I came up with the topic of this article a while back and the headline was supposed to be “3 Key Habits That Help Me Live My Best Life As A Highly Sensitive Introvert”. But as I sat down to actually write it – the first week of June 2020 – I found myself hesitating.
It feels more than a little weird to be talking about “best lives” when I literally haven’t left my house once in more than two months and there are war-like conditions just an hour down the road.
But then it occurred to me that this topic is actually pretty timely.
Sure, the circumstances may not be conducive to the very best life possible right now. Sure, there are so many people struggling so gravely that talk about “best lives” probably seems frivolous.
But even if the world around you is falling apart, there are things you can do to help YOU not fall apart. Because YOU falling apart doesn’t help anyone.
And that’s where key self care habits come into play.
I’ve been more than a little surprised to realize that even though I’ve had pretty much non-existent stress tolerance in the past, I’ve gotten through these past few months without any mental or physical health setbacks.
To put it bluntly, the world is going insane, but I’m not.
Even though as a highly sensitive introvert, it’s difficult for me to stay cooped up with other people 24/7 and never have the house to myself. Even though as a highly sensitive introvert, it’s difficult for me to not feel the world’s hurt in every cell of my body and want to fix everything for everybody.
I haven’t gotten depressed. My anxiety is well under control. My blood sugars aren’t spiking and I’ve only had two or three headaches this whole time.
There are various factors I could point to, but I believe that much of the credit goes to three key habits I’ve learned to maintain. These are the three key habits that help me live my best life at the best of times as well as stay resilient during the worst of times.
3 Key Habits That Help Me Stay Resilient As A Highly Sensitive Introvert
1. A Consistent Sleep Schedule
Inadequate and poor quality sleep contribute to stress and anxiety. This fact is particularly relevant to HSPs who have a more reactive stress response system anyway and it becomes even more relevant when HSPs are faced with prolonged stressful circumstances.
To optimize your mental functioning, it’s particularly important to get enough deep and REM sleep. A block of roughly seven to eight hours of sleep will give your brain a chance to complete the requisite number of sleep cycles.
And the simplest way to make sure you get enough sleep and to improve your sleep quality is to decide on a schedule and then stick to it consistently. Every day. This consistency helps regulate your circadian rhythm so that your body knows what’s supposed to happen when.
So yes, I’m the party pooper who always goes to bed by 10pm and the weirdo who gets up by 6am on Sundays. But since I managed to make this schedule a habit, I no longer have trouble falling asleep and I’m no longer exhausted all the time and I’m no longer too foggy to calmly work through problems whenever they come up.
2. Daily Exercise
The stress and anxiety you feel are physical processes happening in your body. Your stress response is an ancient mechanism designed to protect you from threats and it prepares your body for fight-or-flight.
Things can go wonky though, because the process was designed to literally end with either fighting or fleeing. You see a bear in the forest, your stress response is activated, you flee, your body calms down. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But when you just keep getting stressed without ever actually fighting or fleeing, this process has no end point. The “readiness” to fight or flee keeps building up in your body as nervous energy and it never burns out.
So exercise to the rescue! Exercise not only helps complete the stress cycle and relax your body, but it also increases calm-producing neurotransmitters.
And THAT is why – as an HSP with an overeager stress response system – I have made it a habit to move my body every single day. I’m a real stickler about it too with zero flexibility. 😉 Some people think that I have super human willpower, but it’s just that I don’t like the consequences of not exercising. When I skip runs, anxiety, irritability, and general moodiness start creeping back in more and more and my stress tolerance takes a nose dive. When I run every morning though, I stay calm the vast majority of the time even when shit hits the fan.
3. Daily Quiet Time
Highly sensitive people and introverts NEED more quiet time than non-HSP extraverts.
HSPs’ nervous systems “fire up” more, which means that they need more breaks in order to avoid chronic overstimulation. HSPs’ brains process information more deeply, which means they need extra time and space for that processing. Introverts’ brains go into flow while engaged in solitary activities and we all need regular flow experiences to help us tolerate the not-so-flowy times.
So when I say we NEED this time, I mean that it’s not optional.
Guess how many readers have already emailed to let me know they have struggled with depression this spring, because they haven’t been able to get enough alone time?
And I think the only reason I’m not in the same boat is that I set aside a daily time slot to go behind closed doors and I’ve been sticking to it most days. I know it helps, because I’m usually feeling pretty burned out at the start of my quiet time, but when I re-emerge, I’m feeling calmer, more energetic, and more patient.
Does This Sound Too Simple And Obvious?
I know that, on the one hand, all of this sounds painfully simple and obvious. Like, did you really have to devote a whole blog post to drone on about rest and exercise, Anni?
But I know first hand how incredibly hard it can be to actually establish these habits, which is why I wanted to send this little extra dose of encouragement your way today.
New habits are hard to establish for anyone.
But highly empathetic, highly sensitive people have the added layer of being so wrapped up in everyone else’s needs that it often feels nearly impossible for them to take care of their own needs. Even the most basic of needs like sleep, exercise, and a moment of peace and quiet.
If this is something you still struggle with, I want you to know that the more you practice the easier it gets.
You’ll notice that you actually have more to give to others when you take care of yourself first.
You’ll notice that you have the strength to get through even the tougher times.
And you’ll notice that when something gets established as a habit – by consistent repetition – it’s no longer nearly as hard and most of the time it just happens on auto-pilot.
You just automatically do what you need to do for yourself to feel your best.