I’ve written a lot here about HSP self care. And yes, to thrive, we need our sleep. We need a sturdy personal infrastructure. And we need exercise, healthy food, ample time to recharge, and safe, effective ways to do our deep processing.
But I haven’t written about the serious pitfall that comes with this: we can get so attached to our self care that it becomes an additional source of stress. We try to control our environment—or ourselves—and when we can’t, we get stressed about being stressed. We’re in a hall of mirrors.
I know I’ve walked in to that hall of mirrors when I hear my inner watch dog growl, which it does at the slightest sign that I’m getting stressed or exhausted. This dog took up residence during an extremely stressful period 15 years ago when I endured a divorce, financial uncertainty, a series of moves, and a career change, all at once. These changes so overwhelmed me that I could barely function for several months.
If you’ve ever been seriously exhausted and stressed over a long period of time, you know why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. My inner watchdog is desperate to protect me from ever again experiencing that kind of pain. So it monitors my self care vigilantly in service of keeping me rested and peaceful.
Facing the truth
Unfortunately, all the vigilant self care in the world cannot save me from the reality of my physical body: as the Buddha taught, I am bound to experience suffering, illness, and eventually death. I’ll have good days and tough days. It’s the human condition.
The question is, can I have my cake and eat it too? Can I calm my inner watchdog so I can take good care of myself in all the ways I know how, while remaining unattached to the outcome? Is it possible to feel good even when I feel bad?
Yes, it is possible—if I can cultivate unconditional equanimity: that is, equanimity that is not subject to conditions. Good self care is an important part of this: it’s almost impossible to cultivate inner stillness and equanimity if my self care is chaotic. That’s why all the spiritual traditions emphasize right living. But self care is not enough. I also have to hold the bigger awareness that I am more than this physical body.
The spiritual path: key for HSP’s
As HSP’s we need a consistent connection to the divine, if we are to thrive and to experience consistent peace and happiness. This connection can take a multitude of forms, with one requirement: it needs to feel personal, experiential, and directly accessible to you, not abstract or remote.
When I stay in experiential contact with this transcendent reality, I find true and lasting peace regardless of how I feel physically or emotionally. On the other hand, when I lose sight of this bigger perspective, I inevitably try to control things: myself, my environment, my emotions, other people, and I add to my own suffering. This of course isn’t an HSP thing: we all do it.
Developing a consistent spiritual connection takes devoted effort: it is a daily practice. The same is true of HSP self care. But if you can care for yourself attentively in all the ways that can benefit an HSP so much, while remaining unattached to the outcome of your efforts and stubbornly reminding yourself that you are much more than this body, the reward is priceless: the ability to feel good even when you don’t feel good, and even better, to stay connected to your bigger sense of purpose here.
Thank you Kaitlyn (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the photo!