Now in my 40th year of life, I’m still learning how incredibly sensitive my nervous system is and how to enjoy my wonderful gift of sensitivity while also preserving my health and sanity.
Sensitivity means being responsive to the slightest emotional and energetic stimulus, having a more intense response to it, and being at risk of "emotional hangover" if the personal threshold has been crossed.
Despite these challenges, I love my sensitivity and all the blessings that come with it such as a rich inner life, the ability to be present to the most difficult feelings and pain, deep insights into myself and others, and profound joy at what some would consider extremely mundane.
But to keep myself functional, joyful and helpful, I have to be economical with how I use my emotional energy. This topic has actually been my main learning opportunity this year.
Now, the need to preserve energy is essential to less sensitive people as well. When we burn out too much energy on data input that is not related to our life purpose, important relationships and other intentional commitments, we lose the ability to care and handle what we truly care about and we burn out.
A potential drain of energy for people, especially the most sensitive ones, is the constant stream of information received from the news and social media on electronic devices. In a technology age that feeds us emotionally-triggering "news" at all hours, minutes and seconds of the day, how do we keep ourselves informed while keeping the best of our energy for what we are committed to accomplish in our lives?
When something is designed to never stop and never satiate (such as apps producing constant streams of news and updates), when "more" is always possible and free, where do we draw the line? Do we even draw the line somewhere?
Here are the few things I've been doing to create balance between knowing what there is to know and keeping my most precious energy for what I am committed to:
1. Setting up limits to when/where to read/listen to the news:
Rather than starting the day with potentially emotionally-triggering news, how about catching up with the world a bit later in the day, maybe during our commute so that this activity has natural time limits?
Setting up time limits can be useful for social media as well. When is it a good time to browse our friends’ updates? How much time is it reasonable to spend on this each day?
2. Choosing what kind of news/updates to focus on:
What kind of news are we most interested in? How about reading just the headlines of the big news and focus on reading more details on what we truly want to focus on?
Maybe we care more deeply about what happens in a specific region? Or maybe it’s local politics? Or anything involving children? Or financial news? We can devote our reading time to learning about what we really care about. If we know more about a specific topic or problem, we can share this knowledge with others (so that they don’t have to spend time reading about it) and inspire them to either join us in our concern or inspire them to also focus more on what specifically matters to them (so that they can share their deeper knowledge about these other topics with us as well).
Which leads to:
3. Being empowered to take positive action:
After all this limited but more focused reading and listening, what is left is what we choose to do with the information received. Instead of allowing disempowerment, overwhelm or despair to invade our spirit, we can practice staying grounded and commit to using our energy for eliciting positive change. An ocean is made of drops of water and we have the power to add our own drops – they are all needed to create the change we want to see in the world.
How about choosing a couple of areas of interest to contribute to, for example a local one and an international one? We could volunteer a bit of our time on a regular basis for the local area of interest, and contribute money to a reliable charitable organization for the international one. We could also decide that when there is a particularly terrible disaster - local or otherwise - we'd contribute a few extra volunteer hours or an additional sum of money if we are able to at that time.
Turning reading/listening to the news into an intentional learning and action-taking practice can prevent burnout by transforming overwhelm into personal agency and powerlessness into service to humanity.
And as we do all of this, we must remember this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Not less. Not more.