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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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