We have all heard the term "empathy", but have you ever heard the term "empath"? This is a phenomenon I first stumbled upon a few years ago that has brought great clarity and self-understanding for me. Considering the term "empathy" which means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, an "empath" is someone who goes a step further and can actually FEEL this. According to Stephanie Jameson in her book Happy Empaths Workbook (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone who thinks they or their child may be an empath), "Empaths exemplify empathy, meaning that they have the ability to take on and process the emotions, sensations, and experiences of others. They can feel even the most subtle energy, often knowing what others are experiencing even when that emotion is not expressed." Being an empath is a gift when care is taken to be energetically balanced and strong boundaries are established. However, when we don't establish boundaries and engage in lots of grounding and self-care activities, it can feel like a curse. Developing awareness of empathic gifts is the first step to developing these gifts and minimizing or eliminating the negative effects.
There are many different forms of empaths and an empath can have all of the following gifts or may have just one.
No I'm not referring to being grounded as being locked in your room and losing privileges. The type of "grounded" I am referring to is the process of becoming more aware of the present moment by taking in the senses and connecting with earth and the life force energy or "chi". Dictionary.com does not provide a definition of "grounding" itself but of "ground". Its definition is, "A connection between an electrical conductor and the Earth. Grounds are used to establish a common zero-voltage reference for electric devices in order to prevent potentially dangerous voltages from arising between them and other objects. " While this is a very literal definition and one that is traditionally used when working with electricity, it definitely applies to people as well. We are electrical conductors and electrical beings. If you don't believe me, think back to times when you've gotten static electricity and shocked someone else that you touched, or when you've put your hands on a plasma ball (All 90's kids should know what this is) and the electricity inside connected to wherever you touched the ball with your hands.
When children aren't grounded, this is much more physically evident than when adults aren't grounded. The biggest red flags for children is having little control over their body and "bouncing off the walls". They are touching everything, pushing their bodies up against objects or people ("hanging on mom"), talking incessantly, difficult to get to focus on the moment and what you are trying to tell them, and difficult to reason with. Not so obvious signs are anxiety, digestive issues, sleep difficulties, difficulty learning, getting in trouble in school, and many more. I often describe kids that aren't grounded to parents as a helium balloon that doesn't have a weight on it. The weight is earth and its magnetic field that keeps us "grounded", without it we just float away into space without a clear path or purpose. When the balloon weight disappears, it is usually related to individuals who are empathic and feel everything around them which causes their personal boundaries to disappear because they do not know what is theirs and what is those around them (see my blog post about empaths for more understanding on this).
All of the symptoms are the same for adults, but generally adults have learned more impulse control and are better able to internalize and hide how they are feeling. They are more likely to be unfocused, scattered, irritable, anxious, and lack clarity. They may also have inflammation, poor sleep, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and suffer from a variety of diseases.
The best way to address these issues is to help re-ground using the strategies listed below. They help bring you back into your body and out of your head and into the present moment. These are general and you may find that there are others that are really helpful for you or your child- whatever works, do it! Make it a habit to do whatever grounding strategies work on a daily basis, and do extra when spending time around lots of people or just around people that have negative energy or that you notice drain your energy. While there are people we don't generally like that fall into this category, often those that we love the most fit here too (parents, siblings, friends, etc). Children will intuitively do some of these things and will find their own strategies, so it's important to allow them to do what works for them, as well as purposefully incorporating these strategies into their lives.
1. Time outside in nature. Being out in nature is very grounding and brings much clarity. In general, it brings much more awareness to the present moment as you are more aware of all of the sensations of nature. It is usually much more rich of sensation than man-made environments. Think of the way a breeze or rain drops touch your skin, the smell of the trees or fresh cut grass, the sounds of birds or a waterfall, the way the ground feels beneath your feet.
2. Earthing/grounding- walking outside with bare feet. The theory of earthing is that the earth's surface transfers negatively charged electrons into the body, which binds with the positively charged free radicals in our bodies that cause inflammation and disease. This is the same concept as Himalayan salt lamps. Scientific research has proven that walking outside barefoot in nature helps to reduce inflammation, improve immune response, reduce emotional stress, improve blood flow, calms the nervous system, and elevates mood. When you're doing this, pay attention to the bottom of your feet and really feel them touching the earth and notice all of the points of contact. Imagine roots coming from the bottom of your feet and digging into the earth's core, recharging your body like a battery. You can do this anywhere to feel your connection to the earth and re-ground. It works best to do this barefooted on the earth, but you can do this anywhere with visualization and imagining the roots digging down.
3. Epsom salt baths- these are a God-send, especially when you notice your energy shift after being around someone or something that made you feel anxious or irritable from taking on their negative energy. Epsom salt baths are very detoxifying which is essential for empaths and sensitive individuals- we are more prone to the negative effects of poor diet, toxins in our household cleaners and environment, pesticides on our food, and stress/negative thoughts and epsom salt baths helps the body to eliminate those toxins.
4. Healthy diet. The fewer the steps to get from the earth (ground) to your mouth, the better. Best case scenario would be organic fruits and veggies picked fresh from the garden and eaten raw as they contain the most life force energy having been fresh picked from mother earth. Raw fruits and veggies from the grocery store that were picked weeks prior and sprayed with chemicals to keep them fresh are still better than highly processed foods, but they have significantly less life to them than the previous example. Worst case scenario are foods from a bag or a box that contain more ingredients that are actually chemicals and unnatural substances and that you cannot pronounce. You can use this same process with meat products. For example, consider a cow that was raised on a factory farm with highly processed feed- look at how many steps it took to get the feed from the ground to the cows mouth, and then look at all of the steps that it took from that cow to get from the farm to you (farm to large processing facility and all of the steps to get to the grocery store and then finally home to you). Now consider a free range cow that grazes directly from the ground, is butchered by the farmer or outsourced a different butcher and then directly to you. Bottom line is the fewer steps taken from ground to mouth, the more grounding and healthy they are. It's as simple as that.
5. Getting the adrenaline-fueled energy out - We can often act as a sponge and soak up the energy around us if we don't have proper boundaries (and most of us don't- this is especially true of empaths). Doing a rigorous exercise or movement will help to get it out. Turning music way up and dancing it out however feels good to the body is wonderful- this works best if you are by yourself and nobody can see you because it's easier to let it all out without fear of judgement. Another activity that is great for this is running- it's also excellent for feeling your feet on the earth and provides a strong connection with the ground. This has been my go-to since I was 6 years old and I quickly become un-grounded when I go a few weeks without running. You can also go for a walk, do some yard work, dig in the garden, or any other activity that gets you sweating. It's important for whatever activity works best for you to be incorporated into your life daily- it doesn't need to be very long, just get your body moving.
6. Time alone - this is ESSENTIAL for empaths, both adults and children. This allows the individual to get clarity on their own feelings and thoughts and not to be influenced by others' thoughts, feelings, and energy. This helps to re-establish boundaries and awareness of self.
7. Breath- this is the single easiest way to calm your nervous system and bring you back to the present moment. We are always breathing, or we are dead. However, the quality of breath is key. Slow, deep breathing encourages parasympathetic nervous system activation, which is responsible for rest & digest and allows for more clarity and enhanced brain processes. Quick and/or shallow breathing leads to sympathetic nervous system activation, which is the fight/fright/flight system that causes stress to the entire body. Most of us are not aware of our breathing patterns but it is the single most simple and effective way to change every process in your body. Focus on taking deep, slow breaths and watch how much it changes your perception of the world and how you feel in your own skin.
8. Attention to sensations will bring you back to the current moment and help you to practice mindfulness. Sit comfortably somewhere that you can relax. I love to do this exercise outside because there are a lot more natural sensations you can connect with, as well as the fact you are spending time in nature and you can be earthing (while seated) at the same time. Start by closing your eyes, taking some deep breaths to clear your head (you can use the breathing strategies listed above), and then begin to name:
9. Meditation - watch your thoughts come and go. Bonus if you have a journal next to you and you write down every thought, image, and feeling that pops through your head, EVEN if it makes no sense. Do not over think this (this is the hardest part). Over time you may start to see patterns that your subconscious is trying to tell you.
10. Engage in a body-oriented physical activity such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, karate, dance, etc. Any activity that involved being very aware of where all of your body parts at any given time is fantastic for creating boundaries because it really helps you to understand where you start and end and will help you to know what is and isn't your energy, thoughts, and feelings.
I promise that if you start to take time to establish even one of these activities into your daily life that you will feel more grounded, have more clarity, and make more heart-directed decisions that will lead to a more joyful life!
Do you take time for yourself every day? Do you have rituals or routines each day that help you to recharge and rejuvenate?
For a long time I've been reading about self-care practices and how important they are not only for the individual doing them, but for those the individual gives to and cares for. If you aren't doing things to recharge yourself and refill your tank, how will you help others and take care of your family? I believe that most Americans are running around with empty tanks, trying to do more and more without taking moments to themselves for rest and rejuvenation.
Guilty as charged. I am continually brought back to this idea because I am terrible about filling up my tank. I spend my day giving to children with special needs, but don't take the time to refill my tank. I'm almost always running on empty. What does that lead to? Getting headaches, no energy, and little passion to do what I love to do the most and feeling burdened by this beautiful thing I do well. But I don't do it so well when I am running on empty. I'm tired, cranky, uncreative, and finding little joy in my work. Sound familiar?
This burnout is a common occurrence for individuals who work in the healthcare field or other career area (parenting is definitely included in this category) that they are giving to and caring for others in some capacity. Why? We love to give and have a desire to help others. Or at least, that's what brought us into this field of work. Over time, we may feel that love and desire diminish over time. So why the burnout? The more we give to others, the more our mind, body, and soul need to be nourished with self-care practices. But as giving people, we often feel that taking time to care for ourselves feels selfish. What we need to wrap our heads around is that it is selfish for us not to do things to rejuvenate and refill. It's selfish because without taking time for ourselves, we are too tired, cranky, and sometimes resentful to give to others what they need of us.
We have to change this mindset about self-care practices. I challenge you to think of this depletion as a chronic condition that is remediated by self-care practices. For example, if someone had a chronic condition that required that they took medicine every day in order to stay healthy (i.e. hypothyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, etc) and they said they weren't going to take their medication because they feel selfish doing so, most people would think they were crazy or stupid. We need to view self-care practices the same way. They are medicine that we need every day to keep us healthy and happy and to prevent depletion. I'm very guilty of not taking the time because my to-do list is too long or I'm too tired to do anything besides veg out on the couch. But as I'm writing this, I'm dealing with significant burnout, lack of creativity, lack of energy, and lack of desire to do much besides watch tv. Guess why? I have stopped doing things daily, just for me, to refill my tank. At best, I am doing 2 activities weekly. When I am doing things daily, my life is much better and smoother- I'm less stressed, happier, loving my job, not having psychosomatic illnesses (headaches for me), and feeling joy daily. One thing I've found too is that the time spent in self-cares is very sensitive to how the time is distributed. For example, if I spend 2 hours weekly on self-care on 2 different occasions, it does not have nearly as positive affect as it does when spreading those 2 hours out throughout the week and completing at least 15 minutes a day, every day. Think of it like charging your cell phone, which most people do every day. Generally, at the end of the day that would plug it in and recharge it for a full battery the next day. They wouldn't leave it dead for a few days and then leave it on the charger for a longer amount of time (beyond a full charge) and hope that a longer charge would keep the phone charged longer so they wouldn't have to recharge every day. Just like most cell phones, we need to recharge every single day .
Can you commit to giving yourself a minimum of 15 minutes a day, every single day, where you do something that feels good to you, sparks joy, encourages creativity, helps you to relax? I promise it'll be worth it, but you need to be completely committed to you during that time without distractions.
Here are some ideas to try or give inspiration to you:
I hope you find ways to commit to you for just 15 minutes a day to recharge, refill, and rejuvenate. And stick with it. Good luck!
Do you listen to your body? How loudly does it need to talk to you in order for you to listen? If you are anything like me, your body may need to scream before you pay it any attention.
Until a few months ago, I had a disconcerting understanding of my body's messages and the importance they played in my health. While I generally have always listened to my gut for life decisions, when it came to subtle messages such as pain or fatigue, I didn't pay it any attention. If I had a headache, I popped an ibuprofen (or as many as I needed to get rid of it). If my body hurt, I took muscle relaxers. If I was tired, I drank some caffeine. Get the gist? I'm generally an intelligent person and usually grasp concepts quickly, but I either had no clue or didn't want to pay any attention to those messages my body was sending. This tells me that I'm probably not the only one. Unfortunately, I think it is social conditioning by the American culture. There is a quick fix for everything and people rarely pay any attention to the side effects, no matter how intensely negative they may be. We are also often conditioned not to trust our bodies when we are told to disregard our instincts. When someone or something makes us feel sick to our stomach or just gives us the feeling that we something isn't right, we are often told that we are being silly or shouldn't trust our gut. We are often criticized and ridiculed for trusting our intuition.
I really don't understand where this all came from or why people started to think that our brains should be the only ones we should listen to. Unfortunately, our brains are often biased by anxiety, fear, ego, etc that make it less than the ideal candidate to do the talking. Although I have been ridiculed for being an impulsive person for following my gut when making life decisions, I can honestly say that I have no regrets when it comes to those choices I made when listening to my gut. However, decisions I made when using my brain and logically reasoning with pro/con lists etc, are ones that did not work out in my favor.
For some reason though, I didn't realize the importance of listening to my body's other signals such as pain and fatigue. Had I listened years ago, I don't think I would be in the situation I am in. Nearly 3 years ago, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease of hypothyroidism. Having no clue where it came from, I started researching and soon discovered that many individuals with Hashimoto's (as well as many other autoimmune diseases) share many personality characteristics with me including perfectionism, type A personality, always "on", etc. Had I listened to those signals years ago when they were talking, I wouldn't have to hear their screams when my body was forcing me to rest.
I challenge you to be an investigator when your body talks or even whispers. Do you need to rest or slow down? Are you in a situation that you shouldn't be- relationship, career, habits, etc? What is your body trying to tell you? Are you ready to listen to it when it talks? Or does it need to scream? Start paying attention to the messages, even the ones you don't want to hear. Eventually your body will win the argument if you don't join in on the conversation.
Intuition is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened. Start small and easy and feel your muscle grow. Start today by sitting quietly for a few minutes and tuning into the sensations of your body. Then, give yourself two simple options, such as what to eat for lunch or which television show to watch. Notice how the sensations change with each option. While they may be subtle, you'll feel either more positive or negative towards each choice. For me, positive sensations feel like expansion and openness. It often leads me to take a big, deep breath in. Negative sensations feel like tightness and claustrophobia. It often feels like I have a heavy weight on my chest and it's hard to breathe or it feels like I have a pit in my stomach. While your positive and negative sensations may feel different for you than they do for me, they will generally be consistent in location and sensation for you personally. Tune in and notice whenever you can and use this to guide your decisions, both big and small, but I recommend practicing and building the muscle with small choices before making any life-altering decisions. Two of my favorite experts on this topic if you would like to dive deeper into this work are Suzanne Durana & Martha Beck. I have found their books and resources extremely helpful in building my intuitive muscle and I encourage you to grow yours.