Today I'm doing a bit of a one off. I know that I usually reserve this space to talk about books, planners, and other fun stuff. But with all the tragedy in the news lately, this has been on my mind, and I thought I'd share.
When something horrible and tragic happens in the world--the Orlando mass-shooting, the explosions in Turkey, etc.--the news and the internet are going to be filled with talk of it. Reports, stories from families and survivors, and, when it comes to the internet, opinions and arguments about those opinions. These are all important. And everyone needs to know what's happening in the world so that we can help to change it. We can't be ignorant to things.
However, at the same time, we have to be aware of our own mental state and how it's affecting us. I've seen some things come across social media where people express the sentiment of, "I can't believe people are talking about silly TV shows or what book they're reading when *insert tragedy* happened this week." Now this hasn't been directed at me, but I've seen it scroll through my feeds. And I get it. I understand why it feels like EVERYONE should be talking about it. And many people process tragic event like that. They NEED to talk about it and feel like they are taking action. My husband is that way. He wants to see ALL the news stories and know every detail of what's going on. That's a totally valid reaction and doesn't make him less caring. It's just his way of processing things. He can effectively compartmentalize his feelings and emotions about it. But there are others who quite literally can't handle it. I know that because I'm one of them.
There's a term called Highly Sensitive People (HSP) or Highly Empathetic People. It sounds a little silly. Like, "Oh, she's SO sensitive." But it's a real thing. It's estimated that 15-20% of people fall into this category, and there are some important ways that HSP process things that make it necessary to protect themselves in certain ways.
So what does it mean to be a highly sensitive person? You can take a self test here on Dr. Elaine Aron's site, but here are a few highlights:
1. You feel the emotions of others. Not sympathize. Actually feel what they're feeling. Their mood affects yours. You can sense negativity like it's a physical thing.
2. You're overwhelmed by too much sensory input (loud noises, crowds, strong smells, people arguing, too much of anything.)
3. You need alone time.
4. You avoid violent images in movies/TV/on the news.
Also many times, these are people with a rich inner life and a lot of creativity. If you want more info, here are two good articles:
I've known this about myself for a while. I think it's what drew me writing in the first place. Empathy means being able to step into someone else's skin and feel what they're feeling. I made a job out of creating characters and walking in their shoes.
But I also think it's what led me to be a social worker. I wanted to help. I empathized and wanted to make things better for others. However, I think it was also what led me away from that career, too. I felt TOO MUCH. When I was working as a Birthmother Counselor at an adoption agency, I would go home physically sick with all the emotion some days. Because even though adoption is a beautiful thing, there was a birthmother who was usually in a bad situation who was giving her child to another family. That was never an easy decision. Ever. And I was the person who would be there to facilitate the adoption. I was the one to counsel the mom. Even when I knew it was the best decision for the mother and baby, it was still sad each time. On the flip side, when a mom changed her mind at the hospital, which often happened, I then felt all the emotion of the adoptive parents who were dealt another loss. It was too much. I wasn't "tough" enough for that not to leave marks on me at the end of the day.
So, what's my point? I do have one! Ha. :) This is how tragic news is for me or other highly sensitive people. I pay attention to what's going on in the world, but I can't repeatedly watch news about it or read articles about it or talk about it. Yesterday, there was a video going around of celebrities reading the stories of the victims of the Orlando shooting. I clicked on it because their stories deserve to be heard. But five minutes in, I was crying and feeling sick and thinking about what their families and friends must be feeling and I had to turn it off. It's not just sad for me, it's traumatizing. And I have to learn to step away when it feels like that. And that's okay.
So that's why I'm blogging about this. If you feel like you fall into this category and are highly sensitive, here are some things you can do:
1. Pay attention to how you're feeling and how your emotions/mood are being affected. - Sometimes it's easy to get swept up and then you can't figure out why you're feeling so down or stressed or angry.
2. Practice self-care - Just because others want to talk about it or it's all over the internet doesn't mean you're obligated to engage. It's okay to step away or do other things to distract yourself.
3. Let go of the guilt - Not watching the news or reading every article about something does not mean you don't care about it.
4. Take action in ways that work for you - Vote in ways that support your beliefs on the situation, donate to the cause, do something kind for someone.
5. Give yourself a break - read a book, watch a movie, play with your kids or pets, refill the well inside you
I'm sure there are other things, but hopefully that will get you started. I have to remind myself of these often because I can get swept up in it, too. And we're no use to anyone if we're a crying, weeping, stressed out mess. :) And if you don't fall into this category, be aware that other people do and be accepting of that. Everyone has to handle things in the way that works for them.
So any other HSPs out there? Have you ever felt any of these things? Are you able to watch the news or do you have to step away?