By Ashlyn Cahill
During this last month or so, all of us have been experiencing a shift in our lives in one way or another due to the impact of COVID-19. We have consciously (or even unconsciously) been experiencing our emotions and our human experience in a new way. We’re all doing our best to adapt while we care for ourselves and our loved ones. Many of us have found this to be an uncomfortable experience at times and being an empath or highly sensitive person can be extremely challenging right now. You may be wondering - what exactly is an empath or highly sensitive person? There are a few definitions for each out there, but here are the ones that seem to resonate most for what I’m referring to:
Empath: As defined by Judy Dyer in her book Empath, “An empath is a person with an open spirit; they unconsciously sense things in the unseen and the seen realm to the point where it can become a burden. They pick up on the energy that is surrounding them and have a natural ability to tune in to the feelings of others.”
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP): Psychology Today defines a HSP as having acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) stimuli - with mirror neurons more active than the average person - or internal (intra-personal) stimuli.” A highly sensitive person will likely be told at some point in their life they “feel too much” or “feel too deep".
With the intensity of emotions such as fear, worry, anxiety, sadness and grief running high, we’re likely feeling stressed and exhausted as humans. As an HSP or empath we may currently be overwhelmed with not only our own emotions, but the emotions of others that we have taken on ourselves. So it is now more important than ever to practice self-care and be kind to ourselves. This includes allowing ourselves to feel these emotions exactly as they are when they come up. Know that whatever these emotions may be that they are valid and there is no shame or guilt in what you are feeling - simply observe and experience them without judgement. This allows your body, mind and spirit to move and release energies and emotions within your body as needed to adapt and heal.
Here are some simple practices that may help you cope and deal with the intensity and overwhelm of emotions you are currently experiencing:
1. Ground Yourself: Engage all of your senses and give all of your attention to what they are experiencing in the moment. For example, when you are outside, feel the sun on your face, the earth beneath your feet, listen to the sound of birds chirping and squirrels running around, watch the leaves on trees flutter in the wind or water flowing down a stream. Notice how every inch of your body feels as you observe these sensations and sights. Try not to judge what you experience or notice, just observe. This practice can also be done inside, maybe with a hot cup of cacao or tea – feel how your body reacts to the nourishment of the beverage as you drink it, feel the comfort of holding the warm mug, enjoy the taste and smell. Do anything you enjoy and find relaxing and be mindful how your body and mind experience it moment to moment.
2. Meditate: Meditation allows you to shut off your ego mind that is desperately trying to protect you right now by going through all the ‘what if’s’, worrying, analyzing and judging everything that is going on. Give your ego mind gratitude for trying to help you and then give it permission to rest and turn off for a bit. Give yourself time and space to find your way back to the quiet and stillness that is always inside of you. You can simply let your mind rest on your breathing. Release the thoughts that come through your mind by letting them flow back out without judging or analyzing them first.
The body innately knows how to heal itself and meditation allows your body to take a break from physiologically reacting to your thoughts and emotions and instead do the work it knows it needs to do to heal (including rest!).
3. Move & Release: I mentioned the importance of moving and releasing the energies and emotions in your body - there are countless ways to do this! Do what feels best for you. Some of my personal favorites as an empath and HSP are to exercise, journal, take a salt bath, read, do yoga, spend time outside with mother nature, and spend time with loved ones while giving them my undivided attention.
Just remember - we are all doing our best in the circumstances that we’re in, so be kind to yourself so that you can share that kindness with others. We’ll only get through this if we do it together and it starts with caring for ourselves first. 🌸