As a highly sensitive person, you might find dealing with and processing energy in conflict-ridden situations extremely draining. I know this is true for me. I am hyper-aware of shifts in other people’s feelings and how these feelings affect me. Like many other women, I also have people-pleasing tendencies that make what’s an already draining situation even more challenging.

Time and again, when I struggle with setting boundaries, I come again and again against this belief that I have worked so hard to cut through: that being sensitive is a hindrance. It’s something that makes things harder for you than they are for other people.

Is Effective Change Just About Saying No?

Again and again, I ask myself: “Why can’t I say No as easily as others?”  “Why can’t I not care what others are feeling?”

While I wish saying No could become easier for me (and I think it does, with practice), I am also starting to learn about how I can take care of myself so the aftermath of gathering my energies and saying No does not leave me feeling exhausted. Recently, in a book on relationships, I came across something that illuminated a pattern I have noticed in my own life for decades.

The book was Conscious Loving by Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks. In it, they talked about how rapid transformations in relationships take up a lot of energy and how we can effectively respond to our own feelings of low energy. This is what they say:

“When you are evolving quickly by spotting and letting go of old patterns, you will tend to get a certain feeling in your body as a by-product of transformation. This feeling is a slightly gritty sensation, as if the inside of your veins are coated with grime. Along with this sensation comes tiredness and sometimes sleepiness. This is what we call “ash.” We have named it this because it accompanies rapid change and follows the burning of more energy than you likely have experienced before. Although you may want to lie down and rest when you are feeling ashy, this is absolutely the worst thing to do.”   

While the authors were talking specifically about change in romantic relationships, for me, this description reminded me of a pattern I have seen in my own life. After I have expended energy and changed something, a great sleepiness overtakes me. Even after I rest and get more sleep, this sense of being tired and exhausted doesn’t go away easily. It sticks around for days, sometimes weeks.

Fast Change Makes Energy Processing Harder

It feels as if change has brought up after-shocks. It feels as if I am stuck and can’t move forward.

But reading what Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks had to say showed me that I had misunderstood what I needed at such times. I was just responding in an ineffective way. What’s required, they say, is not rest but releasing this ashy feeling through breath and movement:

“If you lie down with ash in your body, however, you can expect to wake up still feeling ashy, and sometimes, worse. As you may know, 70 percent of the toxins in the body are released through breathing. The minority of toxins is discharged through sweat, urination, and defecation. This is why ash (as well as other toxins) is most effectively released through activities that stimulate your breath.”  

So, dancing or some other aerobic exercise that stimulates the breath can be effective tools for coming back into balance, for letting go of feelings that are by-products of change. I think as sensitive people, one reason why we avoid conflicts and confrontations is the high toll it exacts afterwards. So, we try to avoid much-needed clearing outs in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed even though doing this weakens our boundaries.

Learning how can we can remain centered after we have created change is an important element in making us receptive to change. Knowing this piece is helping me understand how to release feelings and integrate change better. I think this might be another effective tool in your arsenal.

What do you think? Are there any other ways that you have discovered to manage your energy and set better limits?

About Ritu Kaushal

Ritu Kaushal is a Silver Medal awardee at the Rex awards, co-presented by the United Nations in India, and given to people creating social impact through their work. She is also the author of a memoir on being a highly sensitive person, The Empath’s Journey, which TEDx speaker Andy Mort calls “a fascinating insight into the life of a highly sensitive person.” Get two Free Chapters of The Empath's Journey by signing up for Ritu's newsletter for highly sensitive creatives on her site Walking Through Transitions.

1 Comment

  1. Renae on March 29, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    In my experience, this is true and very helpful. I’m going through big relationship change right now, and I make it a point to get movement nearly every day if I can–biking, walking, zumba, dance, anything I can get. Physical movement to correspond with and encourage emotional movement–they’re one, fused together, and should be treated/viewed as such! Rest is also important, but in the past I think I gave myself over to rest more than was helpful during times of big change and transition. I’m still experimenting, still figuring it out, this mystery of managing energy. Thanks for sharing this.