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How to manage overwhelm as a HSP or Empath

How to manage overwhelm as a HSP/Empath?

 

If you’re unsure what it means exactly to be a Highly Sensitive Person, then go check out my blog called “Are you Highly Sensitive?” Here, you can also take the self-test from Dr Elaine Aron to determine whether or you consider yourself a HSP.

 

A Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) nervous system is a lot more evolved than the average person meaning we spend a lot of time processing all this information to a far greater depth. As a result, we experience stimuli (both internal (thoughts, emotions) and/or external (loud noises, bright lights) to a higher degree of intensity than others; and so the likelihood of becoming overwhelmed is pretty darn high.

 

As with most things that operate at an advanced level, there does come a cost. A more evolved nervous system spends a lot more time processing all this information and feeling the intensity of emotions that go with them. As with anything working overtime, eventually it will slow down or crash (burn out) if not managed correctly. This is very similar to a computer trying to process more information than it has memory for! Cognitive energy is a limited resource, if we focus on too many things at once for a long period of time, overwhelm kicks in and we will burn out.

 

This goes for everyone. And so, it is no surprise that empaths and HSPs get overwhelmed quicker than non HSPs as no one processes information to a deeper level than we do.

 

So, what are the tell-tale signs that you are getting overwhelmed?

Agitation:

  • Feeling restless and losing patience with people close to you
  • Unable to listen and tune in to what your body is asking for.
  • Feeling too tired for exercise which would usually relieve that feeling otherwise.
  • Feeling as if you can’t tolerate the activity/task at hand, walking away or quitting even though you care deeply about it.

Physical exhaustion:

  • Constant feeling of tiredness which impacts on your productivity levels throughout the day.
  • Unable to carry on with your usual exercise routine despite having enough sleep.
  • Noticing that you are getting more headaches or other physical pains in your body. For me this can manifest in my joints as stiffness and sharp paints often in my leg and hip joints or in my neck and shoulders.

Mental exhaustion:

  • Inability to function at work or in daily tasks.
  • Difficulty stringing sentences together – feeling like there’s no steam left in your tank to hold a conversation, collect your thoughts or make decisions.
  • Concentration is poor and it takes longer to do things.

Making poor diet choices:

  • Reaching for high fat or sugary foods for an energy boost
  • Comfort eating to feel grounded.
  • Excessive consumption of coffee to boost your energy levels (HSPs are very sensitive to caffeine so this can actually worsen the feelings of nervousness and agitation).

Little things become big things:

  • Small problems become seemingly larger than usual (in these times its really useful to get an outsiders’ opinion to help you put things back into perspective).
  • You begin obsessing over the little things, overwhelm can leave you feeling out of control and this is one way to hold onto some of that control.

Overwhelm can often feel like a weakness that we battle against as highly sensitives, but it is important to know that it is simply about Cognitive Fatigue.

Here are my 6 top tips on managing overwhelm:

 

  1. Take regular baths – This is one of my favourite things to do, in fact immersing myself in any form of water, i.e. The sea, swimming pool, hot tub, even long hot showers do the trick. Water is great for bringing your energy back to balance and baths are also a great way to indulge in a bit of aromatherapy – my fav oils are lavender rose, geranium and frankincense. Add in some bath salts too to help with rebalancing. Raising your body temperature is another effective remedy for anxiety and stress and aids in muscle relaxation while boosting your mood. From an energetic point of view is also a great way to cleanse your aura from negative energy that us empaths have collected and absorbed unconsciously. Another amazing benefit is creating a “bath-time” ritual, rituals are very calming and grounding for highly sensitives as they take away the overthinking element of organising and structuring your day.
  2. Schedule “me-time” into your daily routine – This is so important for empaths and HSPs because we need more down time than others. Scheduling this time in your days means that you can take that time regularly and you don’t have to wait until you’re already overwhelmed. The most important part in doing this, is doing so without feeling guilty. Remind yourself that this is important for you to stay in balance and as a result you will be more productive throughout your day. Create a “refuge” for yourself where you can retreat to and move away from the stimuli. This could be another room or space in your house, or if you’re at work it could be taking yourself out the office, going for a walk, sitting on a nice park bench, or in a quiet coffee shop.
  3.  Set personal boundaries – Learn when to say no. This can be challenging at the start as HSPs are so used to saying yes even at the detriment of our own needs as we so badly don’t want to offend anyone. Start off small and practice saying no to small requests i.e. declining a request to do lunch with your bestie. You can keep it vague and say something like “Thanks for the invite, but I won’t be coming tomorrow”. Of course, helping others and building relationships are an important part of life so is finding the right balance between when to say yes or when to say no. As a good indication, if saying yes leaves you feeling resentful and overwhelmed then you know that you are not honouring your own needs. Toxic relationships will start to disappear from your life as you begin stepping into your power and standing up for what you want and deserve. You’ll start to enjoy turning down requests as you become more empowered and see the positive impact that this has on your overall wellbeing.
  4. Separate from overwhelming emotions – As empaths and HSPs, we unconsciously pick up other people’s “stuff” that we have absorbed throughout the day. Sometimes the overwhelm is coming from someone else’s emotions so its important to develop an awareness of what’s ours and what’s someone else’s. Dr Judith Orloff lists some useful techniques in her book “The Empath’s Survival Guide” She says “If you have doubt about where the emotion is coming from, take a few moments to meditate, centre yourself, ask that your fears be lifted, then tune in again to the other person to see if the emotion is coming from them. Also a quick way if you are say, at a party or a gathering, is to simply move at least 20 feet away from the person, out of their energy field. If the emotion dissipates, it was probably coming from them!”
  5. Put your favourite music on and sing – This is such a simple technique but so effective. Music is medicine for the soul and it talks to us on such a deep level. I’m a sucker for love songs and power ballads as they always elicit a feeling of empowerment and they take me straight out of my head into my heart. Singing while you are in the bath is a great combo! Singing releases endorphins and submerging ourselves in warm water causes our brains to release serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and social functioning) so it’s a double whammy.
  6. Take a break from Social Media – Social media and the internet can quickly become overwhelming. HSPs and empaths have a thirst for knowledge and always want to know more, which leads to endless scrolling and quickly being consumed in all the negativity that exists on the internet. Even when we are using these platforms for expressing ourselves and sharing creative content, this can suck the life out of us and stunt our creative flow. I often take days where I choose not to go onto my social media apps at all. If they can be avoided then I would advise taking days out at a time, but if you are using different platforms for work, then blocking time out to go into the apps with specific purpose can help to free up space in your mind for other more productive tasks and prevent you from hours of endless scrolling and ultimately feeling overwhelmed

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Are you Highly Sensitive?

What does it mean to be a Highly Sensitive Person?

 

Research has shown that the nervous system of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a lot more evolved than the average person; meaning we are hard wired to pick up on the subtleties in our environment and process them to a far greater depth.

 

Empaths and HSPs make up 15-20% of the population so it is not surprising that many of us feel like we are different from the rest of society and fail to recognise this unique trait as a special gift.

 

A more evolved nervous system means processing stimuli to a far greater depth than that of a non HSP, which means that both external and internal stimuli will take longer to process. Examples of this type of stimuli include bright lights, loud crowded places, changes in temperature, slight change in someone’s mood, emotions (other people’s + our own) thoughts and pains (including hunger).

 

Our internal worlds are complex and HSPs are more tuned-in to the emotions of ourselves and others around them. The emotional centres of our brains (limbic system) are shown to be more overactive than non-HSPs and with more active mirror neurons, we can really pick up on the emotions of others quicker than non-HSPs can.

 

In fact, if you’re on the super high end of the empathic spectrum and consider yourself an empath like myself, you will absorb the emotions of others around you – a bit like an emotional sponge, whether you want to or not.

 

As a result of this, we have different needs. When this trait is not recognised or nurtured as it should be, our needs become neglected and we internalise the message that other peoples’ needs are more important than our own. So, it is no surprise that HSPs commonly experience low self-confidence and low self-esteem as we do not trust that it is safe to fully embrace who we are at our core. 

 

When this trait goes unrecognised and our needs go unmet, subconscious patterns are created that can impact on our relationships, careers, social life, health, wellbeing etc. This causes us to become stuck in a cycle of destructive behaviour, people pleasing, being afraid to say no and feeling unworthy of love.

 

While everyone feels sensitive at times, a highly sensitive person will experience a much greater response to stimuli and this is why we can become quickly overwhelmed (click here to read my blog post all about overwhelm and what you can do to manage it). It is important for HSPs to retreat or spend some time alone to ground themselves and wind down away from too much stimuli.

 

Highly sensitive people will have received a lot of comments growing up to make them acutely aware that they experience things differently to their peers. Hearing comments like “you’re too sensitive”, “Why do you care so much” “You noticed that?!” “Hmm, It doesn’t seem too loud in here, or too bright/too hot/too cold” – are a good indication too.

 

Since I’ve started working with HSPs I’ve had quite a lot of people question this trait within themselves, and if I hear the remark “That’s nothing special. Everyone feels that way sometimes!” …then it is unlikely they are a highly sensitive person.

 

HSPs know from experience (and often difficult times) that they feel things far more strongly than others do. They have seen firsthand how they’re different.

 

Look below to take the self-test to help you understand better if you’re HSP.

Dr Elaine Aron’s Self-Test

Make a note of how many you say YES to:

  1. I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input
  2. I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment
  3. Other people’s moods affect me
  4. I tend to be very sensitive to pain
  5. I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation
  6. I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine
  7. I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by
  8. I have a rich, complex inner life
  9. I am made uncomfortable by loud noises
  10. I am deeply moved by the arts or music
  11. My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself
  12. I am conscientious
  13. I startle easily
  14. I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time
  15. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating)
  16. I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once
  17. I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things
  18. I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows
  19. I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me
  20. Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood
  21. Changes in my life shake me up
  22. I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art
  23. I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once
  24. I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations
  25. I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes
  26. When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise
  27. When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy

If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive. But no psychological test is so accurate that an individual should base his or her life on it. If fewer questions are true of you, but extremely true, that might also justify you calling you highly sensitive.

 

Being Sensitive is a beautiful gift

I see the word “sensitive” being thrown around all too often as if it’s a bad thing, but I’m here to reassure you that your sensitivity is actually a really special, amazing gift. Once we learn about the trait, we can begin to accept ourselves as we are, and this can be a huge shift alone! We can then learn the tools and techniques we need to thrive in this world and work on implementing them until they become engrained in who we are. Overtime, with the right interventions you can become attuned to working with your own energy and especially if you’re an empath you can learn how to do this in a way that serves others too.

 

The truth is, you aren’t “too much” of anything!

 

You simply have a very unique and powerful personality trait that comes with both pros and cons 🙂

 

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Morning Routine

Self-care so important for HSPs and creating daily rituals can be a part of that practice to help keep you balanced.

 

Why is a morning routine so important for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)

  • It takes away decision making – Having a regular routine means that you need to make less decisions about the structure of your day.  Highly sensitives have the tendency to stay in their mind where it feels safe, overthinking and processing stimuli to a greater depth than others and it can take a lot longer to make decisions

 

  • Ritual – Having a ritual can be both freeing and grounding. Knowing that when you go to sleep at night you have something to look forward when you wake up to that will start off your day on the right foot is very calming.

 

  • Familiarity – Life is unpredictable at the best of times and particularly with the current situation, so a familiar routine can give that sense of safety when there is less certainty in your life.

 

  • Knowing what to expect – Us HSPs love to know what’s coming next. It gives us a break from overthinking and soothes the nervous system.

 

  • More factored in “me time” – Having scheduled time for ourselves, means that we know what we need to do in an allotted time so that we can also schedule our much needed down time into our days; and avoid neglecting ourselves.

 

  • Purpose – Our deep nature means that we are constantly looking for purpose and meaning in everything we do. Incorporating intention setting practice to our morning routine means that we are living more purposefully throughout the day.

 

  • Energising – I love reading something motivational in the morning to get me in the right frame of mind.

 

  • Protection – Empaths and HSPs need to ensure that they are protecting their own energy from energy vampires. As we unconsciously absorb and collect other peoples energy it can leave us feeling depressed, anxious, fatigued etc, so its important to ground and cleanse to start the day lighter and call our energy back.

Here’s what my morning routine consist of:

 

  • Affirmations: Reading and Visualisation – I start off my morning by reading over my affirmations and visualising each one as I go. I recently created a new list of 8 affirmations that I read twice a day. You can write them in your phone or on paper whatever works best, look at each one and then close your eyes as you visualise them. After some time you will start to remember them so you can just lay in bed keeping your eyes shut as soon as you’ve woken up and recite each one as you go. Its best to do them as soon as you wake up while your mind is still receptive and impressionable.

 

  • Grounding & Protection Meditation – I then do a 10-minute guided meditation on grounding and protecting my energy. As an empath this is really important for keeping your energy in check throughout the day. Both are done through visualisation techniques and you can find some really good ones on YouTube or Insight Timer (app).

 

  • Cup of Tea – The first thing I will do when I get out of bed is make a cup of tea, drinking tea used to be done ceremonially many years ago and I still like to connect to this and include it as part of my ritual in the morning. I will often do this and climb back into bed to do 20-30 minutes of reading (something motivational/inspiring) before I get up.

 

  • Exercise – I always do my exercise in the morning. No matter if I am tired I will always do some kind of movement to stretch my body. My morning exercise will vary from day to day and it will be a combination of HIIT training, yoga/stretching or resistance weight training. I’ll spend 30-45 minutes on this.