I thought to myself, I regret that I mixed up the dates last time — I wish I hadn't wasted that father's time. On the other hand, I'm pretty competent as a mother, wife, and wage earner. I compost. I vote. I floss. And I have to say, my Christmas decorations look pretty darn good this year. I felt better in seconds.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Keep these comebacks in your arsenal, for when you can't resist responding to a zinger.

"Excuse me?" Asking someone to repeat a thoughtless comment is a graceful way to make them think twice about what they just said — and may help you catch their meaning in case it's you who misunderstood.

"I wonder why you would say that." This toned-down version of "What the heck was that supposed to mean?" challenges the person to reflect on his motives.

"Can you elaborate on what you said?" Asking people to spell out their opinion can prevent miscommunication and clear the air.

"Ouch! That hurts my feelings." This lets someone know you've taken a comment personally, and lets her retract, amend, or apologize.

When you're tempted to beat yourself up for being too sensitive this season, remember that it's a strength, too. "When there are tensions that make everyone at the holiday party squirm," says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., an anthropologist and author of Why We Love, "often, it's the sensitive people who save the day by saying exactly the right thing."

More related articles:

Are you smart about your feelings?
Turn stress issues into non-issues
Making a clean break from feeling guilty


Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Originally Published: Are You Too Sensitive?
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