Finding peace among the chaos — even in a calm corner of the room — is just one way for an HSP to escape an overwhelming situation.
Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) is completely exhausting. Spending every hour of every day overthinking everything and overprocessing every bit of information leaves an HSP in a constant state of overwhelm. And, worse yet, there’s not always an opportunity for us HSPs to get away from it all.
When you’re expected to care for others at work, or in any situation that creates a responsibility for you to be present, that feeling of chaos can arise quickly. However, there are things you can do to help make the situation more manageable. These things have worked for me. While I can’t do every single one all of the time, if I go through the list, there’s always one of them I can apply to the situation at hand. I hope they are as helpful to you as they have been for me.
7 Things an HSP Can Do When They Can’t Escape an Overwhelming Situation
1. Identify your triggers and prepare for them.
Some HSPs are more sensitive to certain stimuli than others. Sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even internal thoughts can overwhelm a highly sensitive person. The first, and most important, thing to do as an HSP is to identify which triggers affect you the most. You probably already know what these are, as they’re impossible to ignore. You may have many different stimuli that stress you out, but I’m referring to the ones that are just unbearable.
I know for me, it’s visual stimuli that cause that extremely overwhelming feeling. Not just any visuals, but messes: the couch cushions misaligned, the cat hair everywhere. When my environment is cluttered and messy, I can’t relax. It’s complete chaos in my mind. As a single parent of three, these messes are impossible to completely prevent or eliminate. But I can prepare for them. I can let others in my household know these things bother me. I can avoid darker fabrics and clothing so I don’t notice the cat hair as much.
Think of the things that bother you the most, and think of ways you can prepare for them. Ear plugs for yourself, headphones for your kids, carrying a lint roller with you. Do some brainstorming, and you’ll find external stimuli to be much more manageable when you’re prepared. I found it helpful to jot these down in a notebook. It helped me tremendously when I was brainstorming ways to help me prepare.
2. Try a mini escape, like a short drive.
Although you can’t always retreat to a peaceful place of your own, you can usually find someplace less stimulating, even if for only a few moments. There are HSP sanctuaries everywhere if you look for them. At work? Perhaps a bathroom break is in order. Or maybe there’s a task you can do outside. A short walk to another department might even do you some good. These mini breaks from overwhelming stimuli are very beneficial. They can help you relax and catch your breath.
As a sensitive person, I’ve utilized these partial escapes several times. With small children at home, I could never go to a less chaotic space and be alone, so in the mini van we’d go. I’ll pack up all the kids and go for a short drive just because I have to get away from the visual stimuli in my home. It does wonders for me. By the time I’m back home, I feel more relaxed and functional enough to start cleaning them up.
So, give this a try next time you’re overstimulated. Look for a partial retreat. It doesn’t matter if you only have a few minutes to spare. Take them. Take every one that presents itself. They all add up.
3. Escape in your own mind — visualize more calming scenarios.
No opportunity for a partial escape? Go somewhere peaceful in your own mind. Daydreaming is used by many people, not just HSPs, for escaping undesirable environments and circumstances. And they do it for a reason. It works. For HSPs triggered by internal stimuli, this tactic would be highly beneficial. It’s also a helpful coping mechanism for children, as they have little-to-no control over their environments. But it’s helpful for adults, too.
There are times I can’t leave the house or go to another room to escape. All the rooms contain the same visual stimuli that I’m so sensitive to. I go somewhere in my mind, multiple times a day usually. I think of myself leaving the house, driving around, and being alone. It may sound silly, but I promise you it works! It’s never for long, but I find it to be helpful. For you, it may be meditating or picturing yourself in some peaceful place alone. The idea is to restore balance within you. All I know is, it takes my mind off the things around me, which brings me to my next point.
4. Distract yourself — have go-to ideas ready.
When all else fails, highly sensitive people can try to create distractions for themselves. You may already do this without realizing it. Doing something other than processing the same stimuli over and over again (hello, overthinking!) can help you forget it’s there. At the very least, it should mitigate its influence.
These distractions can be anything: cooking, cleaning, calling a friend, gardening, and even watching TV can all be great distractions. The sky’s the limit here. Experiment with different activities and see which work best for you.
I write, browse online, read, and play with my daughter. It takes my mind off the messes around me. My 13-year-old, also an HSP, doodles on herself. Although her triggers are mostly auditory, distractions work for her just as they do for me. And likely, just as they will for you.
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5. Ask for help — these days, people are just a text message away.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help — “community care” is just as important as self-care. If there’s no other adult there to relieve you of the chaos, pick up the phone or send a text message. A friend or family member watching the kids for even 10 minutes could give you the recharge needed to better cope with the situation. Even if they can’t come over, talking to a friend is a good distraction.
If you’re at work, ask a coworker to cover for you for a few moments. If coworkers are too loud, feel free to ask them to quiet down (unfortunately, workplaces don’t often value HSPs, let alone understand them). There’s no shame in needing a little help or speaking out about what’s bothering you.
I’m very vocal about the way visual stimuli creates chaos for me. I have asked family members to keep an eye on the kids for a short period of time while I give myself a break from the situation. When I return, I’m better equipped to deal with all the stimuli. Had I not asked, I’d be a mess.
6. Find peace among the chaos — even in a calm corner of the room.
Even in the most chaotic houses or workplaces, there’s at least one spot the stimuli isn’t as strong — it can be the only clean corner in the room or the spot furthest from the noise of a party. If you can’t leave, find this “secret” spot.
Yes, the overwhelming stimuli will still be there, but it’ll be diluted to a certain degree. Distance yourself from the chaos as much as possible, even if you’re standing alone. When you have to deal with stimuli, even dealing with less of it can be enough to help you through the situation.
I often throw toys and school books to the other end of the couch, so I can have just two cushions that are visually peaceful. I’ll sit there with a cup of coffee and regroup. Although my living room is a mess, just those two empty cushions are helpful. Find your “two cushions.”
7. Focus on one thing.
This is one of the most helpful tips for an HSP feeling overwhelmed: Focus on one thing. If it’s too loud, try to tune it out by placing your concentration on the coffee mug in front of you. If there’s too much to look at, focus on a blank wall or out the window.
By placing all your attention on something mundane and underwhelming, an HSP can prevent becoming too overwhelmed by stimuli. This works for internal stimuli, as well: Focus on the item rather than on your thoughts.
I’ll often focus on my lawn by looking out the window. It’s ordinary, orderly, and underwhelming. Better yet, looking at the window only gives me a view of the outdoors. I’m unable to see the chaotic messes covering every inch of my home.
Most Important, Apply These Tricks Daily to Reduce Your HSP Overwhelm
If you find yourself unable to escape situations and are becoming overwhelmed, give these a try. Actively think about them and utilize them daily. If you keep a journal, keep track of what you’re doing in these situations. It’ll help you determine what’s working and what’s not. And, in no time, you’ll be less overwhelmed. You’ll see.
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