When I was a kid, I used to wonder why I seemed to be so sensitive to everything and other kids seemed tough as nails. I’m not just talking about emotional sensitivity, I’m talking about physical sensitivity, too. Everything – and I mean everything – impacted me. Whether it was a sad story I saw in a (theoretically) kid’s movie or something (seemingly) innocent someone said to me at school or even just if I hadn’t eaten enough vegetables that day. I was born, unfortunately (or fortunately?) with a sensitive constitution and to this day, that hasn’t changed. As an adult, I’m still highly sensitive to everything: one cup of regular coffee keeps me awake for 20 hours, half a glass of wine makes me drunk, not eating enough or hydrating enough causes me to get sick, and most importantly, the sadness or happiness of others changes my outlook on my day: I absorb other’s thoughts and feelings and I’ve never been able to shut off my empathy (hello, did I mention I’m vegan?).
Lately, with all the changes that have been happening (such as a new diagnosis of asthma and a cancellation of my current international travel plans and adjusting to a new love), as well as with coming back to my hometown and getting to reconnect with others, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant pattern of “go go go” and “feel feel feel.” None of that is bad, it’s just occasionally felt a little overwhelming for me – the consummate empath that doesn’t know how to shut off all the damn feels!
Many of us travelers, I think, have sensitive constitutions. Often, we self-select to become travelers because of those sensitive constitutions – because we see the world differently and know it needs more love. In light of that, and in light of my own life changes lately, I’ve decided to write this post about how to ground yourself as a highly sensitive person. I wasn’t always very good at this (and it’s still a work in progress), but I’ve learned a lot about how to reset in my 30 years of existence and now, I’m finally starting to take my own advice.
1. Take a (brief) break from others.
I know, for all you highly-sensitive introverted extroverts out there (I know I’m not the only one!) that like to have a big circle of actually close friends (rather than a big circle of acquaintances you barely know), this seems like it would be a really hard thing to do. But I’m not asking you to take a break from your friends for days, rather just for a day. Or maybe even for a few hours – whatever works for you. For the highly sensitive among us, other people can often add to our strong emotions, so while advice like “go see a friend” might work for less sensitive people that need to get grounded, for us it’s more often about spending time alone.
Do it. With no excuses. I don’t want to hear “I’m not a workout person.” I don’t want to hear “I’m tired.” Just go get your body moving. The benefits of exercise for things like stress and exhaustion are well-documented and plentiful. Not only that, working out your body will give your brain a second to rest and get clear. Once you’re focusing on your form and how you’re moving and catching your breath, you’ll find yourself lost in the physicality of it all and start feeling more calm mentally, too. I couldn’t exist without exercise, but I don’t do it to be thin or fit or trim (those are really nice benefits that I also like, though!), I do it to maintain my sanity!
3. Sit in silence.
Find a quiet spot. Sit down. Be still. And be silent. Not exactly rocket science, right? You don’t have to find a beautiful mountain top or forest clearing and look perfect with some designer yoga mat while you meditate. You just have to sit still, shut the fuck up, and let your brain shut the fuck up too. Being silent for a little while will do wonders for making you start to think a little slower and feel less overwhelmed.
Breathe. This is also not rocket science. Maybe you can’t find a quiet spot, maybe you had a moment of overwhelm in the middle of your work day, maybe there are kids running around you throwing finger paint at the walls. So, roll with the punches. Instead of trying to find yourself in absolute silence to have a moment of perfect meditation, just breathe. Breathe deeply. Breathe slowly. Breathe intentionally. Give your body and mind some air, so that your soul can have a second to relax.
5. Have a “YOU” day (or a “you” half-day or a “you” hour)
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to take entire days to ourselves (I mean, I can but that’s the benefit of working for myself and not being a mother :-P), but in the real world, work, family, and other external obligations may often mean that we can’t. Don’t shortchange yourself just because you can’t take an entire day, however. Talk a half-day if you can. Or take an HOUR! Find a tiny bit of time to do something that makes you feel like YOU and you’ll be a better you when you come back from it.
6. Go outside
Get out of your over air-conditioned, artificially lit, stuffy, germy home or workplace (not that your home is particularly germy, just that we all live in disgusting indoors so much!), and get outside. Remember what sunshine and fresh air is like? Well, if you don’t, it’s time to remind yourself. Your body will thank you and you’ll feel a lot clearer when you finally do go back to your over air-conditioned, artificially lit, stuffy, germy home or workplace.
7. Spend quality time with an animal
Have a pup or a kitty that’s been getting left alone a lot because of your overwhelm? Stop focusing on that overwhelm and start focusing on them again, it’ll make you both happy. If you don’t have a pup or kitty, go find one! Spending time with animals does wonders for our psyche, and for some reason, we forget it frequently. You can also go visit an animal sanctuary or an animal rehabilitation center. Anything to remind yourself of how our loving, furry friends see the world – because it’s a lot better than how we see the world.
8. Read or watch something funny
The key is “funny.” Don’t turn on Game of Thrones. Don’t read a dystopian novel. Don’t watch a talk show discussing the news. Read or watch something totally, mindlessly stupid but hilarious. For highly-sensitive people, every bit of exernal stimuli we take in has an impact on us. Reading or watching something silly helps get us out of our own heads and a few good belly laughs never hurt anyone!
9. Take a long shower
Did anyone ever say showers are like being in the womb? Okay, so they’re probably not, because of the whole standing and moving thing. But they do feel a bit like a warm cocoon, when done right, with the rest of the world shut out. Maybe you truly don’t have time for a long moment to spend to yourself and think about how you can get out of your overwhelm and get back to feeling grounded. But you DO have time for a shower, because you take showers every day! Today, though, instead of in, soaped up, cleaned off, and out, extend your shower so you can spend a few peaceful moments in the warm steam just breathing and feeling calm. You’ll be glad you did.
10. Hydrate (Intentionally)
It may sound like your mother or doctor’s tip, but the last one is so simple yet so needed it boggles my mind when we all sometimes forget about this: HYDRATE! Your body can’t do anything unless it’s fueled properly, and while the right nutrition is incredibly important, the first basic thing we most often let lapse is our hydration!
These tips for getting re-grounded might sound super basic – and they are! There’s no expert-level reasoning happening here, but that’s the point. When we get overwhelmed, especially as highly-sensitive people, we start to forget to take care of ourselves. The truth is, we can’t do anything without first taking care of ourselves, so what often feels like it’s a selfish desire to focus on ourselves is really just a basic need to ensure we’re good before we can give more away to others.
I’m not perfect. I’m learning. But so are we all: the key is just to do better today than the day before.