4 Ways a Highly Sensitive Person Can Thrive and Not Just Survive the Holidays
Do the holidays make you overwhelmed too?
I can think of 10 million other places I’d rather be than a holiday party. One of them is a cave with a friendly, cuddly (probably smelly — because since when do caves have showers?) lion. Smelly, cuddly lion sounds a lot more fun than a roomful of people asking me the same question on repeat while donning ugly sweaters.
The holidays suck. Any HSP would agree with me, right?
Highly sensitive souls, unfortunately, know overwhelm all too well.
Why the holidays suck.
For an HSP, (highly sensitive person) the holidays are equivalent to being on too much acid (or any substance that sends your sensory system into overload).
I’ve never done acid, but I have done one too many holidays.
Even as a small child, I hated the holidays. I loved my family and holiday food and presents and parties — but in moderation. When all the things that I loved were lumped into small chunks of time, I felt overwhelmed. Overwhelm led to anxiety. Anxiety led to exhaustion.
As a child, the onslaught of holiday parties often forced me into my room for days and days of hibernation in order to reset my sensitive system. (Where was my cuddly, smelly lion friend then?)
I remember my three younger siblings calling me a grump, a Grinch, and a snob, among other flavorful adjectives. “You won’t spend time with us. You’re always hiding out in your room. Why?”
They just didn’t get it. For 18 years I was misunderstood by the people I thought loved me the most. My siblings fell into the classic friends and family of and HSP trap.
You know the one, right?
You do, trust me — you’ve just been internalizing it all your life. Most friends and family of HSP’s take it personally when we need our very cherished space — often.
They think it’s about them. They don’t get it’s about you. They assume you feel things the way they feel things.
I spent most of my life feeling guilty for taking the space I needed to re-center. I didn’t feel guilty for bringing myself back into balance. I felt guilty for constantly disappointing my loved ones. I lost friendships because I constantly said no to invites. My family relationships became tense because I had trouble saying no and then felt resentful and distant when I attended events that sucked my soul from my body with each bit of small talk and hors d’oeuvres nibble.
I’ve learned 4 things that continue to quell my psyche of guilt and bring balance to my easily overwhelmed, hyper-emotional self, highly-sensitive self.
1) Don’t put yourself on the backburner.
You matter. A lot. Did you know that?
I always tell my therapy and coaching clients that you can’t give from an empty cup. If you’re running on fumes, you’re not a great asset to anyone, let alone yourself. And what happens when you give and give from an empty cup? You eventually become bone dry. That’s a code word for burnout. A burned-out HSP starts to resent the neediness of others.
One of the first signs that I have an empty cup is that I start to tune out when others start to express their needs or their deep feelings. Feelings and needs are gold to my deeply sensitive soul — so I know I’m on “E” when feelings turn me off.
2) Learn to say no — and mean it!
“I’m having a New Year’s Eve party, hope you can make it.” — Says an overly chatty co-worker. And before you’ve even had a chance to answer, they ask, “Can you bring the champagne?”
Your desired response: “NO!”
Your in the moment say-what-they-want-to-hear-because-you-get-high-off-of-making-people-feel-good response: “Okay.”
Let’s pause here and present you with a lesson in “No.” It’s a short and simple word. It’s perhaps one of the most concise words in the human language — a little word that packs a punch in one syllable. But to an HSP who is fine-tuned to the needs of others, it’s a scary, frighteningly honest word.
No means no. Not yes. Not maybe. It’s blunt. It’s to the point. And if said the right way, it can be a thank you, but no thank you respectful kind of response.
When you start to let your authentic feelings speak for you, no becomes empowering. Using it will show others more of your true colors, strengthening the relationships that are healthy — and perhaps weakening the ones that weren’t so good for you in the first place.
People that love you will be happy when you start to set boundaries. Why? Because a happier you means you have more you to give to the ones that matter most.
Let’s give that conversation one more shot with the new and highly authentic you:
“I’m having a New Year’s Eve party, hope you can make it.” — Says an overly chatty co-worker.
Knowing this co-worker talks without taking a breath between sentences, you quickly interject: “That sounds fun, thanks for the invite, but I already have plans.” (Plans meaning a date with your favorite Netflix show, a bowl of popcorn, your two cats, and passing out before midnight — but why do you need to tell your very extroverted co-worker that?). Sometimes less information is more information. A simple, “No” would have sufficed — but us HSP’s have trouble with short, blunt statements, don’t we?
3) Stop worrying about what others think of you.
Someone will always judge you, disagree with you, or find fault with something about you. The most important thing for a sensitive soul to remember is this:
It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Most people (pardon my French here) have their heads up their own arseholes. They are more concerned about what you think of them than you know. They, like you, are their own worst critic. They have a difficult time being their own best friend. When you say no to them, it might be strumming a rejection cord that was put there way before you entered the picture.
Self-compassion 101 recommends we become our own best friend. That looks like you backing you up 101%. Having compassion for your needs means meeting them — often.
4) Make balance a priority (even if it means saying no, putting yourself first, and being misunderstood by others).
This one sums up the first three tenets with a little bit more gusto. HSP’s can’t handle all or nothing living. Our burnout fuse is much shorter than non-HSP folk.
We do well with moderation — and lots of it. For me as a single, self-employed mom, this means saying no to things — a lot. This means sometimes being misunderstood by others. Sometimes friends don’t understand when I can’t see them for three weeks — and that’s okay. I’ve learned the good ones get it; they know that when I’m present, I’m completely present. Us HSP’s value relationships above all else. When we spend time with people, we are there — soul, eyes, ears, heart and all.
It has taken me four-plus decades to learn the relationship I must put first and foremost is the one with my very own self.
The holidays might be a jolly good time to a majority of the population, but for any HSP, a few “merry” days can set them back for weeks.
Fellow HSP, I know sometimes you need permission to say no and take it easy.
I hereby grant you permission to not give a fuck about what anyone else thinks and take it easy this holiday season. You just might find that jolly old self again — and if no one is there to be jolly with you but your cat, a bowl of Trader Joe’s herb popcorn, and a season of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, then so be it!
The world needs more merry HSP’s this holiday season.
Are you with me?
One quiet moment at a time, let’s get our merry on!
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