Wednesday, June 20, 2012

HSP Issues: How do YOU get overwhelmed?

It's no secret that one of the less pleasant aspects of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the periodic feeling of overwhelm (or "overstimulation," as Elaine Aron calls it) most of us endure. There isn't much we can do about it-- it's just part and parcel of being an HSP. As one HS friend once told me "When your flame burns really bright, it also tends to burn out faster."

As far as I can tell, there's not one single thing that causes an HSP to get overstimulated, although one thing I often hear is "I just had too much stuff on my plate."

Since we can't get rid of our propensity to become overstimulated, the next best thing is learning to "manage" it. This generally involves a combination of self-awareness and good time management with strong boundaries.

Self-awareness teaches us to stay "tuned in" to ourselves to such a degree that we can opt out of something we're doing, before we reach the point of getting totally frazzled. Self-awareness also allows us to stay on top of the specific things (or "triggers") that cause us to get overwound-- but since they tend to vary from person to person, I can't really offer a checklist you can start using.

From my own life, I know that crowded noisy events-- especially when combined with a longish journey to get to them-- tend to wear me out very quickly. The onslaught of noise, bright light, voices, people pushing and shoving and the energy of a crowd... at the end of a two-hour drive-- makes my head feel like it is going to explode. I also know that I can prepare myself for such events and do OK... BUT, if I have to participate at a time when I am already "really busy," then I know I am headed to a bad place

So, my "coping mechanism" (this is the time management part) isn't necessarily to opt out of the event, but to drive to the location the evening before, spend the night at a nearby motel, and then arrive at the event somewhat refreshed, at the end of a five minute drive. Does it cost more? Yes! But I'd rather enjoy one event at a leisurely pace than be frazzled by two.

On the surface, many may think "but I didn't have a CHOICE!" Indeed, sometimes we don't have a choice, but most of the time we can "create" choices by planning ahead, rather than just "letting life happen TO us." Unfortunately, many HSPs struggle with planning, as it tends to be a rather "left brain" (analytical) type of thinking process, where most HSPs prefer "right brain" (intuitive/subjective) thinking. However, in the interest of self-preservation, planning is one of those areas where we are well served by stepping outside our comfort zones.

Sometimes self-awareness, planning and time management for HSPs means that we may have to make choices we don't like. Sometimes we may choose to be part of something we know will cause overstimulation-- however, simply "being aware" (rather than "being taken by surprise") may help us deal with the situation. Sometimes we may want to be part of two things we like, but the intensity of doing both things will cause overwhelm... and we have to be willing to say "no" to one of them, in spite of perhaps feeling some peer pressure in the form of negative self-talk along the lines of "I should be able to do this-- any NORMAL person can." We must honor that we are HSPs... and we get to set our own defintion of "normal."

Talk Back! How do you experience feeling overstimulated? Are you aware of specific situations that lead to overwhelm, or are you not aware till you're "in the middle of it?" Do you have coping tools for these situations? Do you plan ahead and manage your time and energy output, ahead of potentially challenging situations or events? Are there specific types of events you have learned to say no to? Have you found a balance between "avoiding" and "managed participation" in life's events? Please leave a comment!

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  1. Hmmm, overwhelm... Such a big item for us... Because you mostly feel you don't have any control over it. For me the problem is not so much in the overwhelm but in making sure that afterwards I get my downtime. I took me almost forty years to get to that conclusion. Sometimes when a busy period is going on I have to start skipping things because I will crash to hard. Mainly I try to plan ahead and make sure there is enough downtime in my lfe, which is working alright for me. And that includes deciding sometimes to not go somewhere I would like to go... Thanks for making me think about it!

  2. I am much better at managing the situations that lead to overwhelm. I've learned some fairly straight forward tips and tricks that make a huge difference. My biggest challenge, by far, is what to do when specific people lead to overwhelm. Right now all I know to do is limit time with them, but since I'm mainly referring to family members in both mine and my husband's family, it is challenging. I sincerely like these people, but they are intense personalities and I am quickly exhausted by them.


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