As highly sensitive people, emotional overwhelm (unfortunately) is something we are used to. It stalks us, always waiting to devour us. But do we have to let it? No! Definitely not! As a sensitive souls healing therapist, I’ve developed six key steps to help HSPs not only handle overwhelm but also prevent it from happening in the first place.
6 Keys to Preventing Emotional Overwhelm
1. Pinpoint what you’re feeling.
I used to believe that because I was so sensitive, I would always have more feelings than I could control. They would always overwhelm me, and I would always feel attacked and defeated. There was simply nothing I could do to stop it.
But then I realized that if I could pay attention to how I’m feeling, I could separate my emotions from one another — and ultimately soothe them. For example, “I am feeling sad because my son is struggling in school,” or, “I am feeling mad because of the way she talked to me.” I began writing my feelings down so I could distinguish them from one another.
This was the key. It was like magic. I then had a list of things to tackle. When I took care of my emotions one by one throughout the day, I didn’t get overwhelmed. I didn’t feel like I was feeling too many things at once. Even in anxious situations, I could tackle my fears and worries separately — and it was the most healing thing I’ve ever done!
2. Pinpoint why you’re feeling it.
Simply put, negative feelings are any type of emotion that feels bad in your body. Sadness, anger, depression, anxiety — anything that feels bad for you to experience. Once you recognize if you’re feeling sad, mad, or angry, then you can do something about it before it builds and explodes into overwhelm.
A lot of people like to ignore negative feelings because they can be difficult to confront. Sometimes it’s easier to simply push them aside. But recognizing them and then doing something about them will stop their momentum in your body before they have a chance to build up.
So ask yourself, why are these negative feelings here? For example, am I mad because someone spoke over me at work? Hurt that I was pushed aside? Mad because I didn’t get that raise — or feeling unworthy or less than as a result of it?
Once you know exactly what is affecting you, then you can understand it and formulate a clear response to it.
3. When you’re feeling it, PAUSE.
Pause the feelings! Breathe deeply. I like to breathe in for four counts, hold for three counts, and expel for seven counts. Counting in even/odd increments forces your brain to think of the counts and takes you out of the mental space you are currently in. This is a very important step because it stops the flood of negative feelings (something HSPs are prone to). Like slowing a tidal wave to a gentle lapping, now you have time to actually do something about your emotions.
4. Go somewhere in your mind that’s peaceful.
Call to mind a happy memory — a time you were on a relaxing vacation, or a special memory with loved ones. This disrupts the flow of negative feelings and brings positive ones into your being. When I need to relax and bring back the calm center in my mind, I picture sitting on the beach, watching the waves roll back and forth in a calm and rhythmic pattern. I imagine hearing the sound of the waves and how warm the air feels flowing through my hair and over my skin. And in my imaginary beach, there aren’t any people there!
Whatever you picture, make sure it’s a place that brings you peace. It’s easier to visualize a place that you have been to. Taking 10 minutes a day to think of this place and breathe deeply forces your body to remember those feelings of serenity. Then when something happens in your life that interferes with your peace, you can recall this place and find your center again.
5. Expel the negative feelings.
Now that you know what you’re feeling and why, and have stopped the momentum of it in your body, it’s time to expel those feelings. Expelling your feelings is about feeling them fully in your body and then getting them out of you! It’s about letting them go so they can no longer plague you.
To expel your negative feelings, ask yourself, do I need to worry about this right now? Can I do something about it now?
If you can do something about it right now, write down a short action plan. Write down exactly what you need to do, how, and when. If you can’t do something about it now, can you do something about it later? If you can, then write that down, too.
If you realize you are simply feeling unworthy, then do something that makes you feel good enough. Are you good at painting? Are you good at video games? Do something that makes you feel good inside. You can also meditate, yoga, journal, create art, sing, or do another activity that helps you get your feelings out (not just distracts you from them).
The key is to develop habits that regularly help you deal with your feelings largely on your own. Having someone to speak to is amazing, but sometimes we still hold on to those feelings after the conversation is over. The goal is to create habits that help you — on your own — let go of the feelings throughout the day so they no longer overwhelm you.
6. Who matters? You matter!
Do not blame yourself or anyone else for getting overwhelmed. As HSPs, it is simply a biological reaction to too much stimuli. But we can learn to handle our reactions better. We can go through our regular day with these coping mechanisms in place and be our happiest selves.
Remember that bad feelings — no matter how painful they are right now — do not last. They never do! Your negative feelings are not what is important. YOU are important. You deserve to feel good and happy in your body and your heart. When you focus on yourself, you give your mind the space it needs to expel your negative feelings.
I want you to understand that feeling good does not mean you no longer feel bad — but that you are a beautiful and wonderful person who can handle life in a beautiful and wonderful way.
It took a lot of practice for me to fully understand these six principles. The time was well spent because it allowed me to get past the bad feelings I’d held onto for a long time.
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With that said, never be afraid to find someone to talk to. If your negative feelings remain, and they are making it hard to, say, go to work or have healthy relationships, you may want to consider seeing a therapist. Many insurance plans cover attending counseling, and there are even counseling apps now!
You deserve to love yourself and feel worthy. There truly is nothing more important or beneficial to the world than taking the time to love YOU. Take the time to work through these steps one by one. What you learn might surprise you.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.” -Lao Tzu
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” -Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha