As a sensitive person, your ability to pick up and process information deeply is higher than the average person’s. And because this is all happening in the background, it feels almost effortless – so it becomes easy to neglect its effects on your physical self. After all, it’s an unconscious process. (Versus a conscious one, e.g. thinking of your grocery shopping list or doing math in your head.)
But the fact is, too much stimulation over a prolonged period of time without reprieve actually takes a real toll on your body, because processing information is like doing mental gymnastics without even realizing it. Your mental gymnast self has been doing backflips and handstands and all these amazing things – but because it’s all so easy and natural, you feel like you could go on forever. That is, until one day, you just can’t anymore. You get exhausted, grouchy or even ill. Reaching that state means that you’re close to or already burnt out – and it will take even longer to recover from there!
That’s because even the best athletes – yup, mental ones too – need a break. It’s during this down time that your body has the chance to recover and to become even stronger and more resilient. Taking time to take care of yourself then isn’t about being self-indulgent or a waste of time – it’s about making sure you’re physically capable of going out there in the world to do what you want to do. And the more you are able to prioritize taking care of yourself, the more readily you will be able to appreciate the gifts that sensitivity brings you!
Self-care doesn’t have to be fancy, time-consuming or expensive. Ideally, it can be a practice that you can easily incorporate into your day, to the point where it becomes a habit. Try to make time for at least one self-care activity a day.
Here are some of my favorite ways of taking care of myself:
1. Tea. For almost immediate comfort, hot tea always does the trick. Having it in a familiar, much-loved mug takes it up to another level. Hot drinks are calming – but figure out which ones soothe you best. I’ve cut out caffeine (at least from coffee) completely from my diet. I’ve found that caffeine makes me jumpy and wired, and not in a particularly productive way: my brain moves extra fast, but in a way that could be disjointed and erratic. Tannins in tea, while still a form of caffeine, is somehow processed in my body differently, so it still gives me a pleasant boost without that edginess.Clockwise from top left: Sea Grape Lavender Bath & Body Oil, Spellbound Rose scent, my sister’s cute little air plant, Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot body lotion, Macaron Rose from UO.
2. Bath products & Scents. Also known as Things That Smell Good – I’ve been into essential oils lately because my tolerance for synthetic scents have reached a new low. Scents are important to me because I’m so sensitive to how things smell – it truly lifts my mood and makes me feel good to constantly catch a whiff of my favourite scents. Lavender is the classic go-to for calming, sleepy time feelings – a couple of drops into a bath and you’ve got yourself a spa experience. The one above is from Sea Grape – it’s made in Portland! – it also doubles up as a body oil that you can massage into your skin.
3. Exercise. It’s all about the endorphins. But if you find it a drag, reconsider the way you’re getting your exercise. It doesn’t have to be a rigid practice. Once I realized this, it became a lot more freeing for me. I used to think I was only exercising if I ran precisely 30 minutes on the treadmill, no matter how I was feeling that day. So I soon began to dread it on days I felt too tired to push myself. But consider all the different ways you could actually get exercise too. Get bored easily? Go to a fun dance class. Hatha yoga too slow for you? Go to a vinyasa class. Walk up a flight of stairs, go for a stroll in the park. Do 5 push ups. Every little bit adds up. Never stop exploring what gets you moving organically, what feels good for your body. Not everyone is made for cross fit or high intensity training. (Though I do follow @H_I_I_T on IG to pretend that I CAN do one-handed push-ups.)
4. Meditate. The whole point of meditating is to practice not attaching significance to any thoughts or feelings that arise in your mind. Let them float on by like clouds in the sky. But honestly, that shit is HARD. The moment I sit down I have the urge to run off and do the first thing that pops into my mind. I’ve literally leapt up 2 seconds after my butt’s hit the ground to go tend to the first thing I think of. But once I realized this tendency, it became pretty funny; I had to laugh at myself and my restlessness. So now, my version of meditating is to catch myself midstream in my stream-of-consciousness chatter, especially when it’s taken a negative turn. I’m sure purists will have a million ways of doing it ‘right’. But just know that meditation is working when you are able to identify the times you are getting caught up in your thoughts, and being able to say no, to try turning them down for a second or two. Then the next time round, try 5 seconds. Then 10. And so on.
As an HSP and empath, emotions can feel very pressing, very immediate, very visceral and very real. It can almost be acute, and you can feel it physically – to the point where it can almost be unbearable. So learning how to detach from your feelings during those intense times is an important practice. Emotions reflect how you really feel about a situation, and that’s valuable information. But emotions also AREN’T facts – practice letting them pass and not reacting to them in the moment. This is one of the hardest parts of being an empath for me, so I’m over here practicing it right beside you!
5. Buy yourself flowers. I’m a city girl, but when I go too long without nature I tend to get seriously drained and just dry, somehow. I need my Mama Ocean. Those negative ions are good for body and soul, I’m telling you. But sadly, I can’t run away to Tahiti every time I need my dose of nature – so I buy myself flowers. They’re pretty and won’t burn a hole in your pocket. And they are perfect for prettying up your space (which is another thing that makes me feel good!).
6. Nature, in any shape or form. If you aren’t into flowers, go gaze at trees. Sit by the river. Take time to really look at the sky. Watch the clouds. Take 10 full-bodied, whole-lunged breaths out in a park. I’ve realized that every little piece of nature counts, in whatever way you can find it, wherever you live.
7. Let your emotions have an outlet. There are times when emotions get really pent up, and I’ve made the mistake of directing this energy at others. Emotions ARE a form of energy. And they need to have a place to go! For the times when trying to get into a meditative state feels plain impossible, channel these emotions into creating. So I write poetry. Occasionally, really moody poetry. Or I listen to music, the kind of music that reflects my mood exactly. I HAVE been known to blast Florence + The Machine loudly in the bathroom (good acoustics), just to get that angst out of my system. You could even scream into a pillow or go watch the silliest movie you can think of, just to laugh mindlessly. I know how intense emotions can feel sometimes – the way it’s in your body and seems to almost have control over you. I know how scary it can feel! The trick is not to judge whatever that comes up, and just express it in a safe way before having a meltdown – just not at others.
8. Hang out with someone you REALLY LOVE. Chances are, as an HSP and/or Empath, you would really enjoy your own company. And I truly DO love hanging out with myself and just doing my own thing. Yet what makes me really happy too is spending time around people I truly love – people who make you smile, people around whom you can be yourself without effort. Just don’t feel bad turning down outings with people you just aren’t really that into, or aren’t a 100% into spending time with at the moment, when you’re not feeling up to it. Those who truly care would never begrudge you for it!
9. Go somewhere new. Discovering something new brings fresh energy into your mind – it’s the power of inspiration. I’m also a high sensation seeker, so when I get a case of the blahs sometimes, I realize that all I need is just a hit of novelty. So I go to the museum, or a bookstore (my personal mecca) – or explore a neighborhood I’ve never been to before. Bringing myself out of familiar environments and into a pleasantly stimulating one is a balm to my restless mind.
10. That Specific Thing That Brings You Joy. I’ve often thought to myself when reading lists: “how could this possibly reflect every single person who reads it?” Even when it’s targeted at a specific group of people? It just can’t. So here is that one wild card – self-care is also about doing something that makes YOUR soul leap with joy, that doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. Go do it, and enjoy it unabashedly. Nothing moves me like beauty. So I would go seek out beauty – and this could come in so many different forms. Sometimes I find it in a really lovingly-made, well-produced piece of clothing. An exquisite piece of sushi. A beautiful objet. People watching and just enjoying the way people are. So for you, it could be cuddling your dog or painting nudes or eating artisanal popcorn in bed while watching Netflix. Whatever, just make sure you enjoy the hell out of it.
Take good care of yourself my lovely sensitive friends! Tell me in the comments how self-care looks like for you, it would be so amazing to hear from you!