Self-Care Strategies for Highly Sensitive People During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Please remember to follow all public health guidelines to keep you and your community safe.

Nearly every life is being touched in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are facing unprecedented times as a community, nation, and world.

As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you’re undoubtedly feeling hard hit by everything happening around you.

Given how your HSP brain is wired, it makes complete sense if you’re struggling right now.

Here’s why:

The key traits of being a Highly Sensitive Person – depth of processing, empathy, awareness of subtleties, and a propensity for overstimulationmake you particularly vulnerable to high levels of stress, panic, and anxiety during the pandemic.

Not to mention, many of you are already the helpers and listeners within your friend circle, family, community, or profession. You’re good at helping people feel better.  Yet, despite your best efforts, you can’t help them feel better. You only feel their stress due to the ongoing and ever-evolving crisis we are facing.

You’re overwhelmed. You’re feeling everything.  You’re carrying the weight of so many others right now. No wonder you’re so tired and anxious.

Given these common aspects of being an HSP, it’s essential for you to care for yourself during the time.

Taking care of yourself right now is not a luxury, but a social responsibility so you can stay as grounded as possible.

We aren’t certain what lies ahead, so we need to ensure we are our most resourced and resilient selves right now.  (Remember, you can be sensitive and strong!)

When we take care of our sensitive selves, we can skillfully respond to the crisis instead of being overcome with fear and panic.

7 Self-Care Strategies for Highly Sensitive People (HSP) during the Coronavirus Pandemic

1. Limit exposure to media about the pandemic, including news sources, television, or social media.

Due to your depth of processing and high levels of empathy, distressing news stories will be particularly taxing to your nervous system.  While it might not seem much at the time, every bit of ‘breaking news’ just adds one more hit of stress to your system.

Over time, this will start to wear you down both physically and emotionally – making you feel overwhelmed with anxiety, numb, or helpless – if you don’t already feel that way.

It’s okay to step away momentarily, even for chunks at a time, to keep yourself grounded.  I promise the news will be there when you return.

If you do choose to engage in social media, balance your reading with uplifting content.  It’s particularly important to avoid news sources that are meant to be inflammatory or intended to incite fear or panic.

If it feels hard to stop the scrolling, consider deleting news or social media apps from your phone.  You can also set time limits or use an app that blocks certain sites for a pre-determined period of time. It’s okay to ask a loved one to hang on to your devices for an hour or so to limit access.

When you start to limit or slow down exposure to news sources, it will be uncomfortable at first. That’s completely normal.  Just give it some time to pass. As your mind and body settle, you’ll glad you stepped away to get perspective.

2. Focus on what you can control.

Here’s the thing about Highly Sensitive People: You’re innately wired to imagine all the possibilities.  Faced with a global pandemic, is it any wonder you might be paralyzed with fear and anxiety?

If you are reading the news or social commentaries, the largest feeling for many is uncertainty.  And rightfully so. Schools are closing. Sports seasons are suspended.  Travel is stalled. Shelves are barren. Confirmed cases are rising.

Your mind is flooded with questions: How long will this last? What impact will this have on the economy or the election? When can my kids return to school? Will I even have a job to return to?

It’s during these times where I encourage you to focus on what you can control.  This may entail how you respond to your emotions, who you talk to (or don’t) about your feelings, and which news sources you consume. It may be about controlling small choices, such as what you wear, when you cook, what you read, or when you walk your dog.

Self-care exercise: Set a timer for 5 minutes.  Start writing down every little thing you can control right now.  Keep writing even if you can’t think of anything.  Post this list some place easy to see, or put on your phone for quick reference when you feel anxious.

3. Spend time outside or in nature. (If you can’t, let’s get creative.)

Nature is incredibly healing and grounding for most Highly Sensitive People.  While the requirements for social distancing vary from place to place, you may be able to take a walk on a trail, sit a park, or take a scenic drive without putting others at risk.

If you are on quarantine or part of a high-risk population, and not suppose to leave your home, consider creative ways to get your ‘nature’ fix, such as:

  • Spend time sitting in the sunshine by your window.
  • Give special care to your plants, making sure to appreciate their colors and textures.
  • Listen to the sound of rain falling or waterfalls with your eyes closed.
  • Take a bath with forest-based scents such as cedarwood or pine.
  • Practice guided imagery based on your favorite nature setting.

4. Lean on your furry friends.

Our wonderful pets already do so much for our sensitive nervous system, don’t they?  It’s okay to lean on them (literally and figuratively) right now.

Consider these pet-infused self-care strategies:

  • Give your pet some extra cuddle time or pats.  Remind them how loved they are.
  • If you’re working from home, don’t hesitate to set up a workstation which allows your pet to curl up or perch beside you.
  • When you take your dog (or cat!) on a walk, leave your phone behind or on silent. Watch the way your pup interacts with their surroundings with pure wonder and excitement.
  • Confine in your pets your deepest fears and worries. They won’t judge.
  • Set aside time to play with your pets.  It’s good for both of you!
  • Distract yourself by teaching your pet new tricks.
  • Join social media groups devoted to your favorite furry friend.

5. Create new routines to ground yourself.

If your daily routine has been completely disrupted by the pandemic, you’re feeling unsettled and disoriented.  Guest what? It’s time to create a new routine, even if you can’t leave the house.

Harness the power of routine to create calm and certainty.

A routine doesn’t have to be spectacular.  It may be committing to rise at the same time every day.  To spend 10 minutes meditating or reading a (relaxing) book upon waking. Perhaps it’s the willingness to turn off your phone an hour before sleep. 

I invite you to pause right now and write down three things you could do upon waking and before bed to start or end your day coming from a centered place. This might be reading, making the bed, playing an instrument, writing in your journal, or playing with your kids.

Consider creating routines with your partner or family as well.  You might also consider sharing this new routine with a loved one to help hold you accountable.

6. Lean into the good.

We will find what we look for. If you search for news sources or stories about the negative, you will find it.  But if you look for the good, you will find it, too.

There are many stories out there that are a demonstration of the strength of the human spirit in crisis. From people going to the store for the elderly/at-risk populations to the Italians singing in quarantine, there are stories everywhere of how the human spirit is shining during this global crisis.

There may also be possibilities within your own life.  Perhaps your time off work will allow you to reconnect with your partner, learn a new language, improve your wellness, or reassess your priorities.  You’ll have time to work on your memoir or get your home organized.  Your business can get creative in how it can shift services to be more online-based.

Remember, we find what we look for.  While we can’t discount the global suffering and crisis, we must acknowledge a state of high anxiety for an extended period wears you down to the point you can’t help anyone. Use that wonderful sensitive brain to lean into the good right now, amidst the crisis.

7. Limit the time spent talking with others about Covid-19.

It’s really hard to not have COVID-19 be the main – and only – topic of conversation right now.  But just like overexposing ourselves to news stories and social media about the coronavirus can be harmful, the same applies to conversations with others.

As a Highly Sensitive Person, it’s important to be able to process what you’re feeling with someone who will be empathic and non-judgemental.  Unfortunately, given your deep-feeling and helpful nature, you may be the one many people turn to when they need a listening ear, leaving you without a place to share your thoughts and feelings.

Between hearing other’s fears, and feeling your own, it’s enough to leave you depleted, stressed, and overwhelm. 

It’s okay to set boundaries with others to limit your time spent talking about the pandemic. Consider using these statements:

  • “Let’s spend 5 minutes talking about COVID, after that, I’d like to change the subject and tell you about this new recipe I discovered.” 
  • “Let’s take a break from talking about the pandemic right now.  What shows are you enjoying?”
  • “I hear you’re really worried right now. I am, too. Let’s take a moment to talk about something that might lift our spirits, as opposed to adding to our anxiety.”
  • “I’m also overwhelmed with all the news right now.  Let’s focus on how we’ve been taking care of ourselves during this difficult time.”
  • “I’m limiting my exposure to media on the pandemic. Can you hold off on sending me articles for the next day/week?”
  • “It seems like you’re really impacted by the news.  Do you have a therapist or someone who can help you process this?” 

There are many other ways you can practice self-care in this time of uncertainty.

A few others worth mentioning:

  • Lean into (virtual) communities and connect with others over video chat.
  • Explore how you can be helpful to others.
  • Be gentle on yourself.
  • Practice meditation, yoga, or other soothing activities.
  • Send letters to loved ones who are isolated due to quarantine or those unable to come home due to travel restrictions.
  • Reflect and reassess your priorities.
  • Step away from screens.
  • Turn off non-essential notifications on your phone.
  • Use humor or consume light-hearted, funny shows or media.

However you choose to care for yourself as a sensitive being, my hope is you find something that works for you and stick with it. Self-care strategies work best when you do it consistently

Wherever you are, however you’re coping, please know all feelings and experiences are valid and welcome.

Please stay safe and be well.

If you’re feeling especially impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic please reach out.

I’m available for video or phone sessions.  

Contact me here.

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