Surviving the World With a Tender Heart - The Wholesome Handbook

I’m sensitive.

I have a heart that breaks every single day. I frequently suffer from sensory overload – I get anxious in crowds, in cars. I hate bars and parties. I’m easily spooked and easily offended. Cereal commercials make me cry.

I am also intuitive, empathetic, passionate, and poetic. I see beauty in humble places. The smallest things manage to take my breath away in wonder and awe. I am easily moved and quick to love.

There is a lot of shame surrounding sensitivity. We don’t exactly live in a culture that celebrates those of us who walk a softer, more complicated path. But I happen to think that we are badass warriors, blessed with a deeper understanding of joy, pain, sorrow, and beauty. We are so significantly affected by people, places, and other stimuli because we understand the implications, the repercussions, the rich complexity behind every minor detail.

It’s tough out there for those of us who feel deeply. It took me 26 years to figure out what I needed to not merely survive, but to thrive as a sensitive person. Of course, I wholly believe that you’ve got this – but if you’re ever in need of a little respite, it helps to remember a few simple things.


Just do you
The world is not kind to the tenderhearted. I’m sure you’ve heard every variation of “grow a pair-toughen-up-don’t be so sensitive” that there is. At worst, we’re thought of as weak and out-of-control, we’re laughed at, we’re handled with kid gloves as if we might break down at any second. At best, our very public emotions solicit rolling eyes or worried mollycoddling.

At some point, you have to say ‘fuck it’, and just do you. Not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to understand you, and it’s not your job to make them do either. You do not owe anyone an explanation, a rationalization, or an apology for being who you are and feeling what you do. Be your radical, soft-souled self and wear it proudly.

Cry it out
Tears are so healing, so cathartic, such a relief, so let them fall. We often forget that our wonderful bodies are always taking care of us – studies have shown that crying can stimulate the production of endorphins, which, of course, make us feel better.

No word of a lie, I keep a little playlist of YouTube videos that can make me cry without fail. I often find that once the tears are flowing, I begin to cry about something else entirely, something that I didn’t even know I needed to cry over. It’s a great trick to subvert the subconscious desire to suppress negative emotions, and give them space to exist. Crying is the act of freeing your sadness, frustration, anger, desperation, and fear from their cage. Let these dragons exhaust themselves, and they’re more easily tamed.

Have a sanctuary

Every tenderhearted warrior needs a retreat. Mine happens to be water. Whether it’s a scalding-hot bath, an exhilarating dive into a glacial lake, or slipping silent into the Bow River on a summer’s evening, water heals me. It offers an escape, a world-away-from-the-world, a place to decompress. Yours could be the library or the night sky, both with their thousands of universes. You could lose yourself in the kitchen, in the beautiful consistency of numbers, or scrambling sure-footed up mountains. Your sanctuary is a place of prayer, of release, of wonder and comfort. Spending time there will help you re-emerge into the world refreshed and strengthened. 

Be the good
There is an overwhelming amount of hate, ignorance, and injustice in the world, and our vulnerable, humanistic hearts want to make it right. Sister, you can’t take it all on single-handedly. You are a warrior, yes, but you will not win if you try to destroy or defeat. It’s not in your nature. But you have the incredible ability to sort through all the dung and find gold. Use your sensitive superpowers to pour love and forgiveness and righteousness and gentleness and beauty out into the world. That is how you can fight the good fight, and still preserve your heart. When you are fighting the wrong battles, you become bitter and cold and desperate. Stick to your arena, and you will win.

Express yourself
Sometimes crying just isn’t enough to help you work through something. This is where art comes in. Creativity is self-care. Cook, dance, paint, write, knit, sing, design, dye, and play your way to a happy heart. Don’t worry about being good, just make something. If you trust your hands, they’ll know what to do.

From my tender heart to yours.