How do I function without alcohol or other addictive substances and keep my mind calm?

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Empaths are often prone to experiencing sensory overload where the world just seems like “too much.” So there is a tendency to reach for addictions (alcohol, substances, sex, food, shopping, gambling, etc.) to quiet the external and internal stimuli and go numb to shut the world out. It’s important to recognize this unhealthy addictive pattern in yourself and shift it. This means learning strategies to consciously decrease stimulation in your life through asserting your needs, taking alone time, dealing with emotional triggers and regular meditation as well as daily self-care. Twelve Step programs can also be useful. You can do this!

If you suspect you are using alcohol, drugs, overeating, or addictive behaviors to manage the sensory overload of being an empath, take some time to reflect on how you cope by evaluating the following statements from The Empath’s Survival Guide.

I Turn to Substances, Medications or Other Addictions When:

  1. I’m overwhelmed by emotions (mine or another’s)
  2. I’m in emotional pain and feel frustrated, anxious, or depressed
  3. My feelings are hurt
  4. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin
  5. I can’t sleep
  6. I feel emotionally unsafe in a situation
  7. I feel criticized, blamed, or rejected
  8. I feel shy, anxious, or don’t fit in socially
  9. I’m isolating at home and I need confidence to go out in public
  10. I’m tired and need an energy boost
  11. I feel drained by energy vampires
  12. I want to escape and shut out the world

Here’s how to interpret this self-assessment:
• Answering yes to even one statement indicates that you sometimes turn to an addiction to cope with your sensitivities.
• Answering 2-5 yeses indicates you are moderately relying on an addiction to self-medicate feelings of sensory overload.
• Answering 6 or more yeses indicates you are largely coping with empathy by engaging in addictive behavior

(To learn more see the section on empaths and addictions in “The Empath’s Survival Guide.”)

Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Her latest book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk. Her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive HealingExplore more information about her Empath Support Online course and speaking schedule on www.drjudithorloff.com.

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