It’s February 2022 as I’m writing this and I think we can all agree that the last two years have been all kinds of weird, crazy, and – above all – stressful. Like prime conditions for HSP burnout.
For me, personally, here are the last two years summarized:
- YEAR 1: Quarantining with my family of 5, only leaving the house a handful of times.
- YEAR 2: Moving to the other side of the world.
You probably get the gist without further elaboration.
I’d be lying if I said these circumstances haven’t resulted in any challenging moments, but I’ve been more than a little surprised to realize that even though I’ve had pretty much non-existent stress tolerance in the past, I’ve gotten through these past two years without any major mental or physical health setbacks.
To put it bluntly, my life has been pretty stressful, but I have not collapsed.
Even though as a highly sensitive introvert, it was difficult for me to stay cooped up with other people 24/7 and never have the house to myself. Even though as a highly sensitive introvert, it was difficult for me to leave behind everything familiar and be bombarded and forced to process a giant amount of newness and change all at once.
I haven’t gotten depressed. My anxiety is well under control. My blood sugars aren’t spiking and my headaches haven’t gotten more frequent.
There are various factors I could point to, but I believe that much of the credit goes to three key habits I’ve learned to maintain. These are the three key habits that help me live my best life at the best of times as well as stay resilient and avoid HSP burnout during the worst of times.
top 3 things i do to avoid hsp burnout
1. plenty of sleep
Inadequate and poor quality sleep contribute to stress and anxiety. This fact is particularly relevant to HSPs who have a more reactive stress response system anyway and it becomes even more relevant when HSPs are faced with prolonged stressful circumstances.
To optimize your mental functioning, it’s particularly important to get enough deep and REM sleep. A block of roughly seven to eight hours of sleep will give your brain a chance to complete the requisite number of sleep cycles.
And the simplest way to make sure you get enough sleep and to improve your sleep quality is to decide on a schedule and then stick to it consistently. Every day. This consistency helps regulate your circadian rhythm so that your body knows what’s supposed to happen when.
So yes, I’m the grown-up with a pretty strict bedtime. 🙂 But since I managed to make going to bed at a reasonable time a habit, I no longer have trouble falling asleep and I’m no longer exhausted all the time and I’m no longer too foggy to calmly work through problems whenever they come up.
2. Daily Exercise
The stress and anxiety you feel are physical processes happening in your body. Your stress response is an ancient mechanism designed to protect you from threats and it prepares your body for fight-or-flight.
Things can go wonky though, because the process was designed to literally end with either fighting or fleeing. You see a bear in the forest, your stress response is activated, you flee, your body calms down. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But when you just keep getting stressed without ever actually fighting or fleeing, this process has no end point. The “readiness” to fight or flee keeps building up in your body as nervous energy and it never burns out.
So exercise to the rescue! Exercise not only helps complete the stress cycle and relax your body, but it also increases calm-producing neurotransmitters.
And THAT is why – as an HSP with an overeager stress response system – I have made it a habit to move my body every single day. I’m a real stickler about it too with zero flexibility. 😉 Some people think that I have super human willpower, but it’s just that I don’t like the consequences of not exercising. When I skip runs, anxiety, irritability, and general moodiness start creeping back in more and more and my stress tolerance takes a nose dive. When I run every morning though, I stay calm the vast majority of the time even when shit hits the fan.
3. Daily Quiet Time
Highly sensitive people NEED more quiet time than non-HSPs.
HSPs’ nervous systems “fire up” more, which means that they need more breaks in order to avoid chronic overstimulation. HSPs’ brains process information more deeply, which means they need extra time and space for that processing.
Additionally, if you are a highly sensitive introvert… Introverts’ brains go into flow while engaged in solitary activities and we all need regular flow experiences to help us tolerate the not-so-flowy times.
So when I say we NEED this time, I mean that it’s not optional.
Guess how many readers and clients have told me they have struggled with HSP burnout, because they haven’t been able to get enough alone time in the last two years?
And I think the only reason I’m not in the same boat is that I set aside a daily time slot to go behind closed doors and I’ve been sticking to it most days. I know it helps, because I’m usually feeling pretty burned out at the start of my quiet time, but when I re-emerge, I’m feeling calmer, more energetic, and more patient.
Does This Sound Too Simple And Obvious?
I know that, on the one hand, all of this sounds painfully simple and obvious. Like, did you really have to devote a whole blog post to drone on about rest and exercise, Anni?
But I know first hand how incredibly hard it can be to actually establish these habits, which is why I wanted to send this little extra dose of encouragement your way today.
New habits are hard to establish for anyone.
But highly empathetic, highly sensitive people have the added layer of being so wrapped up in everyone else’s needs that it often feels nearly impossible for them to take care of their own needs. Even the most basic of needs like sleep, exercise, and a moment of peace and quiet.
If this is something you still struggle with, I want you to know that the more you practice the easier it gets.
You’ll notice that you actually have more to give to others when you take care of yourself first.
You’ll notice that you have the strength to get through even the tougher times.
And you’ll notice that when something gets established as a habit – by consistent repetition – it’s no longer nearly as hard and most of the time it just happens on auto-pilot.
You just automatically do what you need to do for yourself to feel your best.