How do I know if I’m an Empath?
Have you ever walked into a room and felt other’s emotions in your body like a gust of wind? On busy days do you withdraw into complete solitude to relieve yourself from stimulation? When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment do you know what needs to happen to alleviate their anxiety? Do bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells overwhelm you? Have you been told you are too sensitive? Too much?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are probably a HSP (highly sensitive person). Elaine N. Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You contains excellent tests you can take and resources.
What exactly is a Highly Sensitive Person or HSP?
According to Psychalive, “empaths are highly sensitive individuals who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.”
Sound woo-woo? Scientific research proves that HSPs share a trait called “sensory processing sensitivity.” This trait involves a heightened “sensitivity of the central nervous system and deeper cognitive processing of physical, social, and emotional stimuli”
Elaine Arons writes in her book mentioned above, “Most people ignore sirens, glaring lights, strange odors, clutter, and chaos. HSPs are disturbed by them…Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people, that’s about it. HSPs can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, friendships and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of one who arranged the flowers…”
My first memory of being extrasensory was at five years old. My mom dropped me off at The Treehouse. A play place/day care where mothers could drop their children off and run errands or read a magazine for a couple hours in blissful solitude.
As soon as I walked in my eyes widened and jaw dropped under the fluorescent lights that blared overhead buzzing like flies. Kids ran around like tornados without overbearing parents. They played tag and screamed in glee. Others jumped into a big pit of rainbow colored balls. Some raced to the top of the tree house and pushed other kids out of their way. I stood there frozen. I felt like an electrical outlet—as the chaotic energy coursed through my veins of every single kid that jolted past me.
Within minutes, I began running around the perimeter of this madhouse sobbing. What seemed like hours later, my mom returned. She already knew I was a sensitive child, but when she witnessed my hysteria, she promptly decided to never take me to that place again.
In college after nights of partying, my friends would invite me to brunch. I almost always declined. I couldn’t fathom a morning of more stimulation (conversation, heavy food, bright lights). And craved the silence of solitude to regain my energy.
At one of my first sales jobs, each Tuesday, we were required to stay in the office. We couldn’t leave until we booked twelve appointments for the following week and ensured our ads were perfect before they went to print. This was not the problem.
The problem was my office was in a room without windows. I had no privacy packed into a stuffy room of cubicles with my co-workers. The woman who sat next to me (and made four times as much as I did in commissions) stole leads from me. She even looked like a snake in the grass—leathery from years of sly lies basking in the sun.
These things drove me crazy. At the end of the day, I felt like that five-year-old girl ready to scream, cry, and run away.
And many times, I would do almost that. During lunch, I would run and suddenly burst into tears. I thought I was going insane. My coworkers were unaffected by being bathed in fluorescent light, having absolutely no privacy, and no movement for eight hours. I was an excellent Account Executive. But I didn’t stay there long.
Big crowds can also send me into a tizzy. Even though, I love concerts and music festivals. Before and after partaking in packs of people, I ensure I’ve had plenty of silent solitude, meditation, and movement medicine.
There is an up side to being an HSP. Elaine Aron writes, “It is hard to grasp that you have some remarkable ability…Mostly you notice that you seem unable to tolerate as much as other people. [However] you forget that you belong to a group that has often demonstrated great creativity, insight, passion, and caring—all highly valued by society.”
Does this sound like you? Or perhaps someone you love? Below are my seven favorite ways to cope with this blessing and curse of being a highly sensitive person. Even if you’re not an empath, we can all benefit from spiritual hygiene.
7 Tips for Spiritual Hygiene
1. REST and rejuvenate
Highly sensitive bodies need copious amounts of rest. And not just sleep. Empaths need alone time to recharge their batteries. This quiet solitude allows their minds to drift. Something that is impossible in public or even around other loved ones. HSP minds are like psychic sponges. They pick up on everything.
So schedule time for solitude, daydreaming, and quiet. When I make this a priority, I notice I am energized, happy, grounded, and use my empathic gifts as a tool.
2. Energy Hygiene
Clean. Cleanse. Clear. Repeat. HSPs can feel and absorb other people’s energies. If we do not cleanse or recognize what emotions are actually ours, our bodies can feel like a chaotic carousel of confusion. In order to use our empathic gifts we must cleanse each day. Here are a couple of my favorite ways.
—Intentional Shower: take a shower and create the intention for the water to cleanse you of any goopy energy you’ve picked up. I ask out loud to my higher power, “Thank you for removing whatever energy does not belong to me, so I can continue to be of service. And leave only energy of pure love.”
—Smudge: Burn sage or Palo Santo around your entire body. Start with the bottoms of your feet and move up tracing your entire body. Don’t forget the back body!
3. Earthing/Stay Grounded
Energy Hygiene flows into my third tip. Earthing or grounding. What is earthing? It is the act of removing socks and shoes to absorb the earth’s healing properties. Science proves there are endless benefits of this ancient practice. These include alleviating anxiety, creating deeper sleep, increasing in energy and mood, reversing inflammation-based health issues, etc.
As HSPs, grounding is important to keep our energy flow in alignment. I ask to release any energy that I picked up that is not serving me. Then I imagine black sand pouring out of my feet into the ground. Mother Earth transmutes this goop into positive energy that serves everyone.
4. Set Boundaries
As an extremely caring person, it can be difficult to set boundaries. However, if you never say no, you drain yourself emotionally and physically. Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, suggests, “Control how much time you spend around stressful people, and learn to say ‘no.’ Set clear limits and boundaries with people, nicely cutting them off if they get critical of mean. Remember, ‘no’ is a complete sentence.”
5. Spend Time in Nature
Nature provides endless healing properties for humans; Vitamin D, anti-inflammatory properties from earth’s skin, cooling breeze on a summers day, bird’s song at dusk, the smell of pine in winter and wildflowers in summer. Talk a walk, lay in the grass and stare into the sky, or drive windows down/hair flying.
Everyday. Even if it’s only three minutes. Consistently bringing our minds back to the present moment helps empaths to stay aware of what is ours and what is not. Empathic gifts are wonderful to understand a friend’s hardship and create space for them to be heard. However, taking his or her hardship home with us is beneficial for no one. Meditation helps empaths retain clarity and connection with themselves.
You can find flow in almost anything. A flow state is a heightened state of consciousness where nothing else matters momentarily. Flow silences our monkey mind, accelerates learning, and cultivates immense joy.
There are endless activities that fall under flow. Some of my favorite flow activities are writing, singing, dancing, coloring, biking, hiking, yoga, etc. Add a flow activity to your weekly routine (three times per week for an hour) and see your joy and presence skyrocket.
Being an HSP can be tough in a world that constantly rewards us for drinking more coffee, sending one last email, and taking clients out to dinner. It requires great discipline to set boundaries and put yourself first. This enables HSPs to use our giving gifts optimally. I am not perfect at practicing the tips I share. However, I am beginning to catch myself more quickly when I have over done it.
There are two HSPs tendencies. One is to become stingy with their energy and act as a recluse. Two is to imitate everyone else and do more to ignore their sensitivities until burnout. I definitely tend toward number two. The point is notice (without judgment) when you retreat into these behaviors.
When you catch yourself in the act, ask: what can I do in this moment, today, to take care of my beautiful and highly sensitive body? Take a holy pause and listen. Your body will tell you. Repeat often so your gifts can be shared with the world.
*main photo by McCall Besten — @birds.n.bees