Self care for superheroes (what to do when it's all too much)

This is not what I had planned for today. But I just can't write about anything else. I'm gutted by some big stories in the news over the last several weeks—stories about hate and privilege. Stories about cultures that we refuse to acknowledge and therefore won't change.

If you're anything like me (and I suspect you are), you're in tune with what's going on in the world. You pay attention. And sometimes it's all too much for your sensitive heart to handle.

Big-hearted people who want to change the world are sensitive. Point finale. You just are. It's what drives you to do what you do, and it's what makes you good at what you do. You feel all the things. You bear witness to suffering as part of your work - whether at the front lines, through research or policy making, or through art. It's what makes you superheroes.

Sometimes that sensitivity can be overwhelming. And it can stop you in your tracks.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed, sometimes all I want to do is lie in bed in my sweatpants and eat hot buttered popcorn. Which used to make me really annoyed. WHY CAN'T I JUST GET OVER IT AND MOVE ON? I'd think. THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.

But of course it does. Of course it does. Being sensitive to suffering and injustice is necessary to make change.

Over the last several years I've learned to tune in to that desire to slow things down, and I've learned to acknowledge the sadness that comes from witnessing deep suffering. It's okay to be overwhelmed by it. It's necessary.

You can't move on until you feel all the feelings. Let your heart be broken.

I'm not going to tell you how to manage your overwhelm because I'm pretty sure you already have your own ways to cope. But I will share some of what I do when I need to take care of myself, in case you'd like to add to your stockpile:

  1. Er, hot buttered popcorn and sweatpants in bed (obvs)
  2. Long talk with a fellow sensitive soul
  3. Walk in the woods
  4. Strenuous exercise (swim, bike, run...whatever gets my heart rate up)
  5. Writing
  6. Cooking an elaborate meal (it's a form of meditation for me)
  7. Hot bath and a good book
  8. Unplug for a day (no emails, phone calls, or texting...or people)
  9. Car karaoke (singing at the top of my lungs is surprisingly therapeutic, but only when no one can hear me)
  10. Going to bed absurdly early

The point is to give yourself the space and time to feel what you feel, and then get it out of your system. And then you DO something.

Sometimes the feelings exhaust me, which is when I do sloth-like self care. Sometimes I get enraged and I need to sweat it out or purge in some other way (like singing...which in my case sounds a lot like barfing). And sometimes I need to contemplate more deeply. It just depends.

To all of you superheroes who devote your days to making the world better, thank you. To the superheroes who lost their lives for being themselves, who thought they'd found a haven in a world that still feels unsafe, rest in power. To the anonymous superhero who insists on accountability and who chooses to represent all of us women who have been harassed and assaulted, I see you. And to all the superheroes who get ignored because their stories aren't 'big' enough, I'm sorry. You matter.

Take care of yourself, friend. We're all in this together.

Sarah xx


What do you do to take care of yourself when it's all too much? Tell me in the comments.

If you know a sensitive soul who could use a bit of self care these days, please share.