I remember the first time someone ever called me an empath. I was, like, “Wait, there’s a word for this?” 30 years on this planet wondering what was wrong with me and suddenly I knew what to call it.
It was a rainy winter night, and I was sitting at the bar in Kilo, a tiny wine & tapas spot in Hells Kitchen that Yelp had informed me was a common first date spot. It was Esoteric Monday or Tuesday, and the bartender was walking me through a few of the pleasantly bizarre selections, including a cava with weirdly big bubbles. I love sparkling wine, so I said yes to a taste. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “It’s so…”
“Energetic!” we blurted at the same time.
My date raised an eyebrow.
“Are you an empath?” the bartender asked me.
I was used to my dates becoming uncomfortable when my strange intuition accidentally crackled into visibility—a feeling akin to realizing your shirt is askew and your bra is showing—but where I’d usually brush off the moment, I wanted to learn more.
“I guess so?” What was that?
A stealth Google search on my phone while my date selected himself a red was like reading a description of myself:
-Empathetic (to the point where sometimes I wished I could be less so)
-Strong intuition (even when I purposefully chose to ignore it, it was always there like an insistent pilot light)
-People tend to tell you their problems (oh, yes)
-Caring more than you’d like to sometimes (check!)
-Difficulty setting boundaries (“difficulty” would be putting it mildly)
-Easily overwhelmed by closeness and intimacy (hence, all the first and second dates)
-Feeling like you don’t fit in (story of my life)
-Easily disturbed or overstimulated by crowds, loud noises, lights, and other sensations (can we add “clutter” to the list as well?”)
-Dislike of conflict
-Needing a lot of recharge time.
It seemed like a small moment, but it helped me understand why I’d always felt like an energy sponge, and that maybe it wasn’t a character flaw—just something I needed to be mindful of.
If this resonates with you, read on for some self-care tips for empaths. When living the “energy sponge” life, if you want to avoid feeling the drain on your physical, mental, and emotional health, it’s important to release what you absorb from your interactions with others (IRL and virtual) and setting effective boundaries for yourself.
Take Some Time For Yourself
Whether it’s just a few moments or an hour, empaths must take some time away from all the worries and concerns. Meditation or mindful movement like yoga are great for quieting the mind and rejuvenating the spirit. Journaling is also a good way to get away. Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper can also be very therapeutic. And yes, a hot shower or just sitting quietly for a moment also totally count!
Examine Closely Who You Spend Time With
Dedicating yourself to others is a risk in and of itself. So do yourself a favor with some advance self-care by being as selective as possible about the individuals you spend time with. Pay attention to who gives you energy and who drains you. If your body is sending you signs that you’re surrounded by energy vampires, pay attention to that and take steps to spend less time with people who have that effect on you. Seek out those whose presence makes you feel uplifted and at ease.
Be Okay With Occasionally Saying No
I know this one is hard. I actually have a whole chapter about this in The Little Book of Game Changers. “No” really is a complete sentence. Truly think about your limits when asked to help with something or do a task for another. Will it challenge you in a way you don’t think would be positive? Is it even a positive task to take on at all? Saying no at times does not make you a bad person, it makes you a worthy person, according Brene Brown.
Have A Creative Outlet
Creativity is beyond relaxing. Whether it’s drawing or painting or again journaling, find an artistic hobby, find something to express yourself for literally yourself. Not only will it be relaxing, it can also be therapeutic and rewarding. If needed, you can event take it a step further by working with an art therapist.
Make Self -Care a Priority in Your Schedule
I can hear the eye roll, but being intentional about baking some basic self-care into your day to day life can help you avoid burnout and overwhelm. While you schedule your son’s doctor appointment and nephew’s play date that you said you’d supervise, make sure you also plan an hour to spend at a workout class you love or a ½ hour of reading a book. Just planning it can help you calm as you anticipate that you time. Don’t forget, doctor’s appointments, taking time to organize your space, or even catching up on paperwork can all count as self-care too.
Consider Some Self-Care Mantras
This is especially helpful for those who have a limited amount of time. Whether it be regarding money, calm or just feeling more connected to yourself, mantras can be a great asset to help your self-care become enhanced no matter what time you have available to dedicate to it. Choose a phrase that resonates that you can repeat to yourself to help you stay in a healthy, balanced mindset. A few I myself have used are “I give myself permission to release others’ energy” or “I now allow myself to feel okay with doing less so I can be more.”
Due to your innate ability to absorb the worries of others, offline time should be a daily goal. Scrolling through social media can trigger overwhelm and invite unhealthy comparison that can further wear at your health and wellbeing. You don’t have to quit completely, but definitely consider separating yourself from social media more often to help you feel more grounded and recharge.
Empaths need to be intentional about self-care to avoid feeling drained. It can be as simple or as detailed as serves you—it’s totally okay to start with something small.
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