Oh the feels. Being sensitive can make you feel a little like carrying round a packet of tissues carefully labelled ‘in case of feels’ at all times. Now disclaimer, being sensitive does not mean ‘weak.’ It simply means that you are part of that shiny group of people whose nervous systems are scientifically more sensitive and therefore you quite literally feel things a bit more deeply. FYI, this refers to all emotions– the good as well! Yay! (Most of the time, I’m pretty happy-go-lucky.)
It is more about having on tap access to that pool of emotion. It wasn’t until I talked to some of my friends that I realised that some people go months or even YEARS without crying. When I have 10 days in a row without a cry that is a good run; I start strutting round like a peacock, feeling quite proud of myself.
Now being a sensitive performer is both an organ and a blade. It brings both a great sensitivity and availability of emotion to your work but also can HURT you, therefore having useful techniques for highly sensitive people to use is essential. It is not uncommon for people to say that if you’re going to survive the industry you need to toughen up. Growing up, you get told you’ll need a ‘thick skin.’ This is not the case; emotion demands to be felt and to hear this implies that there’s something wrong with you, something that needs fixing. No! You are perfect just as you are. Sensitivity can be an incredible gift, it’s just that you may need to have some tools to reinforce the perimeter so that you can hold the shape of that sensitivity from a strong, grounded place.
So below I’ve compiled the highly sensitive person’s toolkit- 4 tools you can use to handle and work through tricky emotions when they arise, and mend any bruises along the way. Think of it like your emotional medicine cabinet. These tools are great for anyone, regardless of whether you would class yourself as highly sensitive or not, so check them out below!
The Highly Sensitive Person’s Best Ally- EFT
EFT (short for Emotional Freedom Technique also known as Tapping) is one of the best techniques for highly sensitive people we have at our disposal. It may sound and feel a little weird at first, but honestly once you feel it’s effects, you won’t look back. A lot of self care techniques rely on meeting the emotion or finding ways to avoid triggering yourself overly. However, EFT goes one step further than both of these. It involves changing and clearing emotions and how you respond to triggers at their SOURCE. Whenever we feel a strong negative emotion, our amygdala- (the part of the brain which registers threat) fires and this creates a strong pathway to a particular emotion attached to a situation or thoughts we might be feeling. But with EFT, we tap on certain points on our body which activate a calming response (the parasympathetic nervous system) whilst working through the difficult emotion or thoughts therefore changing the pathways in our brain so that it doesn’t produce the same negative reaction. This can be a massive game changer! If you’d like to learn more about EFT and how to use it, stay tuned for my post coming next week.
Practise Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is a skill that requires practise, just like learning a musical instrument. Contrary to popular belief mindfulness meditation isn’t about emptying your mind, but training yourself to focus your attention, observing thoughts when they come up, and then disengaging and bringing yourself back to your point of focus.
This also strengthens being able to switch to an observer mindset. Now when we meditate, we are in a fairly neutral space. However, when we are dealing with intense emotions, we are in a highly charged state and it is harder to disengage. So by practising from a neutral space, we increase our observational muscle to be able to switch to this with more ease when we are emotionally challenged (experiencing stress or negative emotions.) Cultivating a daily practise is key in keeping up this skill. The brain operates on a ‘use it or lose it’ principle so it’s important to keep it up to be able to use it effectively as a tool. In much the same way we wouldn’t expect our strength to stay at it’s peak if we stopped lifting weights, the same can be true of meditation. Meditation is an amazing tool for anyone, and even more so for the highly sensitive person’s needs as it provides an empowering way of weathering their emotional terrain which garners much relief, and can physically change the brain.
Next time you get a negative emotion, take some time to observe it rather than just reacting to it. Try to keep really focused on the physical sensation rather than just replaying what has upset you. This anchors you and calms you down, whilst also giving you some of your control back and taking away part of the pain.
Then when you’re ready, you can respond. A good slogan is:
Respond, not react.
In a situation that is emotionally charged, or even just uncertain (such as change for a new job for example) one thing you can do is create anchors to make you feel more settled, safe and which generally generate positive emotions. This can be objects that feel homey and remind you of home (photos, scented candles, a piece of jewellery given to you by someone you love, a particular blanket etc, fairy lights, objects with particular colours etc)
It can also be people, so phoning a friend, family member or partner is another way to anchor yourself. The highly sensitive person’s main need when change is occurring is to feel connection and a sense of familiarity, as even positive changes can be quite overwhelming, so creating emotional anchors works beautifully. Setting aside specific time for yourself eg half an hour on your own to journal, meditate or read, listening to particular music which makes you feel safe, happy, loved, empowered etc, or even a particular affirmation for what it is you are needing can be a great way to integrate this. Highly sensitive people often like a structure or knowing what to expect, so creating a plan amidst the chaos is key.
Use Positive Self Talk
We have an internal dialogue, which will be a mash up of the conscious and unconscious beliefs and thoughts. By utilising positive self talk, we can gently guide our focus and help ourselves to feel better. It’s important to differentiate that positive self-talk is not about ego or unrealistic expectations, but more about self-love, compassion and empowerment.
Let’s look at some examples of negative to positive self talk:
N ‘There’s nothing I can do about it. I give up!’
P ‘I might not be able to control the situation, but I can control how I respond.’
N ‘I always do the wrong thing.’
P ‘I’ve made some mistakes but I can learn from them. What do I need to learn?’
N ‘I’m not good enough.’
P ‘Attempting to do this took courage and I’m proud of myself for trying. What can I work on for next time?’
Or, ‘I am enough. And I am worthy.’
N ‘I never get anything right.’
P ‘I haven’t figured it out… Yet.’
N ‘I can’t do it.’
P ‘What information do I need to practise being able to do it?
This is one of the most powerful techniques for highly sensitive people. The more you can practise turning these negative thoughts around, the more natural and easy it becomes.
So there we go- the highly sensitive person’s toolkit. These 4 things can work wonders if they are used with persistence and consistency as feelings arise. I’ve kept the number of techniques short, because although small they are mighty! And when retraining the brain and habits I find simplicity works best. Let me know what you find most helpful below, or if you have any suggestions to add I’d love to hear them 🙂