It struck me like a happy bolt of lightning when I recently discovered that I am a highly sensitive person:
"A highly sensitive person is someone who’s more sensitive to physical and/or emotional stimuli than the general population. They have sensitive nervous systems, are more attuned to subtleties in their surroundings, and are more easily overwhelmed by highly stimulating environments. Interacting with people drains introverts; sensory input — sights, smells, sounds, emotional stimulation — drains highly sensitive people."
~ Anne Bogel, Self-care for the highly sensitive parent
So much of my life, personality, and nature made sense through this lens. Not only that, I could see the strengths it has given me--compassion, intuition, knowing how to make others comfortable, etc--rather than view these qualities as weaknesses. (Find out if you are an HSP here.)
The holidays can be an overstimulating time for anyone, but if you're a highly sensitive person (or have a highly sensitive child) this time of year's extra stimulations can swing you to the extremes of positive or negative fairly easily.
Here are a few suggestions to keep an even pace over the next month:
1. Online shopping - the only way to go.
I've finished nearly all my Christmas shopping, without ever stepping into a store. With the influx of crowds, noise, and just stuff in brick-and-mortar shops, I consider online shopping after the kids go to bed an absolute Godsend.
I need to go to one physical store to get stocking stuffers, but I'll coordinate that wisely so I can be in and out at a less busy time of day.
2. Think carefully about your travel schedule.
Being stuck in traffic at the "most wonderful time of the year" may be a struggle for a highly sensitive person. Steve and I made a decision years ago that since neither of our families live nearby, we would stay home during the holidays and choose other, less hectic seasons to travel.
This Thanksgiving we spent on our own as a family, and it was perfect--so relaxing! Then we went to a friend's home for dessert.
If you have to or want to travel, keep your sensitivity in mind as you plan. Can you go extra early and avoid the rush? Can you make sure you're not traveling back to back days on end? Also keep in mind that, as a highly sensitive person, you'll need "recovery time" when you reach your destination.
3. Pay attention to your senses and make the most of them.
Highly sensitive individuals have a heightened nervous system, and therefore heightened senses. Just knowing this encourages you to pay attention to what you like and dislike during the holiday season when it comes to sounds, smells, and tastes.
I've always wondered why I don't enjoy having Christmas music on in the background at home with the kids.
Now I understand the answer: children noise + music = too loud and chaotic! So we mainly listen to music in the van together, when we can really enjoy it and not have it as extra background noise.
4. Think carefully about sugar--for you and the kids.
I love sweets, but I can't take an overload of sugar straight from Halloween through to the New Year (like our culture seems to encourage) without it affecting me. I can handle a day or two of pie (yes, please!), but then we need to get back to normal.
This year I'm opting out of most pre-holiday baking. We'll have our Christmas day traditions: homemade cinnamon rolls, chocolate pecan pie, but not a continual stream of cookies and candies beforehand. This feels like the right balance to keep my nervous system (& that of my little people) where they need to be.
5. Gratitude, always gratitude.
As a highly sensitive parent, your nerves tend to ride the waves of the moment. You can go from a sweet hug with a child early in the day to their full-blown screaming tantrum later. The tantrum will impact you more, and for much longer.
Finding a way to remember the special times in the midst of the crazies of parenting will help you stay stable in those nervous system-hijacking moments.
As a writer I find that I'm able to remember and give thanks better with a pen in hand. No matter what goes wrong this holiday season, there are things going right. Intentionally focusing on the latter will enable us to handle the former with a bit more grace and patience.
Enjoy your highly sensitive holiday this year!
"We are forced to make choices and set priorities, but being very conscientious, HSPs often put themselves last. Or at least we give ourselves no more time off or opportunity to learn new skills than anyone else. In fact, however, we need more."
~ Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person