Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person hiding behind a wall

HSPs: How to Survive Social Isolation When You Live with a ‘Loud’ Personality

They say opposites attract, and nothing could be truer in my marriage. I’m very sensitive, and in college, I fell in love with a football player with a bulky build and an even bigger personality. Our dates usually looked like him chatting over cheesy fries while I simply listened. It was comfortable for us both. Fast forward twenty years, however, and those personality differences have proven to be, at times, a challenging dynamic.

It was a Saturday when the social distancing protocol became serious. Every new email in my inbox announced another cancelation for my children’s school and extracurricular activities. After weeks of hearing dismissive talk about the virus, things suddenly began to feel real

My husband and I process stress very differently. He started to bang around in the kitchen, collecting dirty dishes and grabbing the mop. I tend to absorb his emotions, and the stress that he projects goes directly to my “inbox” of negative self-talk:

He must be mad that I didn’t take care of this earlier. I’m such a sloppy housekeeper. I am a disappointment of a wife. 

I’ve worked with my therapist on establishing internal boundaries, and a friend of mine gave me the advice of pretending that I am Wonderwoman deflecting those negative thoughts when my heart tries to carry others’ feelings.

“Are you mad at me?” I blurt out, knowing this question never leads to a productive discussion.

“We’re in a pandemic!” he blurts back. “Our kitchen is gross! I’m just doing my part and cleaning.”

I close my eyes and tell myself to deflect, deflect, deflect. “I need to go for a walk,” I announce, and I don’t wait for an answer as I head to the door. The baby crawls after me whimpering and fussing, so I scoop him up and bring him with me out the door. The fresh air and natural scenery seems to calm him down as much as it calms me. 

‘I’m Scared’

Once I step outside, I notice immediately how quiet everything is, and I realize that the activity in our home had become far too overstimulating for me to tolerate.

Of course, nothing going on inside was harmful or dangerous, and in fact, it was the exact opposite: My children were laughing and playing together, and my husband chose to help clean up the kitchen without my prompting. Nevertheless, the noise, the lights, and the unspoken emotions had quickly overwhelmed me.

I breathe in the fresh, cool air of early spring. It’s an ugly time of year, and the transition of the seasons procures several paradoxes: the cool temperature juxtaposed to the noticeable warmth of the March sunlight, the naked oak trees looming over the blossoming pear trees, their brilliant white petals rounding them into gorgeous, plump flora. 

It’s in this setting where I finally collect my thoughts and admit the obvious: The newly announced pandemic and the social distancing protocol has me anxious. My eyes well up with tears as I announce to no one, “I’m scared.”

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How to Survive Isolation as a Highly Sensitive Person

These are unprecedented times, and the gravity weighs on all of us. Highly sensitive people (HSPs), who may be more prone to depression than others, should especially be intentional about establishing certain habits and boundaries to protect their mental health — but that can be challenging if we share a space with other personalities.

So, here are some suggestions to survive an extended period at home if you live with a “louder” personality, children, or anyone who can be overstimulating:

1. If your government still allows it, get outside.

Being in nature has a soothing effect for many HSPs. Bring a book outside to read, go for a walk, sketch the plants in your yard… get some fresh air and connect with the peacefulness of your natural surroundings. In the U.S., experts agree it’s still okay to go outside. Just stay at least 6 feet away from others, and avoid touching public benches, door handles, elevator buttons, etc., which may carry the virus.

2. Find a quiet place in your home.

If you haven’t already, be clear with your loved ones that as a highly sensitive person, you need to recharge from time to time. That may mean gently but firmly telling your children you need a few minutes alone, or reminding your significant other that you can hang out after some alone time first, or instilling a mandatory household quiet time for everyone.

Here are some tips on how to create an HSP sanctuary in your own home.

3. Find something to make, not absorb.

Netflix and scrolling through social media may be a distraction from stress, but all those thoughts in your brain need an outlet. Doodling, knitting, painting, or journaling are all healthy activities for quiet mental stimulation.

4. Let your light shine.

HSPs can be introverted or extroverted, but most need quiet time regardless. Chances are, if you’re sensitive, you already have the skills it takes to stay inside without going stir crazy — but not everyone else is so lucky.

Many people are feeling lost without the social interaction they need to thrive. Show the people in your household the inner peace and joy that comes with being a homebody. Exude calmness; they will appreciate it. 

I found my own calm again after my walk. The physical movement and the open sky cleared the cluttered thoughts that had accumulated in my mind in a short time. I began to let the negative filter in my brain drain so more life-affirming thoughts could enter. I just needed some space to process.

This too shall pass: Our families, our towns, our country, and our world are going to get through this pandemic. In the meantime, take care to honor your personality while demonstrating patience with those who live with you.

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A version of this article originally appeared at our sister site, Introvert, Dear.