For the Highly Sensitive Person: Why we feel Overwhelmed & Burnt Out. | elephant journal
Self-care is essential, especially for highly sensitive people.
It’s usually easier said than done when we struggle with limiting beliefs and low self-esteem. As sensitive, compassionate people, we tend to set other people’s needs before our own. We can be perfectionists and people-pleasers and highly demanding of ourselves.
At the same time, we listen, help, and support everybody else. It’s difficult for us to say no to others. When we hear the word self-care, we might think, “Yeah, right, who has time for that?”
I used to be like this. I am a Finnish girl and the oldest in a family of four children. I felt like my responsibility was to take care of the others. That was fine and understandable, but when I was 13 years old, my parents got divorced. There was a lot of drama, pain, and anger, and I took the responsibility of looking after everybody’s emotional needs.
I hid my emotions and needs because everybody else needed my help, not the other way around. When I think back to that time, and now having a daughter of my own, the same age I was back then, I feel sorrow for that little girl who had to grow up overnight.
The belief that I’m only valuable when I do something for others has followed me since then. I have gone through many struggles because I didn’t feel I was worth anything good, nor have I had much help from anybody. So I kept myself in the shadows and focused on others. When I read self-care advice, I thought, “How could I take care of myself when there are so many others to take care of?”
I lived this way for many years and ended up exhausted and burnt out.
As a single mom, I was doing two jobs and trying to keep my business running in the financial crisis, and I still focused on others and survived alone. I knew something had to change. I needed a wake-up call before I started to take care of myself. I needed more sleep, more exercise, better food, and the basics to get my energy levels up. But most of all, I needed a spiritual change—the change in my beliefs and values.
There began my spiritual growth.
I have shared some of my most important insights from that time.
Here are three reasons why it is important to take care of ourselves (before we burn out and become exhausted) and how to do it:
1. We need to learn to say no.
Setting healthy boundaries is the biggest and most valuable thing we can do as highly sensitive people. Otherwise, the feeling of overwhelm will continue. There will always be people taking advantage of our willingness to help. It’s our responsibility to learn how to say no.
We can start with small steps. When someone asks us a favor, and it is possible to do it themselves, we need to stop right there. We need to notice what our first reaction may be. One example may be, “Of course I can.” But we need to consider if we are genuinely willing to do it. We should also think, “Do I want this? Do I have something important to do during that time? Am I tired? Am I having free time, or am I not in the mood?” Those are all just reasons to say no!
2. Choose your people wisely.
This is one of the hardest things to do, especially if our current relationships are part of the problem. Highly sensitive, empathic people often attract people who need our compassion and kindness to complete their lack of these qualities. That’s not always pretty. I’m not saying we should abandon anybody. But it might be helpful to do a little relationship survey and again ask, “Who are the people in my life who are there for me, not just another way around? Who gives me energy? Who are the ones who bring joy when I spend time with them? Who triggers me and makes me feel exhausted and in a bad mood?”
We don’t have to tell our conclusions to anybody. We can protect ourselves by spending less time with energy vampires and giving more time, love, and gratitude to those there for us. We can evaluate our new relationships with this scale and get to know people who make us feel good—people we feel a real connection with to build a community of people who will support us, not drag us down.
3. Take your life in control.
In this hectic lifestyle nowadays, we can easily drift. We go on autopilot from day to day without a clear direction. We’re not present in this moment. We don’t set intentions, and we may notice another week, month, or year goes by without any change for the better. However, there are some things we can do to take control of our lives, enjoy it more, and achieve our goals—after we know what they are.
I’m a huge fan of meditation and journaling. Taking those into our daily routines keeps us connected to our inner voice and intuition. Highly sensitive people can have a strong inner life and be quite intuitive. I didn’t know this until I muted all the fuzz in my head and started to listening to my heart more.
We can also clear the garbage from our minds and body. A healthy diet and exercise can give us the foundation for our energy and health to stay strong. Protecting ourselves from constant stimulation and distraction is important to us, too, because we become overwhelmed much easier.
It’s our responsibility to keep our lives in balance. This includes our phone and social media use which can take a lot of time from us, and we don’t even realize it. Instead, we could use that time wisely. Our brains get some rest when we leave the phone and go outside, or sit down and visualize our dream life, or spend time with our loved ones.
We can do things to bring healthy control into our lives if we want to make it better. Or we can stay with the same problems, habits, and overwhelming life from day to day and not take action to change it. It’s up to us.
My story is proof that dreams can come true, no matter where we begin. Just begin. The path will open to you, one step at a time.