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Exhaling a deep sigh of relief, and gently pushing the door closed—leaving only a two-inch barricade between my quiet comfort and the chaos just beyond the other side—I stepped into my empty classroom.
A welcomed moment to breathe and relax for the first time since the morning bell rang and 18 exceptionally lively eight-year-olds entered the classroom with questions and concerns, and bursting with energy and stories to share.
Finally, I had a moment to myself to eat my lunch in peace.
Please do not misunderstand, I do indeed like people. I actually like people so much that I chose to be a teacher and voluntarily spend 10 or more hours of my day with large groups of them. Learning from and about others is truly what inspires and ignites my passion for service.
Why then, would I choose to eat alone in my classroom rather than enjoy conversation with my dearest colleagues?
Because I am an empath.
As much as people inspire me, they also drain my energy. Especially those individuals who always seem to have a problem for every solution.
The teachers’ lounge will undoubtedly have at least one such individual, not because teachers are inherently negative people, but rather because teachers are constantly under considerable stress with new regulation standards, implementing the latest requirements for assessments and accountability, and adopting the current trends in education.
Thus, the teachers’ lounge has become a safe place for teachers to vent their frustrations and discuss the morning’s events. For some individuals, it’s a welcome escape, a release. However, for an empath like me, it can be a toxic, crippling environment.
Empaths are unique individuals who feel everything intensely. They not only feel empathy for the situations that others experience—they also physically and emotionally absorb energy. Empaths do not only hear what you say, they read your posture, the tone of your voice, and what lies behind the look in your eyes. They feel your energy.
As an empath, I can simply stand beside you when you are feeling anxious and my own heart will begin to race. If I am near you when you are feeling down or cranky, I will begin to physically feel agitated or sad as well—even without you ever saying a word.
Being an empath is truly a special gift that lies in the beauty of connection.
When we connect with others not only on an emotional, but on a spiritual level, we deepen our own understanding of the world around us. We begin to unravel the reasons behind the actions and reactions of others. We empathize so passionately with people that we develop a profound appreciation for both the diversity and oneness that exists in humanity.
However, if you’re an empath, you also know that at times our treasured gift can feel like a curse.
When we do not establish boundaries or are unable to release the excess energy we have absorbed from those around us, we become buried under the additional weight. With that said, many of us have desperately turned to alcohol, food, prescription drugs, or other aids to help us cope, numb, or escape from drowning in emotions.
Even though we know these are only Band-Aids that offer momentary relief, empaths return to them over and over again because they are easy and accessible.
But what if there were actual ways to release the excess energy and emotions that we have absorbed, instead of merely masking them?
The good news is that there are ways—many ways—and they all begin with self-care.
We often hear that self-care needs to be a priority in our lives. But, when you’re already feeling overwhelmed, finding any additional minute in your daily routine for “me time” almost seems laughable.
Below are some accessible techniques to help make self-care a reality in our lives:
Shielding Visualization: upon waking in the morning, take five minutes to meditate. Find a quiet space to sit, making sure your posture will allow you to breathe comfortably. Close your eyes and inhale deeply. Then, breathe out slowly and truly “feel your breath.” Continue taking deep breaths until you can feel your whole body relax. Then, as you slowly breathe in, visualize a radiant white light completely surrounding your body like a bubble. Within this bubble, you feel peaceful, happy, and energized. You feel grounded and safe. This shield will protect you from the negativity and chaotic energy you will encounter throughout your day. Finally, take in one more long, cleansing breath and hold it, then slowly exhale while saying “thank you for the protection.” Open your eyes, and you are ready to begin your day.
Meditation to release negative energy and stress: all empaths are bound to pick up others’ distress, negativity, and pain at some point. Another simple five-minute meditation can help you release this extra energy. Again, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, check your posture, and begin breathing deeply to help you relax. However, this time, visualize those negative comments from your colleagues, the stress from work or school, the anxiety from attending a social event with your loved one, or anything else that has caused you pain or suffering turning into black smoke within your body. As you exhale, imagine slowly blowing the smoke out through your mouth. Then, with each breath you inhale, imagine filling its space with a pure, brilliant white light. Continue breathing in the peaceful white light and exhaling the black smoke until your body once again feels balanced and relaxed.
Choosing to eat healthy, whole foods is truly a change in lifestyle, but it is well worth the effort if you are an empath. Just as we are highly sensitive to the physical and emotional symptoms of those around us, we are also highly sensitive to everything we put into our bodies. Too much sugar and highly processed foods are toxic to empaths. The healthier the foods we eat, the more energy we will have, and the better we will feel. Some healthy suggestions to start with are good fats like avocados, almonds, and chia seeds. Also include leafy green vegetables, lean proteins, and herbal and decaffeinated teas. As always, change is hard at the beginning, but whatever you can do, your body will thank you.
Moving our bodies is undoubtedly essential for us all, but it is especially vital for empaths. Exercise is known to release anxiety, tension, and negativity. It also helps our muscles let go of any “stuck” energy and emotions, and keeps that energy moving through our bodies so we can release it. Whether a heart pounding Zumba class or a gentle yoga practice, any form of exercise will be of benefit.
Epsom Salt Baths
Most empaths are naturally drawn to water. Sitting on a beach and feeling the ocean’s breath on our skin, listening to the rain kiss the windows, or enjoying a warm bath after a stressful day is heaven to most empaths. The next time you draw a bath, try adding a little Epsom salt, which is rich in magnesium. I like to add lavender essential oil to the water to create a more relaxing experience and help melt away the drama of the day.
Grounding or Earthing
Spending time in nature can be one of the greatest escapes for an empath. Feeling the soft, green grass between our toes, watching snowflakes glisten as they dance on air, or enjoying the shade of a towering 100-year-old oak tree can ground and rejuvenate us as only Mother Nature can. Nature is our opportunity to slow down and once again feel the harmony of the earth’s heartbeat. Whenever that opportunity presents itself, take it. Walk outside, inhale the fresh air, feel the earth with your bare feet, and breathe in nature’s peace.
Setting Limits and Boundaries
Dealing with people is challenging for empaths, even though it is our gift. As we go about our day, some people will drain our energy more than others. We tend to refer to these individuals as energy vampires and they are often drawn to an empath’s open, welcoming character. What can we do, then, to protect our own energy and successfully manage our relationships with them?
We need to set boundaries. Crowds and social events are often exhausting for empaths. Even if others do not understand, it is acceptable to not attend every event, especially if you know the occasion will be overwhelming for you. Concerts, rallies, busy restaurants, and sporting events are more likely to trigger an empath than a quiet dinner or movie with friends or family. Only you know your own comfort level and you will have to make the best choices for yourself. However, if you must attend an event and find yourself overwhelmed, kindly excuse yourself and take 10 to 15 minute breaks alone to regain your ground. Even a five-minute meditation will help you recharge and feel more balanced again.
Likewise, you may need to set additional boundaries with specific individuals with whom you interact often, especially if they are chronic energy vampires. Setting time limits prior to phone conversations, saying “no” kindly when asked to take on extra responsibilities, or excusing yourself politely to use the bathroom to end a draining conversation are all simple ways to create boundaries and lovingly support your emotional well-being.
Choosing to eat lunch alone in my classroom rather than the teachers’ lounge was one way I made self-care a priority. I was setting boundaries for my own emotional well-being and choosing to not allow other people’s negativity or stress disrupt my meal.
A 30-minute quiet lunch along with a simple meditation to release the stress that I had absorbed from my students and other staff during the morning, brought me the peace and balance I needed to succeed in the afternoon.
If you are an empath, I encourage you to take steps toward your own self-care and well-being.
Empaths are truly a unique, precious gift to this world.
By caring for yourself first and releasing the emotional burdens of others, you will again be able to thrive and be the beautiful soul you are!