Highly Sensitive Refuge
A woman hiding under the covers from the stress of dealing with the pandemic

How to Survive This Pandemic Stress When You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

This is not the time to become “stronger.” This is the time to ask unapologetically for what we need.

I’m not ok. There, I said it.

On Thursday, I finally reached my breaking point and felt myself crumbling internally from too much stress, scarcity, overwhelm, and uncertainty.  

In some ways, I honestly haven’t minded the quarantine. My husband and I have been working from home since November, so we’ve got that aspect down. And we genuinely enjoy spending our evenings and weekends together at home, just us.

So I was a little surprised when, as this pandemic became more and more serious, I started having a harder time dragging myself out of bed in the morning. I woke up feeling exhausted after a good eight hours of sleep, and by the afternoon it felt like I was on the edge of a total crash — exactly the same way I used to feel after working in an open-concept office on a particularly busy day with back-to-back in-person meetings.

I couldn’t figure out why, since everyone is working remotely right now. But then I started realizing that, as a highly sensitive person (HSP), I was internalizing my own rollercoaster of emotions plus all of the emotions I was picking up from my coworkers, friends, and family.

It’s time to practice radical self-care and start unapologetically asking for what we need — both from ourselves and others. If we take better care of ourselves now, we’ll know what to do the next time we start feeling overloaded with emotion or overwhelmed by another crisis — personal or worldwide.

Feeling Our Way Through This New “Normal”

HSPs feel more deeply than others, according to Dr. Elaine Aron. Since the start of this pandemic, not only have HSPs been processing all the changes, uncertainties, and worst-case scenarios on a very deep level, but we’ve also been absorbing the emotions of everyone around us. Even though we aren’t face-to-face, I can still feel the stress of my co-workers through frantic messages, eleventh-hour requests, or last-minute requests to reschedule meetings because their kids need care.  

We’re all navigating this new “normal” one minute at a time, and it’s really, really hard. Feeling the intense weight of all these emotions has become too much for me to handle, and I’m sure many other HSPs are feeling the same way. I took a step back to figure out how we sensitive ones can survive this. Here are four things we can begin doing today to protect our energy, our spirit, and our gift of sensitivity.

4 Self-Care Steps for HSPs 

1. Recognize and release what you’re internalizing

Our external challenges are easy to see, but what about our internal challenges? For HSPs, these take a great toll, so it’s important to recognize what you’re internalizing in order to put practices into place and shed some of that weight. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you and pay attention to where you’re carrying your stress.   

A few weeks ago, the knots between my shoulders told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to do something to help me relax around 3 p.m. every workday. I set a daily calendar reminder to go outside and be fully present, quiet my mind, and breathe for three minutes, practice gratitude for three minutes, and pray for three minutes. I started doing this rain or shine — and I always began this nine-minute practice with a technique called “dry bathing.

This slightly strange but incredibly effective bath (from Reiki) can help calm you by “wiping off” the emotions that are clinging to you. Here’s how to do it:

  • Put both feet flat on the floor—you can do this sitting or standing, but I find standing most effective
  • Place your right hand on your right shoulder
  • Sweep down your chest, across your stomach, and end at your left hip
  • Do this 3-5 times on that side, depending on your stress level
  • Repeat it on the left side (with your left hand sweeping down to your right hip)
  • Extend your right arm downward and place your left hand on your right shoulder
  • Stroke down your arm all the way to your fingertips, 3-5 times
  • Do the same with the left arm

This is one way to release everything you’re internalizing and take better care of yourself during this stressful season.

2. Reset and recharge every evening

It’s also important to find a self-care practice that helps you reset at the end of the day. The dry bathing practice I mentioned above is great for taking small breaks to shed your emotions because, as HSPs, we need to clear our minds multiple times a day or the emotions will just keep piling up until it’s too much to handle.

But for a bigger reset, try a practice that doesn’t just take you away from your desk for a few minutes. Go for a run or a walk, do an at-home yoga practice or some other workout routine, carve out space to journal your thoughts about the day, or work on a craft project that replenishes your energy.

Or maybe even do something as simple as taking a shower or a bath if you haven’t yet. 

What you need to reset and recharge will depend on your differing needs each day, but it’s important that you set aside space every night to make sure you’re ok and taken care of.

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3. Create more joyful moments

Be more intentional about creating joy in your life — yes, even in the midst of a pandemic. Take advantage of not having to commute by doing something you love that you don’t normally have time for. Use that extra time in the morning to make a big, nutritious breakfast; sit down to enjoy your morning coffee or tea; dive into your book before the workday officially begins; or engage in a gratitude practice and set a mindful tone for the day. 

As a small example, as I was getting ready for the day on Friday morning, I played some music I love for a good hour. This helped me begin the workday feeling a lot happier than usual.

Think about what will elevate your mood so your baseline is higher from the start. You can use the same things to create joy at the end of your workday as well.

4. Unapologetically ask for what you need

As HSPs, it’s so easy to feel like our needs aren’t legitimate because they’re different from the majority. Rather than the new emphasis to connect via video, we may need more solitude, fewer stimuli, and more time to recharge after the workday. We may need to disconnect from people because we’ve been feeling their emotions all day long. Or, we may need one-on-one connection with a friend over the phone or even Skype to go deep — but just with that one person, not a big group.

Since people are acting more empathetically right now, as we all navigate this crisis together, I believe this is an excellent time to start unapologetically asking for what we need and saying no to the things that are emotionally unhealthy for us. 

Do this in a way that can continue after this crisis is over, and maybe we can also shed the guilt that we so often feel for speaking up for our needs.

What the World Needs From HSPs Right Now

I don’t think this is the time for us to all become “stronger.” This is the time for HSPs to become more resilient — to arm ourselves with tools and practices that help us recharge and stay healthy. It’s our time to practice communicating our unique needs unapologetically, creating boundaries, and really exploring the level of self-care that we need to get through this. Because when we burn out, the world loses all the empathy and love and care that we have to give. And we’re wired to give a lot. 

The world will need us again when this is over, and if we’re worn out and broken we won’t have anything left to give. Our responsibility right now is to take care of ourselves. Let’s practice self-care to protect our energy and our spirit — so we are emotionally healthy and ready to help on the other side of this.

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