What if you started treating your energy as money in your bank account or battery charge on your phone? Everyone has different bank balances and different levels of expenditure on essential, non-essential, meaningful and meaningless purchases. We also have different phones or at least purchased them at different times and use them in at least slightly unique combinations of ways (e.g. how often we use them to call people and which apps we use). We will have different tolerances of how low we allow our phone battery to get or how much money we feel we need to save before we can buy more. These choices will often be based on the combination of our bio-psycho-social circumstances. And even when we are not making what might be considered a wise or good choice, we are still making a choice.
Now let’s consider the energy we have as human beings. We often think of eating and sleeping as the two main factors that can affect our energy levels but there is so much more to it than that. Our biological, psychological and social circumstances are also going to affect how drained or energised certain activities make us feel, and getting to know these factors can be a challenge but also hugely empowering in enabling us to meet more of our unique needs. I am going to list some common activities that highly sensitive introverts may find draining and energising to give you a starting point for building your own list to meet your needs.
I have used this concept of understanding your personal energisers and drainers with people who have various physical health conditions and was often struck by how powerful this level of insight could be for people, especially when it made room for their unique personality and preferences. I wondered whether things might have turned out any differently for them if they had been given the opportunity to understand their needs better at an earlier stage. Society often expects us all to be the same, encourages us to be “productive”, climb career ladders and to value high earnings as a metric for success. Whilst this may work well for some individuals, it leaves many dissatisfied and others overwhelmed, exhausted and burnt out. Do we really want to roll the dice and wait to see if we are going to be one of the people who can get away with it or one of the people who are unlucky and end up unwell and forced to change our lifestyles in ways that are less in our control? If, like me, you are a highly sensitive introvert, I would recommend you regularly (re)assess your energisers and drainers to best look after yourself, especially if you feel your energy is not as good as it could be. The term is not a diagnosis and is a combination of two overlapping but different concepts: “highly sensitive person” and “introvert”. Both of these concepts also overlap with many other labels. I may write more about what this means over time but if you are coming across it for the first time and suspect it might apply to you, a quick web search will help you find relevant information. If the term helps you to learn more about yourself so that you can develop more self-compassion and live a life in line with your values, that’s great, but I would also encourage you to be cautious about how much you get attached to the label and the various takes there are on this broad concept.
Whilst we have unique energisers and drainers, there are some common themes for highly sensitive introverts that I am going to describe here, but I also want you to hold in mind that the “dose” of this activity, e.g. how long we do it for, also makes a difference as to which category it will fall into. I would also invite you to treat this list with curiosity as something to encourage you to start learning about yourself rather than as an exhaustive list of what you need to do more or less of because you and your circumstances are unique. Let yourself be the expert of your experience, and let your experience guide your expertise. Take what you find helpful and leave the rest!
Common drainers for highly sensitive introverts:
- socialising in big groups
- socialising for long periods of time or without regular breaks
- back to back appointments or generally being too busy
- crowded or noisy environments (or anything else that may lead to sensory overload)
- interpersonal conflict
- suppressing emotions (often not to “make a fuss”, to avoid potentially hurting others, to avoid seeming “irrational” or “too sensitive”)
- mentally going over past mistakes that trigger shame or focusing on things that could go wrong in the future that trigger stress and low mood or anxiety
- excessive behaviours associated with perfectionism / unrelenting high standards
- ignoring own needs to prioritise others’ needs and wants (sometimes based on assumptions about what others may want and need).
Common energisers for highly sensitive introverts:
- gentle yoga and other mindful practices, including mindfulness of emotions
- breathwork and structured relaxation exercises that give our sympathetic nervous system a rest
- sufficient alone time
- exploring creativity
- being in or around nature, including houseplants
- soothing teas or other sensory based soothers (e.g. nice smells, sounds or textures)
- being around animals.
How do you feel about what is on these lists? I have plenty more to add to my personal list of energisers and drainers, and I also know that I’m not always pleased with what is on the list. One of my jobs involves talking to people in emotionally intense conversations and I get a sense of purpose with this job. Despite being an introvert, I also enjoy talking to people and socialising, and I also enjoy my job overall. It sometimes gives me a hit of energy when going well, and back to back appointments are often unavoidable. But after years in the job, I know that there is only so much of that I can do at the same time as looking after my own needs. So I do less of it in order to continue being able to do it, and I find ways to fit in micro-breaks with breathwork or grounding exercises between appointments. Sometimes I resent “the system” for forcing me to work in ways that are not suitable for me but that also takes up energy and there’s only so much I can do to fight the system whilst being drained. So for now, I am focusing on trying out different combinations of activities and amounts of working to find something in between what I think society expects of me and doing the minimum amount I need to survive.
So much of this is about balance. Stress and drainers are not always “bad”, and energisers are not always “good”. We need to experiment to find the right balance for us, and that may change over time as we and our circumstances change. Think about what you really have to do and think about what gives you a sense of meaning. Every time you chip away at those unrelenting standards you have of yourself to make them that little bit more reasonable, you will be freeing up potential energy to use on something that matters much more to you. And the more you can practise getting quiet and being still without doing anything, the more you will be able to tune into what matters most. If you’re not sure where to start, my post about grounding techniques may be helpful to you.