Managing emotions and minimizing overwhelm can be challenging for the highly sensing. As we prepare to head into the ‘holiday season’, this seems like a good time to focus on this, and develop and practice some tools for helping ourselves prepare and cope, and maybe avoid some of that overwhelm so common for the season.
Because we are sponges taking in so much input throughout the day, every day, it’s so much easier for us to run out of bandwidth, to feel like we just can’t take any more, to want to just hide.
If we get overwhelmed, from too much sensory stimulation among other things, we’re more likely to back out of activities…even when we’re looking forward to them, take even longer to make decisions, become grumpy and resentful, and get much less joy out of life.
Overwhelm happens with everyone at some point; highly sensitives are just much more prone to experiencing it, because of our sensitive nervous systems and the meaning we give to everything. Add to that the fact that many HSPs don’t afford themselves the kind of self care our systems require. If we’re busy taking care of others, performing, doing, doing, doing, and worry that it will look bad or weak to take time out or set those boundaries, and therefor ignore our needs, we’re in for a crash.
So how do we avoid overstimulation and overwhelm, avoid those crashes?
One thing that many therapists recommend for managing emotions, especially in the recovery arena, is the acronym HALT. And I think it’s particularly pertinent for highly sensitives experiencing overwhelm.
HALT references the focus on Hunger, Anger, Loneliness and Tiredness.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a good ongoing practice to check in with ourselves throughout the day and ask ourselves, “How am I doing, what do I need?” When we’re overwhelmed or upset or anxious it’s a really good time to do this self check in, and we can ask specifically if one of these experiences is showing up.
It’s perhaps even more likely that HSPs will become Hangry. You’ve probably experienced this many times…you get so hungry (even if you don’t realize it) that you can’t deal with things and you become frustrated or even angry.
This generally is due to a low blood sugar issue, and because we HSPs are so aware of our body experiences and connected with its responses, this can be pretty extreme. This has always been one of my responses to hunger; I never go anywhere without my water bottle…I hate feeling thirsty and not having an option, and a snack bar. It’s a no-brainer, because I know what I’m like when I get overly hungry. I do best when I maintain my blood sugar level by having a snack between meals if there’s going to be more than about a 5 hour break.
Being too hungry can also lead to lack of focus, energy depletion and lack of motivation, and if we are frustrated by this we can start to feel overwhelmed. So it’s not selfish to make sure we eat often enough…it’s necessary for brain function and emotion regulation.
There are also other things we can hunger for…connection, attention, companionship. These are things we HSPs tend to seek anyway. If we get depleted nutritionally, these can become more pressing. Checking in to see how we’re doing with connection can address the overwhelm, especially if we’re feeling unsupported.
While being too hungry can result in feeling angry, that’s certainly not only cause of, or time we find ourselves feeling that way. Because HSPs feel so deeply, our anger can itself become overwhelming…it can feel unmanageable. And if we don’t allow ourselves to be angry at others or situations, due to guilt or personal expectations, that anger turns toward ourselves. That’s never healthy.
Giving ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge and allow ourselves to feel angry allows us to then be able to take steps toward letting it go. Breathe into the feeling…identify where it is in your body and just be aware, then with each exhale give it permission to release. You can opt to go for a walk or do something physical that releases the anger in a healthy way, like stomping or screaming into a pillow, hitting a heavy bag or the bed.
It’s also good to know where the anger came from so its origin can be addressed in some way and it’s not repeatedly showing up.
Everyone has experienced loneliness at some point. Because highly sensing people crave deep connection, yet can often feel misunderstood or unsupported, the sense of disconnect can lead to feeling lonely.
We also have a tendency, especially those of us who are introverts, to isolate and avoid social engagements. And we can feel isolated because of others’ reactions or not being with those who get us. It’s so important to find other HSPs to engage with.
Even if it’s comfortable to stay home or do things on our own, it’s important for us to step out and engage with others, join some activities…with the right preparation and having enough energy, so we can experience the connection we need.
Everyone needs good sleep; HSPs really need good sleep. Our bodies use up more energy during the day processing everything all the time. We need our down time and we need our sleep.
I know that everything works better for me when I’ve had a really good night’s sleep. If I’ve not been sleeping well for a night or two, then do sleep well, it’s amazing how much better the next day goes…it’s so apparent what a difference that makes.
Not getting enough sleep can leave us grumpy, unfocused, low on energy and more prone to illness. Our immune systems need plenty of rest to process and detoxify our bodies.
We will also likely feel tired if we overdo. This is a chronic experience of HSPs. If we pack too much into each day or week, don’t have enough break times and don’t have a consistent self care practice that calms us and gives us energy, we’ll be depleted.
It’s hard to manage anything in life if we’re depleted, no matter how good our intentions.
HALT the overwhelm
So if we’re feeling overwhelmed, we can step back and take a look at how we’re doing, what’s going on, what we need. One way we can do that is using this HALT acronym…specifically ask ourselves if we’re hungry, angry (or another emotion), lonely or tired. There might be something else going on, but this seems to cover most potentials in some way or other. We need to honor our sensitive systems and give them the best fuel and tools possible.
If you’d like some guidance on your journey of minimizing overwhelm and managing your sensitive experiences, I’m available and would love to help. Connect here to see what’s possible.