I have several teacher friends and clients right now and they are really struggling with trying to teach during a Pandemic. Many of them are highly sensitive themselves. Highly sensitive people tend to gravitate toward the helping professions (e.g., teaching, nurses, doctors, pastors, etc.). Many of the highly sensitive adults I work with are highly educated and have supervisory roles in their jobs-which adds to their overwhelm. One of the reasons I think highly sensitive people (HSPs) are drawn toward the helping professions is that they are highly intuitive and usually very empathetic, but they are also able to see the big picture and the details all at the same time. And this typically leaves them feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and drained. From what I have seen so far this year, the Pandemic has only adding to these feelings.
One of the reasons I love working with highly sensitive individuals (children, teens, adults, and parents) is that together we create a plan to help them feel like they have control over their feelings. When people start working with me, I typically say, “We’re going to figure out how to make your high sensitivity into a superpower instead a of weapon that’s used against you!”
Here are some things that can help you or your loved one begin to turn your high sensitivity into a superpower. I’ve added a note specifically for parents of highly sensitive children (HSCs):
ALLOW yourself to feel what you need to feel
I love teaching people of all ages about feelings because many people have no idea that what they’re feeling and that they can feel it in their bodies! Most people think feelings are something that happens in the brain without giving much thought to the brain-body connection. Once HSPs figure out what they’re feeling, they have a better idea of what they need to do with that feeling. When I first learned to notice what I was feeling in my body, I was surprised to learn that I noticed subtleties in my feelings and could act more accordingly.
Parents: When your children are feeling upset and overwhelmed, it is not the time to go into problem solving mode. Instead, sit with your child or wait until the child is calm and everyone’s brains are, “back online” (watch this short video here if you’re not sure what I mean), and then problem solve. Kids need to be able to work through the full range of their feelings without feeling ashamed about those feelings. Once their calm, you can talk to them about acceptable and unacceptable ways to handle these big feelings (e.g., “I’m not ever going to be okay with you saying mean things to me when you’re mad. Especially when I’m trying to help you.”)
AFFIRM how you’re feeling
Once you’re able to identify what you’re feeling (or your child) is feeling, acknowledging and affirming these feelings is so important. Many times, my HSP clients will make a statement and then follow it quickly with, “I shouldn’t feel that way,” or “I shouldn’t have said that.” This is an example of dismissing your feelings rather than affirming them. It may not be ideal that you’re feeling that particular feeling but trying to shame yourself into not feeling that or thinking that will only cause the feeling to grow rather than shrink.
Parents: One of the best phrases I use with HSCs who are struggling to figure their feelings out is, “I’m here and let me know if you get stuck.” I think this empowers them to problem solve on their own and allows me to give them the space to figure it out on their own. This can be difficult at first but a very important one!
ACKNOWLEDGE it might not be yours to fix
Because HSPs can see the big picture and the details, they sometimes have difficulty figuring out what they’re feeling and whether or not it’s “theirs.” This most often shows up in personal relationships (spouses, partners, parents, volunteer roles). Often HSPs see the need and then feel obligated to fix it because they know what needs to be done. Often times, HSPs will tell me they don’t really have the energy to add one more thing to their plate, but they do it anyway because they know it needs to be done.
Parents: This can be really difficult for children especially because they intuitively know when someone is hurting, and sometimes they know what might make them feel better. This can get them into tricky situations with friends who are bossy, and they could feel pushed around. It’s helpful for parents to remind children that they can be assertive without being aggressive. Many times, HSCs feel like if they stand up for themselves or say no, they’re being aggressive.
These tips are so important to those of you in the helping professions right now. It is okay for you to feel all the feelings that have come with your job getting even harder for a number of reasons. The best thing you can do during this time is find ways to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself and others.
I’d love for you to share this with someone who could use some encouragement right now. I love helping HSPs and HSCs turn their overwhelm into a superpower!