I grew up thinking “sensitive” was a bad word. Not being so sensitive was a goal I put on myself more often than I could count. It’s only recently that I started reclaiming the word and seeing it as a strength, rather than a weakness.
I am a sensitive person and that’s okay. Sensitivity is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.
An HSP is someone who processes the world a little differently than nonHSPs. We feel emotions a little deeper, process thoughts/feelings/events differently, and can be overwhelmed by external stimuli more easily.
For example, I get overwhelmed by too much sound. If there are too many different noises or it’s very loud, I have to stop functioning for a moment until I’ve processed it or until the sounds stop. Luckily, most of the time, I can power through but it means that certain environments are just not my jam. I’m not big into crowds of people because of this.
HSPs also tend to be more sensitive to the emotions of others — either as an empath (someone who takes on the emotions of others) or not. I don’t identify as an empath, but I am affected by the emotions of others, especially in close proximity.
So imagine now that the ENTIRE WORLD is stressed out, panicked, upset.
With the emergence of the 2020 Coronavirus as a global crisis, most of the world is under some sort of stress. While my country is handling it better than some, there’s still enough going on to produce an inordinate amount of anxiety.
My normal routine has been thrown out the window and, in its place, I’m at home all the time without much chance to escape. My family is worried, I’m worried. It’s a big bundle of stress and disinfectant. Not a great environment for someone who’s an emotional sponge and has no space to be alone. Being alone is how I recharge and settle myself.
I can’t complain because I’m safe and my family is safe. But the stress and anxiety and worry has gone deeper into me than it ever has before.
So all of the stress from The Virus™️ has manifested inside me as insomnia.
This is hard. For someone who always has had such a great relationship with sleep and seriously loves sleep, this new reality of wakefulness is a struggle.
I’m floundering, trying to keep up some semblance of structure in my life.
Last week, I wrote a piece about how I was going to luxuriate in all of the free time and use it to live as creatively as possible. Well, this is the flip side.
I want to be optimistic. I want to wrap myself in the knowledge that I’m safe, the world is not ending, and that eventually, things will return to “normal.” But these dark feelings have rooted themselves so deeply that it’s going to take some serious work to undo it.
Until things go back to normal, however long that will take, here are some things I’m trying to heal my little sensitive soul.
Staying in the moment is important in times of anxiety. Instead of focusing on all the uncertainty of the future, staying present can prevent a complete mental breakdown.
While it hasn’t been easy, I’ve been making a solid attempt. For me, mindfulness is taking the time to dig into activities I enjoy fully and completely. These mindful activities usually mean making something with my hands. I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread from scratch, I’ve been painting a lot, and baking things that aren’t bread. I think tomorrow will be cinnamon rolls.
Of course, meditation is also involved in mindfulness.
My mantra seems to be: “I’ve always wanted to meditate more.” Sporadic meditation has been my practice so far in my mindfulness journey. But, maybe this is finally the time to get into a proper routine, for the sake of combating some of my anxiety.
Staying mindful has helped me combat the worst of the constant anxiety that I’ve been feeling since this all started. It’s not perfect, but I’d be a complete basket case without it.
Since early this year, I’ve been on a doctor-mandated quest to get a little healthier. This has meant being more proactive with my fitness. Since the weather hasn’t been that great, I’d been doing indoor cardio workouts.
It’s easy when I’m feeling worn out and heavy, to break out of my habit and slip into being a sloth. But it’s not that helpful in the long run.
Keeping up even with some low-level activity is important for recovering from insomnia. So I’ve cut back how long I’ve been doing my cardio — I don’t want to overdo it — but the continuation of my workout has been improving how long I sleep. Slowly but surely.
Staying active is also a good stress reliever. Cardio specifically is a mode of healing anxiety. It can be hard at first, as I found, but, once I built up endurance, I found it to be more relaxing than I thought it would be.
Getting out in Nature
There’s nothing quite so relaxing as a forest bath. The practice of Forest Bathing is spending time in woodlands or forests for the sake of wellness and happiness.
Obviously, at this time, we need to be responsible for where we go and give everyone space to be healthy. But the world is wide and, as long as you are keeping a safe distance, then spend all the time you can outside.
Even if it’s just standing by a door or a window to let the sun be warm on your skin and let the fresh air into your lungs.
I find spending time near trees to be beneficial to my mental wellbeing, so that’s what I’ve done. I’m blessed with the privilege of being close to walking trails and wooded areas. Some are not, but any time in the fresh air is important.
Find one spot of green, even if it’s just a planter on a balcony or a houseplant near a window.
As the weather gets warmer, one thing those of us who have gardens or little outdoor spaces can do is garden. It’s your personal spot of nature. I find immense joy in looking at the daffodil and tulip shoots that are coming up. I dream of the roses, the lavender, and all the other flowers that will be coming out in the next couple of months.
There is a healing power to nature that can’t be denied. It’s free to use, but it’s important to be responsible and courteous to others. We all share the earth and we can be kind to it and each other.
Create without productivity
There’s been a distinct split between those who want to — or are trying to — stay productive during this time and those who don’t or can’t because of whatever reason.
But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, try making something for your enjoyment. This relates to what I said about mindfulness. Baking has been a creative outlet for me and the only one who’s benefitting is me (and my family who gets to eat all the yummy food). Do something you enjoy purely for the fun of it.
This is a stressful time and we’re all dealing with it in different ways. If you can’t be productive right now, that is perfectly fine. No guilt or shame.
We all have someone (or someones) that make our lives more meaningful and happy, whether it’s your family or friends or just one friend or even just your cat or dog. My circle is small compared to some, but I enjoy keeping in touch with my selected few.
For some HSPs, me as well, who also find pleasure in being alone, it’s easy to fall into isolation. And, while there’s comfort in being alone, I don’t think we should lose touch with our people.
So I’ve made an effort to check-in with my friends, just to see how they are. I’m living with my immediate family, so I know how they are. But staying connected to those I care about has helped me feel less alone in dealing with stress and worry. Sometimes simply knowing that you’re not alone is an important tool in staying mentally healthy.
Fill up your mental toolbox with anything you need to get through these moments. As an HSP, it’s been difficult to stop myself from internalizing all this stress all the time, but with these methods of relaxation and connection, I’m on the path to recovery from my insomnia.
Don’t feel discouraged if a day feels worse than the one before. Self-care isn’t a linear journey, especially for my fellow sensitive souls.
HSPs might actually be at an advantage during this time. We know the best ways to care for our mental well-being because it’s a daily practice for us. HSPs know what they need.
If you’re not as sensitive, take these tools and embrace your inner sensitivity to dig deep to find what you need to get through this time.