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How we can build a better relationship with ourselves

“The relationship with yourself is the most important one of all”.

Just reading that statement will probably bring up conflict within. Your intellect might agree but other parts of you will flinch, and come up things like, ‘that sounds selfish’, ‘I should put others first’, ‘I don’t even like myself’, an endless list of reasons to disagree.

This can be particularly difficult if we have a strong empathic nature because we are so tuned into other people’s feelings and we worry about what they think. It can be very difficult to focus on ourselves. This will show up in technicolour when empaths then get into relationships, as they focus so much on the happiness of someone else, they get lost and their own needs or sense of self seems to dissolve. Empaths are givers and will often get genuine joy from doing things that make someone else happy. It’s a lovely trait so long as they don’t lose themselves in the process. If they do, they’ll often begin to feel invisible or taken for granted, which leads to resentment.

The only person who can keep our own needs, feelings, and sense of self, is us, so we need to know how to do this. It isn’t something that’s selfish, needy, egotistical, or self indulgent. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means that we can take full responsibility for ourselves, making it easier to spend time with us. We’ll ensure we’re always treated well and we’ll make sure the people we surround ourselves with are good for us.

Many people say they aren’t happy with themselves, for a whole variety of reasons. Weight, the way they feel, their energy levels, motivation, the way they look, the list goes on. The only person who truly can do anything about this is us. We are responsible for what we put into our body, how much we allow ourselves to sit around, or to do too much. We are responsible for taking ourselves off to bed, or to get up in the morning. Yes, there are many factors that can influence this, but ultimately we have the vast majority of control.

The more dissatisfied we become with ourselves, the more disconnected we become. This is a negative cycle. The more disconnected we are from our body, the less we care what we do with it or how we treat it, which only makes our head more critical. Bodies can’t change by themselves, they need our input. Our body is the most important resource we have, it comes everywhere with us and we rely on it to do what we want to do and get us to where we need to be.

How can we start building back a relationship with ourselves?

We have to rebuild back the connection to our bodies. When we get a closer connection and can tune into how we feel from the bottom up, it’s then easier for our empathic part to come back and treat ourselves with compassion and respect.

If we were to tune in and just sit with all of the sensations that are being communicated from our body to us and just be curious, we have that sense of connection. If we can learn to value each of these sensations, then we can begin the process of putting ourselves first again. To start to get the connection back again we can do things like using our senses. Using our noses to inhale lovely smells and notice how it feels inside. We can use our skin to feel soft fabric, or touch something warm or something solid. We can use our ears to listen to the birds, to running water, or to the music we enjoy, just feeling the connection with our senses and the way it feels on the inside. We can have a go at exploring different things, being curious and trying different sensory experiences to see if we like it or not.

If, for example, you go inwards and notice the way you are breathing, make sure you don’t judge it. Just accept that however you’re breathing right now, is the way you need to breath right now. Put aside any thoughts of correcting it. It can really help you to keep the focus on yourself when you are with someone else. If you can train yourself to keep tuning into your own breath, or feeling your feet on the floor, then instead of always focusing on another person, you’ll be focusing on you. You’re then less likely to lose your sense of self or your own importance.

We have to be able to keep focusing on ourselves. Not only will it keep us in the present moment and on an equal-footing, but we will have a much better sense of what’s right for us, because we’ll be able to read what our body is telling us. Things as simple as listening to our breath and not being judgmental about it, can be a massive step towards not getting lost or swallowed up. It can help us use our gut instinct to its full advantage, and be able to properly trust it.

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Different ways of managing a sensory overload in a world full of instant information.

Sensory overload is something I don’t think that we give enough attention to. The world we live in has evolved massively over the last 50 years, each year seems to accelerate the speed of that change. The more technology advances, the more it speeds up, and the more we then have to run to keep up.

If we go back 50 years, back then we barely had computers. There weren’t any mobile phones or even colour televisions, let alone ‘digital’ anything. The speed at which we communicated with each other was slower, we weren’t looking at bright LED screens. Life was slower, not so bright, maybe quieter in some respects. There were more family businesses and less huge shopping centres. With all change there are different pros and cons, but as humans we have had to do a lot of adapting in a short space of time.

All the information we take in is through our senses, through our sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. This information is what we use to make sense of things, to communicate and to regulate our nervous system. When we consider this, then it’s not hard to see how sensory overload could be a real thing and could affect the way we feel, how functional we are and our general wellbeing. Some fast food chains deliberately use brash colour schemes, which initially looks inviting and attractive but quickly makes customers feel uncomfortable and like they want to leave soon after they finish eating. Specialist autistic schools have only pastel colours in their classrooms, as primary colours are dysregulating for children with autism. This obviously does not stop when these children leave school, but they have to learn to live in a very bright sensory jangling world.

I have many clients who are becoming aware of their own sensory overload. It makes sense when we live with the effects of trauma, as we are used to being on edge, or hyper vigilant, taking in all kinds of information at a high speed. We are likely going to be super sensitive to sensory stimulation. I know how disorientated I get inside shopping centres and sometimes supermarkets. I lose my already poor sense of direction, I go offline and begin feeling very tired and confused, especially if it’s busy.

If we are looking at screens, our mobile phones, our laptops or TV’s for several hours a day, that’s a massive amount of sensory information coming at us. Maybe what we need to do is be more mindful about taking a proper break from these sources of stimulus. With so much amazing technology available, we expect each other to be available 24/7. If we don’t get a text back within minutes, we wonder what’s wrong. It’s almost unheard of to not carry our phones with us everywhere. It’s an immediate world, where we don’t have to wait for anything. We get immediate replies, we can order food in minutes, we get next-day deliveries and can access any information instantly. Time out needs to be the opposite of this so we can give our brains, bodies and our nervous systems a break, and time to just settle, not having to constantly work so hard.

So how can we manage a sensory overload?

In order to slow down and avoid a sensory overload, we need to start doing things slower. Starting with something simple like walking slower, deliberately taking our foot off the accelerator so we can take our time. If we go for a slower walk, it means we can take in more of our surroundings, be more curious and in the moment. We could also try eating slower, or drinking slower and savouring what we are actually eating. That way we can feel the process of eating and pay more attention to it.

We could try looking at only natural things for a while, studying things like the grass around us, or plants, trees, stone, wood or water. We can study them with our eyes and touch them with our skin. We can smell the different smells they bring. Children love playing with water, we could learn something from them and just see what it’s like to swish our hands around in cool water, or put our feet into a bowl of warm water. We can close our eyes and just feel some objects lying around the house, soft things, hard things, cold things and rough things, just to heighten the sense of touch.

If we all gave our senses a 15 minute break every day, it would be interesting to see what affect this would have on us. If we put it at the top of our priority list and made a point of looking after our senses, it might help us to feel calmer, more settled and not in such a rush all the time.