A Day in the Anxious Life: The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to the Sounds of Independence Day

I am a highly sensitive person.  What does that mean?  Well, for me, it means that I am more emotionally sensitive than the “average” person.  I am also more sensitive to sensory stimulation – especially sound in the form of sudden, loud noises. 

So while I have a love and appreciation for Independence Day and all that it means for me as a resident and citizen of the United States, I also dread the 4th of July celebrations, particularly the fireworks.  Now, I enjoy watching fireworks light up the evening skies, but the constant explosive sounds can ramp up my anxiety in seconds. 

Some of you may have canine companions at home, and if so, your furry friends can become quite anxious when the fireworks start going off.  I have a couple of four-legged children of the canine persuasion myself.  If your cuddly kiddos get upset by the sounds and commotion of Independence Day fireworks, you likely do what you can to help them stay calm and reduce their anxiety.  For me, and perhaps for other highly sensitive persons out there, it can be quite difficult to keep your pets calm when you feel like jumping out of your own skin. 

If this sounds at all familiar, I just want you to know that I hear you – yes, even above the intensely sharp and booming cacophony of those beautiful, awe-inspiring fireworks shows.

So… how can we take care of our highly sensitive selves when it comes to managing our sound sensitivities and the anxiety they can cause?

This is what helps me to prepare for an evening of sudden, loud noises:

-          Earplugs 

-          Deep breathing

-          Not getting too close (I can usually enjoy seeing the fireworks from a far enough                        distance that the sounds don’t overwhelm me)

-          Listening to relaxing music through headphones

-          Engaging in activities that require acute attention to details

The cool thing about fireworks is – generally we are aware of when they are most likely to occur.  This gives us the opportunity to plan ahead and take steps to care of ourselves and our sensitivities.

So to all of my fellow highly sensitives, those who struggle to manage feeling overwhelmed by the sounds of the holidays, and those who work to cope daily with the anxiety that can come from higher sensitivity – have a gentle, safe, and happy (and sound-reduced-or-muted) Independence Day!

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in working with anxious and highly sensitive persons on a variety of concerns. She practices holistic (mind-body-spirit) and affirming counseling tailored for each unique and diverse individual.  To learn more, contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.

A Day in the Anxious Life: Managing the Unexpected Obstacles

Yesterday was one of those days!  Nothing seemed to be going right, and with every additional unexpected obstacle, I felt my stress and anxiety rising.  I recognize anxiety now (yesterday expressed mostly through feelings of annoyance and agitation), which goes a long way toward managing it, but it’s still (sometimes a lot of) work to manage.  And sometimes I catch it sooner than others.

I started the day feeling excited.  It was my one and only day off for the week, and I wanted to get several things accomplished in the morning so that the afternoon and evening belonged to me, free and clear, to do (or not do) whatever moved me.  I mapped out my route of places I needed to go so that I wasn’t backtracking, and could get everything done in the most efficient way possible.

First stop, simple TB skin test follow up.  5 minutes tops.  Next, the pet store for supplies.  Then to storage to clear the last of the boxes out from the recent move.  Finally, a quick trip to the grocery store for a few staples.  Home by lunch time.  Quick and easy, right?

The Trigger

At the clinic – I do not work in what is considered an environment that deems me a high risk for contracting tuberculosis, but the doctor decided that private practice counseling constituted “medical professional” and, therefore, automatically high risk, despite my description of what individual counseling looks like.  (What?!)  Has anyone else out there ever had the experience of medical professionals and support staff not listening to a word you are saying?  (I’m guessing yes).

A host of skin sensitivities and allergies, and a measurement of 8mm meant that, categorized properly, the skin test was negative.  However, bumped to working in “high risk environments” constituted a positive result according to the doctor.  The doctor actually said, “We’ll just call it positive.”

*(Annoyance/anxiety level 6 out of 10)*  

So now I needed to wait for the screening company to authorize the chest x-rays.  The five minute task of the morning has now been completed 3 hours later.  (Chest x-ray confirmed that I was negative for TB, by the way… which I knew already in that private practice counseling is not equivalent to working in direct care at a medical facility). 

*Annoyance/anxiety level from 6 to 8 on a scale from 0-10*

 Well, now it’s close to 1pm (you know, the time I was supposed to be at home, finished with errands).  Hungry… food… another hour. 

*Food helps annoyance and agitation, but noticing the time does not. Annoyance/anxiety level remains at about a 7*

 The pet store was fine, but I’m still pretty annoyed (what was up with that doctor?!) at this point as it’s getting closer to 3pm, and both of the open lanes to check out had very chatty customers that seemed more interested in communicating their pets’ life stories to the employees than just paying for their respective carts full of supplies and food.  But there are fish and gerbils, and they’re cute. 

*Annoyance/anxiety level drops to about 5*

 Back in the truck and now actively searching for coping mechanisms because I’m still, well, pissed at the doctor.  A commercial that makes me laugh comes to mind, and I drive through the parking lot exclaiming, “heeeyyyy, Namasteeee.”

*Annoyance/anxiety level drops to about a 3 until I think of the doctor again, and really start to wonder if might have actually contracted TB somehow (because I didn’t have the chest x-ray results at the time), then anxiety rises to 5*

 Heading south… closer to rush hour… driving right into a traffic jam.  (OMG, can you believe those people at the clinic?!)  It’s now hot.  It’s now late afternoon.  I’m very time-conscious.  I’m also very agitated.

(Agitation/anxiety level 7)

The Coping 

Better late than never, I start pulling resources out of my toolbox, one right after the other. 

-Somatic: Deep breath.  Another deep breath.  (Agitation/anxiety 7 to 6)
-Grounding: I see… hear… feel… smell… taste.  Use an essential oil for relaxation.  (Agitation/anxiety 6 to 4)
-Self-talk: “I’m done at the clinic… it’s over… let it go,” I say to myself. (Agitation/anxiety 4 to 3)
 -More self-talk: “I won’t know the results until tomorrow… worry won’t change anything.” (Agitation/anxiety 3 to 2)
-Muscle relaxation: Another deep breath, feeling the tightness in my stomach and shoulders… breathe into my stomach and shoulders, tighten and relax the muscles. (Agitation/anxiety 2 to 1)
-More self-talk: “I’ll still have a few hours this evening… a bubble bath sounds good,” with another deep breath (Agitation/anxiety 1 to 0.5)
-And even more self-talk: “Let’s get this DONE!  Almost there!” Motivation and redirection of energy into the tasks at hand, and away from tension/stress/anxiety.  (Agitation/anxiety to 0)

 We all struggle some days!  We all have things that agitate and annoy us.  We all worry to some extent.  Most of us struggle day-to-day with anxiety, in assorted forms and to various degrees.  Many of us feel overwhelmed sometimes…

So what is in your coping toolbox?  What strategies do you find helpful when you have one of those days?  What signals do you recognize that you might need to start self-soothing/grounding/coping?  (Emotions, physical sensations, thoughts)?

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in working with highly sensitive people and trauma survivors on a variety of issues including trauma recovery, anxiety, and depression. Contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.