“We need an entire lifestyle that suits our trait and a strong sense of being justified about doing what we need to do.” ~Dr. Elaine Aron
The other day when things were fine, I thought this holiday season would be easier, and then as if a storm blew in from nowhere — it wasn’t.
I wasn’t doing well.
So, I asked myself:
What happened? Why the grumpiness and extra sensitivity? Is the latter even possible? Why does even the air hurt my feelings?
I was surprised by the words I wrote in my journal in response.
As a highly sensitive person (HSP) and therapist, the holidays are often too much of everything for me. The overstimulation, overthinking, and extra feeling are all very real.
Sure, for me, it’s super sweet to hear a Christmas carol or two, but not the day after Halloween. And what about Diwali, Hanukkah, and other wintertime celebrations? Why does Christmas takeover? It sure feels good to wish my friends Happy Diwali and Blessings at Hanukkah, but even that gets pushed out of place because there’s another Christmas reindeer photobombing the space.
As HSPs, we notice all these things, from the loud music to the nonstop commercialization to which holidays our friends celebrate. We wear our heart on both sleeves, but we also need to learn how to tuck our heart sleeves inside where it is safe and warm.
For Highly Sensitive People, Overarousal Is Real. As Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, writes, “Overarousal is the greatest problem for HSPs, and while there’s plenty written on stress management, little of it is specialized for us. We need more than a few new techniques. We need an entire lifestyle that suits our trait and a strong sense of being justified about doing what we need to do.”
The holidays become a race earlier and earlier every year. Most of the time, the holiday season feels like a movie on highspeed, and the expectations that follow supersede the essence of love, connection, and realness that our highly sensitive selves cherish.
The commercialism that fills our inbox and runs across our newsfeed, and the stores we visit drone with a heavy ka-ching. It’s a competition much like a marathon to see who can achieve and buy more and last longer.
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you may feel constantly overwhelmed.
Even the Elf on the Shelf is deliberately performing half-heartedly.
So, I pulled back, and that’s when the sweetest of whispers spoke to me:
What you really need is more time to be with the knitted shawl of quiet and honor your sensitivities.
How to Protect Yourself During the Holidays. And with that, dear HSP, please recognize you might cry more during the holidays than you normally do. It’s okay. Sentimentality and being full-of-heart, that’s you; however, you also need to protect yourself a lot more.
Take those naps, read a book, listen to music. If Aunt Petunia visits, let her take the kids to the park.
“You need ample permission to turn off some of your sensitivity to the needs of others. This is not selfish — for example, it could make your partner a far happier person. When you try to behave like a non-HSP and help everyone who you sense needs it, you are bound to succumb to overarousal…[Without taking breaks,] this can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety [and] irritability.” –Elaine Aron
Remember a time when you felt more centered. Maybe you had some extra time off or a longer weekend. What usually happens is you feel better because you were allowed time to decompress. And in that space, you could be yourself and cherish the time away from the busyness. This is meaningful to you as well as necessary.
So, please push aside what pokes, prods, and picks you apart, and instead listen to the bells of the stars, sip that Irish crème moon, appreciate the silence from the glow of candles and the flavors of evergreens holding pinecones. Light the menorah.
Originally published in Highly Sensitive Refuge: For Highly Sensitive People, the Holidays Can Be Too Much
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."