Prescriptions for Life

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The Highly Sensitive (HSP) Introvert Survival Guide to Weddings & Family Gatherings

How to survive a wedding or gathering without losing your mind

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This post is a wedding gift. A far-away Highly Sensitive (HSP) Introvert friend of mine is getting married soon. They're having a destination wedding and friends and family have already descended from around the world. He emailed the other day, asking if I had any tips to help him get through it. I can't make the wedding and it's hard to get something shipped to the remote place he lives, so I decided to give this to him instead!

I've written previously about Why It's Hard to be a Highly Sensitive Introvert, the Top 10 Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person, an HSP Guide to Living With an Extravert, as well as an introductory article if you wondering if you're a highly sensitive person (HSP).

A Highly Sensitive Person is someone who is vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the chaos and overstimulation of normal life, and is frequently misunderstood or mislabeled as being shy or "weird". A surprising 15-20% of the population share the characteristics of an HSP. Dr. Elaine Aron has written extensively about highly sensitive people; it was through her website that I first found this explanation for why I am the way I am.

To make things even more intense, I'm an HSP who is also an introvert. Even though I really enjoy being around people in certain circumstances, in general the experience drains my energy and I need to balance people-time with lots of alone time to recharge and feel centered.

For an HSP Introvert, weddings and family get-togethers are a uniquely potent blend of heaven and hell. Here are my survival tips for my friend and all you HSP Introverts out there:

1) Have your own space

If you're staying in a house together, be sure to have your own room and beg/bargain/barter/bribe to have your own bathroom. This will go a long way. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have some kind of space that you don't share with anyone. My family gathers once a year in my parents' vacation home and after trying to weather this once like a "normal" person (had my own bedroom, shared bathroom), this year I rented a hotel room nearby and OH what a difference it made.

2) Offer to help

You can create little islands of alone time in a crowd if you offer to help, specifically with chores or errands that can be done solo. Clear off the dining room table or wash dishes while everyone else has gathered for after-dinner drinks. Offer to go pick up some last minute groceries by yourself and when you do so take a small detour en route to park somewhere where there's a nice view; alternatively park anywhere and put classical music on, recline the seat, close your eyes and just breathe.

3) Look after your health

HSPs do worse and get more easily overstimulated and stressed if we're not taking good care of ourselves. During a time like this more than ever you need to make sure you get enough sleep, eat well and eat regularly to keep your blood sugar steady (stay away from the sugary treats), drink lots of water and exercise (see tip #4).

4) Plan in Solo Exercise

One thing I do when I'm on that family vacation is get up before everyone else and go for a nice long solo morning walk. It relieves stress and really centers me, not to mention the exercise is good for those highly sensitive nerves.

5) Avoid long car trips with people

There are very few people in this world I can happily spend hours in a car with. It just gets to be too much, especially if they like loud obnoxious music or subjects that I find stressful. On my last family vacation I agreed to go along on a lunch jaunt that should have only taken a couple of hours. People decided last minute that they wanted to run extra errands en route, and then we got stuck in traffic because of an accident. The whole thing took over six hours. I love my family, but I was close to losing my mind by the time we finally got back home. When I get stressed like that (put in a small enclosed space with five other people for six hours) I start acting weird and saying things I wish I could take back later. Not my idea of fun.

6) Ask to (or try to) sit next to people you feel relaxed with during meals

I don't know about you, but this HSP Introvert loves chatting with people I enjoy and feel safe with. I get really drained trying to make forced extended small talk or conversation with someone I don't know or don't appreciate much (to put it nicely). Ask the organizer nicely if it would be possible to seat you with person X, Y or Z. If you have the opportunity to choose where to sit as people head to the table, don't be shy about grabbing a seat next to the most ideal dinner companion(s), or asking them to come and join you.

7) Watch out for alcohol

I've learned very specifically from these family trips that it's best for me to avoid drinking, as much as I love a glass of wine. If I've had a glass or two I get rattled easier, my buttons are more easily pushed, and I'm apparently more prone to meltdowns and saying things I'd be better off not saying.

8) Have your own transportation if you can

I didn't do this on the last family trip but will do it for the next. If you can afford it or arrange it, it's priceless to be able to just pick up your keys and head out when you've reached your limit. Waiting for someone else to take you home when you're worn out and tired of talking, listening and smiling is not a good thing (and can lead to aforementioned meltdowns or inappropriate/unhelpful statements).

9) Grab some "fresh air" whenever you need to

Finally, If you've got nowhere left to go and feel your nerves, mind and emotions hit overload, step outside. Sit on the stoop and breathe, go for a little walk around the block, go out on the deck and look out over the view.

Go into any wedding or group gathering with a plan and these tools in your toolkit. Cultivate an awareness of when you need to use them, preferably long before you desperately need to! If you take action sooner than later (i.e. before aforementioned meltdown) you will not only preserve your own sanity but will help preserve these important relationships as well.

(A final note to my friend: Have a fantastic wedding, I am so happy for the two of you, I am so glad to know you and count you in fondly as a true friend on this earth - you're one of the good ones and thank you so much for everything!)

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, media health and wellness expert, life coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. Dr. Biali is available for keynote presentations, media commentary and private coaching - contact susan@susanbiali.com or visit www.susanbiali.com for more details.

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Copyright Dr. Susan Biali 2012

Susan Biali, M.D., researches health and happiness. She is also a professional flamenco dancer and author.

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