Being an empath is a wonderful thing because it allows you to understand how others – people and animals – feel on a profound level.
It means you can truly appreciate what they’re going through, you feel genuine compassion for them and you’re often moved to help others.
And you can be a great support to others.
Because you’re deeply caring and are good at forming strong connections.
But it’s not so great when you feel like you don’t want to be an empath anymore.
Are you an empath?
When you experience of emotions is always dialled to intense, there’s a good chance you’re an empath.
You feel truly impacted by how other people feel, their thoughts and their energy can make you feel like what’s happening to them is happening to you.
Being around people who are stressed or angry can be incredibly draining.
Walking into a crowded room has your heart down in your stomach and you’re very sensitive to loud noises, smells and bright lights.
Violence as entertainment is something that you don’t understand or appreciate and you avoid movies, books and TV shows that are gory or full of aggression.
Tools and techniques to protect your energy.
To navigate the massive amounts of information you receive from the world, you need a toolbelt full of tools.
Knowing how to protect your energy as an empath, understanding how to prevent yourself from becoming overstimulated and getting better at dealing with your overwhelm once it’s happened is one of the core skills of a happy empath.
1) Breathe in strength, breathe out tension
Your breath is a powerful tool for gaining control of your racing thoughts and grounding yourself in your body again.
A simple downward spiralling breathing pattern will stimulate your body’s rest-and-digest response (which is the opposite of fight-or-flight) and relax tensed muscles.
A basic downward spiralling breathing pattern:
- Breathe in to the count of 4.
- Breathe out to the count of 8.
The basic principal or a downward spiraling technique is to always breathe out to double the count of breathing in.
So, it could be in for 3, out for 6 or even in for 8, out for 16 if you’re really practiced at breathwork.
Breathwork is a great way to instantly influence your nervous system when you’re being flooded with stimuli, such as when you’re in a crowded, noisy room.
When activated, your sympathetic nervous system prepares your body for emergency action.
By contrast, it’s your parasympathetic nervous system that restores you to a relaxed state and helps your body rest and store energy for future use.
Your body is designed to process stimuli efficiently.
The limbic system, reticular activating system and autonomic nervous system all interact in the physiological processing of emotion.
The limbic system categorises human emotional experiences as either pleasant or unpleasant mental states. Neurochemicals – dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin – are key components of the limbic system.
The reticular activating system is believed to first arouse the cortex and then maintain its wakefulness so that sensory information can be interpreted more effectively.
This is why it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re stressed: your body thinks it’s important that you stay awake in case there’s danger.
The autonomic nervous system – together witht he hypothalamus – regulates pulse, blood pressure, breathing and arousal in response to emotional cues.
Your goal should always be to restore your body to a relaxed state after being in an alert state.
Homeostasis is when you have equilibrium in the bod and all the biological conditions (such as body temperature) are maintained at optimal levels.
If you don’t achieve homeostasis after a period of alertness, your body will be denied the rest it so desperately needs after burning through its resources in pursuit of survival.
2) Set and maintain healthy boundaries
Having healthy boundaries is important for everyone but is especially important when you’re an empath.
Your empathy allows you to feel what someone else is feeling (not just have an intellectual understanding of it) but when you become too full of other people’s feelings and needs it can be really hard to tell where yours end and theirs begin.
Setting healthy boundaries and learning how to proactively communicate them will prevent feelings from getting hurt on all sides.
Because when you don’t have healthy boundaries you’ll often feel like you’re not in control of a situation, you’ll get pushed past what you can reasonably take and you’ll end up snapping at the other person, causing tension, fights and hurt feelings.
Learning how to direct others with compassion to respect your boundaries and saying ‘no thank you’ to things you know will compromise you are key skills for the happy empath.
Setting boundaries doesn’t just mean learning how to say no or turning down invites to social events.
It means being able to know yourself, what your triggers for feeling overwhelmed are and then actively steering yourself and others around and away from them.
It also includes designing your life around taking care of yourself.
Because your empathy is an amazing resource that, when you use it right, can be like a superpower that allows you to genuinely connect with others and to help them in ways that may change their life – and yours.
But seeing and understanding someone else on such a profound level takes a lot of energy from you.
So, you need to be aware of how much energy you have to spend and draw a line before you start drawing on the reserves you need for yourself.
Helping others isn’t worth it at your own expense.
Always make sure that you prioritise self-care and you’ll be able to move in the world, and among other people, with confidence in your own abilities to protect your own energy.
3) Improve your communication skills
Once you’ve learned how, when and where you need to set your boundaries, you need to work on getting better at communicating them to other people.
Feeling things so deeply and receiving so much more information from the world around you than people usually do, means that you’re always processing a lot of information.
To other people you may seem withdrawn and quiet.
And they may think it means you’re shy or afraid to speak up. If you don’t learn how to step outside of your own head every once in a while, they may very well start treating you like you’re dumber than you are or like you need a lot more help than you actually do.
This may lead to people speaking for you even when you’re perfectly capable of speaking for yourself.
And if you, in your infinite empathy, understand that it makes them happy to feel like they’re doing something helpful for you, you might just let them do it.
But it is important that you use your voice and speak for yourself.
As an empath, your inner life is rich and vivid – and that’s a part of what makes you so perceptive – but it may also make you feel like communicating what’s on the inside to people who aren’t you is challenging.
Meandering through explanations (because you’ve thought about something very deeply and have to bring other people up to speed on the context on what you’re saying or they won’t get it) and feeling like you’re often misunderstood is common for empaths.
When you enjoy exploring granular details and revel in the history and meaning of things, speaking to others on a more “surface” level can feel frustrating.
That’s why I think learning to communicate more efficiently is key for empaths.
Learning how to say as much as possible in as few words as possible allows you to be social and use your own voice while minimising the risk of being misunderstood.
Two books that I recommend every empath should read:
- How to Win Friends & Influence People* by Dale Carnegie
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It* by Chris Voss
These are my favourite books that go into detail on how people work and how different ways of communicating affects us to change our opinion or behaviour.
4) Start journaling to gain clarity into yourself
Journaling is one of the best ways to make sense of the chaos inside of you.
And by journaling I don’t mean writing a Dear Diary.
What I’m proposing is that you use journaling as a tool for accessing your deepest unconscious thoughts and behaviour patterns.
Sorting out how you feel via journaling is the best way for you to take a step backwards from the chaos of your own emotions and making sense of it, getting it all down on paper and expressing the things you really wanted to say in a safe and non-judgemental space.
Journaling regularly will help you get all those unfinished thoughts rattling around in your head out onto paper.
Your brain is a thinking tool and you shouldn’t be overwhelming it by trying to use it as a storage device to remember all the things you wish to remember.
Instead, by writing down all those things you want to think about, you’re actually giving your brain more bandwidth to solve those problems.
You’ll be less hung up on things that happened in the past and you’ll feel less anxious as writing things down gives you a chance to take a breath and get some closure.
Especially, if you’re in a situation that’s highly emotional for you and you’re struggling to make sense of it, pouring everything you’re carrying inside you onto paper will allow your journaling practice to help carry the weight.
Journaling makes your life easier.
It will also help you identify your triggers. Plus it gives you agency over yourself when you feel like you’re stuck, lost or losing control.
And by using prompts you can probe your inner self very profoundly.
Plus prompts help you gain perspective and to think about yourself in ways you’ve never thought of before.
Starting a new habit takes a while though, when you want to make sure that your initial enthusiasm doesn’t fizzle out after the first few days, join my free journaling course.
It will guide you through the first 21 days and help you solidify your habit into a practice that will change your life for the better.
5) Plan for both social and alone time
When you’d happily spend months on end immersed in your own pursuits, like to dive deep into a topic and think about things deeply, you can easily forget to reach out to other people.
I know I don’t naturally reach out to others.
And when I do, it tends to be people from my immediate vicinity or life.
Because as an artist and writer I’m incredibly insular. I work alone, I think alone, I consult myself on my work or read books to learn from others. I like to dive into things deeply and make that my sole focus for months at a time.
Since I’m so contained in my insular world, I very easily forget to talk to other people.
And by this I don’t mean consulting previous works of others, such as books or music or movies – though I consider them a form of “talking” to other people as well.
Also, talking to pets doesn’t qualify.
Though I definitely think pets are people too and talking to someone who’ll listen without any kind of judgement on your person or actions (unless it relates to the level of service you’re providing your companion) is INVALUABLE.
But I’m specifically referring to human-to-human contact here.
Obviously with someone who’s compassionate and understands you, is your people. No pointin talking to people who don’t because that’s the fastest way back to overwhelm.
So, I think it’s important that you periodically make sure to go back out there and spend time chatting with the people who matter to you.
And on the inverse, it’s also important to specifically make time for you to be alone and just do whatever you wish to do.
An empthy house is an empaths dream.
Think about what you feel like you need and make time for it. There’s nothing more irritating than people in the house when you just want to immerse yourself in a book or a movie without any distractions whatsoever.
So, evne if you feel a bit guilty for taking time just for yourself, it’s worth it. You’ll come back a better person, better partner, better friend, better parent.
6) Recharge often, connect with nature when you can
Nature has a powerful grounding effect and getting into the restoring energy of the natural world as often as possible is good for empaths.
Whether that means going to a park, having plants in the house or visiting some remote location or listening to ocean waves, do what you love best.
Natuer’s unassuming and unintrusive energy is wonderful for empaths because it’s free of schedules and hurry. Nature won’t impose timetables and rushing through life on you, neither will it drown you in wave after wave of the kind of harsh stimulus crowds and cities impose on you.
Especially when you know you’re going into a situation where you’ll have to deal with crowds, unfamiliar places or people, do things that are our of the ordinary for you, take time for yourself before beginning that activity.
Think of yourself as a performer getting ready to go on stage, you have to put on your costume and your stage face and menatlly prepare yourself for the task ahead.
So, take the time you need and create a safe space for yourself to do so.
If you think it’s coincidence that performers want time a lone to prepare before going on stage, it’s not. They need uninterrupted time alone to deeply focus on what it is they need to do and to use their empathy to get into character.
And naturally, once you’ve completed your performance – i.e. finished with the social event – take time to recharge. Don’t schedule big things for the next day, or maybe not even the one after that.
Instead, schedule time for doing nothing. Or something that you long to do, something you know is healing and restorative for you.
The trick is to know what’s triggering for you (crowds, loud noises, smells, parcitular people or situations etc.) and avoid them as much as possible, or plan for them when they can’t be avoided.
And give yourself permission to assert your boundaries.
For instance, if you have a big party that you need to attend and you know it’s going to be busy and noisy and you’ll be talking to lots of people.
Try to figure out what your limit is; how long can you stay at a party and still enjoy it, be sociable and have fun?
When you know yourself well enough, you’ll also know that you might start losing energy at a big party after an hour, and that if you stick it out, you’ll just end up miserable.
Give yourself permission to leave early or find a quiet space to retreat into at certain intervals.
It’s best if that space isn’t the bathroom because you’ll never be left alone there. Instead, try to find a way to escape for a bit before diving back into it again.
I’ve never smoked, but my way of escaping a big crowd was to go out with the smokers when they went for a smoke. It wasn’t ideal because even when they were being considerate, the smell was awful. But it was a great way to get away for a bit, have a quiet chat and get some fresh air.
Being mindful in how you design and plan your life will help you save a lot of time and energy – and most importantly help prevent getting overwhelmed altogether.
The more you educate yourself about you, the more you can embrace your empathic side and discover the many positive things that come from being an empath.
It’s your gift, now’s the time to turn it into your superpower.
To get more tips for designing the perfect empathic life and the best advice your mother never gave you, sign up to my emails below or by clicking here.
PS – Just to keep things above board: links marked with an asterisk* are affiliate links, which means if you buy through that link they pitch a few cents into my coffee jar for referring you. It’s at no extra cost to you and I only recommend that which I love myself! Thank you for reading 💛