Tuning in to the natural rhythms of heaven and earth can work wonders.
Self-care is essential for all empathic people. When you mindfully and lovingly practice it each day, your sensitivities will flourish.
As a psychiatrist and empath, I am fierce about my own self-care practices and teach these principles to my patients. I feel so strongly about them because I want to keep enjoying the extraordinary gifts of sensitivity—including an open heart, intuition, and an intimate connection with spirituality and the natural world. Shallow emotional waters don’t appeal to me. I love going deep—and my sensitivities take me there.
Still, a big challenge for all sensitive people is how to be compassionate without absorbing the stress of others and the world. We don’t have the same filters as most people. We are emotional sponges who feel everything and instinctively take it in. This differs from “ordinary” empathy, where your heart goes out to others in pain or happiness, but you don’t take on their feelings.
We empaths are helpers, lovers, and caretakers who often give too much at the expense of our own well-being.
Research suggests that our mirror neuron system (a part of the brain responsible for compassion) is hyperactive, which can burn us out. This is not how I choose to live.
The secret to an empath’s well-being is to break the momentum of sensory overload before it consumes you. The strategies and attitudes I share here, which have been lifesaving for me, will quickly bring you back to center when you are overwhelmed or emotionally triggered.
The Sacredness of Time
Time is precious. How you spend your days profoundly affects your energy level and well-being. Being mindful of time lets you reclaim it by being proactive in your choices.
A 60-year-old has lived for about 2.2 billion seconds. Every moment we’ve been given is holy: the pain, the bliss, and all that lies between.
Framing time this way helps you experience the wonder of life, whether you’re folding laundry or meditating on a Himalayan mountaintop. It also allows you to be discerning about who you spend time with so that you can choose nurturing relationships.
The ancient Greeks had two concepts of time which can help you wisely channel your sensitivities:
The secret to an empath’s well-being is to break the momentum of sensory overload before it consumes you.
Chronos is clock-time which is measured in seconds, minutes, months, and years. This is the material realm of to-do lists, deadlines, nine-to-five jobs and social obligations, which can feel overwhelming if you don’t have skills to override stress. But Chronos is also a place of amazement, beauty and fun if you manage your schedule well and create room for those incredible experiences.
In contrast, Kairos is sacred time, a nonlinear awareness which is an empath’s truer home. It is the infinite realm of the soul, the zone of divine timing where everything happens in perfect order. You can reach this state through intuition, observing synchronicities, meditation, silence, and other practices.
Time, Nature, and Cycles of Light
A secret to making the most of each moment is to be aware of the phases of nature and cycles of light. This will increase your energy and connect you with the pulse of life.
The following four strategies will help:
- Experience the Power of the Seasons
Seasons are markers and containers for our lives. They influence weather and crops but also your mood and vitality. You may feel happier and more energized during one time of year than another. Noticing your responses to seasonal changes connects you to the rhythms of your body and the earth, which more powerfully aligns you with your own needs. What’s amazing about the seasonal cycles is that rebirth always follows darker periods. Nothing stays the same …
- Observe the Solstices and Equinoxes
These aren’t just ordinary days. They are special times for you to recharge and find balance. The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, is a perfect time to be quiet and ignite your inner flame. The summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is your opportunity to take in this abundance of light.
During the spring and fall equinoxes, when day and night are equal length, you can draw on this balance in nature to enhance your own emotional, spiritual, and physical balance.
- Experience the Magical Phases of the Moon
The new moon represents fresh starts—many empaths experience it as calming. The full moon signifies the peak of a pattern in your life, an intense time for some empaths who feel overwhelmed or agitated. It’s good to know if you are sensitive to the full moon so you can pay attention to grounding yourself. So mark the dates of the full and new moon each month in your journal or calendar. Let these cycles inspire you to reclaim your most ancient self, who was devoted to watching the heavens, the sky and the moon—and bowed in wonder to Creation.
- Tap in to the Elements
Sensitive people often love the primal experience of tapping in to the elements: fire, air, water, and earth. You can do this through simple activities and rituals such as luxuriating in a hot bath, lying on a boulder to feel its strength, or warming yourself by a fire.
The Greek physician Hippocrates taught that attending to the balance of these elements in our bodies can improve our health. Each has distinct qualities that can energize you and clear negative energy: Fire ignites passion and burns away resentments. Water is cleansing and dissolves remnants of stress from the day.
Spring: Rebirth, Growth, and Rejuvenation
Everything comes alive in the spring, symbolized by the element air, representing lightness and the release of burdens. Spring offers you a fresh start. It’s a season for makeovers, second chances, and creative ideas. You follow your dreams with restored enthusiasm.
Spring is a fantastic opportunity to ignite your creative impulses. You can also create new habits and clean out clutter. Rather than focusing on previous obstacles, keep refocusing on the brightness of a spring day and of your future.
A challenge for empaths is that you may get swept up in the momentum of the season’s energy and lose your balance. You jump in to new relationships, romance, and projects too quickly. You may become overly idealistic or take on too many commitments. Without enough alone time, you can become overwhelmed.
Balance is key to your well-being. On the spring equinox, nature provides a sublime demonstration of balance. Let this day inspire you to center yourself and find equanimity.
Summer: Passion, Play, and Abundance
Summer is the season with the most light and is often symbolized by the sun and the fire element. Summer offers you the special gift of playfulness. Because empaths can get overly serious, summer invites you to lighten up. It’s vacation time; school is out. You can laugh more and worry less.
Summer can also have challenges for empaths. Your senses may get overstimulated when it’s too hot, humid, or bright. Beaches, parks, and other vacation spots may be overcrowded, which isn’t our idea of fun.
Summer embodies abundance and passion. Just as crops are maturing, you, too, can advance your goals. The summer solstice is the most light-filled day of the year. It sets the tone for your personal and spiritual expansion. Throughout this season of light, making the right choices for self-care is key to enjoying its magic.
Autumn: Harvest, Change, and Letting Go
Autumn is a period of transformation and letting go symbolized by the element earth, a stabilizing force during this season’s dramatic shifts. Autumn offers the splendor of transforming foliage, a feast for an empath’s senses. In the spirit of the leaves, celebrate the progress you have made this year.
Autumn is also a teacher of change. School and work resume, and soon the year begins to wind down. Following the harvest, the growing season ends and we enter a period of decline. The autumnal equinox is a perfect time to meditate on balance.
Empaths can be uncomfortable with aging and the unknown. We feel safe in what’s predictable. A part of us may resist change because we fear it. But that’s not nature’s way. Self-care helps us accept our inner shifts and growth.
Autumn invites you to reflect on your priorities. It’s an opportunity for metamorphosis, a chance to liberate yourself from outdated beliefs, resentments, or relationships. Ask yourself, “What are my burdens? How can I release them?” Autumn offers a deeper experience of your own transformation and spirituality.
Winter: Going Inward, Sensing Truth
Winter welcomes you to quiet your mind, be still, and listen to your intuition. It is associated with the element water and its properties of conserving energy and tranquility. It is the season of the recluse or hermit, which suits many empaths who adore retreating into their caves.
During the dark of winter, icy winds blow. Trees become dormant. Bears and other animals hibernate. Similarly, you can focus on building your internal energy.
Since empaths are often light-sensitive, a challenge of winter is feeling depressed. Also, you may isolate socially, feel lonely, or be overwhelmed by holiday crowds, gatherings, and a frenetic pace. It’s vital to balance the natural rhythms of winter with a busy world.
The winter solstice is the darkest point of the year, but as the days grow longer again, there is a gradual ascent into light. Winter invites you to heal your shadow side, including fears or self-doubts.
Winter is exciting because it takes you to your depths. Reflect on your progress and areas that need growth. I love conducting this review in December to evaluate my life and move on with more clarity to the year ahead.
Adapted from Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, M.D. Copyright © Judith Orloff. Published in October 2019 by Sounds True.