On high sensitivity & overwhelm

cherry-tree-984545_1920As a highly sensitive person, I react strongly to both physical and emotional stimulus. Put me in a brightly lit, loud, crowded location filled with strong scents and emotions and I’ll become overwhelmed and burned out in a short space of time.

When this happens, my brain gets fuzzy and I struggle to focus. Nothing sinks in and I can’t collect my thoughts. Words refuse to come and I’ll usually stumble over the most basic of sentences.

I’ve noticed there are a few stages to over-stimulation. I’m sure you’ll recognize some or all of these. Depending on my energy levels starting out, this process can take several hours, or several minutes.

Stage 1 – I’m feeling great.
I’m excited to be here. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to and I’m energized. I’m likely circulating with my friends and meeting new people. I also enjoy one-on-one conversations about interesting topics.

Stage 2 – Starting to get drained.
I’m getting a little tired but still doing alright. I’ll probably grab a few snacks from the food table. I’ll keep circulating and being social. But I’ll start thinking about when I can head home.

Stage 3 – Getting fuzzy, let’s take a break.
I’m starting to get irritable. I’ll likely take a bathroom break and spend extra time washing my hands before heading back into the fray. I’ll stay towards the periphery of the room and avoid the crowded areas. I might grab some more food.

Stage 4 – I can last a little bit longer but I want to leave soon.
I’m pretty close to my limit. Ideally, this is when I’d leave to avoid getting completely burned out. I have a little bit of energy left but only enough to say goodbye to my friends.

Stage 5 – I can’t concentrate, time for another break.
I’m at my limit. I’m irritable and miserable and all I want to do is go home. I usually take several more breaks, both to the bathroom or outside. Anything to get away from people.

Stage 6 – This isn’t fun, I need to go home.
I start feeling panicky and trapped. Especially if someone approaches me that I don’t want to speak to (and at this point, it’s everyone). The need to escape is strong. If someone says something upsetting at this stage, I’ll usually get emotional.

Stage 7 – I’m silent but probably still smiling on the outside.
I feel awful. I’m miserable and overwhelmed but I still keep up appearances. I want to look like I’m enjoying myself but I can’t focus on anything. Things are a fuzzy blur. I have no energy left to engage in pleasantries.

Stage 8 – I’m done (you can find me hiding in the bathroom).
Please don’t talk to me or look at me. I can’t hold up my end of a conversation because the words just won’t come. My brain has stopped functioning, except to tell me how anti-social I’m being. I’m miserable and completely burned out.

I used to burn out at nearly every social event I attended. I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t having fun like everyone else. But since learning more about my introversion and high sensitivity, it’s been easier to take care of myself. Here are a few tips to help slow down burnout.

1. Alone time.
Schedule in alone time both before and after your busy event. This will ensure you’re running on full energy beforehand. It’ll also give you time to unwind afterwards.

2. Stay well fed and hydrated.
Running low on energy is a terrible feeling. Doing so on an empty stomach is even worse. If there’s food at the event, ensure you’re filling up on healthy options and stay refreshed and hydrated. Bring your own snacks and water if they aren’t readily available. It may not stop the overwhelm, but you’ll feel better for longer.

3. Monitor your energy levels.
Keep an eye on how you’re feeling periodically. Take as many breaks as you need and don’t feel guilty if you can’t socialize the whole time. Listen to what your body is telling you and act accordingly.

4. Prepare an exit strategy in advance.
It’s easy to say that we’ll leave an event early. But we often feel obligated to stay longer once we’re there. Have an arrival and departure date in mind and stick to it. You can also plan out what you’re going to say as you leave. If you feel great and want to stay longer, go for it! But take care of yourself first and foremost.

What are your thoughts?



16 thoughts on “On high sensitivity & overwhelm

  1. Bart Leahy says:

    Depending on the situation, I’ve set a time limit for myself. Two hours at a social gathering is usually plenty for me, depending on the crowd. My average “limit” is two hours, so even if I don’t set that limit/alarm, my body knows to the the heck out anyway. I started doing this back in my 20s, and I’ve rarely apologized for it. I just reach my limit, say my goodbyes (or ghost, depending), and disappear. Occasionally I surprise myself and go well beyond two hours, but usually that’s with people I know well. In uncertain/unfriendly social situations, I’ve lasted as little as five minutes (no foolin’)! I rarely have an excuse planned, especially if I’ve been somewhere two hours. If I leave very early, I’ll blame work, which is much more plausible as a freelancer.

    Anyhow, my advice to you is not to feel you have to apologize for leaving at whatever point your senses reach saturation. On occasion, I’ve just said, “It’s been fun, but I’ve reached my limit.” The good news is that “introvert awareness” is becoming more common, so there’s usually less explanation.

    Other ideas:
    –If you know adult beverages will be consumed (either because of the occasion or as a means of reducing anxiety), take Uber/Lyft/taxi to/from the event. Or, if you’re driving, restrict yourself to one or two adult beverages. When said drinks are consumed, you’re out of there.
    –Find out if a fellow introvert is going and tag along with them. You won’t have to make as many explanations. Or that person can serve as your excuse for leaving early.
    –I try to leave around Stage 2 or 3, as you described them–in other words, while I’m still in a talkative/good mood. When I can feel myself slowing down or getting cranky, it’s time to bolt.
    –Ask interesting questions to get people to talk about themselves. I wish I could think of some, but my sister is really good at it. I’ll ask her. 🙂 The idea being, anyhow, to have more in-depth conversations than the usual chitchat.

    Have fun! If you can’t manage that, fake it well!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      I totally agree with having a time limit. For me it’s usually 2-3 hours depending on the situation. That’s usually more than enough time to catch up, socialize, then head out before things get too overwhelming.

      I also appreciate those tips. I love going with introverted friends because we’re usually ready to leave at the same time. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Salvageable says:

    That sounds a lot like me–although I sometimes begin at step three, completely missing steps one and two. I remember an event I had to attend where I spent pretty much the entire evening in the hall with two other friends. I never entered the main room to get to the food table or beverages. Then we had to go into another room for a presentation. I was one of several people from my department to be acknowledged–and about two thirds of the department was in the same corner of the room because it was least crowded. J.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. traceyr1984 says:

    I agree with everything you wrote! I like to make sure I have some quiet time after an event, preferably alone. I always run into problems when I have too much scheduled close together, like on vacation. usually I will try and sneak in some alone time by doing laundry or taking the dog for a walk or skipping a hike and staying by the fire. Going to bed early with a book works too.
    Being a menopausal introvert can be so hard! Many days I wish I could move to an isolated cabin in the woods, just for a few months!
    Thanks for sharing so many good tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      I love the idea of living in seclusion, at least every once in a while 🙂 I’m also the same when it comes to vacations, I need that quiet time in a peaceful location or I’ll go crazy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Joanna Lynn says:

    I’m so happy you’ve discovered both the steps to being burned out and how to prepare and take care of yourself in social situations. Parties have never been something I can’t wait to get to, but, when I go, it is usually pleasant and I just get quiet toward the end.

    Liked by 1 person

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