When you are a highly sensitive person, getting overstimulated is an all-year-round issue. From fun summer cook outs to Thanksgiving and Christmas get togethers, the potential for getting overwhelmed is always there!
If you’re like me, you enjoy the buzz of friends and family talking, laughing, and having a good time. But after a while, the noise, flutter of activity, temperature, and social interaction come crashing in and all you want to do is lay down in a dark room.
It makes you feel completely exhausted. Like you can’t think clearly and may need to sleep for the next week to recover. Before I knew that I was a highly sensitive person, I assumed this is what it meant to be introverted.
Being introverted contributes to some of this, but when you start to feel almost dizzy from everything going on, it tends to be more of a highly sensitive thing ?
Things Most Highly Sensitive People Can Relate to
Growing up, I learned that I was too sensitive. Well meaning family members, friends and classmates told me, “Tia, you’ve got to grow thicker skin!” “Stop wearing your feelings on your shoulders.” and of course, the classic and simple, “Girl, you are toooooo sensitive.”
Being called sensitive didn’t seem like a good thing so I developed a belief that being it meant that something was wrong with me– that ‘sensitive’ was a nice way of saying ‘weak.’
Along with being easily hurt, I was also really timid and shy, terrified of getting into trouble, overly empathic with everyone, and phobic of conflict. I was easily overwhelmed by chaos and time crunches, loud environments or getting too hot.
Many Highly Sensitive People relate, too. Our nervous system programmed to be alerted to subtleties. When things are not subtle, it can completely overwhelm us. And we get Overstimulated.
Because of these challenges, I developed a reputation at family get-togethers for my disappearing act. At some point, I can’t handle the noise or chaos anymore and I find a quiet place I can lay down for a bit. From the next room, I could always hear someone looking for me and another person answer, “ah, she’ll be back at some point.” I have trained them well Muwahahahahah!
Being a Highly Sensitive Person Doesn’t Make You Weak
As an adult, I found out that 20-ish% of the population are highly sensitive people. The challenges I experienced growing up are part of what it means to have the trait.
These 20-ish% of people have a ‘differently’ wired nervous system that is more reactive to subtle changes in the environment… We are more likely to notice trouble brewing in those around us well before the other 80% has caught on to anything being different.
If you think about it, it’s actually a pretty adaptive response.
I mean, if you’re in a situation that could be dangerous, wouldn’t it be beneficial to have a person around who is capable of spotting subtle changes in the environment?
You’d be more likely to spot a problem while you still have time to do something about it. I take that to mean highly sensitive people are basically superheroes. Right?!
The glasses ⬆ are just my cover story ?
Highly Sensitive People also tend to be really creative, empathic, peacemakers. It’s an unfortunate side effect that loud, chaotic environments can get over stimulating fast…
Related: Highly Sensitive or ADHD? They are more alike than you think!
When that happens, we’ve got to have a plan to help manage the overwhelm.
How to Manage the Overstimulation When You’re Highly Sensitive
I developed these methods over a life time but they’ve proven themselves in every overwhelm I’ve faced. From Thanksgiving and Black Friday madness to summer cookouts with too many people taking shelter inside from the rain.
Related: The 5 Self Care Tips You Need to Know (but probably don’t)
Take. A. Break.
I can’t emphasize this enough.
If I try to power through that dizzy feeling, I start getting really irritated and feeling sick. I’m miserable.
Find the quietest space you can and do something less stimulating. Lay down. Play with dogs. Read. Meditate. For me, I don’t even listen to music because it’s like my brain just can’t handle more noise. Just chill.
If you have noise cancelling headphones, use them. I’ve been a little obsessed with these lately because they are good and much cheaper than anything I’ve seen.
Do it when you take a break to help calm the mental chaos. Focus on your breath. Imagine a tranquil forest. Whatever you need to feel calmer. If you suck a mindfulness, you MUST read this post. It helps.
Do it when your in the overwhelm. It’s a lot harder here, but very helpful.
In the overstimulation, I will lean on my husband, close my eyes, and try to listen to the space between words from conversations happening beside me. Ir I will shift and try to pick out the sound of my husband’s breathing over the noise in the environment.
It is calming and eases the overstimulation.
Calm with Your Senses
Along with mindfulness, grounding with your 5 senses can be helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Pick out things that you can focus on–particular sounds, textures that provide comfort, visuals that are soothing.
Pick things that feel calmer and less stimulating and try to focus your attention on that one thing.
My favorite way of doing this is with my diffuser necklace and essential oils. Our sense of smell can impact the way our brain experiences our surroundings and certain smells work better than others.
Go for smells that are good for stress or anxiety. Like these recommended from my friend at Green Oklahoma. You want something that works on the stress and that you also find pleasant to smell.
Stay Away From the Middle of the Crowd and the Loudest People.
The middle of the group is the loudest part of the environment and it’s also the most chaotic. I find that too much time in the middle makes me feel like I’m going to pass out.
In every group, there’s always the one or two people that laugh so loud you could probably hear them across town. I stay away from them too.
I tend to keep to the outskirts of the group and talk to the quieter people or play with the baby in attendance. It’s a bit less overwhelming than hearing someone practically scream in my ear.
Doing this, many highly sensitive people find that they can spend a little longer being part of the crowd before needing a break.
Get The Pressure to Reduce Overstimulation!
If you’ve been around Little Miss Lionheart for very long, you’ve heard about my weighted blanket. I’m a little obsessed with it. Turns out, it’s a godsend for highly sensitive people.
I recently started getting underneath my weighted blanket when I’m overstimulated from a crowd. I notice that when I do, I start to calm instantly. The pressure is very grounding and soothing. And I can relax.
It’s great to do when you’re taking your break (assuming you have it with you). If not, use it when you get home as part of your decompressing time. It’s well worth it.
But if I’m being honest, I usually bring mine with me to events where I know I’m likely to be overstimulated. You might look weird bringing it a long but I find that I don’t really care ?
Tip: If you get a weighted blanket, you want it to be at least 10% of your body weight. Personally, I like mine heavier, but that’s me!
Sleep. Lots of sleep. And Rest.
Once an overstimulating event is over, I sleep like the dead. And when I wake up, I don’t want to move.
If it’s really bad, the next day is spent with as a self care day. I’ll nap, watch television on a low volume or read. I won’t do anything mentally or physically stimulating because my brain is basically on strike!
Related: How to Get the BEST Sleep of Your Life!
When you are highly sensitive, the effects of a major overstimulation can last for a while. Over Thanksgiving last year, it was so bad for me that I took an entire week off from the blog. My brain was so DONE that it took a while to build my energy back up.
So don’t be surprised if some situations can really set your energy back and require quite a bit of self care to overcome!
Sometimes Highly Sensitive people struggle with judging themselves for getting this overwhelmed or needing this much time to recover. One thing I’ve learned is adding self judgement on top of this overwhelm will only make the overstimulation worse. And it will take even longer to resolve.
It’s best to allow yourself the self compassion to accept that your body and brain have been overwhelmed and need time and space to calm and reorient. It’s not good or bad. It just is.
Connect With Me
These are the things I use to manage overstimulation as a highly sensitive person. I’d love to hear what you do. Leave it in the comments!
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Heather Hill says
Hi Tia! Yes to all of these things. Thank you for sharing and reminding me of all of these important self-care tips!
I like to find an activity for myself that lets people know that I am slightly busy, but I can be interrupted. I have recently learned to knit and crochet. It keeps my hands busy and gives me something to do. My mom likes to do Sudoku puzzles. I also have some puzzle books that I haul around to keep my mind occupied, but not fixed. These activities are like mental buckets to put myself in, but to still be available.
If people are in a group mood, family board games can be the best break! It provides structure and something to focus on for everyone. Or a puzzle that people can work on and come and go as they like. Or a holiday movie that people can also come and go as they like. These “anchoring activities” (either individual or in a group) really help me to feel settled and to have less pressure to perform.
Stay well this holiday season fellow HSP! Thank you for the great reminders!
This is all relatively new to me. Until last year, I thought I was just broken. I’m doin so much better and feeling like I’m finally myself in this world. My trick is to refocus on the task at hand. Reminding myself to stay on task keeps me from getting frazzled and also allows me to feel like I have control of myself. That’s all we really can control. I’ve also made it a point to remind myself to treat myself like I would my best friend – fairly and kindly. ????
We just finished Christmas with my family and will be with my in-laws by the end of the week. This is exactly how I feel on a daily basis. I homeschool my 7 children and many days I just want to hide and be left alone. I may have to run away for a little while just to make it through the day on Friday.
I never really put it together until recently, but I find I escape by doing the dishes at family gatherings. I’m usually in it alone and it doesn’t appear that I’m avoiding people…just being helpful. It took my older son asking me to help him escape without being rude, to realize I had been practicing self-care for a long time. I shared my secret with him, handed him a towel, and we silently cleaned the kitchen.
Tia Cantrell says
Great ideas Angie! It’s funny how we do things sometimes to support ourselves without even realizing that’s why we’re doing it.
This was blog was really helpful.
Our family has camped for many years. After the children grew up we began to travel in the US and then in other countries. When I am anxious, tired, heading towards a seizure or panic attack in a group of people, I pick a place that we have been and focus on one particular thing. I use remembrance of vegetation, smells, sounds, etc. to keep my mind from going in an uncomfortable place. My latest meditations are centered around sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Hawaii, watching sea turtles swimming below. I smell the salt air, hear the roar of the surf, and feel the spray and wind in my hair. I also renter the Redwood Forrest in CA and smell the fragrance of the trees, the quiet of nature, and the smell of campfires. All is peaceful, all is well. Go to where you have been and love retraveling to your best loved places. This world has much beauty to offer us, not just the anxiety of living in a pandemic.
Johanna Klop says
Hi Tia, just started reading your blog about HSP. Im 55 and the last 4 year years Ive finally realized I struggle with being overstimulated..duh… . when Im feeling good i tend to forget to limit myself to stimuli..so I do it all over , too much company and all those things until I feel like Im crashing…but Im not, its my body telling me , time out!!!.I have difficulty practicing selfcare, and feeling selfish about that. What an eye opener that Im not going crazy!! I enjoy reading other comments about this, as i say ME TOO after i read it.. Thanks for all your info!!