Are you a Highly Sensitive coach? The “Highly Sensitive” trait, identified by Dr. Elaine Aron in the late 90’s, involves the keen awareness and deep processing of environmental data. Those with the trait are known to have immense compassion, empathy, intuition, and a desire to help others – as well as being overwhelmed by others and experiencing emotional overload.
Other common characteristics of Highly Sensitive People include:
- an aversion to conflict and violence (even on TV or the movies)
- feeling overwhelmed by too many lights, sounds, crowds or activity
- inability to perform well in front of others (or on video tapes/recordings)
- need for alone time, usually in a quite space
- getting flustered with too many tasks or deadlines
- deep connections with nature, the arts or spirituality
- active and complex inner-life and imagination
Over the last few years, awareness about the HSP trait has increased. The term has become more familiar in the mainstream. New researchers are joining Dr. Aron’s efforts to understand the purpose and impact of the trait on individuals and our species. While the researchers are doing their job performing controlled studies and brain scans, the HSPs themselves are writing books, forming social media groups and publishing blogs.
From this wellspring of material produced by experts and the HSP population, some interesting points arise. First, that many HSPs are drawn to professions that involve nurturing or caregiving such as medical assistants, social workers, nurses, teachers, counselors and coaches. Secondly, that the potential for distress, both mental and physical, as well as burn-out, is higher for those who identify as a Highly Sensitive Person.
The reason for this increased risk is simple: HSPs take on the emotions of others as their own. While non-HSPs can let most of the world roll off their backs, Highly Sensitive People naturally absorb the emotions and energy of those around them. Couple that with their innate sense of compassion and desire to help others, and you find sensitive coaches often feeling overwhelmed by their clients. To find out if you’re Highly Sensitive, you can take this self-assessment, created just for coaches. You can also watch the video below to learn more.
If you do identify as an HSP coach, here are some effective self-care practices for your personal and professional life, to help you avoid emotional overload:
1. Get quality sleep
It’s been demonstrated that HSPs need more quality sleep than non-HSPs. This is because their central nervous system experiences more strain throughout the day. And this is especially true for mental health professionals / coaches who may be hearing and/or reliving the trauma of their clients. Sleep is also important for those HSPs who have chronic fatigue or autoimmune issues because the body regenerates itself during those quality sleep hours.
2. Be more active
The word ‘exercise’ is the obvious choice here, but if you are not able to or you resist regular exercise, do what you can to simply move around more. Gentle stretching and twisting helps the back, muscles and stimulates organs and digestion. The recommended activity/exercise time ranges from 30-60 minutes per day. For HSP coaches, notice if you feel a difference adding some activity (stretching or jumping in place) between clients.
3. Don’t overdo your personal obligations
Highly Sensitives tend to be people pleasers and often find themselves saying ‘yes’ to anyone who asks for help. Whether it’s being a sounding board for your sister or helping a friend move, be aware that everything you do costs you energy. When you push yourself to the limit, and your mind and body don’t not have any reserves, you may find yourself getting emotionally burned out or physically sick. Learning to say ‘no’ is all about respecting your self-boundaries. If this is a challenge area for you, try working with a fellow coach or mentor.
4. Pamper yourself
For many HSPs, massages and other body-healing activities can rejuvenate their energy and spirits. It has been noted that HSPs especially benefit from water, whether it’s swimming in the ocean or taking a salt bath. Try and resist the urge to think that you don’t have the time for some self-care and love. For HSPs, it has been shown to be one of the most powerful activities for a healthy life.
5. Watch what you eat
Everyone should, of course, avoid processed food, sugars and saturated fats, but for HSPs, healthy eating might look a bit different. For one thing, some HSPs have one or more food sensitivities; and some are not aware of their sensitivities because they never exclude the food items from their diet. Some celiacs, for example, had no idea their physical problems were coming from gluten until they stopped eating it. If you are experiencing any physical weakness, pain or digestive issues, it might be worthwhile to consult with a health coach or nutritionist and explore the possibility of a food sensitivity.
It is also a common characteristic for HSPs to get ferociously hungry. If that’s you, keep a healthy snack in your car, purse and at the office.
After each session with a client, take a 2-minute time-out for a breathing meditation. You might specifically try breathing in deeply for the count of 4 (or 6 or 8) and then exhaling for twice as long. If you find yourself running behind schedule, invite your client to start the session by doing the breathing exercise with you. Not only will you release the built up energy from your previous client, you’ll also be setting a good example for your current one.
7. Adjust time you spend with clients
If you are feeling at all drained after a certain number of sessions, you might want to consider cutting back on your hours; or changing your schedule so you have more break time in between clients or space them out more evenly throughout the week. It’s suggested that a Highly Sensitive coach see clients for no more than 20 sessions/hours per week.
8. Screen your potential clients thoroughly
The desire to help everyone who is looking for support is not uncommon with HSP coaches, but it is something to watch out for. Taking on too many clients or the most difficult clients will most likely exhaust you. The kinder and more professional thing to do for both yourself and the other person is to refer them.
9. Take enough “Transition Time”
between seeing clients and being with family or going to a social event. As you see clients throughout the day, their energy can build up on you like a snowball being rolled down a hill. If you carry all of that energy with you – without taking time to discharge it, it’s likely it will not only spill onto others, but you’ll be taking on even more energy than what you’ve already accumulated from your clients.
Activities that can help to discharge that energy and recharge yourself are easy to do and you may only need a short time before feeling replenished. Some effective activities are: walking in nature, deep breathing, guided meditation or self-meditation, doing a tai chi flow, biking, running or general low-impact exercise, listening to gentle music.
10. Take enough extended time off
You don’t have to go to Cancun or Fiji to call it a vacation, but HSPs need more extended time away from the stimulation of their usual daily routine. Dr. Aron had a great way of putting it in one of her blog entries — she said that even though you might think it’s cruel to your patients to take off more than two weeks a year, by doing so, you are role modeling good boundaries.
This article was written by Dr. Wendy Nickerson and Jeannette Folan, who are the developers of the online HSP Certification Course for mental health professionals available via The Nickerson Institute. The course is approved for 10 CE credits with CAIN/HCA, AADP, CCPA.
Learn more at: The Nickerson Institute – HSP Certification Program
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