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Tips for managing the overwhelm of being a Highly Sensitive Person

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Being an empath in a world full of pain and suffering feels like a blessing and a curse. When I think about all the empaths out there, I sigh and feel at peace. It brings a sense of comfort knowing there are so many beautiful hearts beating not just for themselves but also others, for whoever needs care and refuge. Whenever I think about the sensitive souls, I can’t help but hope that they are taking care of themselves too. As an empath, I know how easy it is for us to burn out and still be soaked in the sorrows of those around us, even to notice that we need some care and love to replenish too.

As an empath and being a psychologist, listening to stories of pain and trauma daily, I have had my share of struggle, overwhelm, and sad days. Even for psychologists, before they can practice, they are required to be in therapy for themselves. We can’t take care of others if we have compromised mental and emotional capacities.

Here are a few things for highly sensitive people to reflect on coming from an empath and a budding therapist:

Try to acknowledge the bright side of the world along with the dark.

It is hard for empaths to be ignorant of all the pain the world is subject to and the emotional upheaval that surrounds us; however, it is also effortless for us to be absorbed by this dark side of existence. I often find myself feeling low after hearing something wrong or reading about someone's trauma story. Bouncing back from being subjected to reports of pain is especially difficult for empaths. I have felt helpless many times for being unable to help anyone going through hard things. Initially, when I started training and taking up counseling sessions, it was common to leave me disheartened and even depressed. Pondering upon the nature of the human world, I would feel for the client so much that it affected me long after the session got over. However, I have realized that this is just one side of the world, especially after being in this field. We need to balance what information we consume during the day to make sure to see and acknowledge both sides of the world. We have to constantly be close to the light, especially after knowing how engulfing the dark can be for us.

Taking care of yourself first is not selfish.

I have found most highly sensitive people to be the ultimate givers. We also feel a sense of comfort and purposefulness in taking care of others' needs and being there for them. Similarly, we can't help but feel repulsive to people who are selfish and ignorant. An empath, when asked for help, is very unlikely to decline no matter what. I have been there for others, burnt out and empty, and I have realized that being present to my own needs first isn't selfish. I have had sessions with some highly sensitive clients, and the common cause of their distress is that they are pushing themselves to be there for their loved ones without taking care of their own needs. The famous quote "you can't pour from an empty cup" seems true, especially for empaths. It is crucial to be aware of our own needs and be present with ourselves first before saving the world.

Know that you can't save everyone

I am sure this is something that most empaths have told themselves many times, but it is also not uncommon for us to try and overwhelm ourselves attempting to do so. Empaths have a vast emotional space for others; we can feel deeply for someone we don't even know. It is relatively common for an empath to want to try to save anyone and everyone from pain. But we have to acknowledge that we can't always help everyone. Being a therapist has reminded me again and again of this fact. Everybody is on their journey, and everybody has different experiences they have to go through. I have also realized that what a person is going through is shaping them into someone better, more able and I can't ever understand it at that moment. Not always do people need to be helped. Sometimes people need to go through what they are going through; sometimes people can't be receptive to the support you are trying to provide. I am learning to do as much as I can and be mindful of my expectations from, and for people.

Identify and hold firm your boundaries.

Empaths need to identify their emotional, physical, spiritual, and time boundaries. Empaths rooted in their emotions and concern for others are often vulnerable to exploitation. And any advantage being taken leaves a rather more profound impact on us. It is difficult for us to turn a deaf ear to the ones in need, but it is essential for us to be conscious of how much we are giving and to whom. We empaths are also easily affected by energy, and therefore we need to be aware of who we invest our time in and how they impact us, our emotions, and life. I have found reflecting on how I feel before and after engaging with someone quite helpful. Even a therapist is only advised to take as many sessions a day as comfortable and non-taxing. Maintaining boundaries can be tricky for empaths as the line between being selfish and having healthy boundaries look relatively thin to us. We can, however, study ourselves better, spend some time to know our emotional and mental capacity, and lay some rules for ourselves and others.

Identify what excites you and let it energize you daily.

Empaths usually have activities and hobbies that ground us, for instance, writing, art, meditation; all of these act as anchors for empaths. These allow us to connect with our inner selves, express our inner world, and make meaning of our experiences. However, there is a need to be excited, to do things that bring a sense of upliftment and a rush of energy, such as a dance workshop, a hike, or any activity that activates those endorphins in our body. Being grounded works well when it is balanced with being energized. In my personal therapy, I have realized that there is something as being "too grounded." I start to have many questions and lack interest when I don't move enough for long periods. Our energy is subjected to so much around us and within us, and therefore it is common for us to feel too absorbed in all the world's affairs. I didn't realize this until someone else pointed out that I need to have this sense of exhilaration that I have been missing to feel motivated and inspired again. These activities as breaks can also help us empaths step out of the monotony and refuel our energy to function better.

Being an empath doesn't necessarily have to be wearing and exhausting. It is possible to embrace our deep sensitivity by being mindful and balancing our need to be there for others and ourselves. As empaths, we are most often doing enough for others; we must complement it with loving ourselves passionately. Nonetheless, understanding someone and communicating that understanding is often more than enough for anyone going through pain. That is what I have and still am learning as a therapist.

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