I have a secret fear as a writer. I’m afraid people will read what I’ve written and say, like Homer Simpson, “Well, DOH!”

But one person’s “DOH!” might be another person’s “Aha!” So when this Homer Simpson fear comes up, I do my best to put my big-girl pants back on and write something I’m hopeful will be helpful to some people.

In the meantime, it helps me to remember my second year as an oboe performance major at Indiana University, when a well-known oboist came to teach the summer session. In our first lesson together, he surprised me by asking me to tie an oboe reed in front of him.

This was highly unusual. It’s true that the first step of making an oboe reed is to tie the parts of the reed together. But that’s just the overture: the real performance is the scraping to get the reed to play. I was perplexed, until I learned there was a method to his madness.

He told me about a student he had taught years before, who had been struggling mightily with her reeds. He couldn’t figure out what on earth the problem was. Finally, in desperation, he took her back to the very beginning of the process and watched her tie a reed. And that’s when he found out she had never heard of an essential tool called a mandrel.

Tying a reed without a mandrel would be like tying your shoe using one hand and your teeth—that is, just this side of impossible. The teacher was aghast at this gap in his student’s reed-making education, and he vowed that from that day forth he would make every student who crossed his path tie a reed for him, just to be sure. Ninety-nine per cent of students might learn little from this exercise, and some of those might even say DOH!” under their breath as they did it. But all that was worth it to save the hundredth student from reed-making purgatory.

As I said, remembering this story helps me muster the courage to write articles and publish them. But it has also taught me a broader lesson: namely, that it’s worthwhile to pause every so often and take a closer look at your habitual behaviors, to make sure they are serving you well.

This brings me back to my earlier question:

Do you fasten your seatbelt when the going get rough?

Since I can’t observe you myself, like my oboe teacher did, I’ll explain what I mean so you can make your own observations. “Fastening your seatbelt when the going gets rough” means you:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Make sure you are eating adequately
  • Meditate, if you meditate—or whatever you do that keeps you centered

You may be thinking, “That’s all very well, but “tough going” is called “tough going” for a reason!” Perhaps you slipped on ice and broke your wrist, and now you are doing everything one-armed on top of going to physical therapy three days a week. Perhaps your mom is having surgery and you are back and forth from the hospital, juggling work and kids. Perhaps a big crisis has blown up at work. Or perhaps a skunk just died in your basement and you’ve had to move out for two weeks.

There’s no arguing that challenges like these send normal life and routine self-care out the window. How do you handle this? If you are built sensitive, this is an important question, since so much stands or falls on your self-care. So I’ll risk a “DOH!” or two in order to share a useful approach to maintaining self-care when you are under duress.

The importance of a sturdy, flexible infrastructure

I often speak of “a sturdy, flexible infrastructure” as an essential goal for sensitive people. The word “sturdy”, applied to self-care, denotes a routine that can withstand any challenges life throws at you. And the word “flexible” describes the ability to adjust your routine to fit your current circumstances. In a sustainable self-care infrastructure, these two qualities of sturdiness and flexibility reinforce each other.

But what do these qualities of sturdiness and flexibility actually look like when the going gets rough?

3 key principles: frequency, duration, and intensity

How exactly do you buckle your HSP seatbelt under duress? To answer that question, I’ll re-visit the astute approach I learned from an article about personal training. The author explained that to build an exercise routine in a sustainable way, you should start first by establishing frequency. That is, you try to do something every day. Once you’ve established this frequency of activity, you increase the duration of your exercise. Then and only then do you begin to increase the intensity of your workouts.

To keep your seatbelt fastened when you are under duress, I suggest you play with these three parameters of frequency, duration, and intensity—but in reverse order. Reduce the intensity or duration of your self-care strategies first, rather than skipping them altogether.

For example, if you are exhausted and your usual five-mile run feels like too much, you can reduce the intensity by walking instead.  Or you can reduce the duration by running two miles instead of five. If you usually cook for yourself, buy takeout. If you were up half the night, do a restorative rest during the day. Meditate for five minutes instead of twenty. But if you possibly can, do something, however easy or short, and lower your frequency of self-care only as a last resort.

Maintaining some semblance of your normal self-care routine in this way is helpful because it prevents you from falling out of the routine altogether. But there’s another compelling reason to keep this commitment to yourself: in doing so, you are making a strong statement to yourself that your needs matter, even in the face of a crisis.

Sensitive people need this reminder, because giving our needs equal value is challenging for many of us. This is even more true in situations where we are supporting others whose needs are pressing. If we aren’t mindful, we will work ourselves into exhaustion rather than let others down.

Invoking the power of your intent

Still, when a crisis hits, its sheer unpredictability can make planning anything impossible. Before you realize it, you can slip into a kind of subtle hopelessness. In this state of mind, you don’t even think of trying to take care of yourself.

Here is where the clarity of your intent becomes essential. In truth, your intent is the foundation of any and all your self-care efforts. But it is under pressure that you see the true power of intent to shift you from reactivity to proactivity. If you start your day with the clear intent to sit for ten minutes or to make sure you fit in three meals, your chances of following through on these self-care activities will increase dramatically.

You can see King Theoden make this inspiring  shift from hopelessness to determination just before the epic battle in the second Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers. As we enter the scene, Theoden has despaired of defending his people. They are are besieged in Helm’s Deep, vastly outnumbered by the advancing army of Uruk-hai. But watch Theoden’s face as Aragorn reminds him that even if he may be about to die, he can choose the manner of his death.

Theoden’s “YES!” is a perfect example of the power of intent to shift our energy. We need this power for those times when life challenges threaten to overwhelm us. Even when the going gets rough and events are out of our control, there is one choice we always have: we can choose how we meet our circumstances. That’s what I mean by fastening your seatbelt.


Tap the power of your intent in

The Inner Bonding Buddy Course (starting Jan 24)

The six steps of Inner Bonding help you cultivate the Loving Adult strength and awareness you need to show up fully for yourself and for others. The next four-week Inner Bonding Buddy Course starts January 24, 2019. Join us and experience for yourself how peer support can help you access your Loving Adult and hear the voice of your spiritual intuition. By the end of the class, you will have met several people with whom you can exchange ongoing Inner Bonding support that is powerful and free.

Quick facts:

What: Inner Bonding Buddy Course in partnership skills, taught by Emily Agnew
Who: For Inner Bonders who want to go deeper in their practice, tapping in to peer support
When: Four Thursdays, March 1, 8, 15, and 22, from 3:30 PM to 5 PM Eastern
Where: On Zoom videoconference
Prerequisite: Basic familiarity with Inner Bonding (contact Emily if you have questions about this–free self-study materials are available)
Tuition: $199 (registration closes Monday January 21)

Read more—or register to join us



And… you are invited to attend a free call on January 16
with Inner Bonding founder Dr. Margaret Paul:

“The Keys to Finally, Truly Loving Yourself”

On Wednesday, January 16, Dr. Paul will present this free virtual event through the Shift Network. If you find yourself feeling anxious or depressed, or repeatedly caught in the trap of trying to “get love” outside of yourself, Dr. Paul’s Inner Bonding teachings can help you finally and fully learn to truly love yourself. And if you’re wondering how you can truly love yourself when you didn’t have healthy models for that growing up, Inner Bonding can help you cultivate this love and sustain it.

In this free virtual event, The Keys to Finally, Truly Loving Yourself: A Workshop to Discover Inner Bonding Practices for Self- Love, Authentic Relationships & Deep Healing, you will:

  • Gain a new understanding of the causes of depression and anxiety (and how to overcome them)
  • Discover how to use self-love and “re-parenting” — instead of media, food, shopping, and other addictions — to fill your inner emptiness
  • Experience a powerful Inner Bonding practice — and give yourself the love you never received
  • Approach new relationships with your wholeness rather than neediness
  • Make advances in healing core shame
  • Discover how to share love instead of always trying to get love

“What if I can’t attend this virtual workshop in person?”

That’s no problem: you can listen to it later at your convenience. Everyone who registers for The Keys to Finally, Truly Loving Yourself: A Workshop to Discover Inner Bonding Practices for Self-Love, Authentic Relationships & Deep Healing will also receive the audio recording afterward.

Save your space here