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I have a confession to make before we dive in…
Sometimes, I dislike the words “empath” or “highly sensitive person (HSP).”
Maybe it seems to imply specialness—that we’re more special than other people, but I don’t believe that’s true.
Everyone is unique.
We all have gifts. And ours happens to be supersensitivity, feeling the gut-wrenching core of emotion, of beauty, of love, of pain, of heartbreak, and of truth.
This doesn’t separate us from others—this connects us all the more deeply.
And yes, it can be a lot. But it doesn’t have to be too much. It doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. I think there is a way to be gentle with ourselves—to honor who we are—without feeling like victims.
Because we may feel profoundly. And wildly. And deeply. But that’s what makes us powerful.
Super freakin’ powerful.
So anyway, that brings me to this article, which I hope can feel like a fresh dose of empowerment to your delicious, open heart.
If you’re like me, maybe you feel both excitement and a consequent thud of dread about the holiday season.
Sipping hot cocoa on a cold day, curled up with your beloved.
And wool socks.
And a fluffy blanket draped across your feet.
Does it get any better than that?
And…then, cue the exhaustion.
Feeling drained, down to the bone.
Feeling others’ rushed, frantic energy.
And all of the simmering, suppressed emotions.
Running around ourselves, going here, going there.
When all we really want to do is sit still in a world that’s always on the move.
Being around family members can be intense or painful.
Just being around people so much—the small talk, the chatter, the expectations, the feeling of being “on” can be tough.
And even though I cherish reconnecting with the ones I love—I don’t love how tired I can feel.
Like I lost myself.
When we get off-center, it can seem like getting back to center is incredibly far away. But often, it’s not. Maybe it’s just an inch or two left or right.
And I don’t want to suggest this is a quick fix, because things are often complicated. We’re all complex.
Holidays bring up that swirling complexity—super sensitivity combined with the bitter taste of old memories and old wounds and sweet nostalgia. This time of year can be intense and beautiful and strange and a thousand other things.
So I’ve compiled a list, one that I’ll be following, too.
Maybe it will be helpful, maybe not. But I hope it can offer some sweet support to those who are sensitive and drip with empathy; to those who feel frazzled as heck during this time of the year. And I hope that in this giving season, you don’t do what we all often do—give ourselves away.
Because there is a way to give without giving ourselves away—and it is an art.
A messy, raw, delightful art. Let’s get to it, then.
1. Get into your body.
Oh, yes—I believe this is at the crux of everything else on this list! Dance, walk, run, massage yourself, take a bath, pet your cat, feel your toes on the carpet, curl up with a soft blanket, feel the steam of a piping hot cup of tea, savor a decadent, crumbly bite of mom’s Christmas cookies, or get outrageously cozy with your favorite oversized sweater. Invite in sensations. Slow way down. Go at half-speed. This can be so calming to the nervous system. And so often, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, triggered, or taking on other people’s feelings, we’ve lost awareness of our own bodies—the flesh and bone that contains us. Get back inside yourself, sweet one.
I adore using scent to be more anchored in my body as well, and some of my favorite grounding essential oils are: vetiver, patchouli, geranium, and palo santo. I especially love vetiver and patchouli mixed with a carrier oil (like almond oil) and applied to the bottom of my feet. Some refreshing oils that I’ve found helpful when I’m overcome with other’s energy are peppermint, grapefruit, lime, and eucalyptus. These also make great sprays by simply combining about 10 drops of your chosen blend with water and in a spray bottle. This can be so helpful to have on hand throughout the season.
2. Check in with yourself.
How are you feeling? What do you need? Maybe this point sounds lame or obvious, but I don’t know about you, when I’m around other people a lot, I often get more concerned with how they’re feeling and totally forget about myself.
Are you hungry, thirsty? Angry? See if there’s anything you need and then take action. If you’re tired, rest. If you’re overwhelmed, say no. Need to set a boundary? Go for it. If you need time alone, take it—even if it’s a few minutes soaking in a beam of sun or breathing in the chilly, snow-dusted air. And remember, you don’t have to do or be it all. Feel your edges and know the sweet freedom that comes in knowing your limits.
3. Your sensitivity is a gift. Protect it.
Maybe you need a little more self-care than others. So be it! Know that you’re worth it. Know that other people don’t have to understand.
Give to yourself, then give some more—until your waters flow freely—and then you can give some of that splashing, aquamarine overflow to your beloveds. Know how truly important this is. Dedicate energy to this—over and over again. It is your profound medicine.
A little lightness can go a long way! This is inspired by the students I teach in a creative arts after-school program—they remind me to make a fool of myself, try out silly faces, create crazy jokes, and play. Make no mistake, though, play is powerful and can bust through stagnant energy like no other. Turn on some 90s tunes and dance wildly, twirl around in the kitchen, sing off tune, throw a snowball at your brother, make a snow angel, giggle with your best friend, try on ugly holiday sweaters, or move around like a tiger.
No need to make the holiday about what society says—make up your own rules, your own traditions, and find your own delight. Think outside of the box. Find meaning and bubbling joy in your own way.
5. Limit alcohol.
The holidays can seem like a super tempting time to overindulge with strong, fancy drinks. Or have a little too much to take the edge off. And hey, I’m all for savoring a glass of dry, cherry-scented red wine. But I also believe we can be with the edge. Often, that’s where the really juicy transformation happens.
So dig deep. Show up for yourself. Move your body, do some breathing exercises, draw, write in your journal, have tea, talk with a friend authentically—all of this trumps getting tipsy to avoid feeling. We will always feel. Resist the urge to numb. Support yourself in feeling your emotions instead, even if it’s a so-called “bad” emotions like grief or anger or fear. Be with them, and trust that they will naturally soften and regulate. Listen, too, for their luscious pearls of wisdom.
6. Be real.
In the midst of holiday craziness, I’ll often find myself slipping in a black hole and going back in time to play out old patterns. I’ll run myself ragged trying to please everyone else and then get super pissed off about it. Ugh. And as frustrating as it is, we can grow a lot from noticing when we’re getting sucked in to old ways of being—and realize that we can do something different. Even though it can feel tough or impossible at times, we do have a choice.
Do you always placate someone around this time of the year? Be gently honest and see what happens. Shake up the patterns, dedicate to being more you. Experiment. Realness is an awesome thing to bring to a holiday party, even if it’s hard or only lasts a second. It’s golden. It’s inspiring. And maybe your dripping authenticity can encourage others to drop their masks as well. Heck yeah. Now, that’s powerful.
7. Do a sensory reset.
Feeling utterly beside yourself, like you’re buzzing with overwhelm, fear, and anxiety? Dreading going to another holiday function? Oh, I can certainly relate. Do a sensory reset. I’ll credit my Dad with this one, and I just love it. It can be done in the bath, outside, or in a quiet room. The idea is to give yourself a few minutes (ideally 10 minutes) where your nervous system can drop down into a more serene state, and you can come back to your life refreshed. An eye mask can be great with this, but closing the eyes is perfect, too.
Get as cozy as you possibly can. Feel supported by the earth, chair, or bed underneath you. As you shut your eyes, take in the sounds around you, feel your feet, legs, hips, belly, chest, back, arms, hands, neck, and head. Scan your body: notice tension and fear, notice areas of sweetness. Allow rest and relaxation to happen. Don’t chase it. Let it come to you. If your sensations or emotions are loud, it’s okay. Let in any amount of softening that is able to come to your muscles, your bones, your thoughts. When you open your eyes, go slowly to let the light in. And maybe things will look or feel just a little bit different—but a little bit of peacefulness can be a big deal.
8. It’s natural to want rest at this time of the year.
It’s dark earlier, and the cold, crisp air can make us want to do less—to be curled up at home with nothing but our thoughts and a huge cup of tea. And that is so necessary. Most of our bodies are craving a deep, luscious rest after many months of activity. In the magical wheel of the year, this time is called the Void or the Deep—a time of rest, integration, and reflection. In Chinese medicine, winter corresponds to the kidneys and is said to represent a quiet, intuitive, receptive, and internal energy.
Ironic isn’t it, that this season can feel so overly full and busy? So remember that your inclinations for rest are deeply attuned with nature. Follow your wisdom in knowing what you need. Nourish yourself with good food and downtime. It can be so important to clear your calendar a bit and dive into some much-needed spaciousness.
Okay. That’s it, my deeply feeling friend!
With these tools to better cherish yourself, I wish you a holiday full of connection, rest, magic, and fierce self-care that feels just right.
Fun bonuses for my empath and HSP friends:
Yarrow flower essence can be immensely helpful for empaths and HSPs to aid in maintaining energetic boundaries and managing feelings of intense vulnerability.
ASMR, (autonomic sensory meridian response) YouTube videos are very relaxing. They feature different sounds like brushing hair or paper crinkling that can feel just plain yummy. Check out Whispers Red.