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,
At first we’re like this…
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?
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.
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 from 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.
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.
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.
If 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 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/.
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