Definition: Empaths are highly sensitive individuals, who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.
So, are people born this way; or are people shaped into this based on outside factors such as upbringing, beliefs, instilled morals? For the longest time, I have always thought that people are born this way, or that this was just a natural part of someone’s personality. But the more I take the time to understand myself, my own mental health, I’m starting to question this.
I am the second of 3 children. I have one older brother and one younger sister. I won’t get into the whole middle child issues subject (I’ll save that for another day), but I do want to delve into some of the experiences that I believe shaped the person that I am. My brother and I are only 18 months apart, while my sister is 4 ½ years younger than me. Naturally, the older siblings should look out for their younger siblings, right? But to what extent?
“You have to watch out for your little sister.” “Don’t let her walk in there alone if she doesn’t want to.” “You have to be brave for her, you’re the big sister.” I heard statements like these on a regular basis. Not just from my mom, but also from most of the adult figures in our lives. By the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I inherently “mothered” my younger sister without much thought or instruction. I was able to anticipate her feelings, fears, needs, etc. with little thought by the time I was 10, in the same way, I can for my own children now.
While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I do look at how much of this has played a part in how I interact with other people that I love and care about throughout my lifetime. I have always been taught, and I do firmly believe, that when you love someone and care about them, you put their feelings and wants ahead of your own sometimes. Of course, you shouldn’t be a doormat, but you should be selfless.
I believe that people can sense this about me, and are drawn to me to vent, to confide in, etc. And I am happy to be that person for the people I care about. I try to listen and remain nonjudgmental and allow people to get out of their thoughts. I empathize with the pain of the people that I care about, and my goodness—for the people that I love, it’s indescribable how much of their pain I actually feel myself!
But thinking back on my upbringing, I think about who was there for me to vent to? Who was being “brave for me” because I was the little sister? Who had to walk me in? Even as a pre-teen and teenager, my friends came to me to vent or for advice. I was “the strong one” in the friend group, and even called “the mom” of the group. Over the years, I grew used to being the strong one, taking on everyone else’s pain and problems, so much so that I was even able to act in this capacity for not only those that I care about and love, but also for people who are newly acquainted with me.
Those words and expectations of how I should deal with my sister that was drilled into me by my mom, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and other adult caregivers did shape me. The way I learned to discern and absorb her feelings taught me how to discern and absorb the feelings of others. These interactions taught me how to take on the feelings of others so much so that I don’t even realize what my own feelings about certain situations are.
So did my mom and older family members see something in me, something naturally in my personality that they knew that I could handle this? Was I “born an empath”? Or was this quality developed in me just by chance of birth order?
Transparent honesty: I have never struggled with this as much as I have in the past 2 years or so. Being an empath did not use to bother me, and was actually something I took pride in. I was happy and proud to be that person for the people I love and care about. But now, it’s becoming more and more exhausting. I don’t want to not be there for them, but I want to know how to not “feel” so much. I guess the real question is who is there for the empaths?
Once the news of our stay at home order sunk in, I began to think of how this would affect the vulnerable people around me. As a postpartum doula, my first thought went to the new postpartum families and how difficult this season of life can be. After you factor in the scare of Covid-19, the isolation of the stay at home orders, and the uncertainty of what life looks like in the future; it can be a recipe for depression and anxiety in a new postpartum parent. What is often a time in life filled with visitor schedules, grandparents staying over and meal train deliveries, things seem more tenuous as a family navigates safe social contact or in some families, no safe contact at all.
Fortunately, we do have social media as a way to connect to friends and others in the same season of life. Reaching out to other parents on a late night local Facebook group can be just the thing you need to get some questions answered during a 2am feed. For visiting with family and friends we have Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp, MarcoPolo and a myriad of other ways to connect to our loved ones digitally. But what happens when things feel a little more serious? What if you need a therapist at this time, or want to attend a support group? I have discovered there are a number of therapists taking their practices online to support their clients. Postpartum Support International has free online support groups that are bursting at the seams with people needing support. I’m also seeing a lot of local postpartum and birth doulas taking their support virtually to help with their clients. Some doulas even do 3am phone calls, because we all know that is when it ALL hits the fan! I am encouraged to see all of this support happening virtually; while it does not replace that physical shoulder to lean on, it beats operating in complete isolation. If I can give any new postpartum family advice for surviving this time it would be to build and maintain your virtual community. Lean on them, cut out anything at this time that causes you to feel anxious (Hello, Twitter and news headlines.) Eat well, get at least 30 minutes of sunshine and take as many naps as possible. We will get through this, and you will have one whopper of a story to tell your little one once they are grown!
Her website is www.simplypostpartum.com
Does lack of sleep really affect our mental health? ... Yes it does.
Do you sleep well at night? I hope you do! Sleep plays a very significant role in the management of Mental Illness. Do you ever lie wide awake at night (when you should or planned to be asleep) with all the thoughts in the world coming to your head? Do you find yourself looking at your phone when you can't sleep? (Don't do this, the light from the phone wakes our brains)
According to NeuroCore Centers 50%-80% of people seeking mental health care complain of issues with sleep, and those who are suffering from depression, anxiety, or ADHD are very likely to struggle with sleep.
Does this sound like you?
When I was in my Intensive Outpatient Program, I learned that sleep helps your mind reset and recharge. Additionally, I learned that the amygdala is in charge of our emotional responses. But it doesn't work properly if we are lacking sleep.
How exactly does sleep impact mental health?
Poor sleep makes it so much more difficult to deal with minor stress. According to Very Well Mind, research has shown lack of sleep is actually causing depression. Anxiety issues can arise with insomnia. Sleep problems are a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders. Just like depression and sleep are related--losing quality rest can amplify symptoms of anxiety.
Poor Sleep can cause : impaired thinking, you may be unable to relax, or using alcohol to help with sleep.
Moreover, have you ever heard of cortisol? A hormone that is responsible for our " fight or flight". When we don't get enough sleep too much cortisol is produced. Now your body is in a constant state of stress and you're unable to relax.
Here are some straight up FACTS!
I want to encourage you to talk to your doctor if you suffer from insomnia. I've personally been managing my insomnia for over 10 years. And guess what????? I do have depression and anxiety disorder.
Here is my mom, in the purple dress. And you can clearly see that I miss her. This was my wedding day. And the woman on the right was just 16 when I was born, I was her first baby and she is my other mom. I will tell this story about how and when I lost her at a later date.
Everyone's Mother Experience is Different. Be Reminded.
Today I am thinking about...
Those who have lost their mothers. What an extraordinary trauma to survive.
Today, I am thinking about those who have strained relationships with their mothers, and desire to make changes, but do not know where to begin.
Today, I am thinking of the single moms who are extraordinary and exhausted at the same time.
Today, I am thinking about the moms who struggle with mental health disorders and diseases on a daily basis and do their best just to get up and be the best parents they can be.
Today, I am thinking about the mothers who have lost their children.
Today, I am thinking about the mothers who have chosen not to be mothers but people have given them grief about their decision.
Today, I especially mourn with the women who desire to be mothers but cannot conceive.
Today and each day; especially Mother's Day I think of you and I send you love and hugs.
Everyone’s heard of the saying, “Sticks & Stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”. Do you believe that words don’t hurt you? Do you believe that someone you really care about saying anything out their mouth affects your mood? Well for me, yes words can hurt from a person I care about very much but I will NOT let my day be ruined though. Now, if it’s a person I don’t know at all & they decide to express anything that they would like to say, I wouldn’t care at all. I haven’t built a rapport with them & they’re most likely strangers, so they’re not important to me at all. Tone plays a very significant role with words. There’s no way one person can be very calm expressing themselves & the other person is very loud. The person that is calm will feel like they are not being listened to & will soon be quiet. I’m going to let you guys into my life. In one whole year, I have been living with previous friends because I couldn’t afford an apartment at the moment. I didn’t get kicked out but I left because with one person, our communication & words were way off with each other. We both felt like we were not listening to each other. We were both at fault & I felt like it was best we definitely go our separate ways. We were both better without each other before we’ve met each other. Now with the second friend, I had no choice but to leave. I actually got kicked out, she just wasn’t feeling it at all. I had to respect it, you know. Even though I didn’t understand what I did wrong. I still had to respectfully thank her & officially went on with my journey in NC. What I’m saying is, with those people I could have triggered something to them with my words without any notice & they could have reacted with a defense. I could’ve been the aggressor & never knew it. It taught me to actually think before I speak because some people can react in a way where it’s really hurting them. Last year, I was also taught that “just because a person is expressing something to you, it doesn’t mean their feelings are invalid”. Both parties have to make sure to respect each other so it won’t feel like both feelings are being voided. I would like to thank one of my great friends, Qwan. He actually has been with me through each step of the way of helping me with my communication skills & learning not to take everything personal. He makes sure I’m okay ALMOST EVERYDAY lol. He makes sure that I understand that things are not going to always be on my time. I’ve known him for almost two years & for him to actually pay attention & help me on where I messed up in life.. he’s an AMAZING PERSON.
Remember to be kind, remember to understand, remember to do things from the heart, even if the other person doesn’t understand. One Love.
When heartbreak is mentioned, for many the first thought is associated with the loss or end of a romantic relationship. However, heartbreak can also be the loss of a loved one (i.e. family member or friend) or even the loss of a job just to name a few examples. Whether we like it or not, we all at some point will experience heartbreak, if we haven’t already. When asked how you mend or deal with a broken heart, some would say that it is similar to the way you would deal with grief. If I must say, when it comes to having a broken heart concerning grief it hits differently. In my opinion, you never truly heal from losing someone especially if they were extremely close to you. You just learn to accept it but there will always be a piece of you that will remain broken.
In any case, whatever heartbreak you experience, the approach to mending or dealing with a broken heart are the same. You must deal with your emotions and move forward. Understand that dealing with your emotions can be difficult. You may find yourself happy one minute and the next minute you are in a corner crying. It is important to go through the process and not rush it. There is NO time limit on healing. Taking time to heal is the best solution for mending a broken heart.
Speaking from experience, I have dealt with two heartbreaks. One was the loss of my grandmother and the other was the loss of a romantic relationship. How did I mend my heart? Through praying and taking time for myself. By praying and taking time for myself, I was able to heal, reflect and find strength to move forward. I challenge anyone who is dealing with a broken heart to find peace, to heal and press on.
Emotional Distress defined means a highly unpleasant emotional reaction (such as anguish, humiliation, or fury) which results from another's conduct. (Merriam Webster)
Have you ever experienced emotional distress? I'm thinking the answer to that is a big Yes! Has anyone you loved ever humiliated or hurt you deeply? What about fury? Fury is a very strong emotional response. and some of us have even experienced this. One sad fact about emotional distress is that when its not addressed and under control it can cause physical pain.
You can't put a band-aid on emotional distress. It has to be confronted, you need to allow yourself to cry, MAKE space for the loss/distress, and learn ways to self-soothe. HONOR YOUR PAIN.
A classic way that emotional distress invades our lives is when we experience grief. Grief doesn't just occur when your are experiencing bereavement (loss of a person). You can grieve the loss of a friendship, a pet, the loss of a job, and especially romantic relationships.
Conventional methods focus on the stressor itself, using evidence-based approaches to either removing or coming to terms with the stressful situation. When you come to terms with the emotional distress you will be practicing Radical Acceptance. Oh boy... Radical Acceptance. I learned about this hard skill during my Intensive Outpatient Program last fall. Radical Acceptance means just accept things as they are, you can't change a thing, so accept things as they are. ugh! so hard to do right! I've found some ways to help cope to get you to Radical Acceptance.
Ways To Cope With Emotional Distress
Brandlyn Owens is passionate about exploring and educating herself and others about mental health topics. She's a momma of 2 kiddos and she resides in Durham, NC.