8 Ways to Manage Emotions as a Highly Sensitive PersonDec 29, 2021
Are you a highly sensitive person - or HSP? Here are 8 ways to manage your own emotions and energy during challenging times
Can we just take a moment to acknowledge that the past several months have been rough? I try to stay mostly on the bright side of life (love and light and all the things) but I have had some real struggles to work with lately. Life has changed quickly, things have been unpredictable and emotions are running high from so many directions at once. I know that we are all experiencing this in our own unique ways.
Some days I feel like I am standing in the middle of an emotional tornado. Being “sensitive” makes us highly aware of the emotional temperature of those around us. Many of us live with other people in the home but even if you don’t you may still be aware of their emotions. As empaths, many of us also tend to be “the one” that people come to for advice, problem-solving or a shoulder to cry on. Even if we are managing our own emotions during this ever-changing time, how do we manage the emotions of those around us?
Emotions are valid. They don’t always even have to be logical. It is important not to “spiritually bypass” emotions instead of processing them. Even the uncomfortable emotions have wisdom about ourselves and our boundaries. And it is a crazy time right now! Just in the past 5 months alone most of us have experienced personally (or through those we know) deaths, racism, pregnancies, marriages or postponements, ending of relationships, job loss, injustice, birthdays, financial strain, housing insecurity, illness or health scares, anxiety, depression, fear and things we wanted or had planned just falling apart on all different levels. Since we each process differently, there’s no wonder that feeling of “emotional tornado” is so noticeable to us right now!
Most of us have already accepted that we cannot control or change the emotions of another. At best, we can choose to listen and give support or maybe even useful advice or other assistance. So then how do we manage our own emotions and energy when other elements of our lives may feel out of control? Here is a list of things that have helped me in trying times:
1. Control what you can. Let’s just say I can now say the “Serenity Prayer” from memory. You know the one- “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Most days of the week I can control my early morning schedule. My house is quiet. My phone is quiet. I have permission (from myself) to create time for the things that are important to me. I can usually carve out at least two hours. Most days, I go for a walk and do my meditation with this time. If I’m feeling up to it I may even do some YouTube yoga or journal a bit. Some days what I need is to enjoy my coffee and listen to an inspiring interview or sit on my patio and listen to all the different types of birds having their birdie conversations. Is there a time of day when you can carve out time for what recharges you? What grounds you, inspires you, refreshes you or nurtures you? Even 15 minutes sitting inside your closet listening to a motivational talk or guided meditation counts! Give yourself permission to start where you are and control what you can.
2. Make a list. Personally, I love lists. I keep lists for all kinds of things right in my phone, easy access. Once an emotional “funk” starts setting in sometimes I cannot think of anything to pull myself up out of it. I can’t remember my spiritual tools to turn my beat around so for me it works to have lists that I can quickly reference for help. Almost like a lifeline from a more clear version of myself. Two lists that have really helped me through this time are A. my “uplift me” playlist and B. my list titled “Things that help me right now”. List A is just what it sounds like. It is a music playlist that I am always working on which is made up of songs that make me want to sing, dance or uplift me in a big way. It has everything from Queen to Bob Marley, all upbeat. List B is a list of things like “go for a 10 or more minute walk” and “watch an Oprah SuperSoul Sunday” ( I cannot recommend these 2 ideas enough by the way). Both lists change as I change. What works for me now may not next month. The key is to work on the lists when you are feeling good. The times when we are feeling grounded, inspired, uplifted, joyous, energized, these are the perfect times to ask ourselves what belongs on the list! Did you just listen to a podcast that energized or inspired you? Put it on the list! What is working for you right now that belongs on your list?
3. Write it down to get to the bottom of it. As much as I resist journaling it is almost always incredibly helpful. I am not talking about the “details of the day” journaling. I am talking about the tears on the page, “what the hell is this emotion” type of journaling. Processing feelings journaling. For me, the key is journaling with a purpose. I start with, “what is my intention for this journaling session?”. Whether triggered by ourselves or someone else, emotions usually show up to point something out to us. We need to name it to release it and what we resist persists. This is a basic, real-life example of the process: Maybe I am really feeling the tornado of emotions swirling around me and I know I am frustrated. I realize I am frustrated with someone in my life/home. My intention is to understand more about the frustration. I get my journal, some privacy if possible, and agree to see this emotion without judging myself. (Sometimes instrumental music softly playing in the background helps me if I feel stuck). I take several comfortable, slow breaths to calm my energy, ground myself, become fully present, etc. I take a few moments with my eyes closed and I allow a memory to rise to my mind of time when I felt frustrated with this person. I allow myself to relive the experience. Then I begin journaling about the memory, about the time I was very frustrated. The pen somehow pulls out small nuances in the emotions of that experience onto the page. Maybe I begin to write about how part of the frustration was that I didn’t feel my feelings were taken into consideration on that occasion, that I felt unsupported. Maybe it triggered another time I felt unsupported. As I continue to write I may realize that I missed the opportunity in that situation to speak up for what I wanted or offer my desire to be considered. I keep writing until I know in my heart I am done for the moment. Almost always by the end of I have uncovered some part of myself or my reaction that I was not consciously aware was attached to the initial frustration. Sometimes it comes to my mind later in the day in an ah-ha moment. Resist the urge to judge yourself or your emotions with this exercise.
4. Move your body to move your energy. By moving our physical body we can help our energy move and shift. When our energy becomes stagnant we can lose motivation and become more of a sponge for “negative emotions”. It’s like energetic constipation. This idea may feel a bit counterintuitive “in the moment”. Most of us don’t want to get moving from our couch island when we have been in the same sweat pants for three days. This is one of those occasions where we have the opportunity to parent ourselves by being the “adult voice” in our own head gently but firmly telling our physical body, it’s ok, you can do some activity for 15 minutes, this is good for you, this is happening now. (Again this is where the pre-written list of your preferred activities can help). Some easy ideas are: take a 15-minute walk (or jog) around your neighborhood, find a 15-minute gentle yoga video on YouTube, go out onto your patio or balcony and do 15 minutes of grade school gym class stretches and feel the fresh air on your face, dance around your bedroom for five songs in a row to music you love, do 15 minutes of mindfulness by very slowly taking small steps around your living room and with each step give gratitude for your breath. Start where you are and feel free to get creative. Slowly add more time or more blood moving activities as you are able. Consistency is ideal to help create a cumulative effect but today is as good of a day to start as any and two times a week is better than zero!
5. Reach out. This goes without saying but I am going to say it anyway: mental health is equally as important as physical health. Many mental health professionals are doing sessions by phone or video chat right now. There are sliding scale fees, and “COVID discounts” and sometimes even free sessions if you don’t have insurance or means to pay. If you don’t feel ready to talk to a professional one on one, maybe a support group feels right for you. Don’t see one that fits? Start your own! You can create a Facebook group for free and invite your own list or just make it public. Whatever you choose just know you don’t need to struggle alone, reach out!
6. Go within to seek solace. When I suggest meditation to people I am often met with one of two opposite responses: either “I love meditation, what do you suggest?” OR more commonly some version of “I have tried to meditate but I can’t so it’s not for me”. I thought the latter for many years. One important thing that I wish I learned sooner is that the “monkey mind” is completely natural and we don’t need to stress out about “shutting it off”. Hold on, that’s a lot of meditation speak, let me translate. A lot of peoples’ resistance to meditation is that the thoughts keep coming and it can feel impossible to quiet the mind. It seems to jump, like a money swinging limb to limb, from the grocery list to what is that smell to is my leg asleep to I have to pay that bill and everywhere else. This is normal. Someone once told me “we are not trying to silence the mind but merely practicing to extend the length of the pause between thoughts”. That reframe changed everything for me. I can have the thought of the grocery list but I don’t have to go down the rabbit hole of mentally touring my refrigerator. I also didn’t realize that there are many different types of meditations for different purposes. YouTube is a treasure trove of guided meditations. I have created several myself. You can find guided meditations that focus on everything from “how to connect with a deceased loved one” to sound healing meditations and everything in between. Whichever meditation I choose, I almost always feel a change in my awareness or my emotions every time I meditate. If you want to take it one step further you can create a special journal where you document your mediation experiences and how you feel afterward or even which type of meditation you tried that day. I also feel like I should mention that, depending on what type of meditation you are doing, you may not have mind-blowing spiritual experience every time. Knowing this takes a lot of the pressure off for me. Some days when I meditate I am just practicing lengthening the pause between my thoughts. Even the seemingly small exercise of learning to focus completely on the breath can be life-changing. Meditation doesn’t have to look just one way.
7. Create something in the world. Creating something, however large or small, can spark momentum for change and can also help us process through our emotions in a productive way. It’s amazing how sometimes when we pour all of our emotional self into something creative, totally unrelated solutions to concerns can show up. So what to create?? Right now I am creating this as a way to move my energy and put something empowering into the world. What sounds interesting to you? For some, it may be creating art or music. For some, it may be creating a recorded meditation to share with others. For my neighbors, it has been creating a backyard vegetable garden and sitting area to enjoy. For my best friend, it has been creating completely organized kitchen drawers. Another friend is learning to knit and getting a head-start on holiday gifts. For my office mate, it has been creating a plan and methodology for safely reopening his business when approved. Not only does creating something move your energy and help process emotions but it also carves out a little haven for you to focus your attention in a positive way, giving some mental space from emotional overload. What are you motivated to create for yourself or to give to another?
8. Gratitude. Not in an “spiritual bypassing” way but in a “there are still things to have gratitude for” way. From a “Law of Attraction” perspective, what we put focus on is what we are telling the Universe we want more of. From a physical standpoint, pausing to list even five things we have gratitude for can give us the mental space to calm our heart rate and maybe even our anxiety. From a spiritual perspective, gratitude helps us be in present and reconnect to the fact that we are a part of something much bigger than the ego voice. Whichever reason you like best, gratitude just works. This idea may be the easiest to play with because it doesn't require practice or quiet or anything at all really. For years, I have named three things I am grateful for every time I wash my hands. Attaching this practice to an existing habit just helps with remembering to do it. Maybe you will mentally list your gratitudes while you brush your teeth or when you get out of bed or as you cut your kids’ toaster waffles. Whatever works for you is perfect! I want to point out that for me different days are, well, different. I have great days where I am able to easily list a steady stream of deep gratitudes and then there are days where I am listing off seemingly simple things like running water, my own washer/dryer, and being able to take a deep full breath today. Let me repeat, start where you are and no self judgment!
This is a time in history that will be remembered forever in so many areas of importance and on so many levels: health, civil rights, politically, economically, and our own personal stories. While feeling spiritually connected and “sensitive” can help us weather the storm during this time period it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier and it definitely doesn’t exempt us from having this human experience. Be patient with yourself, start where you are, and resist self-judgment about your emotions. You are a sensitive, for better or worse- but I like to think largely for the “better”. After all, being highly sensitive is a beautiful gift, and part of your soul’s unique expression. I hope these suggestions for managing your emotions and emotional sensitivities are empowering in some way. Which ones resonated with you? I would love to hear how you make them your own or other ideas that are working for you right now.