The New Year is the perfect time to assess whether you need more spaciousness in your life…because spaciousness is a key element of a sustainable sensitive life.
I have a New Year’s question for you: do you have enough spaciousness in your life? Do you have time…
…to simply sit and think
…to spontaneously call a friend and go for a walk
…to cook something tasty, or knit or build something
…to write down a dream
…to clean the bathroom
…to play with your child, or your dog, or your cat
…to sit down and talk to your partner
…to stay in bed for as long as you want to (sometimes)?
This last item caught my eye as I skimmed a list of items describing a trait called “high sensitivity.” The year was 2000. I had never heard of high sensitivity, but here it was, featured in a magazine article by someone named Dr. Elaine Aron.
Dr. Aron listed items which many sensitive people are now familiar with, thanks to her work: being more sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells, having stronger emotional reactions than other people, getting overaroused easily. But she really got my attention when she mentioned needing 8 to 10 hours of time in bed every day.
I was desperately tired at the time, experiencing first-hand why sleep deprivation was (and is) considered a form of torture. My sleep slowly improved, but only recently—years later—have I dared to give myself space to get the luxurious amount of sleep Dr. Aron recommended.
Even so, seeing that item on her list created a key change in my life. I knew then that it was OK to want that much sleep…and once you know you want something, you will inevitably move towards finding it.
What are you telling yourself you simply can’t do?
We have a magnet on our refrigerator featuring Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous exhortation to “Do the thing you think you cannot do.” She was talking about having the courage to go ahead even when you are terrified. I like that. As a sensitive person, however, I hear an additional layer of meaning:
“Do the thing you want to do, that you know you need to do, even if you believe it’s impossible.”
Back in 2020, I did not think I could possibly afford to sleep enough and do everything else I needed to do. In fact, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to schedule 9 hours in bed at night, and while it feels fantastic, something in me still gets scared I won’t “get away with it.” That part is sure I’ll go bankrupt, or be arrested for laziness, or some catastrophic thing.
Making ample time for sleep is a great example of something I truly thought I could not do—even though I knew very well how much it would help me. Sleep, however, is only one of many things that contribute to a sense of spaciousness and well-being for HSPs. We need to ask ourselves, often, “Is there anything I know I need to do, but am telling myself I simply cannot do?”
Do you need more spaciousness in your life?
Notice that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t say, “Do the thing you don’t want to do.” If you don’t need more spaciousness in your life, you are all set. And no doubt, there are life situations where space and down time are really hard to come by. If you have small children, for example, and you and your partner both work full time, you will find it challenging to get even your basic HSP needs met. (That’s why Dr. Aron recommends that for HSPs, at least one parent should try to work no more than half time when their kids are little… a luxury not everyone can afford.)
But before you sign off from even wanting more space, take time to check in with yourself. HSPs can too easily stop ourselves from consciously acknowledging what we truly need (like more sleep, or more time alone), if we are convinced we can’t possibly have it.
Can you allow yourself to need what you need? If you need more alone time but believe you can’t have it, don’t stop there. Acknowledge both sides. Say,“I’m desperate for more time alone…and I can’t see how it could possibly happen.”
Then, investigate further. Ask yourself questions like—
- What am I telling myself about this?
- What am I afraid would happen if I _______[fill in the thing you think you cannot do.]
- What will happen if I don’t do this thing I’m sure I cannot do?
HSPs are prone to believing that we don’t deserve to have our own needs, that we are being selfish, or lazy, or not pulling our weight if we take time for ourselves. If you have trouble questioning these beliefs on your own, get support. When you are ready, here are three of my favorite ways to create more space: one daily, one weekly, and one yearly.
1—Pause through the day to listen to your spiritual intuition.
To put this another way, experiment with trusting yourself—or rather, your Self. Your Self is the divine as it flows through you. I assure you, this is not the least bit abstract or airy-fairy. The guidance that comes from your Self is unmistakable when you learn how to hear it.
This “capital-S Self” is the “you” that knows what you truly need. That spiritual intuition is accessible to you at any time, but you will not be able to hear it if you are pressed and stressed.
For this reason, it is a sacred act to make space for yourself. You might pause a moment before responding, or spend a couple extra hours in bed, or sit down and meditate. There are many ways to create more space for yourself so you can connect to your spiritual intuition. The important thing is to remember to try. Once you ask for whatever you need, you open yourself to receive it.
2—Once a week, arrange to stay in bed for as long as you like.
You don’t have to be sleeping: you can lie there awake. This time will give your mind time to process and just “be.” The effects can be astounding. I have found that without fail, when I overcome my terror of “not working hard enough” or “not getting everything done,” and rest when I need it, miracles happen.
This morning, for example, I stayed in bed for nearly two hours longer than usual, half awake and half asleep, letting my mind go where it wanted to go. This article-—the title, the key quotation, and the main points— downloaded itself effortlessly into my brain.
Magically, by “doing the thing I thought I could not do” (lounging in bed for two hours, as my inner critic would put it), I accomplished another thing I had thought I couldn’t do: I wrote this new article for the New Year’s newsletter in the midst of a week off.
Experiment with giving yourself this extra rest, and see what happens.
3—Make an inventory of your life over the past year.
Sometimes it’s easier to see patterns when you take a bigger-picture view. When you look at all you’ve done over the past year, what do you find yourself celebrating? Take time to appreciate the number and variety of your actions and accomplishments—all the more so if you tend to judge yourself for not doing enough or contributing enough.
At the other end of the spectrum, did you spend significant time doing things you truly did not want to be doing? What drove these decisions you made? This, too, is important information. You can use it to make changes in the coming year.
Last but not least, were there things you wanted to do but told yourself you couldn’t do? These “wantings” may have been unconscious, in which case you have to “read between the lines.” Look at your judgments of other people for possible clues. We tend to feel jealous or resentful towards people who are doing the very things we tell ourselves we cannot do.
Whatever you do, give yourself permission to need what you need—even (and especially) if you have no idea how it could happen. If you need more spaciousness in your life, put your order into the universal restaurant. The kitchen may be slow: some of my spaciousness needs have taken years to figure out. But the results were entirely worth the wait.
Image © 2023 Emily Agnew