This past week was a really rough one for me, so I wanted to share my tips for self-care aimed at people like me who are highly sensitive to their surroundings and environment. It’s not a perfect system by a long shot but these 26 things have helped me get through difficult weeks like this one.
It took me years to learn how to cope with a world bent on upsetting the calm I’d grown up expecting from life. I always admired my mom for her ability to design and maintain a peaceful home environment for our family; it had been her biggest wish that my brother and I always return to a place that embodied serenity, a home that represented the life she’d never had as a child. She did this so well, actually, that I was shaken and torn apart by the cruelness of the world, namely of other people, when I moved out. Of course, this was in no way hers or anyone’s fault. Yet, the fact remains that I suffered a lot when I ventured out on my own, and for many years I coped with this in a lot of destructive and unhealthy ways.
Fast forward almost fifteen years and I’ve finally learned how to re-envelope myself in that calm and peace once more. It was something I had to re-learn and re-develop purposefully and from the ground up. Maintaining that sense of serenity is something I have had to really work and fight for. Because I’m incredibly sensitive to others and to my surroundings, it’s been a daily struggle to find ways to tune out life’s worst noises. But I have found a number of things that help me stay grounded.
At first I didn’t recognize these things as being part of self-care, but that is precisely what they are. This list embodies what it means – at least for me – to be honest with myself about what I need to maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit. So I wanted to list my self-care tips here to inspire anyone who might be aiming to bring a little more serenity into their own lives.
1. Make your health your primary goal. By caring first and foremost about your own body, mind and spirit, and their overall health and wellbeing, you will actually have more vigorous energy to do all the other things you care about. During my own recovery period, I was so drawn and distracted by my health issues on a daily basis that all my relationships suffered, my work suffered, my motivation and my sense of life-purpose suffered. But by putting in the work to achieve better health on every level everything else in my life improved, too.
2. Cultivate a home yoga practice. I took up yoga at the recommendation of my therapist, focusing on the breathing and stretching aspect of a calming yoga practice over the strength and toning workouts that many people choose. I follow YouTube instructors who encourage meditation, slow and deep breathing, and finding what feels good in your body. My favorite is Yoga with Adrienne.
3. In addition to yoga, get plenty of exercise. Yes, aerobic and muscle training are essential for health. And we all know how much exercise can boost your serotonin levels even on an acute basis. Even a 15 minute walk helps. I’ve always been a bit of en exercise fanatic so I run, bike or use the elliptical at the gym, daily, so this was never difficult for me to incorporate. What I did learn was how much – or little – exercise my body needed. I’ve paired down what I do substantially and I only do exercise I genuinely enjoy. And, bonus, exercise has been invaluable to my digestion during my recovery. Any day I don’t exercise my gut stagnates.
4. Wake up early. Those precious hours before dawn are the quietest, right before the rest of the world awakens. That’s when I always do my daily exercise. I have the world all to myself. Plus, then I know I have my workout done for that day and don’t have to have that obligation hanging over my head. This can also be a great time for meditation.
5. Take hikes in the woods. Did you know the Japanese have a term for time spent walking leisurely in a forest specifically for its health benefits? Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, involves visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation while breathing in volatile substances, called phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees. Forest bathing was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan and it is now a recognized relaxation and stress management activity.
6. Get some sun. Sunlight is so important for our health. I don’t lie out in the sun any more like I used to, but I do love eating meals on my porch in the sunshine when weather permits. I set up my home work station right near a set of big windows in my bedroom. I try to work from my porch whenever I can. If you don’t have the luxury to work beside a window, sit outside during your lunch break or take a walk through your building and simply observe the outdoors through the windows. That’s how I get through the winters, at least.
7. Make your home your retreat. If I couldn’t come home to a calm environment I would not have found the peace I have today. As a highly-sensitive person, I require peace in my surroundings to feel peaceful in my mind and body. That means, I need to maintain a quiet and calm home at the core of my life. Any extra noises or disruptions really set me off and unsettle my mind and my body. So I’m cautious about living near neighbors, I never have a TV on in the background; I ensure that I have a quiet room all to myself, one with a door I can shut when I need time to myself.
8. Keep easy-to-care-for plants. I have almost 30 living plants in my bedroom. They clarify the air and fresh flowers can smell great. I also love my Click and Grow which helps me keep fresh herbs and lettuces alive in my room year-round.
9. Clean up everything else. I keep my belongings to a minimum, which I’ve talked about in detail in this post on Minimalism. Keeping your home clear of clutter and junk keeps your mind free of clutter and junk, too. I hold onto only the objects I love and that bring joy to me every day.
10. Set out objects that you love. In addition to all my beautiful plants, I keep a little “shrine” on my bookcase. These are some of my favorite objects that I own and seeing them makes me happy. Other than these things, I keep everything else tidied away in boxes or organized in my closet.
11. Decorate with natural materials and colors. Use wood, ceramics, cotton, etc., to furnish your favorite space. Like plants, these are calming and add another natural element to your home retreat. I prefer neutral and earth-tone colors. Again, these are less-stimulating and cultivate a more peaceful atmosphere.
12. This goes hand in hand with minimizing your belongings but, only keep and wear clothes that bring you joy and make you feel good about yourself. Focus on a few well-designed items made with high quality fabrics. Enough said.
13. Space influences me a lot, so I try to keep my bedroom as my private oasis. I maintain a clean and tidy space just for me, and that means I make the bed each morning. It may sound like a waste of time to some people but having a tidy bed makes the whole room feel so much more put together. I don’t fold my covers in any special way; I only pull them up straight and rearrange my pillows. Takes me less than 30 seconds each morning. Simple.
14. Play orchestral music. Any calming/mood music without words will do, really. I find my mood links strongly to music with lyrics, but with soundscape-y sounds I can set a soft background tone without needing to focus too hard on any meaning behind it. There are plenty of songs/bands I used to love that I no longer listen to because they’re simply too sad or angry or hard, they bring back bad times and bad memories. Music is really powerful and these days I choose to use it to calm me rather than reinforce a bad mood.
15. Spend time in well-designed spaces. Maybe this is just me but I link very strongly to my surroundings, so when I go out – whether it’s to a restaurant or a park, a café or a hotel, anywhere really – I “take the scenic route”. I choose to go to places that refresh or excite me through their atmosphere. Personally, I notice everything about settings, not just what it looks like, but also the smell, the feel and design of any décor, the sound of the background music or conversation, the lighting. All of these things influence the feel of a place, and I love choosing to visit places that invigorate all my senses in some positive way.
16. Take the time to recharge. Even if it’s just listening to music, doing 10 minutes of yoga or meditation, or sitting down with a paperback, I take time to relax and recharge each day. This is essential for my mental health. I’m easily overstimulated and quiet time alone resets my batteries.
17. Spend time only with people who energize you, and avoid people who drain you. Sometimes this is difficult to implement, especially if you have difficult family or coworkers who are unavoidable. But even so, I genuinely make a point of avoiding people in my extended family and people at work who don’t lift me up mentally/emotionally. I don’t use a personal social media platform any more for this reason [ I’ve literally had members of my family try to publically humiliate me on Facebook ] . I only keep two close friends these days, one of them being my boyfriend. I don’t mind that being such a small number any more. I don’t feel like I’m lacking in friends because those I have lift me up and bring joy to my life. I spent too many years with people who didn’t matter, searching for empty attention. It’s never worth it.
18. Write. Especially if you’re experiencing anger. Writing is the absolute best way to dispel that negative energy. Get it all out. Keep on writing until you’ve exhausted yourself. Then throw it away.
19. Make art. Even bad art. Creativity is one of humanity’s greatest gifts, and being creative is a talent you can learn to re-cultivate if you’re feeling a bit stagnant. So start painting, photographing, singing, dancing, scrapbooking, whatever gets you motivated to create something and draws your mind into that peaceful zone where real-world thoughts somehow disappear.
20. Use luxurious shower and bath products. This was something I never indulged in until recently because I didn’t know how much joy something so simple could bring to each day. I use only cruelty-free products now, all of which have the added bonus of being eco-friendly and gentle on my skin. Plus they smell wonderful and indulging each of your senses regularly is one of life’s simple pleasures. I have really gotten into Lush products and always ask for bath bombs and bath oils and massage bars and face scrubs [ I could go on ] for my birthday.
21. Take a bath. Again, not something I ever used to do but with some great bath products this is another one of life’s simple pleasures. Now I can’t wait to visit a Japanese onsen someday.
22. Drink tea. Loose leaf green tea is my new passion. I discovered the bliss of loose leaf tea recently when our barista at one of my favorite cafes recommended it. Let’s just say I’ll never go back to bagged tea again. The flavor is utterly superior. The experience is so refined and peaceful and sensual that I’m investing in my own tea set to serve my favorite gyokuro green tea properly at home.
23. Eat plants. Your body with thank you in every way you can [ and cannot ] imagine. Obviously I’ve touted the benefits of a plant based diet over and over, but even just adding more plants to your existing diet helps. And a happier, healthier body means a happier and healthier you!
24. Spend time with animals. Animals that are affectionate can be especially comforting, and I spend quiet time cuddling with my cat every day. But even watching birds and squirrels in the park can be soothing. Reflect on their simple lifestyles, their contentedness in their existence.
25. Find a good therapist, someone you can trust, someone you resonate with. Speak openly to that person. Even if you don’t feel like you need one, knowing there’s someone you can talk to without any judgment really lifts clutter off your heart. [ I know this can be an unaffordable luxury for some people which is why I put it near the end ] .
26. Learn to ground yourself. For me, this developed alongside my yoga practice. Teach yourself what matters and what does not. Learn to let go of emotions, rather than allow them to rule your day. I also recommend reading the work by Brené Brown. She has some incredible wisdom to share regarding emotion and vulnerability and allowing ourselves to be exactly who we are.