Mel Collins is an author, spiritual facilitator and educator, therapist, healer and Intuitive who writes and speaks about the high sensitivity trait, among other things.
Before her former work as a counsellor, specialising in HSP (Highly Sensitive People) clients, Mel worked in Her Majesty’s Prison Service – for two years counselling substance misuse prisoners, then eight years as a prison governor managing the substance misuse department. Being innately sensitive in a challenging prison setting gave her an incredible learning experience, both personally, professionally and spiritually. Whilst there, Mel’s early childhood experiences of seeing and communicating with Angels opened up again, guiding her to train externally in soul healing modalities.
We spoke to Mel about her work and what it means to be Highly Sensitive.
What got you interested in Highly Sensitive People?
Being one myself! I know it seems like a paradox to have been a prison governor and an HSP – but for the first 32 years of my life, I wasn’t aware of the high sensitivity trait.
When I first learned about it during my counselling training, a light went on and a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. That was the beginning of a journey of self- discovery and a ‘spiritual rehabilitation’ of sorts to reclaim my authentic self. After that, I learned how to best manage the trait, how to fully embrace my own gifts and recognise the strengths in sensitivity and find ways to flourish despite working in a challenging prison environment. I also set up a part-time private holistic practice and spent sixteen years working with HSP clients, undertaking further research into high sensitivity.
All my personal and professional experience, research and spiritual insights formed The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People which was published in January this year.
Are there any tell-tale signs that I might be Highly Sensitive?
As mentioned above, the main indicators of the trait include the depth of processing and the emotional intensity HSPs have. This can sometimes make them more reactive on an emotional level to events in their life or to the positive and negative emotions of others. They are also reflective and deep thinkers; they can pick up on subtleties that others are unaware of and are highly empathic. They get affected by environmental and sensory stimuli and have a low tolerance for high levels of stimulation. And if there is too much, their sensory nervous system goes into a state of over-arousal and they can begin to feel overwhelmed. They often find themselves needing to withdraw from the world to rest and recharge.
Other common tell-tale signs and traits of HSPs are:
- They are highly conscientious and take longer to make decisions due to any possible consequences.
- They give great attention to detail or could be considered perfectionists.
- They can be acutely sensitive to caffeine, strong smells or prescribed medications and they can struggle with food intolerances or allergies.
- They have great listening abilities.
- They know when people aren’t telling the truth.
- They can always see the ‘bigger picture’.
- They are deeply concerned about social injustice and tend to fight for the underdog.
- They are affected by environmental issues and feel deep pain caused by the destruction that humans are doing to the planet.
- A feeling of not belonging, especially in their biological family.
- Being highly creative or artistic and/or being passionate about the arts.
- Having vivid or prophetic dreams.
- They have a humanitarian calling.
- They have a strong affinity to animals, nature or crystals.
- They see spirituality or a faith-based religion as a fundamental part of their life.
- And they have a belief in the unseen world, such as angels or spirit guides, and/or have psychic experiences.
What are the benefits of being Highly Sensitive?
There are so many benefits and gifts in being highly sensitive, as you can see above. HSPs are usually extremely kind, compassionate people who work in service to others and who try to make a difference in this world.
To give just one quick example of the benefits, many HSPs are natural healers, great listeners or have psychic abilities. If you add these gifts to their innate ability to pick up on subtleties and their deep levels of sensory processing, this means that they can often tune into a person on a much deeper level. This can enhance any work they choose to do professionally, especially therapeutic or healing work, and from a personal perspective, why they make such supportive, nurturing and understanding friends.
Is it something you are born with or can you develop high sensitivity in later life?
It is something that you are born with. Whilst everybody can become highly sensitive at times and whilst many people become more sensitive as they get older, this is not the same as being an HSP. High sensitivity is an innate temperament trait – also known as ‘sensory processing sensitivity’ due to the depth of sensory, environmental and information processing that happens within the biological nervous system and brains of HSPs.
Do you have any tips on how to cope in overwhelming situations for HSP?
A lot of overwhelming situations occur for HSPs as a result of not understanding or managing their trait effectively. Therefore:
*My first tip is to find out as much as you can about the trait and implement the self-help tools and strategies that help HSPs cope in overwhelming situations.
*My second tip is doing daily energy protection work, because as the saying goes prevention is better than cure. There are many ways to do this, including creative visualisation, guided meditation, crystals, prayer, calling on Archangel Michael and the Angels of Protection, flower essences and aura sprays.
*My third tip is using the ‘ACE’ method which stands for Avoid, Control or Escape. This is a simple but effective strategy and is really useful for when you are going somewhere or doing something that you know is likely to be overwhelming or over-stimulate your nervous system. Following the ACE model, if you don’t have to go, then simply avoid it. There are, however, many situations, such as holidays, parties, concerts, weddings, work events or family gatherings that HSPs can’t or don’t want to avoid. In these instances, HSPs must put strategies in place to control the over-stimulation or overwhelm. Plan in advance to take regular breaks from the situation or environment and limit the time you have to be there. Finally, if you can’t control your environment or the situation, then allow yourself to escape when needed. It’s ok not to put up with something that is going to trigger over-arousal and not to constantly push yourself past your limits. After all, your own wellbeing is your priority.
What are you looking forward to about coming to Cheltenham?
I’ve never been to Cheltenham before, so there are so many things I’m looking forward to. First and foremost, I’m looking forward to meeting with other HSPs and having the opportunity to speak at the Isbourne Centre. I’ve heard it’s a wonderful place. I’m also looking forward to finding out more about the community project that the centre is involved in with HMP Eastwood Park. (My inner prison governor is still very interested in hearing about projects that help vulnerable prisoners and those with substance misuse problems!) And finally, I’m hoping to see a bit of the town itself and checking out the Cheltenham Literary Festival if I have time before I catch the train back to Devon.
Mel Collins will be speaking at The Isbourne on Saturday 5th October. Get your tickets here