We’ve been down a person at work this week. As a result, everyone has been a lot busier and I’ve been answering far more phone calls than I’d like. Monday was the worst. After a hectic day of dealing with clients, I went home to do some much-needed food prep.
Now I love making food. It’s relaxing and a great way to unwind. Not so when your roommate camps out in the kitchen for the entire three hours you’re cooking. She didn’t have anything that required the kitchen. She just wanted to be social. By the end of it, my half-hearted replies weren’t even coherent and I wanted to curl up in a ball. I made my escape as soon as I finished up the dishes.
When I’m overwhelmed my brain doesn’t function. I can’t explain how I’m feeling. I can’t think or analyze. Emotions, feelings, irritability, and frustration ebb and flow in my mind. I can’t piece out in words replies to normal questions or comments. And unfortunately, telling my roommate I’ve had a busy day and am feeling dead isn’t enough for her to lay off.
To counteract the overwhelm, I went full anti-social on Tuesday and Wednesday after work. It was a success! I felt so much better. I did have a Tango class on Wednesday night. But I love dance class, so it’s not something that’s too draining.
But it was a good reminder of how delicate the balance is between quiet and noise. With a busy spring and summer coming up I need to be more aware and proactive about taking the quiet time I need.
How’s your week going?
Busy weekends can be fun. But they inevitably lead to stress down the road. This past Friday and Saturday were hectic. Both days were filled with lots of people, loud conversations, and long hours of driving with passengers. By Saturday night I was completely drained both physically and mentally. Sunday was a slight improvement but I still spent the better part of the day with my roommate as we grocery shopped and food prepped.
Then the work week started again on Monday. I knew my roommate would be home early that day. So I decided to head to the gym for a workout and some much needed endorphins. It was awesome. But as soon as I walked into our place, she started chattering at me, and my mind blanked.
You know the feeling of total burnout? When you hear something but you don’t comprehend it. She kept stating random things about her day and expecting some kind of response. But my mind was so frazzled I couldn’t come up with anything in reply. I replied with, “oh” and “yeah”. But all I could think of was “I don’t care” and how much I needed to escape. I just couldn’t do it. So after a few moments of awkward conversation I headed to my room to recharge. Fortunately I’ve had two days of relative quiet to recover and I’m doing a lot better now. But it was a good reminder of my limits.
How was your weekend?
As 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?
When I get overstimulated, my brain starts to feel fuzzy. I can’t think straight and it takes me a long time to process anything. My reactions are slower. All the noises blur together to create a dull roar in my ears. The lights are too bright and there are too many things going on at once. I can’t focus. I’m tired and my legs feel heavy. I get irritable and I feel as if I’m stuck in one spot, unable to move. My patience fades. I start to feel panicky. I need to get away from the crowd. I become lethargic, unmotivated, and apathetic.
But what do you do if you can’t go home right away? Maybe you’re carpooling with someone and they’re not ready to leave yet. How can you deal with feeling like this? Especially if you’re surrounded by people?
I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me when I’m feeling overstimulated.
1. Pay attention to how you’re feeling throughout the day.
Try to check in with yourself periodically and assess how you’re feeling. Are you tense, relaxed, fidgety, calm, nervous? Are your muscles tight or relaxed? Taking time to notice how you’re feeling throughout the day can clue you into how much energy you still have. And if you know you’re starting to feel drained, you can combat it right away, rather than dealing with the consequences after all your energy is gone. On a normal day, I usually check in with myself every hour or two. But if I’m attending a busy event with lots of people, I usually do so every ten minutes. This is what works for me, but the times may be different for you.
2. Break time.
If despite your best efforts, things are still getting to be too much, take a break. Most introverts already know that the bathroom can be a lifesaver. Politely excuse yourself if you’re in a conversation, then go there immediately. If you’re in a public building, you’ll probably have a cubicle to yourself. I usually just sit there for a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll listen to music for a bit. If its an option, head outside, away from the chaos. Try to find an empty space that you can have to yourself. The last time I attended a busy convention, I found a quiet corner of the building to sit down in. There were still crowds of people milling around, but being on the edge, rather than in the middle, helped immensely.
3. Don’t run on empty.
Being overstimulated is bad enough. If you’re also hungry or thirsty, it makes things even worse. Try to bring a snack and water with you wherever you go. Especially if you know you’re going to be gone for several hours or more. It can be as simple as a granola bar or some trail mix. I’ve found that eating something almost always improves my mood. But of course, try to bring something healthy that will energize you, rather than something that will make you feel more sluggish. Even if food is available for purchase, if I don’t have the energy, I can’t motivate myself to stand in line with a bunch of other people. That’s why bringing a snack is so important.
4. Use positive affirmations.
When you’re overstimulated, things can get pretty negative. I always get irritable when my energy is low. But remind yourself that you’ve been able to do similar things in the past. Look back on previous situations and successes where you were able to make it through. Reassure yourself that you only have to stay there for a certain length of time before you can go home. Let yourself count down the time until you can leave. Also promise yourself that you will take some quiet time to recharge. However much you need. Then make sure that you do so once you have the chance.
I wanted to share a few things that continue to help me deal with overstimulation. The only “cure” for overstimulation is getting the quiet time you need. But there are a few things you can do to make it easier for yourself.
How do you deal with overstimulation?
On the average work day, I feel overwhelmed multiple times. Often, this is my cue to go for a walk, or grab a cup of tea. Towards the end of my work day, I’m usually very over-stimulated.
I have a difficult time describing how it feels to those who have never experienced it themselves. The best way I can describe it is as a fuzzy feeling in my mind. Everything is too bright, any noises are too loud and irritating. I’m easily distracted and have difficulty focusing. My eyes will flit around the room, looking at everything, with no specific purpose. I’m easily startled if the phone rings. If around a lot of people, I’ll focus on one conversation, then switch my focus to a different one. My thoughts usually feel very hazy. I’m usually more affected by heat and cold. If I’m with friends, I can’t focus on what they’re saying or formulate any response. I’ll sit or stand there smiling, but not contributing to the conversation. If someone asks me a question, I’ll fumble for an answer, usually stringing a few words out awkwardly, then moving the conversation back to them. Since I feel inadequate about being unable to properly communicate, I get stressed out and tense. As you can imagine, this isn’t something that I enjoy. On a normal work day, the level of over-stimulation is fairly high. If I’m stuck at the mall for a few hours, its a lot worse.
This is why I try to monitor my energy, so I can prevent myself from completely shutting down and feeling like this. I’m still trying to figure out the right balance.
If I’m away from home, I’ll try to take small breaks, even a trip to the bathroom can help a bit. Or I’ll state that I need to grab a coffee and sit down somewhere quiet. These small things can help at the time, but I still need my alone time once I get home.
How does over-stimulation affect you? Do you have any tips?