Much of the information out there for HSPs involves avoidance. There's avoiding too much visual, auditory, and other types of stimulation. However, recently I read Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity: How to Manage Emotions as a Highly Sensitive Person by Imi Lo. What I like about her book is that it encourages facing the unique difficulties that come from being an HSP. It's a growing mindset instead of a hiding one. Not that there's anything wrong with reducing stimulation, but I feel that focusing too much on my limits puts me at risk of building a cage around myself. I want to experience things fully, even if I am highly sensitive.
A sanctuary or safe place isn't for living life. It's a place to visit to when emotions and the environment becomes too much. It allows me to take a break before stepping back into life again.
When is having a safe place helpful?
- After a long day of putting yourself out there--even if you had a good time.
- When feeling overwhelming emotions of any kind, positive or negative.
- When battling with low self-esteem.
- When overstimulated.
- When under-stimulated and bored.
- When in a creative rut or feeling lost.
So how does someone go about making an emotional safe place? Here are some elements that I've found to be the most important when I created my own HSP sanctuary.
1. Create a place where you can know yourself.This can be any medium that allows you to express and reflect on who you are and what you stand for.
I've found that taking time to know myself adds stability. My emotions may be strong and all over the place, but having self-knowledge reminds me that I am not my emotions. My emotions are something I experience, like the weather. They're not part of my identity.
In fact, I've recently found that one way to connect with how I'm feeling daily is to journal about the weather. The effectiveness of this totally surprised me, because I've always viewed the weather as the most mundane topic ever.
When journaling about the weather, I pay attention to...
- What the weather is.
- How that makes me feel and affects my actions.
- And how I can balance things out or make the most of it physically and emotionally.
For example, let's say it's a cold day, In my journal, I express how I hate cold weather, and how I want to lie around and do nothing. I also mention other discomforts of the cold, such as my cold feet and dry skin.
Then I write ways to counteract what makes me uncomfortable. I could exercise or drink a small cup of coffee or citrus tea to make me feel awake and alive. Massaging my hands and feet with oil helps with the coldness and dryness. I could note in my journal all the layers that I plan to wear, so I can be extra warm.
After that, I go a step deeper and look at my emotions. What makes me feel emotionally warm inside? How can I show more warmth to other people? Which of those things can I do today?
On the other hand, if it's a warm and sunny day, I may write about how it's a good day for getting things done, and how I feel about that. But then when it's warmer, there's the risk that I might take on too much. So I can ask myself:
What can I do to "cool down" emotionally or relax? How can I be more patient, refreshing, and relaxing to others?
As you see, when I write about the weather, I go from the physical to the emotional. I also look for opposites. If I'm cold and miserable, I look for ways to add warmth and light. If I'm warm and energized, I look for ways to add some coolness and shade so I don't wear myself out.
Take note of how the weather makes you feel physically and emotionally and try to create balance by finding opposites.
I also journal about my reactions to life once in awhile. I try to answer questions like:
What happened? How did I react? What does this say about me? What does this say about others who were involved? What things remain unchanged within me no matter what?
Taking note of how you react to things is also a good opportunity to honestly express yourself. Plus, there are a ton of pre-made guided journals out there, if you find the blank pages of a notebook too intimidating.
So when starting with your HSP sanctuary, make sure it's a place where you can express yourself and gain some self-knowledge.
2. Create a place where you respect your limits and show compassion.This addresses the environmental over-stimulation that's common among HSPs, but instead of focusing on what to reduce, it focuses on what can restabalize.
Be aware of what things make you happy, regardless of the circumstances. What routines make you feel balanced? What has helped you feel rebalanced in the past? What reliably gives you a feeling of stability?
Somethings I've found that rebalance me:
- Herbal tea
- A cup of coffee (Diluted with Teeccino)
- Specific movies or books
- Sitting outdoors
- Pilates & Foam Rolling
Write a list of what gives you balance and put it where you can easily see it. That way, when you're facing an overstimulated unbalanced moment, the list is already there waiting for you. And it's good if you can be specific. If aromatherapy helps, make a note of the scents that make the most impact and so on...
Also don't forget to also note physical textures that bring comfort, like a favorite blanket or sweater.
3. Create a place where you can keep in mind relationships that nourish you and that make you feel loved.I like to save ephemera that reminds me of good times with friends and family who care about me-- ticket stubs, maps, visitor guides, photographs, personal notes/ letters and so on. Even with digital messages, print and save the encouraging ones. Collect pictures that remind you of those you love, even if they're just magazine clippings or images from the internet. Make it a page in your journal or a collage on your wall. Focus on relationships that make you feel wanted and alive.
By the way, relationships are not limited to people. There's also comfort to be found in animals, nature, and prayer.
4. Create a place where you can note observations, write questions, stay curious, and problem solve.Noting observations and questions helps me to feel creative, even when I'm in a creative slump. I carry a little pocket notebook with me so I can write lists, story ideas, thoughts, questions, sketches, and anything else that pops into my mind.
When overwhelmed, I've found that writing and mapping out what's bothering me can make quite an impact. Writing and drawing my problems helps me to find solutions, even when I'm not actively looking for answers.
Lately in the morning before starting my day, I've been writing out my problems and worries. Then I make little observations on what I do to can reduce their impact.
First, I describe the problem in one sentence. Then I write one simple thing that I can do to ease the problem--ideally something that will take less than 10 or 20 minutes. Sometimes I think of multiple simple things I can try, so I write those down too.
The goal is to take on the problem one manageable step at a time. And I've found since doing this, when I hit unexpected challenges throughout the day, I'm able to think up creative solutions more quickly. I tend to worry too much anyways, so coming up with possible simple solutions has been good for me.
Overall, being creative in small ways, trying to find answers, and working to solve problems is a good remedy for boredom and under-stimulation, but it also helps with anxiety and overwhelm.
Bringing it All TogetherCurrently, I have most of this information in my planner which doubles as my journal. On the daily page, I write one paragraph about the weather and the problems I'm facing for the day. Then I use what's left of the page plus my little notebook for other ideas that come along throughout the day. I can add extra note pages to my planner if I need more space.
For planner pages where I reflect on meaningful relationships, I put a page marker so I can find it easily. I have a list of what balances me in my planner, but I've also posted a copy on my wall for quick reference.
There is value in making your sanctuary both portable and a specific place at home. I have an aromatherapy diffuser at home, but I also carry aromatherapy inhalers with me. I carry pictures of loved ones and reminders of good memories in my wallet, along with the special pages I have in my planner that I usually keep at home.
Having an HSP safe place/refuge/sanctuary has been the most helpful thing I have done to deal with sensitivity. It gives me a place not only to find comfort, but also to grow.