Sense and Sensitivity

The ups and downs of daily life as a Highly Sensitive Person

Coping With Stress by Controlling Your World

How our empathy for others can cause trouble for us.

Have you ever felt like the more you try to help someone else with their troubles, the worse you feel? Does it feel like the more you care, the more some people take advantage of your kindness? Does it feel like all of this caring only makes you try harder while you feel increasingly drained and unappreciated? It’s not uncommon for highly sensitive people to give more than they get. But learning to create a calmer environment for ourselves needs to start within ourselves, not with other people. As much as we are driven to care, a little distance can go a long way.

Highly sensitive people are naturally empathic. We not only understand how other people are feeling, we also feel those emotions ourselves. At times, it can be difficult to tell which feelings belong to you and which to someone else. We also tend to have a natural drive to help others and a genuine compassion for the well-being of other people. While these are all admirable traits, the effect of all this emotion is often exhaustion, confusion and sometimes depression. In our attempts to create a calmer world around us, however, we often end up focusing more on other people’s feelings and needs than our own, a common HSP tendency that can easily spiral out of control.

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One of the strengths of HSPs is our intuition. We have instincts and gut feelings about people and how things work. Often mistaken for psychics, we simply pick up a lot of information around us and have the ability to put that information together in a way that brings greater understanding. Our understanding about emotions is another strength. We have a great capacity for feeling and for sympathising with the feelings of others.

What is less of a strength for HSPs, however, is coping with the external world. We are generally much more comfortable dealing with our own thoughts and feelings, our creativity and the world of our imagination and possibility. The concrete, practical world of reality can be a little more difficult for us to manage, partly because it can be so overwhelming.

When we are under stress, HSPs sometimes attempt to cope by attempting to calm the chaos of their external world. After all, it makes sense that if you are constantly absorbing the energy of people and situations around you, such as your boss’s demands, your partner’s anger and your child’s tantrums, you want to find a way to turn it off so that you can feel better. But trying to control your external world, including people, things, facts and details, often ends badly for sensitive people because it places your focus on others instead of yourself, which is the only thing you can really control. It also means you’re working with your weakest traits instead of playing to your strengths. Even though your natural empathy and compassion will often draw you towards helping other people and wanting to control your chaotic environment by managing the details, you are actually more likely to feel calmer and stronger when you focus on yourself under stress. Here’s how:

• Retreat. Highly sensitive people need quiet and solitude to recharge.

• Reflect. Most HSPs are better at understanding the big picture. Take a step back and look at where you are and why you are stressed instead of thinking too much about the details.

• Focus. Instead of trying to solve everyone else’s problems, let them sort it out themselves and use that energy to nurture yourself instead.

• Surrender. Give up trying to manage the chaos around you. Let it go.

• Create. Relieve your stress by doing what you do best, using your intuitive, emotional, creative mind to develop something beautiful. Create the calm you need by taking the time, space and quiet you need to flourish.

Managing the world we live in often seems like the best way to gain a sense of order in our lives, especially when we are stressed. But stress can also create a feeling of panic and desperation that makes us try even harder to control the world around us, leaving us feeling more frazzled and frantic than ever before. Acknowledge your empathic nature, but save a little care for yourself. Sometimes the most calming thing you can do under stress is to do nothing but breathe.

 

Deborah Ward's new book, Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness, is available now.

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