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You may be a highly sensitive person if you…
- Are easily overwhelmed by a lot of lights and sounds
- Find yourself affected by other people’s moods
- Need time alone after spending time with a group of people
- Have a sensitive palate and enjoy fine smells, tastes, and works of art
- Notice a big shift in your mood when hungry
- Feel easily flustered when too many things are happening at one time
- Notice yourself impacted deeply by the news
- Have a deep want for justice in the world
Does this sound like you?
Highly sensitive people are more sensitive to noises, lights, and sounds. They are easily affected by other people’s emotions and can get completely overwhelmed by the mess in their house. Being highly sensitive is a personality trait that has been well-researched by Dr. Elaine Aron and other colleagues. For more on highly sensitive people, we recommend reading the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Dr. Elaine Aron.
Parenthood can amplify your sensitivity.
When you become a parent, you are now adding in all of the new sensory input that comes with having a baby or child – possibly breastfeeding, always having the baby on you, extra sounds, textures, toys, and you may find it hard to care for yourself in the way you did before having a child.
When you become a parent, your life may feel like it is almost always chaotic; there are always noises, smells, and messes going on. It can be tough to manage your own emotional state as you are constantly in a state of managing other people’s emotional reactions. It can be extremely challenging to keep your calm in the chaos that is your life.
As a highly sensitive parent, you may feel:
- Completely overwhelmed by the mess in your house.
- Overstimulated by the constant talking your kids do.
- Angry when your baby won’t stop crying.
- Like you can’t be touched by anyone else, or you’ll lose it.
- Thrown off when your kids are out of their normal routine.
- Anxious because of the lack of predictability in what is going to come next.
It’s not all hard!
You may also enjoy the incredible gifts that come along with highly sensitive parenting:
- Feeling connected to other children and families.
- Feeling a strong sense of wanting to stand up for others.
- Deeply understanding your child’s emotions.
- A profound sense of love and protection for your kids and other families.
What can we do to help find our calm and feel less overstimulated?
Now that we have explored what it means to be a highly sensitive parent, I want to provide you with 6 practical tools that you can start using today to cope when you start to feel overwhelmed and overstimulated.
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1. Take a Sensory Break
This is the first tool I always share with the highly sensitive parents that I work with. Take time every day, or even every hour if you need to, to just go into the washroom or another quiet room in the house, close the door, turn off the lights and just sit for 30 seconds, 2 minutes, or however long you need to. This will give you a chance to calm down, and it will give you some time away from the chaos.
2. Try Adding “Slowness” Into Your Routine
It can be so challenging to have time alone when you are a parent, but when you do get this time, it can be so refreshing to take just a couple of extra minutes before returning to the chaos. This might look like driving home from work or the grocery store with no music on, driving slowly, just taking your time. I know these moments of alone time can be rare for many parents, so take advantage of them whenever they come around. Instead of scrolling through your phone when the baby is napping, use that time to take some deep breaths and tune into your breathing.
3. Eat well, Move Your Body, Focus on Sleep
As a busy parent, I know that these three things often go on the back burner as we focus on keeping our kids fed, active and well-rested. But the reality is, if we are not keeping ourselves healthy, it will be more difficult to keep our kids healthy. Not eating well, not exercising, and not getting enough sleep can make anybody sensitive, so if you are already a highly sensitive person, it is so important to be mindful of these things and do your best to keep yourself healthy along with your children.
4. Taking Batteries Out of Toys Is Self Care
It’s so tempting to get the colourful toys that light up and play music because we know that our children will love them, but these toys can actually be overstimulating for our children and ourselves. Instead, focus on toys that are more calm, open-ended, and don’t have such loud colours and sounds to help you reduce the amount of sensory input that goes on in your house – remember removing batteries from a toy can be self-care!
5. Recognize when you are taking on your child’s emotions.
It makes a lot of sense to be triggered by your baby crying. If your child is upset and sad, that will make you feel upset and sad as well. It can help to be really mindful that this can happen and to remember that your child’s emotions are their emotions, and your emotions are your emotions. Don’t forget that you are allowed to have separate emotions; you don’t have to take on their pain and crying. I know this sounds like a lot. This is a process, and being mindful of it is the first step. Our Parenting Little Kids with Big Feelings course teaches you to support your children through these big emotions.
6. Be mindful of the extra stimuli in the environment.
Sometimes without even realizing it, we have added in so many unnecessary extra stimuli that suddenly, we are becoming overstimulated. For example, we might have the radio on in the kitchen, a movie on in the living room, and the baby playing with a toy that lights up and talks. Try to be mindful of all of these extra stimuli and keep them at a minimum. Even turning off lights that don’t need to be on can help. If you are watching a movie or listening to music, keep the volume low. If you find yourself getting overstimulated by a toy your child is playing with, either remove the toy when they are not interested in it or take the batteries out.
When times get tough, remind yourself of this script:
Being a highly sensitive parent can be a superpower, and it can help me understand where my child’s big emotions are coming from and empathize with them. I can use this special trait to support them through their big feelings!