Are you having trouble managing work? This is a crucial, complex project for those of us who are built sensitive—and a never-ending one. My friend Cynthia eloquently described this sustainability challenge in an email she wrote to me:
“Now that I understand I’m an HSP, I’m having trouble managing work. I used to always push myself, but now, I’ve become aware of how relieved I am when clients cancel, or when they don’t schedule in the first place! Yet I need to earn money to live. My HSP friend, for example, has a husband who earns enough money that she can work less and still live comfortably…but I’m on my own. So to have time to exercise and take care of myself, and to have down time, and to try to develop work-related projects while seeing clients…it’s a constant dilemma. The whole balance of my life really isn’t sustainable. Do you have suggestions or advice?”
If you can relate personally to Cynthia’s dilemma—as I certainly do—you know there are no easy answers. Knowing Cynthia, I knew there was no point offering her schedule tweaks or suggestions like “Could you get a virtual assistant?” She is thoughtful and thorough, and has already tried all the obvious solutions to her work balance dilemma. I decided instead to share the six essential principles I turn to when, like Cynthia, I feel like my life is becoming unsustainable.
1—Sleep is essential
Maybe you are experiencing unusual circumstances which have made your life temporarily overwhelming. Or maybe you chronically overcommit yourself. Whatever the reason, if you’ve ended up exhausted, your first step is to take a break and sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. Everything looks bleak when you are exhausted. It’s a terrible time to evaluate your life.
Exhaustion is a particular pitfall for sensitive people, because we can be conscientious to a fault about honoring our commitments. For example, I asked one ill, exhausted client what it would take for her to stop and rest. She answered, “I’d have to be hospitalized. Then I’d feel justified taking time off from work.”
If you need sleep, please get it. Take sick days. Hand off responsibilities. Back out of commitments if you have to. But don’t make big changes until you are rested.
2—Perspective is essential
Research has shown that our ability to evaluate our own fatigue deteriorates as we get more and more tired. Once you’ve recovered, you can look back and see how exhausted you were. But when you are depleted, your perspective is warped. If you doubt your need for rest and stress relief, ask trusted friends or family for their perception of your condition.
Then ask these trusted loved ones for perspective about your life. They will see things you don’t see. Combining their input with your own introspection, you can get an accurate 50,000-foot view of your situation, as Cynthia has done. She hasn’t solved her dilemma yet, but accepting the reality of her situation is the key first step towards changing it for the better.
3—Understanding your temperament is essential
Cynthia happens to be an extrovert, as are 30% of highly sensitive people. This deepens her dilemma. Like all HSPs, she needs ample down time and solitude to process her thoughts and reactions. But the extrovert part of her also loves stimulation, variety, and sociability. For Cynthia, these two sets of needs—for stimulation and for rest and reflection—constantly clash.
If you think you might be an extrovert HSP, I recommend you read more about this unique combination of attributes. The more you understand this aspect of your temperament, the more self-compassion you will have in learning how to manage it.
4—Clarifying your values is essential
If you’ve gotten some rest and perspective, and you’ve concluded your life is not sustainable, what then? I suggest you spend time writing to clarify what you most care about. Distill the core values underneath these priorities. Then take a look at your schedule. Are you spending time on those activities and people you value most?
Again, the perspective of friends and family can help you here. To Cynthia, I might say, “It is clearly a financial challenge to be single in an expensive city. But from all I’ve seen and heard, you want to be there. You love your apartment, the city’s beauty and resources, your work, and your friends. So it might help to get really clear where your money most needs to go, then creatively economize with everything else—always using your spiritual intuition as your guide. Then you can take pressure off yourself to be working constantly.”
5—Acknowledging your choice is essential
You get stressed when one part of you says, “I can’t do this!” and another part says, “But you have to do it!” When I’m caught between “can’t” and “have to”, I feel like a victim. To untangle myself, I make a list of everything I’m telling myself I can’t do or have to do. Then I translate those statements so they start with “I choose to…” or “I choose not to…” My stress level goes down quickly when I acknowledge I am choosing my actions.
Sometimes this self-talk is easy to spot. “I have to work today” becomes “I’m choosing to work today.” Other times, you will need to do more excavating in order to discover the “I can’t” or the “I have to” embedded in your unconscious beliefs. Perhaps, for example, you were raised to value material success above all else. In that case, you may unconsciously tell yourself, “It isn’t OK for me to choose to make less money and live a simpler life. I can’t do that.” Only when you’ve unearthed a belief and examine it can you choose whether to keep it or discard it.
6—Trusting your spiritual intuition is essential
As a sensitive person, your spiritual intuition is your essential guide. In our culture, we emphasize the idea of setting goals and making them happen. It’s all about me: “I want this…I’m going to take these actions to make this happen…I did this.” I tried living that way for years, and it was like thrashing my way upstream.
Now my approach is less dramatic, but far more effective. I get quiet in myself, then notice where my energy and aliveness want to go. I also notice what I’m being guided to do, and I notice what seems to want to happen. I look for the intersection of these energies.
My new website, for example, really wanted to happen. In fact, if I hadn’t felt that so strongly, I’m not sure I could have completed the project, because my conscious mind had so many loud opinions about how impossible it would be.
Cultivating and trusting your spiritual intuition is the “uber-principle” on this list. As a sensitive person, you have a heightened ability to tap into a deep sense of knowing. As you take in information and advice from the outside, you can run it by your spiritual intuition on the inside. By trusting your spiritual intuition—even, and especially, in the face of fear—you will find your way steadily towards a more sustainable life.
Focusing partnership is my “go-to” strategy for connecting to my deeper knowing and keeping my life sustainable…and once you’ve learned partnership skills, it’s free for life. My next Focusing 1 for Sensitive People course starts on September 12. See more information below.
Thanks Kaitlyn for the photo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Comments or questions? Please post them below! We can all learn from each other.
Have an issue or question you’d like me to write about? Please email me—I’d be delighted to receive your request.
Focusing 1 for Sensitive People starts September 12! Click here for more information…
There are four spots left for the course if you’d like to join us. Learning Focusing with a group of fellow sensitive people, you will experience deep changes. One participant described it this way:
I’ve had a lot of anxiety that would spring up when I’m under stress, and would keep me from going inside. But the partnering has a very leveling effect. The structure enables both people to do deep work and not lose that in a social relationship…even though we are all just beginning, we can get to places we never thought we could get to.
When: Six Thursdays, Sept 12, 19 and 26, Oct 3, 10 and 17, 3 PM to 5 PM EST
Where: Zoom videoconference
Course fee: $395 includes materials and a 1:1 session with Emily
More information: click here for full class details.
Last day to register: Friday, September 6.