Highly Sensitive Refuge
an empath and highly sensitive person doing self-care

The Art of Self-Care for Empaths and Sensitive People

Self-care is essential for all empathic people. When you mindfully and lovingly practice it each day, your sensitivities will flourish. 

The self-care practices, perspectives, and meditations I present as daily offerings in my new book, Thriving as an Empath, will support you in being a compassionate, empowered empath without shouldering the suffering of others or trying to “fix” them. They offer gentle day-by-day reminders about how you can be loving without becoming codependent or a martyr — and I’d like to offer two of them below. 

As a psychiatrist and empath, I am fierce about my own self-care practices and teach these principles to my patients. I feel so strongly about them because I want to keep enjoying the extraordinary gifts of sensitivity — including an open heart, intuition, and an intimate connection with spirituality and the natural world. Shallow emotional waters don’t appeal to me. I love going deep — and my sensitivities take me there. 

Still, a big challenge for all sensitive people is how to be compassionate without absorbing the stress of others and the world. We don’t have the same filters as most people. We are emotional sponges who feel everything and instinctively take it in. This differs from “ordinary” empathy, where your heart goes out to others in pain or happiness, but you don’t take on their feelings.

We empaths are helpers, lovers, and caretakers who often give too much at the expense of our own wellbeing. Research suggests that our mirror neuron system (a part of the brain responsible for compassion) is hyper-active, which can burn us out. This is not how I choose to live. I want to be loving, but over-helping or absorbing someone’s distress just puts me on sensory overload, which is painful to my sensitive body and soul. It also doesn’t serve the other person in any lasting way.

To stay healthy and happy, you must be prepared with an effective self-care practice so you’re ready to deal with stress. If you’re interested, you can learn more in my book about how to keep yourself balanced and whole by trusting your intuition, setting boundaries, and protecting your energy. 

The secret to an empath’s wellbeing is to break the momentum of sensory overload before it consumes you. The strategies and attitudes that I’ll share, which have been life-saving for me, will quickly bring you back to center when you’re overwhelmed or emotionally triggered. 

Here are two selections from the book that I hope you enjoy. Each of them ends with an intention you can set, which is a powerful way to guide your mind away from harmful habits and into transformative growth. 

Self-Care for Empaths and Sensitive Souls

1. The Gift of Being Different

Like many empaths, you may feel as if you don’t belong in this world. You experience life so intensely, and love so deeply, it’s sometimes hard to find kindred souls to whom you can relate. 

As a child, I always felt “different” from my peers. Other kids loved going to crowded parties and shopping malls whereas I preferred climbing trees with my best friend or writing poetry. As an only child, I was alone a lot and found companions in the moon and the stars. Often, I felt like an alien on Earth, waiting for a spaceship to take me to my true home.  

Similarly, Albert Einstein said, “I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged. I have never lost… a need for solitude.”

As I’ve grown as an empath, I can appreciate the gift of being different. I am moved by this anonymous quote: “If you feel you don’t fit into this world, it’s because you’re here to create a better one.”  

Sensitive people are meant to bring light into the world. Empathy is a strength, not a weakness. I applaud everyone who looks different, feels different, or thinks different. The world needs the difference you will make. 

Set your intention: I will honor the gift of being “different.” I will fully be my unique self and not let anyone take my power away. I will shine my light brightly.

2. It’s Not Your Job to Take on the World’s Pain

As an empath, you have an open heart. You don’t have the same emotional guard up that many others do. You feel people’s pain — both loved ones and strangers — and you instinctively want to take it away from them. In fact, many of us have been taught that being compassionate means it’s our job to remove other people’s pain. 

This is not true. You can hold a supportive space for someone without absorbing their distress in your own body. Finding this balance is the art of healing. Inwardly you can say, “This is not my burden to carry.” It is impossible to fix someone and it is really none of your business to try. More than twenty years of being a physician has taught me that everybody deserves the dignity of their own path.

Set your intention: I can be compassionate without becoming a martyr or taking on another person’s pain. I can respect someone’s healing process without trying to “fix” them.                                                         

The Empath’s Loving Heart

I wrote this book of days, this book of seasons, as my tribute to an empath’s loving heart and to the sacredness of time. My greatest purpose is to be in service to the goodness of empathy and love. As sensitive people, let’s marvel at our lives and our many openings to grow. Every day the mystery unfolds. No matter what: keep loving, keep taking deep breaths, keep looking at the starlit sky. Allow time to help you remember your timelessness.

Excerpts are from Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD (Sounds True, 2019) and The Empath’s Empowerment Journal, the companion to this book.

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