Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive woman protects her emotions

5 Ways to Protect Your Emotions as an HSP

One way to protect your highly sensitive emotions is by figuring out how your energy is being depleted in the first place.

Those of us with high sensitivity are known for feeling our emotions very deeply. In fact, science has confirmed that emotions hit highly sensitive people harder, and we also have a greater likelihood of feeling others’ emotions. When our empathic tendencies are activated, almost like a radio signal, we can tune into others’ energy and emotions and mistake them for our own.

On the flip side, it’s a common occurrence for highly sensitive people to feel our energy and emotions being taken from us. We can experience intense drains to our emotional state from experiences like high-demand social encounters, stressful circumstances, or coping with an illness.

Regardless of the scenario, when it comes to highly sensitive feelings, we need simple, practical tools to preserve them. The following five strategies can help HSPs become more aware of our emotions, practice mindfulness to maintain it, and ultimately set healthy boundaries for our own emotional protection. 

5 Ways to Protect Your Emotions as an HSP

1. Get out in nature — aside from calming your overstimulated HSP senses, it’s good for you.

Henry David Thoreau said, “nature is doing her best each moment to make us well,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. Humans are meant to spend time in nature, breathe fresh air, and find time to put our feet on the actual ground — not just concrete or asphalt. 

I know that when I spend more time indoors than I should (thanks, winter), my mental well-being — and subsequently, my emotional state — suffers for it. Spending more time outdoors has been proven to be beneficial for your physical and cognitive health: it can do everything from lower your blood pressure to relieve anxiety. But those of us with higher sensitivity feel an even stronger sense of improvement. Finding a park, hiking trail, or even visiting the backyard refreshes our perspective and helps us refocus our thinking. Really feeling the air on our skin, the sun on our face, or watching the leaves dance on a breeze almost feels like an awakening of our inner connection to other living things. 

Start with just a few minutes outside each day to make a difference in how you feel. Bonus points for taking a barefoot walk through a grassy space or along the surf on the beach, when weather allows. 

2. Sage your space — it’ll help cleanse you of uncomfortable lingering emotions.

Rooted in ancient indigenous and Native American traditions, sage burning is an important spiritual ritual in energy work. Experts say that burning sage — also known as smudging — in a room or home is thought to cleanse the space of negative energy, promote a greater sense of well-being, and improve one’s physical health. HSPs stand to benefit greatly from a smudging practice, since we’re constantly on the receiving end of residual emotional stimulation, thanks to our abilities to perceive So. Many. Feelings. 

I’m no expert in spirituality, but almost every time I perform the routine weekly smudge in my home, something positive happens soon after, like signing a new client at work or receiving unexpected good news. When I’ve tried everything else to rid myself of uncomfortable lingering emotions, burning sage is like pressing a mysterious, yet powerful, reset button. 

To give it a try, light a bundle or stick of sage over a heat-safe container (such as a ceramic bowl or glass dish), and then blow out the flame to create smoke. Let the sage smolder for 5-10 minutes and walk around your space with it until you feel it has been cleansed. 

3. Visualize a protective force to help calm your overwhelmed emotions.

Despite more of us staying home these days, the time will come again when we find ourselves in less-than-optimal social situations. Sensory overwhelm due to multiple energies battling for attention, or feeling drained after an encounter with an energy vampire, will inevitably happen to us HSPs again. 

When it does, visualization techniques are an effective tool for energy awareness and preservation — and a way to rebalance our emotions. I like to use visualization when I get sick, which is often stressful and emotional (especially as an HSP!).

The last time I fell ill, I was spinning out about how I couldn’t afford to be sick and felt angry about having to pause and recover. When I realized it wasn’t serving me or helping me heal, a mantra came to me: “I trust the healing wisdom of my body.” I would close my eyes, put a hand over my heart, and repeat my mantra in my mind. I pictured each cell of my body, in her ancient wisdom, doing everything that needed to be done to get well. I didn’t need to interfere with her process. Soon, I felt much calmer and much more trusting — and started feeling better physically, too. If you’re new to using a mantra, you can think of it as spiritual energy or condensed prayer, a way to look inward.

One of my fellow HSPs likes to visualize by sitting in silence to picture a white, glowing light surrounding her entire being, like rays from the sun, deflecting any unwanted or negative energy or thoughts. Another envisions a powerful spirit animal, like a jaguar, always at their side to protect their energy from harm. Spirit animals are thought to be the embodied form of a spiritual guide, making them an excellent visualization avenue for HSPs who feel emotionally exhausted and in need of a protector.

Whatever aligns with your preferences, visualization is a powerful technique for staying mindful of your own energy and emotions in situations where protecting them could be challenging. And nobody even has to know you’re doing it (you can do it alone, in your HSP sanctuary, or while sitting at your desk at work).

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4. Utilize grounding techniques, like sitting still and taking deep, measured breaths.

As highly sensitive folks, it’s easy to get swept away when emotions run high, making us feel less like ourselves and impairing our ability to set energetic boundaries. This is where getting grounded in your body and mind is a powerful step when it comes to guarding your feelings and well-being.

Grounding techniques pull us back to solid earth when a stressful situation or emotional event sends us spiraling, such as receiving criticism at work or getting into an argument with a partner. 

To do it, find a chair in a quiet corner, take a seat, and plant both feet firmly on the floor to gain a sense of stability and support when all your senses feel overwhelmed. Another option is to practice deep, measured breathing (inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of eight) to reset the nervous system and flip your fight-or-flight response into rest and digest mode. This provides an incredible emotional benefit by reducing an elevated heart rate caused by anxiety. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is particularly helpful for highly sensitive types, too, because it leverages each of the five senses as a focus point: five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Like with visualization, you can use these techniques no matter where you are, from the driver’s seat of your parked car to the bathroom stall at the doctor’s office.

5. Engage in mindset work: try to find the root of what is depleting your emotions.

One big factor in protecting our emotional state is realizing when our energy is being depleted in the first place. As a highly sensitive person, I’ve learned that connecting with the thoughts behind what I’m feeling often helps me get clarity on what’s going on when I feel like I’m mentally and emotionally flooded. For example, if I recognize that what I’m feeling is anxiety, I try to get to the original thought behind the anxiety by asking myself questions: 

  • Why do I feel anxious? 
  • Because I have an important call on the calendar. 
  • Why would that make me anxious? 
  • Because I want the call to go well and I’m afraid it won’t.

Once I get to the true root of my anxious energy, I can take steps to contribute to a positive outcome as best I can. In this example, I could prepare for the call with detailed notes and thoughtful questions. Then I can refocus my energy on creating a great experience on the call. My mind is free to be present and really listen, knowing that I’ve done everything I can and all my bases are covered. 

Being born with the trait of high sensitivity comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. We move through the world differently. Our sensibilities perceive subtleties and nuances that most people miss. It can get exhausting just being ourselves. It takes so much emotional energy just to process, like, being alive. 

All this to say, we don’t need to add a further drain to our emotional state. Let’s make life a little easier instead of harder. And we can do this by learning to protect our feelings and emotions as highly sensitive people — it’s one of the most important steps we can take for our mental well-being. 

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