• A highly sensitive person (HSP) is likely to be strongly affected by their environment, and may feel drained by overstimulation

  • Because of this, thriving in today's world as an HSP might mean a need for extra self-care says health coach and author Tara Jackson

  • Therapy also benefits highly sensitive people – if you are interested, start your search here 

Being an empath and highly sensitive person (HSP) can be a struggle for many in today’s world. It’s easy to get absorbed into what’s going on with everyone else, and as a naturally compassionate person you may find you put others first and are available to everyone else. Often to the detriment of your own needs. It’s easy to not have strong boundaries as you feel so much empathy and compassion so get pulled into helping others with their needs. As a result you may find you feel overwhelmed, anxious and ‘all over the place’, which can feel like you are living in your head.

I certainly felt this, and spent many years not feeling like me, or even knowing what that really was. In fact, I used to think there was something wrong with me. I hated the fact that foods and drinks seemed to affect me so much more than others. I felt so much pain when I heard anything sad and couldn’t watch the news without spiralling into hopelessness. I wondered why public transport drained me so much and thought I was being weak or pathetic when I came off it feeling totally wiped, or angry, or all over the place. I felt it when others were in a bad mood and if there was tension in the office I worked in, I would feel low for the rest of the day. I couldn't stand small talk, so often used alcohol to help me get through it in social situations. I found it often took a lot of my energy to do things, more than others, even if they physically didn’t take much time. I questioned why I was unable to handle seemingly normal day-to-day situations without feeling completely drained. It was like I didn't have control over how I was feeling a lot of the time.

Living in this cycle of absorbing and feeling so much and not knowing how to handle it all, I self-medicated with food and alcohol and other behaviours and addictions to escape from it all and to not have to feel anything or be in my body. This was my solution.

I only realised later how detrimental it was to not be in my body, to not feel my feelings. To keep myself stuck in this cycle of escapism and numbing, thinking it was a way of life. Apart from some physical health problems which got increasingly worse, not being in my body meant that I was living in my head and as a result felt a lot of anxiety, had frequent mood swings, got easily swept into everything going on and felt overwhelmed a lot of the time. I felt very un-grounded and found it hard to make decisions as I wasn’t connected to myself, so didn’t even know what I needed or wanted.

As a highly sensitive person living like this was becoming unbearable and I had to change my life, so I began my healing journey, which ultimately involved coming back into my body, coming back to me and remembering who I was. It involved a number of things including feeling my feelings, stopping numbing and letting things come out, practicing regular basic self-care – eating well, moving my body and sleeping enough, establishing boundaries, learning who I was and what I needed.

It takes courage to be in your body. I know that now. We often fear what may rise, and that a ‘can of worms’ will open up if we allow our self to feel any emotions – particularly the ones that don’t feel good. But being in your body is how we are meant to live, and from my experience when you are embodied, you come from a place of calmness and inner certainty. You feel energised yet peaceful. You don’t pick up on everything going on with everyone else and let it take over, instead you can choose what to react to and what you want to let pass you by. You know what you want and can make decisions that are truly aligned and for your highest good. Ultimately you are YOU when you are in your body. Our bodies are so intuitive and our feelings and emotions are like a guidance system, which we need to be connected with in order to thrive.

There are many ways to help bring you back into your body. To help you be here, right now, so that you experience all of life and are able to be fully you. Here are just a few simple, but extremely powerful practices that if done regularly can help you with this.

1) Be present

Become aware of where your attention is throughout the day. Notice where your mind goes and how often you drift off into thoughts. Also become aware of how often, where and how you try to escape being present. Do you have patterns and habits to avoid being in the here and now?

Instead, being to take regular moments throughout your day to breathe deeply into your entire body. Pay attention to what you are feeling and what is happening around you right now. The more you do this, the easier it gets to be present. 

2) Listen to your body

Our bodies really are here to support us, they are not just these vessels to shape and mould according to what society deems is acceptable. Or to ignore and numb as though they are separate to our being.

If you listen to your body, really get to know it as you would a close friend, you’ll start to see that certain types of movement/exercise work better for you at different times. Sometimes you need hearty, warming meals whilst at other times a fresh salad is what you really want.

Living on autopilot doing what we think we should do, and not really checking in regularly to see what we need, is not living in balance and harmony with ourselves.  

Give it a go, listen to your body by tuning into its different parts. What does it need today?

3) Create space 

The spaces of seeming nothingness in our lives are so important as they allow our minds and bodies to absorb, assimilate and do what they need to. We live in a world where being busy is seen to be the only way to be productive, but there is so much magic to be found in the spaces in between.

Where do you try to fill the spaces in your life? How can you create more space in your life?

4) Develop a kind relationship with all parts of yourself

Do you judge certain parts of yourself or do you accept all of yourself fully?

It’s so easy to accept the parts of ourselves that are more acceptable or likeable such as if we’re a good caretaker or are organised and helpful. But how about the messy or outgoing or seemingly bad parts that don’t fit into a neat box like when we want to be alone or get angry? We all have parts of ourselves that aren’t as attractive to others and that we think we will be judged for. But admitting to them and owning them as a part of who you are is so liberating.

What are the parts of yourself that you hide or shut down? How can you begin to accept them as a part of your wholeness?


5) Feel your feelings

It's really healthy to allow yourself to feel what you are going through (perhaps with the support of someone you trust and feel safe with), so that you can process it and allow it to pass. It can be uncomfortable to do this as we often don't want to experience feelings such as sadness, pain, anger, loneliness. It can feel like they will be too much for us to handle.

A couple of things that helped me begin to feel all my feelings are journaling (I do this to process most of what I am going through these days), listening to music (sometimes dancing) and allowing myself to cry as I find that depending on what I am listening to it can help me release. I also express my feelings through art. Perhaps experiment and find something that works for you.

As you feel your feelings, you may find that lots of old things come up. Feelings about certain situations or times in your life, which you haven't thought about in years.

The best way to describe it is like waves coming up as you peel back the layers of an onion. Sometimes the feelings can be so real you wonder if you are actually in them all over again. But, just allow them, be with them. Ask them what they are trying to tell you. Ask them what they need. They will pass on, releasing from your being.

As a highly sensitive, empathic being I truly believe it is so important to be in our bodies. Whilst being so sensitive can seem like a burden and something to want to escape from, when you are fully embodied you are so much more grounded and can use the gift of sensitivity to be more and bring more to all that you do in a life, in a way that is magical and incredibly fulfilling.

Tara is a holistic wellbeing coach and author of Embodied – A Self-Care Guide for Sensitive Souls

Embodied by Tara Jackson

Further reading

5 essential self-care tips for your 20s

Self-care for when you're feeling overwhelmed

11 tips for highly sensitive people at work

Why therapy benefits the highly sensitive person

Surviving the city as a highly sensitive person