Are you overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, smells, and general hustle and bustle of Christmas? If you are, you’re not alone! Just the thought of navigating the shops at this time of year is more than enough to drive many of us to our laptops… hooray for online shopping! It’s common to encounter a large number of individuals displaying symptoms of stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression at this time of year, particularly those who identify as highly sensitive people (or HSP’s). I’m one myself, and the process of uncovering what I thought was ‘wrong’ with me has been an interesting, if lengthy, experience.
Around 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive. What does this mean? Well, an HSP is easily overwhelmed by sights, sounds, smells, violence or aggression. Some HSP’s are introverts (though not all), and can be labelled as ‘sensitive’ or ‘shy’, sometimes feeling the need to withdraw following a stressful day at work, or busy social interactions. Symptoms that HSP’s commonly report after experiencing overstimulation include:
- Poor concentration
Many highly sensitive people will go out of their way to avoid overwhelming situations at this time of year, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness, because even though it may not seem like it, HSP’s need healthy social interaction just as much as anyone else. If this sounds like you, or even someone you know, then please read on because the suggestions below may be the difference between feeling like an outsider in every situation (or worse, being too afraid to attend anything at all), and being able to meaningfully participate in a variety of events this holiday season.
Journalling is a really good way of getting to know your limits and triggers. When you journal regularly, patterns soon emerge which increase self awareness. Use this information to create appropriate management strategies.
Plan your time.
Planning out in advance which tasks you need to do and when is helpful to avoid overwhelm. It’ll keep you organised and on track, and avoids any unnecessary trips out to the shops. I find it useful to have a diary (yes, a real diary!) that I write my to-do-list in, along with each of my daily tasks. Is disorganisation one of your triggers? If so, then planning is a must for you.
Make sure you schedule down time.
Work and family schedules are usually manic towards the end of the year, so planning regular periods of relaxation is really important to reinforce your boundaries and support your mental health. It’s easy to get so caught up ferrying the kids around or finishing off work tasks before the end of the year, that by the time we realise we’ve overdone it, it’s too late!
Nourish your body.
Stay on top of your nutrition! It’s hard, especially with so little time and so many delicious treats, but HSP’s tend to be fairly sensitive to processed foods, so please try to eat well! If you find you’re running out of time, or constantly scraping through the fridge and pantry for something to eat because you haven’t been able to face the supermarket, order online! I love doing grocery shopping this way because it also gives me time to do weekly meal planning and I feel a lot less frazzled.
Return to your comfort zone often.
Most sensitive people will have somewhere where they feel ‘safe’: Generally, somewhere quiet and peaceful. I, for instance, feel safe when I go out for a walk in one of my favourite spots by the water. I just tune out and let my mind wander. Having this safe place and returning to it often helps to calm the nervous system, getting us ‘back to base’. It’s a little bit like when a small child ventures out to explore their environment; they come back to their safe place (mum or dad usually!) when they feel scared or unsure.
Know your limits.
This is a bit tricky to define because, obviously, it’s different for everyone. You’ll know your limit has been reached when you start to feel overwhelmed and panicky, often accompanied by a compulsion to run and hide until the feeling passes – stopping just short of a panic attack, although they are common too. Unfortunately, real life means that we can’t always escape from every situation . It’s about managing these feelings. Not ignoring them, but channelling them into a more rational outlet. Journalling is a really good way of getting to know your limits and triggers. When you journal regularly, patterns soon emerge which increase self awareness. Use this information to create appropriate management strategies.
Finding the balance as an HSP.
It’s a fine line between overwhelm and isolation. Maintaining a vibrant social life is important, because humans are all still social animals to the very core. Don’t overcommit to social engagements because you feel obligated to go and/or guilty if you don’t. My advice is always to try and plan ahead as much as possible, so you can have a healthy social life without feeling overwhelmed. It sounds silly, but I have a certain number of social outings each week that I can deal with without feeling overwhelmed, so I plan everything around that.
Need more information?
It’s always nice to know you’re not alone. If you’d like more information on this topic, I can recommend an excellent website that has resources, books, self-tests and research for HSP’s. You can also contact me here if you’d like to book an appointment or understand more about treatment strategies for an overworked, stressed, anxious or depleted nervous system.