The empath’s survival guide: 10 strategies to protect your energy

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Hi, fellow empath, fancy meeting you here. 

Are you feeling burnt out? Exhausted to your bones? Sleep not cutting it out for you? I get it.

Truly, I do. I’ve been there, and if we’re operating under honesty here, I will get there again. Empathy is beautiful but it could also be exhausting

Very exhausting.

A room full of people is never just a room full of people, it’s a room full of people feeling many different things at the same time and then being aware of that.

Alright, empaths, listen up. Here are 10 strategies to protect your energy, because whew, if you’re looking up this article, you’re gonna need it:

1) Don’t engage

There will always be people who live to get a rise out of others. You know them: the “devil’s advocate”, the “sh*t-stirrers”, the ones who love truths only if they’re brutal, you know them. 

You’ve been around them.

They zap your energy so much whenever you’re around them. Conversations are usually filled with conflict and they somehow manage to turn everything into an argument.

So here’s my advice, should you wish to take it: Don’t engage. 

Just walk away. Deprive them of your attention. Ask yourself this: Are they worth your peace of mind?

Didn’t think so.

They were never going to listen to your side anyway. It was never truly a “conversation” but rather just a need to talk over you or anyone who would engage.

Don’t let it be you. Pick your battles. 

2) Accept that you can’t help everyone

In episode 8 of the sixth season of Queer Eye, Jonathan Van Ness said this, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t show up for other people as much as you want to.”

This isn’t to say that you don’t try to do what you can, but it’s important to acknowledge and respect our boundaries and the fact that our efforts can only go so far.

We can only help so many people.

Also, if you have yet to set your boundaries, friend, why?

3) Set boundaries, stand by them

Medical News Today defines boundaries as, “Boundaries are limits a person sets based on what they consider acceptable, comfortable, and appropriate. Boundaries communicate people’s needs and expectations from others.”

Boundaries will look differently for different people, it is rooted in personal limitations and also affected by social context

Not only is this not a one-size-fits-all situation, it’s also a continuous process. 

So how can you set boundaries?

  • Determine your limits and your triggers.

You have to do the work for this. Emotionally, mentally, and physically, what are your limitations? 

When does it start getting uncomfortable? What have you ignored before? 

Get cozy with your emotions and identify the point when it starts getting too much for you. And before you start, yes, it’s okay to have limits much stricter than you first thought. 

It’s okay to have limits that are far too limiting than your peers as well. Don’t go people-pleasing on me, friend. 

Focus on yourself. 

It’s also okay to still be against what you thought you’d already healed from. If your old triggers are still there, don’t pretend it isn’t. 

Be honest.

  • Be vocal about your boundaries.

Once you’ve identified your limitations, let people know and be assertive (not aggressive) about it. 

Use “I Statements” to help you verbalize it. It will put the focus on you rather than aggressively focusing on the other person.  

For example: 

Saying, “I don’t think I can make it on Saturday because I already have prior commitments. Can you give me more time to decide next time?” 

Instead of, “Why do you always plan things last minute?”

This brings us to our next point: Saying no.

  • “No” is a complete sentence, bestie. Get friendly with it.

You don’t have to be available to everyone at every waking moment. And as much as we love those around us, there will always be people who will only take and take without regard.

Make yourself unavailable from time to time. Know when to walk away.

Learn to say no. When you can’t do a favor or don’t want to do it, say no. 

When you are being peer-pressured over something you really don’t want to do, say no.

When you come across something (any piece of media or any sort of information) that could potentially be triggering for you, tell yourself no. 

Get comfortable with not participating in situations you want no part of. 

  • Ask for support

There is never any shame in asking for help. If you need it or know someone who does, reach out for professional assistance.   

4) Understand that you will fail to protect your energy sometimes 

As much as I repeat “setting boundaries” to protect our energy, sometimes, it’s going to fail. 

Frankly, it comes with the territory, right? When someone you know and love is hurting, you feel the need to help them out, even at a cost. 

It’s important to know that you’re just a human being and you will, at times, fail. And you know what? That’s okay. 

What’s that proverb again? Fall down seven times, stand up eight. That’s right.

Give yourself the grace to fail. 

5) Discover how you decompress

We’re already talking about failing to protect our energy, so we might as well talk about how to bounce back from it. Sometimes, the only way out is through, you know?

Relaxation looks different for everybody. I personally like painting and listening to music as it leaves me feeling zoned out and refreshed.

Yours might be different. And if you don’t know where to start, here’s an article by Business Insider where they listed 15 simple ways to relax, according to scientists.

How do you relax?

6) Distinguish if it’s actually your emotions you’re feeling

Empaths take on the feelings of others, like a sponge. You know this, it’s why you’re here in the first place.

Sometimes it’s out of the blue, when you’re out in public and suddenly you feel heavy and burdened. Sometimes it’s just the energy of a room or a crowd.

Sometimes it’s through a conversation with a friend, a passing comment, or something heart-wrenching on the news. 

The very thing that makes us ready to take action—that empathy, that understanding of others’ pain as if it’s ours—is the very same thing that can weigh us down. 

To protect our energy, distinguish which emotions are ours and which aren’t. Easier said than done, for sure, but helpful. 

Important to note: Other people’s emotions and feelings aren’t ours to carry, bestie. Despite good intentions, we can only hold so much. 

7) Practice mindfulness

Psychology Today says this, “To live mindfully is to live in the moment and reawaken oneself to the present, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.” 

To be mindful is to see objectively. To suspend judgment on an experience, a feeling, or a moment. To be mindful is to be present.

How can mindfulness protect our energy? After sorting our emotions, which ones are ours and which aren’t, we can choose to sit with what we are left with.

We can now process which ones are truly ours. 

8) Spend time alone

Empathy can feel very isolating, which is a funny thing to say as the nature of empathy is sharing a feeling. 

However, for the empath, all those feelings and emotions stacked into one person could be a lot all at once. That could be very isolating as the depth could be too much for one person to bear. 

So spending time alone seems like a good idea. 

Learn to sit with just your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Learn to identify them without the additional weight of other people’s emotions. 

9) Distance yourself from the stress 

If proximity is the stressor, perhaps distance is the solution. Choose to distance yourself from what causes you stress, emotionally AND physically. 

Listen to your body! Listen to your emotions! As much as it pains me to say this, the rest of the world will not tiptoe around you.

I learned that the hard way. 

You can only protect yourself as best you can and removing yourself from high-stress situations is one way to do it. 

10) Accept, don’t fear

Most emotions aren’t inherently bad, they just are. Most times, they just exist as something experiential and a lot of them are quick-passing, too. 

So accept and don’t fear. Try not to catastrophize the feeling, especially if it isn’t yours. This concept is easier said than done, for sure, but it’s one of those growing pains, you know? 

Difficult but necessary.

Okay, now what?

Look, it won’t be easy.

I need to tell you that we can only proceed with good intentions, grit, and hard work. However, the mere fact that you’re looking up this article is already purposeful. 

I could only hope that even if the way forward isn’t as clear, at least there might be fewer distractions. Take what resonated and rethink what didn’t.

Lastly, and if you can only take one thing from this, let it be this one: Even good things can be worked on.

Our empathy is not a bad thing, it allows us to be more understanding. More compassionate. More caring. More able to connect.

I believe empathy is a superpower in itself, but even superhumans need the right tools, the right team, and the right support. So can we. And I certainly would try the things I listed.

And I hope that so will you. 

Michelle Marie Manese

M Manese is a part-time creative writer, illustrator, and full-time fangirl hoping to find her way within the Content space. She makes art here: @michellemmanese

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