Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Home

I’m a real homebody. I love winter time, because it’s the perfect excuse to stay in, wrapped up warm and cosy.

I think it’s important that we make our home a safe and comfortable space, especially if we spend a lot of time there.

This is particularly important for people like me – HSPs and introverts. We need a safe space to retreat after being out in the world. We need a place to feel that we can just relax and be ourselves, a place where we are inspired and our creativity is nurtured, and a place to be safe.

For me, the feel of my environment home 3is important. At home, I want it to feel inviting, warm, inspiring, cosy, light, safe and comfortable.

A lot of this comes down to the way the place looks, including the colours, images, light, and arrangement of the furniture. I’m careful to include images on my wall that make me smile or think. I use colours that lift me up and also colours that soothe. I keep the place tidy and have objects on display that inspire me.

Besides my desk, where I do most of my creative work, my bed is my favourite place. It has to be just the right level of comfort – it’s a little like Goldilocks – not too hard and not too soft. I have a lovely duck down duvet (or ‘comforter’ for my North American friends), big pillows and a beautiful bedspread cover. I have extra blankets for winter and hot water bottles.

Some people see the kitchen as the hub of the home, a place to entertain guests, the most important part of the house. For me, the bed is the symbol for a cosy house. As a highly sensitive person, I need to know that I have somewhere warm, safe and delicious that I can go when the world becomes too much. The bed symbolises rest and renewal, safety and security.

This way, when I am out in the world dealing with stress at work, traffic jams, difficult people, bad weather or just a plain bad mood, I know that I have my wonderful haven to come back to – my home – and things seem a little more manageable.

>>> Prompts:

What does ‘home’ mean to you? What do you associate with the word?

What do you love about your home?

What would you like to change about your home?

Describe your ideal home. Include the way it looks, sounds, smells and feels.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

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Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Sensitivity is a gift

I don’t really know how to say this without sounding dramatic, but it is the truth: all my life I have felt different from others. Even though I’ve always had friends and been part of a group of some sort, I’ve never fully felt the same as everyone else.

I noticed in high school that other people just seemed to ‘get on with life’ while I struggled with some of the most basic things – I would feel easily depressed after watching a movie, on a high and inspired for days from the words of a song, or I would take a comment or a joke to heart.

While other friends seemed to easily bounce back from breakups and bad grades, I would retreat to my room to let feelings of misery sweep over me. Not to mention I was easily overwhelmed and exhausted by life in general and spent a lot of time sleeping to recover. When I wasn’t sleeping I was writing, drawing or playing guitar.

I was told I took things too seriously and needed to lighten up. I was told I was too sensitive.

While I certainly knew that sensitivityadolescence is supposed to be a tumultuous time, I was also aware that I seemed to be having some issues that others around me weren’t. For years, I just assumed I was somehow defective. I learned to try and hide my sensitivity around certain people.

It wasn’t until recently, in the past couple of years, that I came across the term ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP). This opened up an entirely new world for me. I wasn’t defective, I was just one of the 20% of the population who was easily overwhelmed and more aware of the subtleties of my environment than others.

For HSPs, the brain works a little differently: they are more likely to observe before acting. It is an innate trait that is often found in other species too – such as birds, fish, dogs, cats, horses and other animals.

Learning more about this trait also gave me answers in other areas of my life – why I am more likely to feel the cold, struggle to pay attention with a lot of loud noise around me, get easily overwhelmed when I have a lot to do in a short period of time, why I am easily moved by films, books, music etc. This trait also explains why I can’t watch really violent or upsetting films, and this also includes watching the news. Yes, I deliberately avoid the news because it upsets me too much.

But aside from these difficulties, I’ve learnt how wonderful it is, for me at least, to be a highly sensitive person.

  • I easily feel love, empathy and compassion other human beings, not to mention animals. While this can be draining at times, I think it is one of the best ways for us to function on this planet. Of course I get mad and impatient, I get bitchy at times. But for the most part, I feel a strong sense of compassion towards others.
  • I have a rich inner life. I experience emotions strongly, which again has its downside, but it means that I get to experience the most intense and fulfilling positive emotions. I get to be overcome with gratitude and joy, struck by awe or filled with inspiration. I get to look at my loved ones and feel myself full-to-bursting with love. And when I do have to deal with the intensity of negative emotions, they always lead to personal growth, and often give birth to new creative ideas.
  • I am a very creative person. Not only do I experience strong emotions, but I have a vivid imagination and big hopes and dreams. I allow myself to spend time in my own inner dream worlds and I often turn them into art or writing. Having a rich inner life allows me to be the creative person that I am, creating and expressing myself in ways that I can hopefully use to inspire others.
  • I can’t hide who I am. I am an open book and don’t do well at covering up how I am really feeling (I could never play a serious game of poker!). While this may seem like a bad thing, I’ve found it helps me to remain authentic. It helps me to stay ‘me’; to be honest. I don’t find myself playing lots of different roles or putting on different masks. It also means that I can’t stay in situations that make me unhappy for very long, which can only be a good thing.
  • I’m very observant. I often notice details and specifics about my environment, other people or situations. I remember things clearly and this has been very helpful in many situations. As well as getting easily overwhelmed by the environment, I am also easily inspired.

These are just a few of the things that make me feel blessed to be HSP. It certainly comes with challenges, but I wouldn’t be anyone else but me.

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘sensitivity’ mean to you? Does it have negative associations? Why?

In what ways do you see being sensitive as problematic? How can you reframe this view?

List as many ways you can think of that being more sensitive than others is a gift.

In what ways can you honour your sensitivity more?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: It’s ok to say no

This has taken me years to learn. I must say that I’ve had a little help in getting there faster with some words of wisdom from Brené Brown:

Choose discomfort over resentment.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before. It’s become my personal mantra to ensure I don’t over-commit myself. As an introvert and HSP I need lots of downtime, lots of alone time. This entails saying no to people.

Basically what Brené means is to choose the discomfort of saying no to someone at the time, rather than committing to something you would rather not do/don’t have time for and resenting it later.

This makes perfect sense, but in reality it can actually be pretty hard to do.

The more I have learnt about who I am and what makes me tick, the more I have come to see how important it is for me to honour my needs. This means saying no to people sometimes, even if it disappoints them. At the end of the day, I find that this statement (attributed to Dr. Seuss) is so true:

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

Saying no means offending or usay nopsetting some people, but I think that is ok. Those closest to me know I need a lot of time alone and if I say no to them they are usually pretty understanding. They know that is part of who I am. The more that people get angry at me for not committing to doing what they want me to do, the more I feel like they don’t understand or appreciate who I am, and potentially don’t matter as much.

Is this a harsh way to approach life? Maybe. But I think it is so essential that we look after ourselves and meet our own needs, because most often others aren’t going to do it. Besides, it’s my life and I get to choose how I spend my time. I want to do the things that make me happy, not just what makes others happy.

It might sound selfish, but I think of it as the whole oxygen mask thing – we need to look after ourselves first so that we are better help to other people. It’s an act of self care. I have more to offer others if I’m looking after myself properly, than if I’m rushing around trying to make everyone else happy.

>>> Prompts:

How often do you find yourself saying yes to people when you would rather say no? Write about why you think you do this.

What are the consequences of saying yes when you would rather say no?

What are some small ways you could start saying no to people, when it feels right to you?

How might your life feel different if you honour yourself and say no when you want to?

Write/print out the saying ‘choose discomfort over resentment’ and put it somewhere you will see it often.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Self Empowerment

The Highly Sensitive Person’s guide to staying sane

 

For years I was told I was ‘too sensitive’.

I thought there was something wrong with me because I cried easily, felt the emotional states of others around me, got upset at watching the news, felt the cold, needed extra sleep, felt easily stressed at work, or got irritated at the sound of radio adverts or noisy music playing while I was trying to have a conversation.

I thought that I was just weak or flawed for getting so easily overwhelmed by the world.

And then I heard the term highly sensitive person, and my world changed.

Apparently, approximately 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive. This sensitivity can be emotional but also physical – I tend to notice the cold and the heat more than others, feel more physically tired than others, notice sounds and other physical sensations more than others.

And then, of course, there’s the emotional side: I can cry very easily for a range of reasons. Generally when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, angry, upset, joyous, relieved, frustrated… crying is often my natural response. As a teacher of teenagers, it has taken some practice to hold it together in the classroom at times!

Since learning about the term and discovering it is supported by scientific research, I have come to accept and even celebrate what I was often told was a flaw when younger. I have come to see that my sensitivity is part of who I am and that it can also be a gift.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with challenges, though. I’ve come to learn that there are things I need to do to take care of myself to ensure I don’t get too easily overwhelmed by life. I want to share the things that help me to stay happy and living my best life as a highly sensitive person.

1. Rest

This is a tough one, because I find our culture is all about productivity, growth and striving. It has taken a real conscious effort to be ok with the fact that I need more rest than a lot of others. This doesn’t make me lazy, it’s just the way my body is. My partner and family have also come to accept this about me, which makes it a lot easier. I need more sleep than others and can only manage so much in a day before needing a nap. I allow myself to rest because I know the consequences of not resting tend to be some sort of emotional breakdown, which is much worse!

2. Check in with yourself, often

For me, journaling is the best tool for this. It is a place to spill my thoughts and fears onto the page and acknowledge how I’m feeling. It is a way to remain aware of what’s going on for me, and notice if there are areas in my life that need attention. By checking in often, I can be aware of when I’m feeling overwhelmed and come up with solutions. This way it doesn’t build up until it becomes too much – it stays manageable. Journaling is an essential tool for the highly sensitive person.

3. Say no

Again, this is a tough one (who said this would be easy?!). When people you care about want things from you, you naturally want to help. And I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t help if you can. But sometimes, you will have to put yourself first. Journaling can be a great way of checking in to see if you should be saying no to commitments – check in with your body and how you are physically feeling, and also your emotional state. At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone and you will die trying. I’ve found that those who really love and care about me will always understand if I need to say no. Brene Brown (her work is life-changing, if you haven’t read anything from her, get reading immediately!) has this wonderful saying that I use to remind myself: choose discomfort over resentment. That is, choose the discomfort of saying no at the time, over the resentment of committing to something you don’t really want to do.

4. If necessary, cancel

Again, a tough one – possibly tougher than the others. If you have committed to something that you just can’t fathom going through with, you have the option to cancel. It is, after all, your life, and you make your own decisions. Of course, you may have to deal with some serious disappointment from others, and it’s up to you to weigh the consequences of cancelling. But, often when I find myself overwhelmed from a tough day and dreading something I’ve committed to, I remind myself that I have the option to cancel – the choice is mine, if I want it. Sometimes even just reminding ourselves that we have the choice can be enough to make us feel better.

5. Nurture close relationships

After all this talk about saying no, resting and cancelling it can sound like HSPs lead very quiet lives, but this isn’t true at all. As much as I tend to need quiet down time alone, I also need to feel closely connected to those that are important to me, and I’m guessing this is the same for all HSPs. The people closest to me support me when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and of course bring love, joy, humour, connection and other wonderful things. One thing I have really noticed is that I struggle to maintain relationships with lots of extensive groups of people, because I also need a lot of time alone. Instead, I focus on nurturing and maintaining the relationships I have with those closest to me. Focusing my energy on these relationships is much more rewarding for me, than scattering that energy between many people.

6.  Take walks in nature

This is one of the most nurturing things you can do for yourself. Nature has so much healing power, and the calming energy from a walk amongst the trees or along the shoreline can do wonders for a frazzled soul. If you find yourself overwhelmed with life, stressed with work or even just tired, getting out into nature can remind us that everything happens in its own perfect timing, that everything is perfect as it is. Being in nature is the best therapy.

7. Allow time to just play

I think one of the things that makes me feel most overwhelmed is that I feel like there isn’t enough time to do the things I want to do. By scheduling time in to just play, or being flexible and allowing for spontaneous play, we remind ourselves that there is enough time. It takes a bit of practice to step away from whatever is stressing us out but it can be very rewarding. Not to mention, the fun from just playing in and of itself can be enough to help us feel good. For me, play includes: painting and journaling, watching TV shows and movies I love, hanging out with my partner, family or friends, playing with my puppy, going for a random drive somewhere, anything that includes laughter or being silly or goofy, dancing and singing. Your play can look any way you want it to, as long as it feels light, playful and enjoyable.

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You can learn more about being HSP and take a self-test here. If you have any further tips or thoughts about being HSP please comment below.

Self Empowerment

Take all the time you need

The universe has a way of slowing us down if we are going too fast. So often we feel reluctant to stop and rest when we can be busy and productive.

Our society prizes busy-ness over rest.

Today I had a hard time just resting, just doing nothing. But, my body was screaming at me to stop, so I curled up on the couch with a blanket, my laptop, some lemon tea and watched Friends re-runs (I would have chosen The Office but I watched that not long ago).

It was great. I will probably have to do the same thing tomorrow.

I felt myself wanting to go to my desk, to paint or play with my new stamp-carving supplies (yay!) or do a load of laundry (not so yay, but still has to be done!), but I forced myself to stay under the covers. I even had to cancel dinner with friends, which I had been looking forward to all week.

I talk a lot about rest. I don’t think it can be overemphasized in today’s world.

As a highly sensitive person (HSP) I tend to feel more easily overwhelmed, tired and just plain run-down than the average person. Add to that a stressful teaching job, and I’m basically constantly tired. Approximately 15-20% of the population is HSP (see here).

I do my best to stay as productive as the next person – I do my creative projects, spend time with family and friends, walk the dog, work on my creative business – but sometimes life just steps in and says ‘Enough for now! Time to rest!’

The key is being able to notice the signs, then having the courage to say no – to cancel appointments, to turn down invitations, to risk letting people down.

I’m sick with a cold at the moment, but you don’t need to have an illness to need time to rest. Sometimes it’s just feeling tired, overwhelmed, tearful, crabby or like you just want everyone to leave you alone.

So take the time to rest. Take all the time you need.