Self-care as an HSP

Dupont Circle DC

Friday is my new, self-appointed Self-care as an HSP day! Every Friday, I intend to talk about how I’ve taken time to slow down and care for myself that week. 

First off, are you new to this whole HSP business? Or need help explaining this trait to others? Then this letter might help. Having supportive loved ones, I think, is really important for self-care as an HSP too.  Ane Axeford, of Sensitive and Thriving, wrote an open letter for HSPs ‘coming out’ to friends & family. I think she does a really good job of detailing HSP traits and the ways it could come across to others – and how we can help our loved ones understand us better. It’s a great way to open the dialogue to empathy and understanding.

I also found this to be a particularly good reminder for myself:

I may not know what I want or need sometimes. I may really want to know what I want and need at those times. I may have considered it over and over, researched options, and put a lot of effort and intention into understanding what I want and need. And I may still not know. … Please know that sometimes I only know what I want or need after I have taken action on something and gotten physical, experiential feedback about it. …This is not because I am not committed to you or myself. It is because understanding what my own true preferences are is very subtle and experiential. I learn by seeing and doing. So, it is helpful for me to have space to see and do before I say yes to something. And, sometimes the way I imagine something is not at all the way it physically actually is. My feeling of whether or not something fits is subtle and important. My taking my time on decisions and trying them out is to ensure that we both get what we want, it is not a sign of resistance.

Complicated, but yes, totally true. Can’t tell you just how often I twist myself into knots trying to figure out what I really want!

What goes down during down-time

I’m still learning to prioritize rest and relaxation – and I do still have to fight those feelings of guilt about it, sometimes – it all stems from this habit of judging myself. Those sluggish afternoons where I find myself in bed, on a weekday. Needing at least 9 hours of sleep a night. Even though my HSS mind wants more, more, more, my HSP self will go “No! Please stop. Please chill and take a break.”

Also, respecting my social quota. I have told people, in all seriousness: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you right now. My social quota has been met.” And we all laugh but I am really dead serious. DEAD SERIOUS.

So in order to avoid that state where I have no choice but to retreat from the world for days because I’ve pushed myself way too hard, I’ve learnt to read the signs and know that it’s time to take a break. Self-care as an HSP basically involves lots of just being and not doing.

So what are these signs? So far, they are: Inability to focus. Lack of motivation. Grumpiness. Inability to absorb anymore information or derive pleasure from the things that I usually enjoy. Paranoid, anxious thoughts.

And these are the things I did this week to care for myself :

  • I used to love wandering around in Kinokuniya in Singapore. On days where I felt overwhelmed, just being around books made me feel instantly better. I miss it so much now that I’m in DC. (Although there’s a Barnes & Noble here but honestly, it’s not the same!) On the upside though, instead of bookstores, I get to wander around the city. DC is not as built-up as Singapore so there are definitely a lot more empt(ier) spaces and pretty public areas, fountains and parks (that’s Dupont Circle up there – one of my favorite spots to people-watch and just hang). It’s making me a little anxious though, that the days are getting colder and I won’t be able to go sit around in parks and by the water comfortably anymore.
  • Bus rides, and music.  I’ve been so obsessed with Oh Land (especially this) recently; it takes me away, in a good way.
  • Chores – like washing dishes that inevitably pile up: things that require a bit of focus to complete yet is physical enough so that my mind can take a break.
  • Baths! A good, long soak with bath salts. Salt apparently cleanses energy too – and shopping for bath products is one of my favorite things to do, ever.
  • Physical activity – yoga. I didn’t really enjoy yoga much in Singapore. I just could not gel with the style of those teachers that I’d tried – and teaching style is so important in yoga. I just didn’t enjoy their vibes. Unlike the other students, who somehow just seemed to be able to carry on regardless, I would get caught up in the vibe and energy of the teacher. And if I sensed something ‘off’ in their energy, (e.g. they’re teaching their 4th class of the day and just want to be over and done with it), I would be thrown off and distracted too, and that would get in the way of my enjoyment. But so far, Yoga District has been so good for me. The teachers are open hearted and non-judgmental (so far I’ve attended classes by Andrew (British accent is a bonus!) & Amalie), which is great for helping me feel centered and enough. And feeling enough is an amazingly healing thing. I couldn’t recommend it more.

This recent class by Amalie (Restorative & Relaxing Yoga) left me feeling really sore (don’t be deceived by the name – it really hurt), but in a really good way. I happened to be the only one in the class, so it turned out to be a great private class of sorts. She helped me open up my chest, and to finally do the downward dog somewhat properly (my back used to be so tense, I couldn’t ever do it without curling my back.)


(I know this is totally unimpressive to all you bendy yoga people, but this is a BIG DEAL for me.)

“Lift from your heart, not your head.”

I was doing the shoulder stand (with assistance, of course) and when it was time to lift myself out of it, I was supposed to lift myself up from the chest, and not the head, but of course I just kept struggling to use my head and neck (which would have hurt me if I’d kept on doing that!).

And even though she was referring to what I was doing physically, it hit me in a different way: as a habitual overanalyzer, I found it really apt in the way I tend to struggle with life sometimes – all the answers that only the heart can answer, I find myself trying to solve with my head instead.

“Lift from the heart, not your head”

(Message received, Universe.)

Till next week!

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