For Empaths—How to Avoid Overwhelm in a Very Busy World
Mindbody Wellness Clarity Tips
Dear Awesome Woman,
Crowds roaring, lights flashing, music blaring, and the smell of buttery popcorn overpowered my senses. I looked around at my family, and was amazed at how much they were enjoying the baseball game, while I could barely tolerate all the stimuli. “Why did I think I could handle this?” I asked myself. As an empath and highly sensitive person, I may have known better.
Years ago, while visiting my family in Monsey, NY, I was faced with a dilemma. My children, sister and brother-in-law all wanted me to attend a local baseball game. I felt hesitant and kept my reluctance to myself.
What’s the big deal, some may ask? What kind of dilemma would someone experience over attending a simple baseball game?
Well, for me as well as other empaths and “highly sensitive people” (HSP for short), it is quite a conundrum. The very nature of a professional sports event is counterintuitive to this type of person’s constitution. The loud noise, crowds of people, multicolored flashing lights, and variety of greasy popcorn and hotdog smells can easily short circuit our senses because we are very quick to reach a threshold of overstimulation by external stimuli. This short circuiting results in a lack of internal safety and irritation.
Nowadays, in the time of corona, public gatherings like baseball games are basically a thing of the past, but information overload as well as small gatherings like weddings can still flood the nervous systems of the highly sensitive. Even a trip to the grocery store can be felt as overwhelm.
If you are one of these people, the best thing to do is not try to escape your body where the overwhelm is happening, but to dive into your body. This seems counterintuitive when you’re in the fight and flight mode wanting to escape. However, the safest place for you is in your body with your senses. You want to create safety within.
Here’s how I did that at the baseball game:
After plopping myself down in the plastic bleacher chair and rearranging my daughter’s seating so she would not continue to kick the back of the woman in front of us, I took a bite of chocolate (my comfort food) and closed my eyes. I tuned into the sounds that were surrounding me in the present moment. Yes, I may have looked a bit funny, meditating at a baseball game, but I did not care, as long as I could stay put instead of running out of the bleachers like someone escaping a lion attack. My system felt that alarmed from the loud cheering and booing, from the video screen flashing all kinds of colorful images, and from the smells of greasy stadium food.
And though it may have appeared to an onlooker that I was meditating, I was actually dropping into my senses—I was going deeper into the present moment instead of trying to escape it.
I started with my sense of hearing and tuned into a loud droning of voices, sharp bugle sounds and the blare of a fire alarm. I was a bit shocked to hear the alarm, which I had not noticed earlier because it blended in with all the other noises. The funny thing was that no one else seemed to notice it either. Apparently it was broken because we were not being ushered from the game.
I next tuned into my sense of touch by noticing the feel of the hard plastic seat under me and my comfortable cotton clothes resting on my skin. I also felt the gentle brush of a fresh summer afternoon breeze. I continued onto my sense of taste and smell by making myself aware of the flavorful chocolate in my mouth and taking a deep inhale to consciously experience the smells around me.
This was not a thought process, but a feeling awareness and I maintained all these senses at once —the hearing, touching and tasting along with the smelling. After taking a few inhales of the popcorn/hotdog smells, I opened my eyes to add my visual sense.
The vision was actually quite stunning. From high up in the bleachers, I could see the lush, green mountains and blue, blue sky. White cotton candy clouds floated calmly above and the sun’s rays shone brightly. My body felt relaxed and at peace. Instead of wanting to run, I was grateful to have created a safe place within that allowed me to enjoy this time with my family.
I invite anyone who shares with me this sensitivity to external stimuli to try this technique of “dropping into their senses” when feeling overwhelmed by their environment. It can be done at weddings (no matter how small, they can be loud and busy) or even at the grocery store with the music playing, people milling around and the fluorescent lights above. You can also do this in regards to a zoom meeting or the external stimuli of the internet as well.
Creating safety within:
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. The breath allows one’s body to enter into the parasympathetic nervous system which is our “peace and patience” mode of being. It’s a way of letting your body know that you are safe.
Notice all the sounds around you. You don’t have to name the sounds, just be aware of them from a sense perspective.
Become aware of the sensation of the clothes that are touching your skin. Notice the feel of objects that your hands are resting on and what surface your body is standing or sitting on.
Inhale and notice any smells.
Become aware of what you are tasting in your mouth. Again, nothing needs to be named, just experienced.
Open your eyes and take in all the sights with a soft focus (as opposed to a sharp focus). Try to encompass all the visual at once —what is in front of you and to the sides, while looking softly ahead.
Feel grateful that you have your senses and then make sure to add something of pleasure into your day. That could be a nap, a walk in nature, or making time to read, garden, exercise, or do simple creativity.
“The sessions were probably the most impactful self help I have ever received. Miriam’s skill in understanding and connecting to my emotional struggles were very comforting and was what helped me grow exponentially from our time together. I am so grateful for the clarity I gained through our work together and most importantly the strong connection I now have with my intuitive wisdom which I know will help me overcome any challenge life brings my way.”