Mindfulness Activities

When It All Feels Like Too Much: Embracing Our Highly Sensitive Nature in an Age of Overwhelm

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I believe that all humans are sensitive and intuitive. However, in our modern world, our culture tends to see sensitivity as a weakness while intuition is not something to be trusted.

When I was growing up in the 90’s, highly-sensitive people were often diagnosed under the umbrella of disorders such as ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum, ODD, Bipolar and Sensory Integration Disorder to name a few.

I know of this first hand because I was one of the children given several of those labels.

As I was completely embedded in the busy, fast-moving, stress-ridden, modern life, we call reality; I reflexively developed methods to protect myself.

My earliest strategies centered around ways to block out the constant ebb and flow of noise pollution, television, computers, attention-seeking people and those with strong uncontrolled emotions. It was nearly impossible.

Since I was a kid trying to learn the equivalent of “Psychic Kung Fu” by “Trial and Error,” my protection strategies were interpreted as “behavior problems.”

I was boxed in with labels and grew to believe that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

I felt completely alone.

It would be many years later before I discovered that my sensitivity wasn’t non-existent, a horrible flaw, or a curse.

The Age of Overwhelm

Even now, in today’s time of greater sophistication and understanding, being highly-sensitive or empathic is still somewhat taboo.

Although the traditional models of science and psychology might not completely recognize its definitive existence, we are now learning more about the brain and nervous system.

We have proof of what happens when sensory information isn’t modulated through the nervous system and brain properly.

We are even beginning to be able to track what happens in the brain during meditation, dreams, and other extrasensory anomalies.

Through the study of neurobiology, psychology, human development, and its relationship to trauma, we now know that when someone becomes overloaded with sensory input that they can’t integrate, it sends their nervous system into a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Perpetual overwhelm, and activation of the nervous system is traumatic and can have long-lasting physiological and psychological impact that isn’t exactly positive.

That’s why a lot of highly sensitive and empathic people usually have health problems in tandem with their other sensitivities.

Undoubtedly, overwhelm and stress can feel like a constant baseline when we have heightened sensitivity. With the added chaos of the digital age, Information Age and world climate, being highly sensitive or an empath in this world can feel downright hopeless at times.

Escaping the System

So, how’s a person supposed to catch a breath?

Self-care you say?

Mindfulness maybe?

Becoming a hermit in our off-the-grid hut in the middle of the wilderness?

I’ve definitely fantasized about my off-the-grid priestess sanctuary on a cliff by the ocean. How about you?

I’m sure there are many of us who have fantasized about escaping the system and living apart from the world.

The only “problem” is that we are human and need love, connection, and intimacy.

It seems like we each have a great yearning to be a part of the larger collective masterpiece.

We want to make our mark on the world, live in a way that’s deeply fulfilling and help others along our journey to do the same.

It’s only natural that we don’t want to live our lives in a way that constantly overwhelms us. Our intrinsic goodness is pretty beautiful don’t you think?

In a culture that pushes the dissociative agenda, we’ve been encouraged to check out rather than open to the vast spectrum of emotion and energy that we are capable of experiencing.

When we start to embrace our true capacity beyond our conditioning and wake up to the fact that we aren’t broken, something really incredible begins to happen.

It’s as if suddenly we realize, “Wow! I’m not crazy or fundamentally flawed for feeling so much.”

When It All Feels Like Too Much

We may feel more vulnerable to the pain and overwhelm of the world.

On the flip side, as much as we might feel a greater depth of pain or suffering, our window for pleasure and being immersed in beauty, love, magic, and ecstasy is that much wider.

Once we have this awareness, our innate sensitivity can start to become a gift.

We can learn to channel and direct our energy and emotions rather than feeling incapacitated by them. We can discover that we have the power to control the volume of our experience.

When life feels like too much, we can move inward while still maintaining connection to our lives and our ‘selves.’

We can learn to take care of ourselves without checking out.

With practice, we can become comfortable setting clear and compassionately fierce boundaries that honor our needs and in doing so, honor the other person.

We realize that we can actually control the volume of our pain as much as our pleasure.

Staying open and present is really the key. Having a meditation or mindfulness can be a really powerful addition to creating a foundation of homeostasis, safety, and ground in our lives.

Whether it’s sitting meditation, dance, nature walks, creative arts, or quiet time in the bath or bed; giving ourselves the time and space to take a big exhale is invaluable.

From a space of presence, receptivity, and awareness, we can develop amazing skills like knowing the exact moment our nervous system is going into stress or overwhelm, and what’s needed to bring us back to center.

Once we cultivate a strong sense of self-connection, discerning when we have taken on energy that isn’t ours becomes that much easier.

We can even begin to access an intuitive sense of how to most effectively work with any situation we are confronted with because our window of tolerance for sensation, emotion, and energy is that much wider.

We might be able to respond with more compassion, clear-headedness, care, and ferocity (if it’s called for) because we haven’t lost connection to ourselves.

Once we’ve created a sense of home within ourselves, there is no situation or circumstance that is impossible to work with.

Daily Meditation for Highly Sensitives and Empaths

For highly sensitives and empaths, having a daily meditation and clearing practice where you create the time and space to connect with your own energy is so vital.

There are two practices that I’ve found really helpful in maintaining self-connection and solid boundaries so that I am not a constant vacuum for other people’s energies and emotions.

Doing a basic body scan/check-in can be really helpful in the morning, evening, or even when you are on the go.

  1. You might start by just breathing in and out very slowly and deeply.
  2. As you continue a slow and rhythmic breath, begin to move your awareness towards the sensations happening in your body. Notice what’s happening with curiosity.
  3. Breathe into the places that feel stuck or tense.
  4. Bringing awareness to our breath and body can bring our parasympathetic nervous system online so that we can transition out of stress response into rest response.

A basic clearing practice can be a helpful addition to your daily practice, especially on days where you feel less resourced.

  1. Stop, slow down, allow your eyes to flutter shut if it feels good.
  2. While slowly and deeply breathing, start to feel a softening begin to happen in the crown of your head.
  3. Envision gentle light beginning to flow gently through your crown and through the central channel of your body.
  4. Envision any energy that is no longer serving you or any energy that isn’t yours, being gently swept away by this flowing river of light.
  5. Watch as it slowly begins to pour into the earth.
  6. For extra measure, envision a vacuum at the base of your feet catching and sucking out any stuck or residual energy.
  7. Finish with an affirmation, expressing that nothing that isn’t for your highest expression of light, love, and wholeness can enter your energetic space.

I believe our sensitivity isn’t something to be shut down, changed, or eradicated.

I believe our sensitivity is strong and courageous.

I believe that our sensitivity is a gift worth celebrating, and something deeply worth fighting for.

Let us embrace the beauty of all that we are and honor the intrinsic genius of our unique and brilliant design.

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