I am a person who gets easily overwhelmed by the world.
The snap of the shampoo bottle lid is too loud and startles me every time so I have to unscrew the lid which takes forever and spills shampoo everywhere. Last Thanksgiving I read a book about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and my dismay almost ruined our entire holiday. We have dimmers in every room of our house because anything over 40 watts causes my heart to race. I was recently invited to a pretty cool event – I had to turn it down, mostly because there would be too many people there.
I’m what is known as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) which means that my nervous system processes sensory data more deeply than most other people. I’m also an introvert with an anxiety disorder. It’s the ultimate awkward trifecta.
And I always thought it was just me who had six fewer layers of skin than everyone else.
But there are actually a bunch of us. We’re just not talking about it.
Being this way in the world has its challenges on the best of days, but in this age of constant exposure to the horrors of wars, terrorism and social injustice – it can be downright brutal. And to be completely honest, I’ve been struggling with this a lot lately. It’s hard to know how to operate in a world with so much suffering.
But I’ve learned a few things that help:
Protect yourself from the media
I’m not saying put your head in a hole and ignore the planet. I’m not even sure how one would do that these days. But you can limit your exposure. You can read articles and watch programs only when you are feeling prepared to deal with it all. And don’t fall down the rabbit hole and get hooked on marinating in the misery. Learn enough to be informed – then stop. The Skimm has revolutionized my life in this way. It lets me know what’s going on in the world in one email every morning. It’s framed in a fun but informative way, and reading it doesn’t make me want to crawl under my couch.
If you’re sad, feel sad
Really shitty things happen in the world. It’s super hard out there. So, feel sad. Don’t pile on extra angst that you shouldn’t be so sensitive and don’t worry that you’ll fall into a doom spiral and you’ll be sad forever. Just feel sad about the sad thing. Actually feel it. Don’t distract yourself and drink/shop/numb it away. Give the sadness your full attention in whatever way feels right. You can just sit there and cry, or you can write, draw, yell, beat the hell out of a couch cushion. The funny thing about feelings is that if you don’t really deal with them – feel them all the way down to your bones – they never leave. They linger on your shoulders, ready to jump up and get in your face at any moment. We tend to be terrified of our less positive emotions – anger, sadness, loneliness, fear. But they are inevitable and just as much a part of the human experience as joy. They are all part of the package of being a person. Emotions come and go like waves, so we just need to learn how to surf so we don’t drown in them.
Then, bring your focus to the light
After you’ve really acknowledged the pain that comes with life, it tends to dissipate. So, feel the suffering and if you want to engage or donate or go to a rally – do it. And then resist the urge to dwell endlessly in the tragedy. Look for the the things that are still lovely. Because we want to be realistic here: life can absolutely be hard, but we also need to cultivate gratitude for the wonderful things. Enjoy the simple moments. Go for a walk with a friend. Volunteer for a cause you love. Cuddle on the couch.
“Think of all the beauty still around you and be happy.” – Anne Frank
This Living in the World thing is not for wimps, I’m still trying to figure it all out. But sometimes it’s just nice to know that this sensitive soul of mine is not alone. There are many of us who feel lost and gutted by the suffering in the world.
And we’ll cry together. But we’ll also get up the next day and bravely show up to love wholeheartedly, stand up for what’s right, and dance in the kitchen.
Because that’s how things get better.
*this post was inspired by a question from a reader. If you have something you would like me to write about, send me an email – LisaJakub108@gmail.com