If you’re an empath, like me, you experience a tremendous amount of empathy, often to the point of taking on the emotions and pain of others at your own expense.
Do you cry at commercials? Do you immediately see everyone’s side of the story? Do you see yourself as the characters in books and movies?
As an empath, stressful, challenging or tumultuous situations in your work life can feel overwhelmingly stressful, maybe to the point where you’ve had to take a personal day to recover.
Absorbing these challenging situations is not serving you — it’s actual a risk to your health. But avoiding these moments is impractical. Every job has its own set of ups and downs, and it’s costing you your precious PTO.
So, what are we empaths to do? These feelings are simply flags that are signals for you that it’s time to recalibrate. To manage tough work situations as an empath, we start with our body and then manage our mind. Here are five ways I manage hard work situations as an empath.
1. In the moment, I breathe.
To pause the circuit of negative emotion coursing through my body, I love escaping to my car or the bathroom stall to breathe. But you can do this exercise at your desk for as little as 30 seconds.
Close your eyes. With your hand on your belly, feel your hand raise up as you breathe air in through your nose. When you’re as comfortably full as you can be, pause and count to three. Then, gently push the air out through your mouth. Remind yourself with each breath: “This is my body. This is my breath. This is my mind. This is my moment.”
2. Then, I name my feelings.
What is it that you’re feeling exactly? Naming your emotions is a simple idea but it can take some practice. Beyond the grade school concepts of “happy” and “sad,” we weren’t taught in the traditional sense about the wide variety of feelings we’re capable of experiencing.
The next time you’ve got the sense that you’re over-empathizing, pause and choose a feeling word to describe what you’re going through. Google a list of feelings if it’s hard to name one that feels spot on. Then, simply say to yourself: “I am feeling the emotion of ___.”
Note where in your body you are experiencing that sensation. Anxiety may feel heavy on your shoulders or feel like your chest is caving in. This works for positive emotions, too! Joy may feel like effervescence in your sternum or warm in your cheeks.
When you would otherwise be easily swept up in the drama of the moment, stating your emotions as factual, tactile experiences helps you step back and become a more peaceful observer of the entire situation.
3. I determine what I am thinking and whether it is serving me.
Ask yourself this series of questions to dial into the thoughts that are driving your feelings:
What is my opinion of what’s going on?
Why does this matter to me?
Why do I want this result?
All of the answers to these questions are choices that you’re making about what to think. These thoughts are driving your emotional experience. Now, consider: What are the provable, data-only facts of the situation? Take out any and all opinion. Looking at this list of facts, you can now choose what you want to make the situation mean?
Even for empaths, it’s ultimately our decision how to interpret situations. It takes discipline and practice to parse out the facts from the thoughts about the facts, but that’s the power of thought curation — you get to choose your experiences.
4. I create a "quiet zone" in my home.
A "quiet zone” is a phone and email-free zone in your home. Leave your phone on airplane mode in your purse, in the car or in the laundry room. You can protect yourself from the whims and emotions of others by turning off that channel of input during your alone time.
5. I express gratitude.
It’s my instant antidote to anxiety. It doesn’t have to be anything big or monumental. It doesn’t even have to be an obligatory family or friends item. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. Try: Clean drinking water. Fuzzy socks. Soap that smells like flowers. The sound of a still house.
If gratitude feels like something you want to implement regularly, consider starting with a small notebook and put it beside your bed or your bathtub (somewhere you will see it everyday) and dare yourself to jot down one different thing you’re grateful for every day for a week. Next time you feel that tingle of empathic overwhelm, visualize that notebook’s list of things you’re grateful for and channel your feelings into that focus.
Be compassionate to yourself
As an empath, feeling the emotions that others are experiencing is part of how your brain is wired for survival — and your brain has been doing an amazing job. Being an empath is an asset and it serves you well in many ways: You can read a room, you can meet people where they are and they feel like you truly get them, you know who’s telling you the whole truth versus those who are holding something back and you get vibes off of people that turnout to have laser-like accuracy.
Remember, you can do this. Because look at you! Here you are.
With a Master's degree in Clinical Psychology and eight years as a consultant in Fortune 500, 100 and 30 organizations, Tarah Keech is the Founder and CEO of Burnout Survival, a life coach specializing in helping high-achieving professionals and teams prevent, heal and thrive after burnout amidst today's ever evolving and high-demand corporate culture. If you want help to parse out the facts from your empathic thoughts and your feelings, get The Busy Professional’s Quick-Start Guide to Burnout Prevention (The Smart Way) to learn how to stop the burnout spiral while still maintaining your hectic schedule here: BurnoutSurvival.com.