the art of extreme self-care

“My decision to protect my sensitivity was one of the most influential acts of extreme self-care I’ve ever taken in my life,” writes Cheryl Richardson in her book The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time“It forced me to stop judging and disowning essential parts of myself and start honoring who I am at my core.”

I can totally relate to being sensitive. As I wrote in this post, “When I completed Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person Self-Test, I checked 24 statements. Out of 27.”

Highly sensitive people have a harder time screening out stimuli, such as bright lights, big crowds, loud noises and violent movies. I have a problem with all four. And I’m easily startled.

But being highly sensitive also has some perks. Highly sensitive people tend to be more open, empathic and creative, among other gifts.

Like Cheryl, I remember many times when I condemned my sensitivity. And it still bothers me a bit.

I’m reminded of this when I visit my family and friends in NYC. While others are energized by the sights, sounds and crowds of a bustling metropolis, I’m depleted by them.

Even some songs feel like puppet masters, manipulating my emotions. Just listening to certain songs, movie soundtracks and symphonies puts me in the mess and muck of difficult emotions. (Many highly sensitive people are especially moved by music.)

If you’re a sensitive person, like Cheryl and I, these practices from her book might help:

  • Focus on the here and now. Rather than ruminating about the past or fretting about the future, Cheryl focuses her attention on the present. She suggests tuning into the sensations of your body. For instance, “When talking on the phone, actually feel it in your hand, notice the depths of your breathing, or take note of how you’re sitting or standing.”
  • Turn down the volume. “Sensitivity is nurtured by silence,” Cheryl writes. I couldn’t agree more. She explains that our “…body absorbs and processes every sound, whether you realize it or not, and processing sound takes energy. That’s why many people feel exhausted after spending time in crowds at a party or while shopping at a busy mall.” Cheryl suggests starting small. For instance, you can arrive early to work, giving yourself the opportunity to perform tasks in a peaceful setting.
  • Limit your exposure to violence. As Cheryl writes, the news tends to be negative, scary and shallow. She stays informed by reading select websites. Think about what things bother you. She suggested “…paying closer attention to what you expose your eyes and ears to, ask[ing] yourself, “Does this encourage or discourage my sensitivity?”
  • Limit your exposure to toxic people. According to Cheryl, “Anyone who consistently puts you down, chronically complains about how miserable they are without doing anything about it, criticizes you, or sucks your energy is affecting your ability to remain openhearted and sensitive.” Who are the toxic people in your life? You might need to talk to them about what needs to change, limit how long you hang out with them or stop seeing them altogether, she says.
  • Use technology by becoming a “responder,” not a “reactor.” “A ringing phone, chiming text, or beeping email alert is a call to action for most humans,” Cheryl writes. So when something dings, rings or chimes, this interruption sends the message to our brains that there’s something to do, and it “activates our body’s fight-or-flight response.” This makes it tougher to relax or focus on what you’re doing in the first place. As a solution, you could silence those sounds and let calls go to voicemail. In general, consider how you use technology, and how you’d like to.
  • Figure out your best environment.  The little details count when it comes to self-care, according to Cheryl. So you might change the lighting in your office from a fluorescent lamp to something warmer. Or you might start buying sheets and towels that are softer for your skin. Cheryl suggests asking, “Taking into account your five senses, what kind of surroundings do  you need to feel relaxed and present?

What I love about Cheryl protecting her sensitivity is that she’s embraced a quality she wanted to change for years. She decided to start appreciating and caring for a part of herself she previously disliked and disowned.

For me this brings up so many interesting and important questions: What parts of yourself do you judge and disown? How might you embrace them? How could you honor, protect and tend to them?