If you’ve found this article, you’re probably a deeply caring, compassionate person. The planet matters to you and you do your best to recycle and reuse. Maybe you volunteer at the local soup kitchen or animal shelter (or would like to if you had the time). You keep up with what is going on in the world and send prayers, supplies, or donations to help hurricane victims or the impoverished in another country.
But sometimes, it feels like too much. Your caring soul can get overloaded with the suffering of endangered species or the plight of children in war zones. Sometimes, it feels as if all the fear, pain, and torment of the planet courses through your veins, causing deep grief and sorrow.
If this sounds familiar, you might be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – naturally empathic, low tolerance for sensory stimulation, deeply moved by music, nature, and the arts, strongly emotional, and also easily overwhelmed.
You’re not alone – I struggle with this, too, and so do most of my clients and students. For sensitive people like you and me, empathy can feel overwhelming when the world appears to be falling apart at the seams with fires, floods, and global tensions. For HSPs, it’s easy to take on the feelings of despair and anxiety from victims of the latest fires in California or to worry incessantly about the threat of war.
It’s the gift and the bane of being an HSP. We want to be informed, we care so much, but we also find that it wipes us out. When we have absorbed more of the suffering of the world than we can tolerate, we set ourselves up for compassion fatigue. This can lead us to isolate, ignore our own needs for self-care, and even increase self-harming behaviors such as substance abuse.
Part of us probably wants to unplug from everything. That may be a healthy choice; but the other part of us fears that we’ll be uninformed, disconnected, and become callous and uncaring.
Don’t worry – you won’t. It’s your nature to care. And you don’t necessarily have to shut off cable and close your Facebook account. Here’s what HSPs (or anyone feeling overwhelmed with the troubles around them) can do during these challenging times to stay balanced and prevent burnout.
Create a Ritual Around Your Compassion Time
Rather than becoming consumed with despair, night and day, about what’s happening, funnel your empathic response into a limited time with a ritual. Choose a special place, indoors or out, to spend a specific amount of time in honor of those who are suffering. It can be as simple as sitting in your garden sending out love, lighting a candle at an altar and visualizing healing for those in pain, or chanting “peace” (if you like, in Sanskrit: “Shanti”) for several minutes. Make it meaningful and manageable: 10-20 minutes.
Limit Your Exposure to One Form of Media, for a Set Period of Time
Sensitive people are easily overloaded when they’re hearing about tragic events from multiple fronts. Rather than constant overstimulation from TV, radio, social media, and the newsfeed on your phone, narrow it down. If possible, limit yourself to just one form of media that keeps you up to date.
For me, it’s less disturbing but equally as informative to read the day’s news in some print form. I know myself well enough not to watch much of my news on television, as the sensory stimulation can send me over the edge.
Then, limit the time you get your updates. It’s easy to flip between cable networks and absorb the progress of the flood for hours. When in reality, 10-15 minutes will probably cover all the relevant information without making you feel as if you’re immersed in the devastation.
We feel better when we do something that makes a difference. It gives us a sense of volition at a time when everything else feels out of control.
How can you help out? Neighbors and schools are gathering supplies to send to those who have lost everything. There are organizations you can donate money or time to. You can spend an afternoon helping an elderly neighbor in need. Animal shelters always need more food or people to help socialize the animals through presence, play, and touch. Doing something to help anything and anyone that you feel compassion for will help you feel less overstimulated and more empowered. Just don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up more exhausted!
Nurture Yourself, and Dedicate That to Something Greater
Just because the icecaps are melting doesn’t mean that you should neglect your own self-care. You need to take breaks when upsetting events in the world set you off-balance. Go for a walk, lunch with a friend, take a nap, sip some tea, take a yoga class, play ball at the gym, spend a few minutes breathing deeply, or meditate. Remember to make time regularly for whatever soothes, calms, and replenishes your spirit. As you feel the ease returning to your body and mind, imagine sharing that with the planet. Dedicate your self-care time to healing everyone’s hearts.
Although it may seem scary sometimes and overwhelming, by following these four tips, your sensitive and caring soul will weather the storms better until the clouds part.