As Highly Sensitive People, we process everything so deeply- the things we hear, see and feel (to name a few). And we take our responsibilities seriously- sometimes to a degree that overwhelms us.
If you're not sure whether you're maxed out, here are some of the symptoms of burnout (graphic courtesy of journey_to_wellness on IG):
Signs of Burnout:
Do you relate to any of those?
Then it's time to take action!
I know what you're saying: I don't have time to take a break! I don't have money for a vacation or the luxury of setting down my responsibilities. People and work and pets are counting on me!
I know, I know. I've been there too...so many times.
Here's the thing though: if you're feeling like that, you really don't have a choice. As an HSP, if you don't make some (small or big) changes, that burnout will only grow and sooner or later result in full blown melt-down.
I used to think that self-care or taking a break could only happen when I took a vacation. What I've learned, though, is that I can find ways to get relief even when I can't set down all my responsibilities and leave town.
So here's the crux of my message: I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to take a break. To go on a mental vacation (even for an hour). To put things down and say no. To set boundaries because that’s what you need in order to be the best, happiest you.
How to do that more specifically? Read on.
How to recover from burnout
If you want to take a break that is truly going to refill your tank, you need clarity about what it is that’s tiring you out. Is it too many responsibilities? Too much rushing around? Not enough time to recharge? Not enough fun?
Let’s talk about how you can address each one of these issues (this applies to Highly Sensitive people and non-HSPs alike). Take out a piece of paper and answer the above questions. Once you have a sense of what’s contributing to your burnout symptoms, you can start to problem solve.
Here are ways to respond to each of these problem areas:
Too much pressure
If you’re feeling burdened by all the people and things you’re accountable to, ask yourself: is there anything that I don’t absolutely, truly need to stay on top of- that I could afford to take a temporary (or permanent) break from? For example, while you may typically like to do the dishes every day, a messy kitchen may be worth it for a few days in exchange for extra time to rest.
Too much rushing around
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I create my own hurriedness. I cram too much into too little time and don’t leave enough margin for parking or traffic. If this is the case for you, commit to leaving 10 minutes more between driving and appointment time. Make sure you're taking deep breaths when you're rushing around. Alternately, maybe you need to be more realistic with your to-do lists so you aren't cramming in 5 tasks when you only have time for 2.
Not enough self-care
Do you have opportunities to recharge? Start by asking yourself what that looks like for you. Is it quiet time? Deep conversations with people you care about? Reading? Taking a nap? Does it need to be multiple days “off” or can a few hours suffice? How frequently do you need to do this if you’re going to be at your best? Once you get this clarity, start to calendar "recharge time" into your week.
Not enough fun
Many HSPs cope with stress by buckling down and working harder. Life feels serious, and fun seems like a luxury. The result, though, is that the color drains from our lives, and our days are reduced to long to-do lists. Is this true of you? Does the hard work or drudgery of your life far out-number the moments of play, fun, or joy? If yes, start considering how you can add moments of levity into your day.
I hope that gives you a jumping off point to consider what you need to recharge, rest, and recover as a Highly Sensitive Person. We each have unique needs and circumstances, so experiment to find what works for you. And remember: you don't have to do it perfectly to reap the rewards. Even one small change can start restoring balance.
Brooke Nielsen, LMFT
Brooke Nielsen has over a decade of clinical experience specializing in working with Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). She is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in private practice and the creator of the Intuitive Warrior Programs and Community.
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