The first step to “doing nothing” as a highly sensitive person is to stop shaming yourself for wanting time to decompress and just be.
There was a point in my life when I only wanted to use my bedroom for sleeping — no electronics, no eating, no lounging, no reading. I was only allowed to use the room at bedtime or for getting dressed. And I’m not knocking this at all since good sleep hygiene, including cutting out electronics before bed, is important in getting a restful night’s sleep, especially since we highly sensitive people (HSPs) need more sleep than others.
Whenever I did find myself crawling back to bed to lie down outside of bedtime, I always felt guilty or lazy, even when I had nothing better to do. I told myself I needed to be more productive or that I shouldn’t lie in bed all day. I was wasting precious hours I could have spent knocking out some to-do list or getting ahead of the future, right? And I made sure to mentally punish myself each time I failed to do either.
I partly made up for my lapses in productivity by overworking myself in the various jobs I’ve held over the years. I’ve worked in childcare, at summer camps, and at different schools. Working with youth, while rewarding, is already draining, and overextending myself to shed my “laziness” ran me down to the point of tears multiple times (which comes easily to HSPs anyway).
What I didn’t consider, however, was how my highly sensitive nature compounded my exhaustion.
Too Much Stimulation Burned Me Out
We highly sensitive people are deeply affected by the world around us: We absorb the smells, sounds, and energies of everything and everyone in our vicinity. It’s quite easy for us to become burnt out from too much stimulation. While I loved working with children, being constantly surrounded by high energy, crying, and disagreements in environments that were often too cramped or too hot took its toll on my mental and physical stamina. Especially as I eschewed rest in favor of proving myself.
I took steps to manage the stress and exhaustion — working out, going on hikes, journaling. But those measures didn’t stop the overwhelm of thoughts and emotions that surged whenever I became overstimulated. While these are all perfectly good ways to decompress, I personally treated them as more ways to stave off my “laziness.” If I was going to take care of myself, then it had to be in a productive way.
In the United States, there is a growing conversation around the necessity of rest in our overworked society. However, many people want to get ahead — and at the sacrifice of getting enough rest. Having a go-go-go attitude viewed more favorably, even though it doesn’t produce a healthy work-life balance. Plus, it can increase stress, anxiety, and overwhelm — the last thing HSPs need more of. Luckily, however, burnout is now discussed more — and accepted — with some workplaces even giving employees “mental health days.” After all, if their overworked employees get burned out, they may not have them much longer.
In addition, the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has led many of us to reconsider how we want to spend our time on this planet. I wanted to prioritize enjoying the simple things that make me happy and bring me joy, including spending time in nature, eating a delicious meal, and working on my personal writing, to name a few. And I also wanted to prioritize getting enough rest to be able to partake in these past times, fully present. Namely, I stopped shaming myself for wanting to lie in bed and “do nothing.”
Plus, there are many benefits of doing so: it can help you problem-solve, boost your creativity, and help you be kinder.
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Now, I Aim to Make ‘Doing Nothing’ Routine Rather Than Reactive
I reclaimed my bed as my rightful place of rest, no matter the time of day or what I have to do. After all, it’s a great way for HSPs to calm down. Whenever I feel my emotions start to boil over or my body overstimulated by physical stimuli, I give myself permission to lie down — not being active, not being productive, just taking time to release my mind and body from concentration and intention. I let the thoughts in my head flow out naturally and allow my emotions to ease out. This allows my mind and body to recover from the overstimulation without reintroducing more into my system.
And an added benefit I didn’t anticipate: I generally struggle to take naps, but by taking time to lie down without necessarily wanting to sleep, I have found myself drifting off more easily, even if I don’t fall asleep completely. Allowing myself to do nothing has reduced the anxiety in my body built up from all the stimuli.
I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely since the start of the pandemic. And not only do I get to work from home, but my schedule is flexible. I no longer work directly with youth, but I do experience the dreaded Zoom fatigue and feel some level of overstimulation from sitting in front of a bright and clickety computer all day. Because I don’t have a strict 9-to-5 schedule, I have carved out time between tasks to lie down, doing absolutely nothing for hours. I feel happier and better about myself, and can better manage my reactions whenever I’m hit with sensory overload. It’s something I wish I had done during the days I worked with children.
‘Doing Nothing’ Does Not Waste Time
Our culture frames rest and downtime as rewards. We only have (and give) ourselves “permission” to take it easy when we’ve worked enough or have reached some goal or milestone. Otherwise, we’re not deserving and should feel guilty. But this idea can be harmful to our bodies, especially highly sensitive people who become more exhausted working in spaces with a lot of stimuli.
I encourage highly sensitive people who can do so to leave productivity at the door and take time to veg out on purpose. Whether it’s on your bed, in a green space, or wherever you feel comfortable — an area of your home you’ve made into an HSP sanctuary — allowing yourself to let your mind go can do wonders for your health in a world that’s constantly on. In a society that tells us we’re “wasting our time” if we’re not productive, doing nothing can be an act of honoring our highly sensitive natures.
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