As an HSP, it can be difficult to turn off the desire to help — but here’s why doing so will help you thrive at your job, not just survive.
For highly sensitive people (HSPs), it can be a major undertaking to choose a career path. HSPs often desire to do work wherein they are of service to others — to follow their passion and purpose — while also not becoming overstimulated.
Working in a “helping”/caring field — such as in the medical or psychology field — can be highly rewarding, especially to HSPs who tend to be drawn to these professions. However, it can also be a struggle, as it can be taxing to their emotional and physical health.
In my own work as a mental health therapist, I have had to change and adjust how I work — and where I work — on more than one occasion. For me, working in inconsistent environments where I did not know what to predict (such as conducting a therapy session on the front porch of a home because my teen client was on house arrest) was entirely too much for my overstimulated nervous system to cope with long-term.
In order to continue working in the field that I love, and to be of service to others, I had to figure out how to positively impact my work experience whenever possible. There are a number of healthy boundaries and tactics that can be used in order to accomplish this, making it possible to remain in the job or field that you care about. Here are some of the ways you can do so — and thrive in the process.
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4 Ways to Thrive Working in a Caring Profession as an HSP, According to a Therapist
1. Protect your time — it is crucial to set healthy boundaries around it.
Choosing a career that serves others means you will often encounter requests and demands for your time and expertise. It is crucial to set healthy boundaries around when you are working and when you are not.
One way to do this is by setting your schedule before you have a client in front of you – or by using a program that blocks out your availability. If you wait until a client is with you, it may be difficult to say “no” to appointment requests, especially because of your ability to empathize with their need or urgency. (HSPs often struggle with saying “no,” so this is a good thing to practice.)
Another area to be mindful about is when friends or family ask you to offer your services for free. They may not be aware of what they are doing, because if you have a natural tendency to help others, it can seem natural for you to offer support and aid any time you can.
And, as an HSP, it can be difficult to turn off the desire to help — not only because of the deep compassion highly sensitive people possess, but also due to the depth of processing abilities that often leads to problem-solving. Instead of expecting yourself to not want to help, set predetermined boundaries around when you will help and when you need a break and will not.
2. Remember that regular self-care and “me-time” is a job requirement.
One of the most common mistakes made by highly sensitive people in the human service/caring field is not following their own advice regarding self-care. Research shows that HSPs need alone time. Yet this can be hard to achieve when work, home life, and other relationships are also demanding your attention.
Similar to scheduling work hours, highly sensitive people need to schedule their downtime and non-work hours. Because HSPs are deeply impacted by the current mood and energy around them, it is less likely they will schedule self-care if it is not conducive to the present moment.
To bypass this, you can try scheduling a recurring self-care appointment, such as a massage, that becomes part of your regular routine — even if you are pulled in multiple directions.
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3. Repeat after me: You are not your job.
Highly sensitive people are deeply moved by their experiences, including deep passion about their work. While this is a benefit of being an HSP, it also means that when things are not going well at work, the stress can become all-consuming. This is because HSPs tend to internalize these issues as being a reflection of their own faults, placing blame on themselves when they cannot solve problems that negatively impact others.
While it is incredible to have passion about your work, it does not mean it defines who you are. I love the yogic mantra, “I am not my body, I am not my mind, I am not my thoughts.” HSPs could benefit by also including the phrase, “I am not my job.”
If it feels like stress from work has become unmanageable — which can easily lead to burnout, especially for HSPs — it can be helpful to refocus on your interests that are not related to the work that you do. What makes you feel most alive and in tune with yourself? Writing? Painting? Horseback riding? Whatever the case may be, make sure to make it a part of your life, too.
4. It is okay to say “no” to certain job tasks — and to even quit.
As HSPs, we tend to say “yes” to most things that we feel will help improve the lives of those around us. While the desire to help is benevolent, you cannot move a tank that has no fuel. If you are unable to say “no,” you will seriously struggle with burnout and the ability to continue working in a helping role for others. Plus, saying “no” sets healthy parameters with your time and energy, which are both finite resources.
At times, saying “no” means realizing a job is not working for you and deciding to quit. Before opening my practice, I worked in almost every possible counseling setting imaginable — I needed to figure out what I did not want in order to figure out what I did. Saying “no” now provides more opportunities to say “yes” in the future.
The More You Utilize Coping Skills, the More You’ll Thrive in Your Job
Coping skills for HSPs working in caring professions all have one thing in common: Boundaries. Maintaining boundaries around time, self-care, and saying “no” are essential skills needed to keep up the drive and passion necessary to do good — and excellent — work.
These skills allow HSPs to care for their sensitivity at times when they need it most, helping to prevent burnout, reduce instances of feeling overwhelmed, and prevent compassion fatigue. Practicing these skills will also model effective self-care to others around you, allowing them to establish their own boundaries, resulting in more authentic and balanced relationships all-around.
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