This isn't about books, but it's a post I've been thinking about for a while. Right now, we are in a highly stressful time in our country (regardless of what side you fall on.) Things feel unsettled. Things we took for granted are getting upended. Every day we get online and there are new stress bombs exploding all over the place. Almost everyone I know is feeling overwhelmed and bombarded.
And how we react to that stress and process it can be very different. Some people are soothed by jumping into the fray, knowing every single thing that's going on so they can stay on top of it, debating their points in a public forum. That is an absolutely valid way to tackle things and we need people who can do that. However, there is also a group of people who will get destroyed emotionally if they spend too much time in the mix.
I realized a few years ago that I fall into a personality type that's been labeled the Highly Sensitive Person. There are a number of traits and you can take a quiz here from Dr. Elaine Aron, the psychologist who developed the model. Some traits are sensitivity to loud noises, chaotic environment, and violence movies/TV, etc. But it also can mean you have very high empathy and sensitivity to people's moods/feelings, which can be a good thing but can also make you feel completely torn apart if you're not careful with what you expose yourself to. Being this way was probably what drew me to become a therapist in the first place, BUT it's also the thing that made me leave that profession because I couldn't leave work at work. I carried the emotions of my clients (children, in my case) home with me every night. It was too much. I think it's also why I was drawn to romance novels in the first place. Some people think happy endings are trite. I think they're life-affirming and soothing. I can read tragic books, but I have to prepare for them and know what I'm getting into. I also can only handle maybe 1 or 2 tragic books a year because I feel a bit traumatized by them.
And I've found that with the current state of our world, this HSP (highly sensitive person) part of my personality has been activated in full. When I go on Twitter and see all the news stories of the day or people arguing their points, I want to crawl under my desk. I know I need to stay in the know with what's going on and take action in ways that are important, but I've accepted that I have to do that in my own way. I have to limit my exposure to everything because otherwise, it takes me down an unhealthy road. Self-care is not optional if I want to continue to do my job, be a wife, be a mom, etc.
So, basically, the point of this post is that if you find that you're feeling beat up emotionally, are completely distracted, are dragging the weight of the world with you everywhere, or feeling constantly anxious or sad, DO NOT berate yourself for needing to check out for a while to take care of yourself. Recharge. Talk to a professional counselor if you need to. Do the things that make you happy. Spend quality time with your loved ones. Do the things that bring you peace in some way. It doesn't mean you don't care about what's happening in the world, it just means that you're the type of person who needs to limit your exposure to it in order to be the best version of yourself that you can be. It's not a fault, it's alternative wiring.
So I thought I'd put together some tips on how to go about this and what's been working for me.
Self-Care Tips for Highly Sensitive People
1. Turn off the noise - Not just figuratively but literally create quiet. Highly sensitive people are more sensitive to sounds, violence on TV, arguing, etc. So turn off the internet/TV, grab a book, go for a walk, visit the library, etc. And even if you aren't an HSP, there are proven benefits to silence.
2. Turn to the hobbies that give you peace - Reading, Cooking, Crafting, Gardening. Binge watching a TV series. Find the things that recharge you. You know what they are, but often they get lost in the shuffle (or lost in internet time for most of us) and are deemed expendable. They are not expendable. They are juice for your mental batteries.
3. Chores or methodical tasks can actually be soothing - I'm finding that anything methodical can be soothing. I've been listening to podcasts (click here to see my lists of favorites and I've binge listened to this one lately, too) while I do dishes or cook or fold laundry, and it's been oddly calming. Also, there's something satisfying about seeing things done. A nice meal on the table. A pile of folded laundry. It reestablishes some sense of control.
4. Move your body - Walking. Yoga. Whatever your favorite way is to get the blood flowing. Meditation isn't moving your body but can also be tremendously helpful.
5. Limit your exposure to the constant onslaught of news - For many decades, people survived with just having the evening news. Twenty-four hour news and the internet have changed all that, but it doesn't mean we NEED to watch for all those hours or read every post. I've found that it's best for me to watch Good Morning America's opening to get the day's headlines and then watch my local news in the evening. I get the information I need, stay informed, but don't have to subject myself to people yelling at each other and the endless cycle of "Breaking News".
6. Edit your social media and the time you spend on it - I love social media, but it can suck the life out of you, too. I've had to greatly limit my Twitter time lately. I have blocked certain words on there. I have unfollowed (you can do that without un-friending) lots of people on Facebook and pretty much just go onto FB to participate in some of the groups I'm in and my own page and reader group. Fashion your social media to give you more exposure to the things you enjoy and less to the things that drag you down.
7. Take action in a way that works for you - If taking action is important to you, you can do that in quieter but still effective ways: writing letters/emails, voting, sending money or volunteering for causes/charities that are important to you. Action doesn't always have to be loud. Introverts have done some pretty amazing things in this world.
8. Spend time with the people you love - Remind yourself of the good parts of your life. Your family. Your kids. Your dog. Your neighbors. Your book club. Whatever it is for you.
9. Laugh - Cue up that hilarious movie. Pick up that fun romance novel. Dance with your kids. (Last weekend I somehow ended up doing the NKOTB "The Right Stuff" dance for my kidlet and that cracked us both up.) Put on music you love and sing along while you do chores. It's okay and necessary to be ridiculous sometimes.
10. Be productive - This isn't the most fun one but I know a lot of us have been distracted from work. In January, I threw myself into writing and wrote about 30k words. That's a lot for me in a month and it felt damn good to get something done. I think it goes back to having that sense that you're in control, i.e. I am capable of doing this thing and finishing something.
So those are the things that are working for me. I'd love to hear what's working for some of you. Any other HSPs out there? Anyone else hiding under their desk with me?