Surviving the Stress of this Pandemic as a Highly Sensitive Person
I‘m not ok. There. I said it.
On Thursday, I finally reached my breaking point and felt myself crumbling internally from too much stress, scarcity, overwhelm, and uncertainty.
As an introvert, I honestly haven’t minded the quarantine. My husband and I have been working from home since November, so we’ve got that aspect down—and we genuinely enjoy spending our evenings and weekends together at home, just us.
So I was a little surprised when, as this pandemic became more and more serious, I started having a harder time dragging myself out of bed in the morning. I was waking up feeling exhausted after a good eight hours of sleep, and by 3 pm each workday, I felt like I was on the edge of an introvert hangover—the same way I used to feel after working in an open-concept office on a particularly busy day with back-to-back in-person meetings.
This made no sense at first, because everyone is working remotely right now. But then I started realizing that, as a highly sensitive person (HSP), I was internalizing my own rollercoaster of emotions plus all the emotions I was picking up from my coworkers, friends, and family.
Feeling Our Way Through This New “Normal”
HSPs feel more deeply than others, and according to Dr. Elaine Aron, “the highly sensitive person has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment. But the key quality is that, compared to the 80% without the trait, they process everything around them much more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations.”
Since the start of this pandemic, HSPs around the globe have been processing all the changes and uncertainty and worse case possibilities on a much deeper level than most, while absorbing the emotions of everyone around us who are also stressed and scared and trying to make sense of this.
Everyone is in survival mode right now, and even though we aren’t face to face, I can still feel the stress of my co-workers through frantic messages, urgent, eleventh-hour requests, and last-minute rescheduling of meetings because their kids need care.
We’re all navigating this new “normal” one minute at a time, and it’s really, really hard. So we’re all doing the best we can because that is all we can do right now. And that is enough. It’s more than enough.
But feeling the intense weight of all these emotions has become too much for me to handle, and I’m sure many other HSPs are feeling the same way.
So, I took a step back to reset, recharge, and figure out how the empaths and sensitive ones can survive this. Here are four things we can begin doing today to protect our energy, our spirit, and our gift of sensitivity.
Recognize & Release What You’re Internalizing
Our external challenges are easy to see, but what internal challenges are you facing? These may be what’s taking the greatest toll, and it’s so important to recognize what you’re internalizing so you can put practices in place to shed some of that weight. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you and pay attention to where you’re carrying your stress.
A few weeks ago, the knots between my shoulders told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to do something to help me relax at around 3 pm every workday. I’d been noticing that this is when my stress was peaking, and I felt the most tense and overwhelmed.
I set a daily calendar reminder to go outside and be fully present, quiet my mind and breathe for 3 minutes, practice gratitude for 3 minutes, and pray for 3 minutes. I do this rain or shine, and I begin the 9-minute practice by dry bathing.
This slightly strange but incredibly effective “bath” (from Reiki) can help you literally wipe off the emotions that are clinging to you. Here’s how to do it:
- Put both feet flat on the floor—you can do this sitting or standing, but I find standing most effective
- Place your right hand on your right shoulder
- Sweep down your chest, across your stomach and end at your left hip
- Do this 3-5 times on that side, depending on your stress level
- Repeat this 3-5 times on your left side by putting your left hand on your left shoulder and sweeping down to your right hip
- Extend your right arm downward and place your left hand on your right shoulder
- Stroke down your arm all the way to your fingertips, 3-5 times
- Do the same with the left arm
I encourage you to try this and if it works for you, set reminders to do this throughout the day. Combine this with other self-care practices, and identify other ways you can release everything you’re internalizing and start taking better care of yourself during this stressful season.
Reset & Recharge Every Evening
It’s also so important to find a self-care practice that will help you reset at the end of the workday. Dry bathing can be very effective here as well, so you can clear the day’s emotions before taking them into your evening. As HSPs, we need to shed our emotions multiple times a day or they’ll just keep piling up until it’s too much to handle and we crumble.
Go for a walk or run, take a shower if you haven’t yet, or take a real bath—whatever you need to reset and recharge.
Create More Joyful Moments
Be more intentional about creating joy in your life. You can do this by bringing some things you may have forgotten about from your old routine into your new one, or take advantage of not having to commute by doing something you love that you wouldn’t normally have time to do.
Take a walk, work out, spend some time reading, practice gratitude, actually sit down and enjoy breakfast or your morning coffee or tea.
As a small example, as I was getting ready for the day on Friday morning, I played some music I love for a good hour. This helped me begin the workday feeling a lot happier than usual.
Think about what will elevate your mood so your baseline is higher from the start. You can use the same things to create joy at the end of your workday as well.
Unapologetically Ask for What You Need
As introverts and HSPs, it’s so easy to feel like our needs aren’t legitimate because they’re different from the majority.
Right now, many need connection to stay energized, so meetings with video turned on and virtual work happy hours are becoming mandatory. And those can be good, healthy things—but they’re the opposite of what many introverts and HSPs need and how we connect.
We need more solitude, fewer stimuli, and more time to recharge after the workday, disconnected from people because we’ve been feeling their emotions all day long. We need one-on-one connection with a friend over the phone or even Skype to go deep and hear how they’re really doing—but just with that one person, not a group of people who will likely talk over one another because that’s just part of it.
Since people are more empathetic right now, as we all navigate this crisis together, I believe this is an excellent time to start unapologetically asking for what we need and saying no to the things that are emotionally unhealthy for us.
Do this in a way that can continue after this crisis is over, so that maybe we can also shed the guilt that might typically go along with it.
What the World Needs From HSPs Right Now
I don’t think this is the time for us to become stronger. This is the time for HSPs to become more resilient, especially since the world is collectively feeling more empathetic than usual. People are already stepping up with more empathy and prioritizing connection and support, which is something we naturally do.
This doesn’t have to be our responsibility yet.
It’s our time to practice communicating our unique needs unapologetically, create boundaries, and really explore the level of self-care that we need to get through this. Because when we burn out, the world loses all the empathy and love and care that we have to give. It loses our unique contribution, and that can be one of the worst things for an HSP because we’re wired to give and help and support and feel.
Our needs will likely change after we emerge from this pandemic, but if we take better care of ourselves now, we’ll know what to do the next time we start feeling overloaded with emotion or overwhelmed by another crisis—personal or worldwide.
The world will need us again when this is over, and if we’re worn out and broken we won’t have anything left to give. So I believe that our responsibility right now is to take care of ourselves. Practice self-care to protect our energy and our spirit so we are emotionally healthy and ready to help on the other side of this.
Read this blog next to learn why it’s critical to communicate your unique introverted needs during this crisis, and exactly how to do it.