Why Highly Sensitive People Need Meaningful Self-Care
How often have you ended a weekend or vacation feeling like you were more exhausted than replenished? Perhaps you thought there was something wrong with you as you saw your friends bounce right back into their normal routines, but you felt glued to your bed on that first Monday morning back to work. There’s actually nothing wrong with you, you’re probably just feeling overstimulated - a common struggle for Highly Sensitive People.
During a recent workshop on Self-Care for the Highly Sensitive Person with Dr. Elaine Aron and Alane Freund, LMFT, I was reminded that it’s important for HSPs to approach our downtime differently than other folks. Not only is self-care more essential, typical self-care practices consisting of socializing and recreational activities won’t replenish us, but more likely will leave us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and irritable. Even seemingly relaxing activities such as going to an IMAX movie with friends or working on a puzzle after work can cause us to use more mental energy than non-HSP folks because our brains work harder to process all the information coming in.
Instead, HSPs need to center our self-care practices around quiet reflection and getting quality downtime, what I like to call “meaningful self-care.” Quiet downtime not only allows our brains to process all the information we take in throughout the day, but it gives our nervous system time to relax. Since HSPs need our self-care to be quiet without stimulation, it’s important to think of self-care and hobbies as separate activities.
What Does Self-Care Look Like for the HSP?
The most essential practice in taking care of ourselves as Highly Sensitive People is getting plenty of sleep each night (at least 8-9 hours but everyone is different) plus some quiet alone time each day to process and reflect. Dr. Elaine Aron, bestselling author and researcher on the trait, recommends the following:
Two hours of quiet downtime per day
One day of quiet downtime per week
One week of quiet downtime per season
From there, it’s important to immerse ourselves at least once per week in more meaningful self-care that feels restorative and replenishing. Activities such as:
Creating or viewing art
Engaging in gentle movement or dance
Playing or listening to inspiring music
Tending to your spiritual practice
Spending quality time with animals
Being in nature
Journaling or writing
Self-Care for the Highly Sensitive Person not only includes getting enough sleep and downtime, but also how we structure our daily schedule. Since HSPs are wired to reflect before acting, we use a lot of brain power making little decisions and transitioning between tasks. This is why it’s important to create a predictable, daily routine for ourselves.
As Highly Sensitive People, engaging in intentional and meaningful self-care to deeply nourish ourselves is vital to being able to sustain our energy levels plus show up for our work and the people in our lives. We can most effectively access our Sensitive Strengths (creativity, perception, empathy, intuition, diligence, etc) when we are relaxed and connected to ourselves. Otherwise, we are too exhausted and overwhelmed to show up both personally and professionally.
What’s Getting in the Way of Meaningful Self-Care?
Our ability to set boundaries is often the most common factor in whether or not we get the downtime and self-care we need as HSPs. Creating boundaries is a very challenging task for the conflict-averse HSP, as we are very empathetic and want to make sure everyone else is taken care of, often at the expense of our own well-being. Notice if you’re overextending yourself and/or saying yes when you need to set a limit.
I would encourage you to reflect upon the questions below to help you discover what’s getting in the way of taking care of yourself at a deeper level:
When you have free time, how do you typically spend it?
How would you prefer to spend your free time? What’s getting in the way?
What activities really light you up and help you feel connected to yourself?
What responsibilities can you set aside or delegate to create more time for yourself?
What is your relationship with setting boundaries?
Often we are too overstimulated or tired to truly enjoy the free time that we do have or we have overcommitted ourselves to the point of having no time left to refuel. HSPs not only need time to decompress EVERY DAY, we also need to regularly engage in meaningful activities and connections to feel satisfied. Simple self-care just doesn’t cut it for us, we need depth!
What are the Benefits of Downtime and Self-Care?
As you begin to get more rest and spend more time connecting inward, you may notice:
More clarity to make decisions
Feeling inspired to work on creative projects
Increased energy and mental focus
More at ease physically and emotionally
We all know the importance of self-care but as Highly Sensitive People, we need to take that self-care practice to the next level to deeply nourish ourselves and prevent overwhelm, anxiety and depression. When we take time to enjoy more meaningful forms of self-care such as immersing in our creative process or wandering through nature, we not only reconnect with ourselves but have access to our many gifts - the qualities that allow us to be our best Sensitive selves.