Thoughts on HSP Self-Care during Coronavirus Stress
March 18, 2020


My dear HSP clients, friends, and colleagues,

         As we all seek to meet these perhaps-once-in-a-lifetime collective challenges, I want to encourage each of us to remember the "6 R's (technically 7!) of Self-Care."  If you've participated in a past HSP Group, this is the list we talked about at the last meeting.  These suggestions are beneficial for anyone, not just HSPs, but those of us who are highly sensitive have a greater need for self-care because we are so much more acutely affected internally by what is going on in our environment.

1) Routine.  However much we value freedom and flexibility, most of us flourish best with gentle rhythmic structure in our lives--and with office closures, social (really physical) distancing, cancellations, and self-quarantine, most of our usual routines have temporarily gone out the window.  As much as is possible, please create some sort of daily or weekly routine for yourself:  the predictable repetition reduces cognitive load and thereby stress.  It can be as simple as rising at a certain hour, doing stretches, drinking tea, whatever nourishes you.

2) Rest.  That said, please allow yourself plenty of rest, even if that means letting your body sleep later than you believe you should.  For many of us, the only time our minds are fully 'off' is when we are asleep, so this biopsychological recovery is vital.  If, however, you experience difficulties sleeping during stressful times, take comfort knowing that resting quietly (perhaps while doing some deep belly breathing** for relaxation) can confer many of the same benefits.

3) Reflect.  One of the key characteristics of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (the scientific name for Highly Sensitive Personality) is depth of processing.  We have a need to reflect on our perceptions and experiences, to metabolize and draw meaning from them.  Giving ourselves ample time to journal, think in nature, or talk freely with a close friend or therapist will help keep stress from turning into panic or sleeplessness.  And it benefits the whole, because our often-frantic culture needs the insights and foresight of the 15-20% HSP minority's wisdom.

4) Restrict responsiveness.  In addition to depth of processing, HSPs tend to have very high empathy and often conscientiousness.  There can be a strong, continual pull to respond to others who are in pain (for we truly know how that feels), to reply immediately to every message, to overextend ourselves by making commitments that may seem minimal to non-HSPs (who do less internal processing) but can push us into the realm of overstimulation and exhaustion.  Without becoming avoidant, we can learn to cultivate a recognition of when we are fully Present and wait to respond to life and loved ones from that quiet center.

5) Regulate.  Having a lower threshold for being affected by, well, most everything means that HSPs can easily become emotionally dysregulated.  However, our environmental responsiveness runs both ways:  we can also learn to re-regulate ourselves rather quickly, especially with practice.  If something is causing you discomfort (volume level, temperature, someone's proximity, visual images, etc.), take a moment to make the changes necessary to move out of overarousal.  When this is not possible, our simplest innate tool for decreasing anxiety is **belly breathing, which involves breathing slowly down into and out of the lower belly/pelvic region (rather than engaging the shoulders and chest as we tend to do when under stress, or the whole body as we do when practicing yoga or exercising).

6) Re-parent.  Many of us did not grow up in families that celebrated our sensitivity.  Or perhaps when we were young, instead of our parents honoring and holding our tender feelings, we in fact had to fulfill this role for them in order to receive love and acceptance.  We might have become the "IP" (identified patient) or scapegoat of our family system.  Whatever the wounds, we have the daily opportunity to re-parent ourselves in loving, gentle, healthy, encouraging ways.  We can ask ourselves, "What are you feeling, sweetheart?" and "What do you need?"--and then respond with empathy to whatever may emerge.  The current coronavirus epidemic may be evoking feelings about groups and/or authority figures that harken back to our experiences in our families of origin.  The more we choose to re-parent our inner selves in moments of vulnerability, the more energy we have to move freely in the world from a place of wholeness as adults.

Thank you for the gifts you bring to this world as an HSP, which we very much need at present.  Thank you for taking good care of your precious and irreplaceable self.  Together, may we be crystals in the chaos!

Yours with love,
Dr. Laura

Laura Rosser Kreiselmaier, PhD, LCPT, is a holistic therapist and musician whose academic study was in religion.  She is fascinated by personality theory, the Enneagram, and the intersections among creativity and spirituality.

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