Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Dr. Lily Le Ph.D., R. Psych
Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Dr. Lily Le Ph.D., R. Psych
Empaths are a misunderstood bunch. Pretty much everyone can feel empathetic toward their fellow humans. But what about a level of empathy where you mirror other people’s emotions, have a hard time in crowded places, and need a lot of time and space to calm yourself down?? If you find yourself overwhelmed by your surroundings when other people seem fine, you might be an empath.
Being an empath can take a toll on your mental health. You’re processing everything, all at once, at every angle, more than the average person. Sooo, how do you take care of yourself?
We’ll break down what an “empath” is, the traits of an empath, and some coping strategies for empaths, so you can take care of yourself and continue to be your nurturing, caring, amazing selves.
What exactly is an “empath,” besides a solid gold TikTok trend?
The word actually originated in science fiction! It was first seen in a 1956 novel called The Empath by J.T. McIntosh. In the novel, empaths are people who can read emotions in the same way a “telepath” can read thoughts. If you’re a Trekkie, you’ll know that empaths exist in Star Trek too, with characters like Deanne of Troy.
The word has transitioned from sci-fi to real life. The science isn’t conclusive on whether or not “true empaths” exist, referring to people who can accurately pick up on other people’s feelings and take them on. For those who believe in spirituality, being an empath can take on a whole other meaning with psychic awareness and connections to people. For many psychologists, “empath” is a label for someone who is highly empathetic, or more empathetic than average. For this article, we’ll stick with psychology.
Origins and definitions aside, what are the traits of an empath?
For those who consider themselves empaths, the traits are more than just crying at the first ten minutes of Up, or knowing that your partner is upset when they show clear signs of anger. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, author of An Empath’s Survival Guide, some of the signs of an empath include:
It’s like regular empathy turned up to 11. While this can make your interpersonal relationships really great, it can also be hard to deal with. So how do you take care of your mental health when your empathy is off the charts??
So how do you take care of your mental health when your empathy is off the charts??
When you’re a highly sensitive person, it can be suuuper exhausting to feel everyone else’s emotions, plus dealing with construction noise, your neighbour’s dog barking, your roommate chewing at the volume of a jet engine taking off… it’s all too freaking much!
Some “me time” where you take care of yourself, by yourself, is much needed. You can go on a nature walk to enjoy the quiet, book a spa day, or take a bath when you have the place to yourself. Get rid of all those chaotic and disruptive distractions for a while and just breathe.
Not every overstimulating situation is avoidable. If they’re doing road work outside of your home, you can’t exactly march outside and tell them to stop. It’d be a great story if you tried, though.
Overstimulating, loud, and crowded places can be triggers for empaths. If you know that a certain event or crowded area won’t mesh with you, let your friends know that you’ll skip it this time, or that you’ll head home early. It’s healthy to know your limits and stick with it! Being hesitant to be in a loud and crowded place is 100% understandable. Tell your bestie that you’ll catch them for a chill brunch tomorrow. Plus, you save yourself some money and avoid the hangover. It’s a win-win!
If you’re an empath, make sure you check in with yourself after you spend time with certain people. How do you feel? Exhausted? Insecure? Guilty? If you have a bunch of negative feelings when you spend time with someone but can’t really put your finger on why, it might be a sign of emotional manipulation (or just a shitty friendship). Empaths can attract people who will take allllll the support, encouragement, and reinforcement, and give nothing in return.
We know you wanna be there for them but you’ve also got to think about you! No matter what the other person is dealing with, make sure you’re checking in with yourself and your feelings, and setting any boundary you need. Speaking of—
If you’re an empath, you might find boundary-setting to be super challenging. If your friend is going through a tough time and venting for hours on end, you want to be there for them, even if you don’t really have the emotional bandwidth to handle it that day.
Let’s make one thing very clear: setting boundaries does not make you a bad friend, family member, partner, or loved one. In fact, setting boundaries can improve your relationships because you feel good about your interactions, never put yourself out when you don’t have the capacity for it, and have a clear, mutual respect going on.
If you don’t have the emotional capacity to listen to a stressed friend rant about their day, you can say, “I care about you, and want you to feel better, but I’m not able to take this in today. Can we talk another day?” Simple, clear, respectful of them, and it shows that you care. We love to see it.
Like we said before, it’s gonna feel hella uncomfortable at first, but trust us when we say that setting boundaries will reeeeally help you and your relationships in the long run.
This goes hand-in-hand with boundaries. You can’t set a boundary without communicating, right? Unless you build a literal fence, or cover your ears when someone starts talking… but let’s avoid those methods if we can. Communication is important in our relationships with others, like resolving fights and standing up for yourself.
People with a lot of empathy can pick up on what other people are feeling, and may find themselves in a people-pleasing mode because they want other people to be okay. But are you okay??
If you’re exhausted, overstimulated, or frustrated by someone else’s behaviour, you gotta communicate! Even if you think it will elicit a negative reaction. You can always communicate in a way that’s as constructive and reasonable as possible. Just like your boundaries, you are totally justified in speaking your mind and letting people know how you really feel.
Absorbing everything around you at a couple notches higher than average can become too much at times. One of the best things you can do as an empath is to practice mindfulness!
Mindfulness is all about bringing your attention to how you feel in that very moment. No one else’s emotions or worries, none of the stress of your work or school, and all your focus on you. It can help ground any anxiety or stress you feel and build calm. As an empath, that’s suuuper helpful when you take on so much from everything and everyone.
It seems like it’s a big, intimidating practice to get into, but you just gotta start small! You can do our (free) Daily Dive in the DiveThru app to fit mindfulness into your day, in anywhere from 1 minute, 3 minute, or 10 minute lengths. Or you can take a mindful walk in nature, leaving your AirPods at home, and noticing the sights and sounds around you as you bring your attention to your body and your breath. Practice makes perfect! If you start small and stay consistent, you’ll be able to get into a calm mindset easier with time.
Mindfulness, communication, and setting boundaries is all well and good, but what if you struggle with those things? It doesn’t come easy to most empaths—especially if you’re dealing with someone in your life who won’t take boundaries, or any perceived criticism, very well. If you’re having a hard time handling your highly empathetic personality, going to a therapist can have major benefits for you.
A therapist is there to help you learn how to manage your empathy, self-regulate, and feel okay with setting boundaries and communicating. They’ll help you stay empathetic while taking care of yourself! The best of both worlds, Hannah Montana-style (sorry if we just got that song stuck your head, but at least it’s still a banger).
Being an empath can be powerful and positive, but it can also have drawbacks. So remember to take care of your mental health while you navigate your highly empathetic life!
Read More: 7 Helpful Ways to Take a Social Media Break, 5 Signs of Emotional Abuse & What to Do Next,