Where’d My Energy Go? 12 Causes of Over-Arousal for the Introvert and/or Highly Sensitive Person

As an introvert and sensitive person, I am vigilantly mindful of my energy and where it slips to, but some days even I don’t know why I feel so drained. My UK writer friend, Andy Mort of SheepDressedLikeWolves.com, sent me this post about discovering his own sensitivity and subsequently figuring out some of the subtle and not so subtle ways his energy tank is depleted. I had an aha moment or two as I read. I think you will too.
Read on and become wiser about our faceted and deeply attuned nature.:)
With deepest warmth,
Brenda
What we want to feel like

At first we’re like this…

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And then we’re like this.

I didn’t know I was a highly sensitive person until about six months ago. Knowing I was introverted helped me manage how I spent my time with regards to people, but I had no idea that there were other factors that could lead me to over-arousal and energy depletion.
Being highly sensitive means that you are more easily overwhelmed because you have a sensitive nervous system and process the world at a deep level. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person says, “If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time”..
I spent some time considering my experiences growing up through this lens of high sensitivity. In so doing it became clear that throughout my life I have continued to subject myself to stimulation that causes me over-arousal without even realising.
Only since discovering my susceptibility to it have I been able to consider ways to identify and manage the causes of it. As a result I have been able to focus, working with better clarity and energy.
Knowing WHY you feel a certain way makes it a lot easier to cope with and recognise HOW you can address it.
I thought it would be helpful to share a list of twelve potential causes that I came up with while reflecting on my own susceptibility to over-stimulation. Hopefully it will help you recognise if you, too are subjecting yourself to over-arousal without realising:
1. Environmental Subtleties
Much to the amusement and irritation of my wife I have a subconscious habit of compulsively beatboxing to the rhythmic sound of traffic lights, car indicators and washing machines. Without being overtly aware of these kinds of noises they clearly have a an affect on me and are being processed all the time.
When it is prolonged and outside of your control, noise can lead to over-arousal. Be aware of the sounds, sights, and smells around you. What affect are they having on you?
2. Pain
Many HSPs are more sensitive to pain. The anticipation of pain can be an over-arousing thing. As a child I would wear myself down during BBQs or picnics because I would be on constant lookout for wasps, fearing the anticipated pain of a sting.
The presence of real pain can also be a highly stimulating factor. A pulled muscle, cut, or headache can be incredibly distracting.
3. Sudden Noise
You may well find sudden loud noises overwhelming. Things such as fireworks, thunder, a slamming door, explosions/gunfire at the theatre, or something being dropped in a public place can cause an unpleasant shock to the nervous system.
4. Television
You may find visions of violence and suffering difficult to watch as you can almost feel the pain that you see. Consuming this kind of media, including too many real life news reports, can leave you negatively affected for hours, possibly even days afterwards. Seeing the struggles and suffering of other people, especially when it feels completely out of your control can lead to overwhelm and a feeling of disconnect between where you are and where you wish you could be.
5. Being Rushed
You may want to take your time with things. We live in a world where we feel compelled to rush purposeless-driven-lifefrom task to task and we need to be constantly on the move in order to keep up with the pace of life. But if you’re an HSP then having a lot on your plate will quickly lead to burnout. It is better to take your time and concentrate on doing what is important. Find other ways and means to deal with all those other apparently urgent things. You are a finite being with a limited pool of energy.
6. Change
If you are adapting to or preparing for change then there will be a lot of out of the ordinary over-arousal. Anytime you put yourself in a new situation whether it be moving house, a new job, joining the gym, developing a new habit; you are subjecting yourself to a high level of stimulation.
If you are undertaking change, however big or small, be gentle on yourself and aware that you need to take frequent breaks to re-centre yourself.
7. Emotional Environments
This is often a double-edged sword for the highly sensitive person. People like to talk to HSPs because they are often good responsive listeners, as well as intuitive and insightful in their counsel. But this comes at a price because highly sensitive people are prone to mirroring and absorbing the emotion and moods of other people.
You may be a safe haven for people who are going through a hard time, or even people who seem to be perpetually miserable. Make sure that you are aware of how different people leave you feeling after you spend time with them, and limit the access of those who make you feel drained and empty. Schedule something you know will lift your mood for afterwards.
8. Over-Thinking
It’s not just external stimulation that leads to over-arousal, believe it or not we can be the masters of our own downfall too. HSPs have a tendency to over-think and process life on a deep level. It can be easy to allow your mind to escalate certain things and to over-complicate issues, problems, or projects that can be addressed simply and quickly. Learn to ask for help, to act quickly, or to let things go if they are out of your control. Festering and nagging thoughts are a big cause of over-arousal.
9. Too Many Things
Just like the struggle that many HSPs encounter when they feel compelled to rush; being expected, asked, or coerced into doing too many things at once by other people can cause irritation, frustration, and overwhelm. The end of a project, too many different voices having their say on what should be done, or a lack of a coherent plan/strategy can cause massive over-arousal. Learning to prioritise, delegate, and say ‘no’ are all very important tools in the HSP toolbox.
Subjecting yourself to this kind of overwhelm is likely to lead to a tipping point at which you quit, run away, or allow the tension to boil over, which in itself can be the root of over-arousal as you will see in the next point.
10. Confrontation
couples-arguing-1024x696If you are involved in confrontation, or there is confrontation around you, then there is an increasing underlying level of stimulation. If there are unresolved conflicts in the family, workplace, or between friends, you will likely be carrying that on some level.
Although it may cause an immediate increase in over-arousal and it goes against your instincts, sometimes the best thing to do is to get people together and resolve the conflict. Otherwise it will insidiously gnaw away at you and the community at large, causing an unnecessary, avoidable, and potentially even more explosive problem.
11. Being Observed
If you’re observed a lot then there will be a sustained level of over-arousal happening. It is unsettling for many HSPs to feel like they are being watched, and Elaine Aron suggests that they perform worse at tasks they may even be expert at when under the watchful eye of someone else. This can be unnerving, anxiety-inducing, and potentially confidence-harming.
If I know I am going to be observed then I use visualisation techniques, as well as meditation and breathing exercises to clear my mind of all worries outside of my control. Of course we will all be observed doing things, it’s a part of life, but it is reassuring to know that you are not abnormal to find such situations overwhelming at times.
12. Being Labelled
HSPs are often perceived as being introverted or quiet, and may well have been called sensitive and shy at points in their life. Labels can hold a huge amount of power in our lives and there will be times when we feel this. We might allow them to dictate our responses, behaviours and even the story we tell ourselves about our potential and capabilities. Being in a room of strangers, and believing that you ARE ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ can be over-arousing, especially if you have to start mingling. It creates a false inner conflict between what you have been led to believe about yourself, and what you need or are expected to do right now. This can be enormously overwhelming, especially if you are doing it for a sustained period of time.
Over to You…
Do you identify with any of the stimulating factors on this list? Do you subject yourself to over-arousal without being consciously aware of it?

 

Andy Rob Bridge Thumbnail-2Andy Mort is a UK based musician and writer. He is the founder of SheepDressedLikeWolves.com, which is a Blog and Podcast aimed at encouraging introverted and highly sensitive people to embrace their creativity and push against the expectations of an often overwhelming world. Download his FREE eBook “The Gentle Rebel Manifesto” at http://www.sheepdressedlikewolves.com/gentle-rebel/.

 

If this post spoke to you, you may also relate to:

Introverts Explained: Why We Love You But Need to Get Away From You

Understanding the Introvert Cycle: Why We Go From Irritable to Ever-Loving

How to Protect and Liberate Your Energy:A Guide for Introverts and Anyone Who Feels Drained

Video: The Space We Need: An Introvert Wakes Up, Slows Down and Starts Living According to Her True Nature

How To Be Lively, Energetic and Vibrant When Your True Nature Is Thoughtful, Introverted and Reticent

 

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41 Comments

  1. angie
    April 2, 2015

    I’ve never considered myself a highly sensitive person, but after reading this and a few other blogs/articles, maybe I am. I’ve recognized that I am a social introvert (INFJ) for quite some time, but have recently been learning more about introversion and about myself in general. I am finding that I am much more self-accepting now.
    I worry that with adding HSP, maybe I’m going too far…I relate to so many things written here!! But I kinda feel that if I embrace that I am a HSP as well as an introvert, I may just hide out too much and use it as an excuse to not interact with others.
    As a social introvert, I do enjoy my time with others (as long as it is on my terms). But I recently had an incident where I went out with friends after quite the overexertion and ended up feeling as if I’d been roofied. I don’t want to repeat that!! But I also don’t want to become a hermit.
    argh….not explaining well!!

    Anyway, thank you so much for this post!!
    More for me to ponder 🙂

    Reply
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  5. Simi
    July 26, 2014

    I love your blog, I wish I was as talented a writer as you! You express how I feel at times (in your other posts) so accurately but can’t find words for. As a young HSP, do you have an advice for facing over-stimulation in school especially the classroom, where it’s harder to get away from it. Thanks in advance!
    Much appreciated,
    Simi 🙂

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 26, 2014

      Thank you for your kind words and great question! I know my children are often ready for downtime after school. School can be draining with all of its interactions and need to be ON for hours. I found this article, http://www.spinedu.com/quiet-susan-cain-introverted-students/#.U9PnE1be4ds, based on an interview with Susan Cain (Quiet:The Power of Introverts…) helpful. Depending on what age you are, it points out how introverted students exist in the classroom and how they can succeed. It doesn’t have specific strategies but does give you advice about what to focus on – essentially giving you a reprieve from extroverting and overwhelming activity. I believe teachers are becoming more aware of the introverted student’s style and needs. One of my favorite introvert writers – Introvert, Dear’s Jennifer Granneman – is a 4th grade teacher.
      I would suggest working a study hall into your schedule and choosing classes that appeal to your passions. These suggestions assuming you are of high school or college age. Classes that deeply engage you could lead to more one on one dialogue with the teacher and often provide an energy boost rather than an energy depletion. I will continue to ponder ideas around school tactics for introverts. You’ve got my mind turning.:) Thank you.

      Reply
      • Simi
        July 27, 2014

        I know this should be my own choice, but I love to hear advice in order to make a choice. I’m 17 and going into my last year this August. From much suggestions form others I’m going to study law, but I really didn’t know. The way I pushed myself to do law was thinking of all the greats who studied law like Nelson Mandela and Gandhi and seing a presentation in class from a woman who defends women who were abused by their husbands. However will studying the subject itself in university be interesting for me?
        I really don’t know, all the things I love seem illogical. The one thing that gives me hope is John Grisham, who studied law and ended up writing mystery/crime novels? I also heard it’s competitive and seems more extroverted class environment (graded on class discussions). I can discuss in class on issues I’m passionate about, but I don’t want to romanticize law…
        I love writing, cartoons, I might want to write children’s books. Idk. I just love writing and getting into people’s psyches especially my own. I enjoy working with whatever is psychological — the hidden, vulnerable, sensitive areas of the mind and self. I wonder if I should even be a counsellor

        Reply
        • Brenda Knowles
          July 27, 2014

          MY intuition tells me you are not meant for law. What is your intuition telling you? I want you to trust your gut dear Simi.:) Do not think that everything you do has to be logical. I fell into that trap. Follow your energy. What pulls you toward it? What is effortless to practice? The answers will lead you to your calling.
          The legal profession is very respectable and could be a fine career but does the thought of practicing light you up or are you just trying to choose a respected, well paying and revered job? You probably admire the ideals and character traits of Mandela and Gandhi more than their profession. You could lead your own community of artists and writers.
          Do not rush your decisions. See where your heart is pulled. Truly listen to your inner voice. It will guide you.

          Reply
          • Simi
            July 27, 2014

            Thanks for the reply! 🙂 it gives me a lot to think about

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  7. kimberlyharding
    July 10, 2014

    Outstanding list…had me reflecting on several aspects of my life. I think such awareness gives a chance to cope.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 11, 2014

      I read the list and thought, “I have almost every single one of those items in my life.” No wonder I get frazzled.;) But yes, now on to coping and thriving.

      Reply
  8. oawritingspoemspaintings
    July 5, 2014

    I wish I had found this list earlier on in my life it would’ve help me understand the whys & whens of my personality…
    I feel like sharing this post with my closest so they can understand too 🙂

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 6, 2014

      I know exactly what you mean. I think space2live is my way of showing my closest (and not so close) people who I am and why.;)

      Reply
      • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
        July 9, 2014

        Yes, same here. 🙂 The internet has provided some very useful tools for pointing my closest people towards understanding who I am and why! It’s often easier to write about it and point to it than it is to attempt to talk about it. Especially when it becomes clear looking at shares/comments etc how many other people resonate! 😉

        Reply
  9. sheketechad
    July 5, 2014

    Some of these are applicable to me, others, not so much. While I will take note, as some hit the mark very deeply, I’m already a little weary trying to explain to people that ‘introvert’ doesn’t always equate to socially inept, quiet as a mouse, shy and other misnomers relating to introversion.

    Musing…if there are HSPs, does that mean there are HIPs? (Highly insensitive people?) 😉

    Thanks for sharing, great read.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 6, 2014

      Yeah, I can think of a few HIPs I’ve encountered.;)
      I know the weariness of talking people out of their long-held definition of introversion. My own children still hold to the old perceptions at times! I think we need a new ‘label’ altogether. I’m still working on what that could be.:)

      Reply
      • sheketechad
        July 6, 2014

        I love playing with acronyms, don’t get me started 🙂

        Reply
      • Brett
        July 6, 2014

        Looking at the online thesaurus is a wierd past time of mine… The synonyms for the word “introverted” are depressing and consistent with society’s definitions and labels…

        On the other hand, words like “introspective” and “thoughtful” are much more meaningful and empowering to swim in.

        Reply
        • Brenda Knowles
          July 7, 2014

          I know, WTH!;) Why can’t the thesaurus and dictionary get with the times. They are not helping our cause. That’s why I think we need another word to describe our way of being.

          Reply
      • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
        July 9, 2014

        Yes I have met a few HIPs! And you’re right, a label with THAT many negative synonyms is a term that we could do with changing. The problem I suppose is that we need an umbrella terms for how we are oriented to the world – the other stuff (introspection, thoughtfulness etc) can be the RESULT of having an introverted temperament, i.e. finding energy from being alone. They are not necessarily ever-present. Which makes it hard to come up with an alternative.

        The first synonym for introvert in my thesaurus is ‘shy’. There’s still a lot of work to do!

        Reply
  10. Lobster
    July 4, 2014

    Wonderful list! Yes, yes, yes and yes! It is harder I think trying to explain (or hide) being an HSP than it is to explain being an introvert. People can think you are being wussy. I have developed little strategies for explaining some of them. I know they may appear a little self deprecating to some but I like to use them. For example number 9 is a big trigger for me. I just joke to people that I’m not good at multiskilling “Wow, I’m walking and breathing, now you want me to talk and think as well!!”

    It is hard with the loud noises when so many people have the TV constantly on or the radio. I can tell my closest friends, that I really can’t cope and can we turn it down or off, but I struggle with others. I have been known to say “I’m really struggling to hear you, I must get my hearing checked, can we turn that down a bit”. Then on the flip side my best friend says she struggles to cope on longer journeys with me as I drive in silence – chatting of course!! but no music. I just can’t do music and talking! (and driving and breathing and blinking and being conscious 😉 )

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 5, 2014

      I love your light attitude about explaining your sensitivities. That strategy may work well with my kids. Humor if often a good option with them.;) I can’t stand talking to people when there is a lot of background noise. I can’t focus on them and my brain gets muddled. If I have to talk over music or TV for too long I feel my frustration mount and I’m sure it comes through in my expressions and even my words.
      Thanks for sharing your experiences and insight.:)

      Reply
    • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
      July 9, 2014

      Haha, yes! I love this. Humour is such an important tool to disarm and unburden situations/relationships. In my experience there are those, including extroverted people who appreciate the permission to not be awkward in silence. Making it clear that you are fine if we are not talking can cut any potential tension that may arise in those moments.

      I’ve totally had that car issue. I enjoy driving with music on when I’m alone but if there are conversations going on I like to turn it right down/completely off. With you there! Sitting and driving and remaining awake. It’s exhausting! 😉

      Reply
      • Karen
        September 18, 2014

        I have come up with this explanation about talking over background noise. Most people have experienced that if someone shines a bright light directly into their eyes, it hurts and makes it impossible for them to see anything but the light. I tell them that’s what it is like to me when there is background noise: it hurts, and I can’t understand it when they talk to me over the noise. (The worst is two streams of talk at the same time — both become gibberish!)

        Reply
  11. susipet
    July 4, 2014

    Oh yes relate to this… Currently on holiday where I have created a simple world of quiet, beautiful scenery, time away from too many people , too much stimulation of TV/ gadgets/ news/demands…. Feels like stocking up an inner core ready to go back out there!

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 5, 2014

      Perfect! Fill yourself up and then let some of that energy spill onto other people.:)

      Reply
    • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
      July 9, 2014

      Sounds like bliss! Holiday is always such an important time of renewal/re-centring for me – it puts everything back into perspective and even gets me excited to get back out there by the end. Hope you get that inner core stocked and the fire stoked!

      Reply
  12. Tanja @ Conscious Introvert Success
    July 4, 2014

    Some really helpful points in this post, Andy: I describe myself as “deeply introverted with flashes of HSP”, and something I’ve found is that there’s definite interplay between the two for me.

    I’m much more sensitive to environmental stimuli when I’m around other people, and I find interacting with people much less draining in a quiet environment.

    Off to share this with my introvert community 🙂

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 5, 2014

      I wonder if I am the same regarding sensitivity to environmental stimuli and people. Good point to explore. I know I prefer quiet environments for interacting with people. Fewer people as opposed to a group makes it better as well. Thanks for reading and giving your beneficial insights Tanja.:)

      Reply
    • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
      July 9, 2014

      Yes Tanja, really love that observation. I find it really hard to interact with people in busy environments. If I’m meeting someone for coffee I’d rather invite them to my house, or find a very quiet cafe at a quiet time. Otherwise I get very distracted by the pounding stimulation of the environment and unable to engage properly. I guess people create a lot of environmental stimuli: noise, movement, weird smells 😉 etc.

      Reply
  13. Juli
    July 4, 2014

    Wow. I’m feeling kind of speechless because you pretty much described me to a “T”. I’m only just realizing that maybe I am an HSP. I’ve been having a hard time trying to understand why I am the way I am, and frankly have sometimes wondered if I’m nuts. I’m only this week understanding why after seeing a movie or going to a concert I am SO enthralled and excited (more than my friends are) and yet also want -need – to crawl in a hole and process everything. I didn’t think others felt this way too. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 5, 2014

      You are definitely not alone.:) You’re not nuts. It is a beautiful thing that we have heightened reactions but it also can be tiring. The more aware of our sensitivities the more manageable and rich our lives can be. Check out Andy’s site. He’s cultivated a great community there. Thanks for sharing your experience Juli.:)

      Reply
    • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
      July 9, 2014

      Yes! Comments like this warm my heart! As Brenda says, you’re not nuts and you’re not alone! It’s so nice to discover this when you think there’s something wrong with you isn’t it! Working out what it is that leaves you needing to crawl back in a hole is really important so that you can manage your time and energy around them. Not to stop doing them, just to put yourself in the best possible place to get the most out of them. Really great to hear from you, Juli!

      Reply
  14. Marissa
    July 4, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I found out I was an HSP about a year ago, and it’s given me a new (and reassuring) perspective on why I seem to burn-out so quickly in certain situations. Numbers 3, 8, 10, 11 and sometimes 4 are big triggers for me.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 5, 2014

      When I read Andy’s post it resonated deeply with me and I learned a few things. One thing I learned is that I spend most of my days immersed in sensitivity triggers. I’m trying to figure out ways to change that. 🙂 I hope you check out Andy’s site sheepdressedlikewolves.com. Thanks for sharing your experience.:)

      Reply
    • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
      July 9, 2014

      Thank you Marissa! Yeah the discovery completely changed how I go into situations – awareness of your own triggers makes managing the burn-out a lot less painful!

      Reply
  15. Ruth Rainwater
    July 4, 2014

    Yes, yes, yes…

    My partner, who is an extrovert, is a news junkie and is always trying to pass on to me things he reads. And he could watch movies all day I can barely skim headlines before becoming overwhelmed, and he can’t understand that no matter how I try to explain it to him. I am easily overstimulated these days and have to withdraw into my shell more than usual. I would be lost without my books – that’s how I help recharge myself. And since I’m now retired, that helps reduce overstimulation. And as long as I limit the internet research I do, I can reduce the sensory overload. But sometimes I get so engrossed in reading an article I forget to pace myself.

    So yes, I can relate to all of the above.
    🙂

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      July 5, 2014

      Ruth I’m totally with you regarding avoiding the news. I stopped watching it years ago (admittedly I never was a regular watcher) just because I couldn’t stand all the depressing stories. I get all the major news stories through my Facebook friends’ posts.:)
      Do you think the more you are alone in your shell the more sensitive you become? I’m testing a theory.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughtful response.:)

      Reply
      • Ruth Rainwater
        July 5, 2014

        No, I think the more I’m alone in my shell the more I can recharge and regenerate and the more outside stimulation I can handle. I think the difference now is I can choose how much and what kind of stimulation I want to deal with. When I was working, I had no choice in dealing with people – bosses, co-workers, colleagues, vendors, etc. – but now I’m retired and have choices. 🙂

        Reply
    • Andy Mort (@atlumschema)
      July 9, 2014

      Thanks so much for this, Ruth! There is something very powerful about recognising the stimulation we CAN control. Knowing the effect that the news has on you is clearly really beneficial! I totally share that – and also the forgetting to pace yourself thing. Yeah, I have a tendency to get a bit obsessive about things that get my excited. Then I burn myself out a bit. Haha.

      Reply
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