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?
I enjoy conventions. There’s something that keeps me coming back. Despite the massive crowds, over-stimulation, and constant buzz of conversation. I love massive nerdy comic expos, arts and crafts shows, and local festivals. As an introvert this may seem a bit contradictory. But I’m learning to enjoy them in my own introverted way. Here are a few things that help me not only survive, but thrive in a convention setting.
1. Accept you can’t do it all.
This is the hardest but most important step. I wish I could thrive on noise and energy like an extrovert, but that’s not who I am. I’m an introvert. I’m learning to take things at my own pace, listen to my body, and make awesome memories along the way.
2. Plan ahead.
Most large conventions will post a schedule of events ahead of time. I’ll browse the list and star anything that catches my eye. I’ll then pick 2-3 per day that I must see. The rest I’ll attend if I have the energy. Rather than cramming in everything and being miserably overwhelmed, I get to see the awesome stuff that excites me.
3. Check your energy.
During the event I check in with myself every 30 minutes. How am I feeling? Am I hungry or thirsty? Do I need a break or am I okay to keep going? What “percentage” is my energy level right now? Am I slightly overwhelmed or near my breaking point? Then I follow through on what I need. I have to be extra vigilant as it’s easy for me to slide from okay to overwhelmed in an instant.
4. Take breaks.
I can’t spend a whole day at a convention. I’ve tried and I’m a burned out, frazzled, irritated, mess by the end. So now I go for a limited time each day with lots of breaks. If I’m hungry or thirsty, I’ll find a place to sit down and refuel. I bring a refillable water bottle and lots of healthy snacks. If I’m getting fuzzy, I’ll step outside and go for a short walk. Or I’ll take a bathroom break and sit in the stall for a few moments. This isn’t a weakness, it’s being proactive about managing my energy. If I can’t handle things and need to head home, that’s okay too. I’m not a failure for taking care of myself.
5. Travel solo.
This is not always an option, but it’s definitely helpful. In previous years I’ve attended events with a clingy extroverted friend and I regretted it. If you’re going solo, you don’t feel obligated follow the group even if you feel terrible. But if you are with a group, let them know you’ll be popping in and out periodically. With technology it’s a lot easier to rejoin them later.
Do you have any other tips?
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?