You’re worried about how to address your child’s latest developmental challenge; dreading having to plan a dinner that meets everyone’s preferences and won’t take two hours to prepare; dwelling on that hurtful thing your friend texted; feeling sad at how disconnected you’ve been from your partner; wondering what your boss is going to say if you don’t meet your deadline; annoyed by that strange sound outside; and trying to figure out who you can ask to watch the kids while you sneak out for a haircut this weekend. Whew. Exhausting.
This kind of unchecked emotional overwhelm, rumination, and overstimulation is a hallmark of empaths/highly sensitive people (HSPs). Our personalities leave us vulnerable to taking in too much information (energy, emotions, sensory details) and having trouble stopping ourselves from processing that information to the point of exhaustion and burnout.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, our personalities are what they are, and we will never be able to tune out that excess information. However, there are tools that can help us stop the mental spiral that feeling and thinking so deeply can create. When we practice these tools, we learn how to get out of our heads and into our lives.
Here are three of my favorite tools:
Laugh, Find Joy, and Experience Awe
You’ve probably had at least one moment as a parent where, no matter how angry or frustrated you were feeling, your child did something funny or endearing and melted your heart. I find myself fighting the urge to smile when my son shifts from testing limits to giving me a bear hug or telling me a joke. And that’s because it’s hard to stay locked into our habitual negative spirals when we experience other strong emotions. If we find ways to laugh, feel happy, or be struck by the wonder and amazement of life around us, we pull ourselves into the present moment and out of the overwhelm inside us.
You may want to make a list of things that give you this experience. Having that list is helpful because, when our internal state is intensely uncomfortable, it’s hard to remember what else we can do to take care of ourselves. This list can save us some effort in those moments. I encourage my clients to keep the list in their phones, since we usually have those close by. A list of things that make us feel great—our baby’s first real smile, that joke that always makes us giggle, a photo of that place in nature that sets our hearts at ease—is a much better destination on our phones than the places we might ordinarily go online to distract ourselves.
Talk It Out
All of us need to be heard, especially when there is a lot of internal noise (thoughts and feelings). Communicating directly with someone can help pull us out of the spirals of wondering too much about what others may think. It can help us stop creating imaginary dialogues and rehearsing what we will say and do in response to someone else. We may also get important emotional validation when we share what’s going on inside us with someone else.
If you don’t have someone to talk to, don’t feel safe talking to a person who’s on your mind, or if that person is not available for any reason, talk to yourself. Find a private place and say aloud what is on your mind. Or write what you’re thinking on scraps of paper you can rip up afterwards. As strange as it may seem, talking to yourself helps to get your internal experience out of your head and body, freeing you to make different choices.
Of course, there are some things that may feel very hard to talk about without support. In that case, find a therapist or coach who specializes in working with empaths/HSPs. Talking to a neutral party can help us explore the things that keep coming up for us and get the acceptance we need to begin to change.
I’m convinced that journaling is the best way for people to take ownership of what’s happening inside them, start a non-judgmental process of self-discovery, and begin to identify ways to make changes that actually fit with their personality, life circumstances, and needs.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to journaling. In fact, if you’ve made a list of things to bring you joy, laughter, and awe, or if you’ve talked to yourself in the way I described, you’ve already engaged in journaling. The common denominator among different journaling methods is that they help you get things out and see yourself in new ways.
I’ll be leading a journaling workshop for Empath Mamas in March, where you can try out several different styles of journaling and learn more about how to personalize the process. In the meantime, you can look at my website for journaling prompts or sign up for a free journal designed for empaths and highly sensitive people.
Getting out of our heads takes effort. I can’t promise that trying any of these strategies will get you out of your head once and for all. However, I will normalize that getting lost inside ourselves is part of our sensory processing sensitivity. When it happens, we can choose to allow it to continue unchecked, or we can begin to practice tools that guide us out of our heads and into their lives. The choice is yours!
About the Author:
Lori L. Cangilla, Ph.D is a licensed psychologist, coach, and self-help author who specializes in helping highly sensitive/empath moms find creative, holistic, mindful ways to juggle work, family, and having a meaningful personal life.
The women I work with are most often:
• Going through major life transitions like motherhood, education/career, relationships changes, adjusting to different phases of life, and living in the pandemic
• Coping with fertility issues, pregnancy loss, or traumatic birth stories
• Suffering after loss and learning how to grieve
• Wrestling with anxiety, worry, and fears; and/or
• Trying to feel content, find their purpose, and discover meaning in life.
Being highly sensitive is a central part of how we move through these challenges. As women understand how sensitivity impacts all aspects of their lives, they are empowered to create a unique way of living as a highly sensitive woman.
My Singularly Sensitive approach helps women find ways to take a balanced look at how being an HSP/empath has benefits and challenges. We grow by learning to view ourselves, others, and the world in new ways. To support that process, I incorporate journaling, creative writing, and mindful photography into my work with highly sensitive moms.