If you feel overwhelmed and tired a lot as a highly sensitive person (HSP), chances are you are burning up precious energy in over-giving, people pleasing, saying yes when you want to say no, resentment from unmet needs, and having so-called “energy vampires” in your life. A lot of us as HSPs struggle in these areas because we are so giving by nature. We become the person that everyone turns to when they need support. We like to help people. The problem is that we often end up at the bottom of the priority list — and that’s the part that doesn’t work long term.
I like to think about mental energy in terms of a point system. Imagine you had 100 points of energy for the day. Let’s start tracking where those points are going:
- Had a call with a family member or friend that talked nonstop and you kept giving and giving because that’s the established pattern between you?
Subtract about 20-40 points.
- Do you usually skip your breaks at work — and maybe you even do a portion of your coworker’s job?
Subtract about 30 points.
- Did you say yes to going to something you didn’t want to attend because you didn’t want to disappoint someone?
Subtract about 40 points.
- Do you work AND do most of the chores at home without help?
Subtract another 30 points. If you have children and you do most of their care, subtract 60 points.
- Do you skip self-care and downtime because everyone else’s needs seem more important?
Subtract about 75 more points.
Those 100 points go quickly, don’t they? When our points are chronically low, our entire system gets impacted. Here’s some of what we will experience:
- Sensitivity levels increase
- Emotional reactions increase
- Stress and anxiety increase
- Lose patience, get more irritable, or anger quickly
- Build up resentment, which disconnects and destroys relationships
- We lose access to creativity and focus
- Immune system weakens
- Long term, our body systems start breaking down, and chronic conditions arise and increase
- We feel tired all the time and can’t catch up, often feeling unwell
- We enter survival mode just trying to get through the day, and we can’t have fun or feel joy
What have we learned? We cannot be at the bottom of our priority list anymore. Everything is impacted.
4 Ways to Break the Cycle of Exhaustion
As HSPs, we may be giving by nature, but it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the things we personally care about, or that we need. In my 8-week online program for HSPs, I teach that there are specific habits many of us fall into that create this cycle of putting others first and crashing with fatigue. And, likewise, there are specific habits we can teach ourselves that break the cycle.
These habits not only help us start prioritizing what really matters most to us (including our loved ones, in a balanced way). They also, as a side effect, mean we have more energy for those priorities and spend less time frazzled, overwhelmed, or irate.
Here are four strategies I’ve used and taught other HSPs to prevent exhaustion in a healthy way.
1. Be intentional with your own energy.
Intentionally choose where your energy points go, and make sure you get enough for your own self-care. As an HSP, you know that every “yes” or act of service to others will cost you mental energy, but we often don’t stop to think about that when deciding what to do. Get in the habit of pausing and asking, “Is this worth spending energy points I won’t have for something else?”
When you create healthy boundaries around your energy points, they go to areas that align with what you value.
2. Slow your roll.
Slow down your internal “nervous system motor” several times a day with mindful breaks. This practice will help you reserve points and even gain some extra ones. If you can take a moment next to a tree or have your feet in the grass, even better. Nature is healing.
This time also allows you to become aware of how you are doing and what you might need. Are you hungry? Did you drink enough water? Do you need to get up from your desk and take a little walk outside? This break helps you notice what you need, and that bit of nature time outside (if possible) will give you extra energy points for the day.
3. Practice self-compassion.
Remind yourself that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. One thing I recommend is developing a self-compassion practice.
My favorite technique is to notice the critical self-talk you give yourself, and start to name what you’re feeling instead (“I feel lonely,” or “I feel unworthy”). You can then validate and normalize that feeling (“I feel unwanted because I haven’t had a partner in nearly a year. A lot of people would feel that way if they were going through the same thing”). Once it’s labeled and put into context like this, you can ask yourself what you need — anything from a moment of giving yourself validation to seeking out support from others.
When you practice self-compassion, you preserve points instead of losing them by being hard on yourself. Click here for my complete guide to this practice.
4. Prioritize sleep.
If you sleep well, you get extra points to use. If you don’t, then you don’t even get the full 100 points of energy for the day. Starting out with a full amount of points after a good night’s sleep will make an immediate difference in your wellness.
What’s amazing, though, is that when you start prioritizing your wellness and balance, your health improves, you get more focused and creative, your resentment decreases, relationships improve — and you even feel less sensitive and reactionary! Yup, you heard that right. You can decrease the intensity of emotional reactions and move from a reactionary place to an ability to pause, reflect, and respond when you have extra points. You can even heal old wounds with those extra points. Moving out of survival mode and into empowerment is possible.
If you want some help navigating all of this, it’s one of my favorite things to do with the HSPs in my online program. I LOVE guiding HSPs toward a life they love, and can feel joy and have fun again.
We need more HSPs thriving in the world. Imagine what your life would look like if you felt energy and space and joy. Who in your life would benefit if you were aligned in your balanced self?
Do you find our chaotic, modern world to be VERY challenging? HSPs frequently struggle with high stress, overwhelming emotions, low energy, or having our boundaries ignored and run over. I work with HSPs to help them feel better — starting with simple brain training techniques to break the cycle. Read more about my 8-week online program for HSPs.
You might like:
- Why Highly Sensitive People Get Mentally and Emotionally ‘Flooded’
- How Highly Sensitive People Can Stop Saying Yes When They Want to Say No
- ‘Forest Bathing’ Is a Thing, and It Can Heal Highly Sensitive People
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