November 23, 2016
Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) need more – and different kinds – of self-care. If you’re highly sensitive, read on for effective self-care strategies and specific tips to manage your energy and take good care of yourself, no matter how sensitive you are.
How do you know if you’re sensitive?
Oh, you probably know.
I mean. You’re sensitive.
But what “sensitive” means – and what it looks like in the real world varies greatly from person to person. For one person, loud sounds are too much. For others, crowds can be overwhelming. Some people are disproportionately affected by seeing horrific news stories or other beings suffering. Perhaps, it’s just having to be “on” around others for extended periods of time.
(On a personal note, any of the above could apply to me, on a given day.)
In general, though, I define sensitive people as those big-hearted folks who are deeply affected by input (sensory, social, etc.), stimuli, or secondary trauma.
So, what’s the problem? And what does this have to do with change-makers?
Over time, being exposed to that which elicits a sensitivity response on a consistent basis becomes waring. It might impact us physically, through pain response, sleep disruption, or immune system depression. Or it could affect our mental state, through anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental illness. Still others experience it on more of an energetic, ethereal, or spiritual level.
The point is: exposure these sorts of stimuli, for a highly sensitive person, has real consequences.
So, what’s the solution?
(Spoiler alert: There is no one perfect solution.)
But nor does that mean you’re doomed to spend the rest of your days in your house, hanging out with your cat watching Gilmore Girls (although, that doesn’t sounds like the worst plan, either).
As a highly sensitive person who manages to live a full life, with friends, social engagements, political activity, fun, and even public speaking engagements, I’ve gotten pretty deft at navigating a traumatic world with a sensitive soul. The trick is never to try to outsmart myself. Instead, I develop clear strategies when I know that I’ll be in situations that demand a lot of my energy.
I take breaks. I communicate my boundaries. And I know that I need to build in recovery time. It’s an experiment. A dance. Never static.
Oh, and I never, ever approach myself as a “problem” to be “fixed.”
A useful analogy: Spoon Theory
In order to manage my energy, and to communicate the resources that I have available, I use what’s know in the disability community as, “Spoon Theory.”
The term originated in this post by Christine Miserandino.
I can’t do the concept any greater justice than her original post, and I highly encourage you to read it and digest it. Not just for yourself, but for your loved ones who may also be experiencing chronic illness, disability, or other factors that limit their energy.
Tips for protecting your energy:
This is what works for me. Part of protecting your energy as a sensitive soul is knowing yourself well. You’ll want to create a customized plan for yourself, perhaps using some of these ideas as a jumping off point. The intention here is not perfection or to put you in a bubble.
The intention is to help ourselves build good practices and tools to protect ourselves when we can. And the rest of the time? Having the mindfulness and awareness to know when something is affecting us, so that we can respond – meeting ourselves as we are – compassionately and appropriately.
The first step is to know what creates greater sensitivity or reaction from your system. With this information, you’re then empowered to make choices, create boundaries, and craft a container that honors this sensitivity as the gift it is. Experiment, lean on your intuition, and be as curios as possible about your inner state and how it reacts.
Aim to know yourself without judgment.
Believe and respect thyself
This is perhaps a bit more difficult than the first step. Once you have this wealth of information and wisdom about your interior realm, respect it. Not only that, but believe it to be a true reflection of your experience. Often sensitivity is dismissed or downplayed. Know that even if it seems out of proportion to what others experience, your response is true for you. Believe yourself. And then offer yourself some respect.
Respect not just the truth of your experience but your courage in facing it honestly.
Give yourself some room. Some quiet. Some stillness. Create time when nothing is on your calendar. Creating this kind of “white space” or blank room is essential for sensitive folks. It gives us time to digest, integrate and process our experiences. By taking time with nothing on the agenda, we can allow our minds to wander, for our emotions to move through us, and for our energy to naturally replenish itself.
Once you know yourself, and once you recognize that what you’re experiencing is real, you may want some boundaries. Recognize what affects you negatively and then put some limits on your exposure to those things. This is part of knowing, respecting, and protecting yourself. What is too much? Who isn’t healthy for you? How might limiting your exposure to what feels toxic actually make you more effective in what you’re truly meant to do?
There’s never a reason to apologize for your boundaries. Simply own them, by being clear on what you are and are not willing to do. There’s no need to explain; a simple, “No, thanks.” usually does the trick.
If you have been in a situation that activates your sensitivity, or leaves you feeling raw, bruised or simply exhausted, remember to cleanse. Cleansing isn’t just getting clean – it’s removing anything from your energybody that doesn’t belong to you or that isn’t serving you.
For some, this might actually be a hot shower (they’re my favorite for cleansing energy, especially with a scalp massage). But you might also try putting your hands on a tree or your body on the earth, allowing the energy to be reabsorbed into the earth. You might smudge yourself with sage, palo santo, or sweetgrass. Once cleansed, try having a snack, to renourish yourself with something delicious and nutritious.
Beyond the cleansing suggestions above, you may still need a little recovery, to fully bring yourself back to full strength. Take the time you need – and build this time into activities that you know have the tendency to stress your system. Take a nap. Veg out and binge watch something that makes you happy. Build yourself a cozy nest on the couch or in bed.Do some yoga or other gentle movement – or even meditate.
The point is: take your time before coming back to “the real world” and honor what you need. Discover your own pace for recovery and allow yourself to move in that way.