frustrated woman
Focus Pocus/Fotolia
Source: Focus Pocus/Fotolia

Want to know one of my biggest challenges I've faced? It's not the giant move I just did, packing up all of my city life stuff. Nor the head-spinning logistics of getting organized in a ridiculously short amount of time. No, the most difficult thing of all is that I gave up the spacious house I was renting in the country, and have temporarily moved into a tiny one-bedroom basement suite. I'm living in a 500 s.f. cubbyhole with an extreme extravert for a roommate.

At least I know that I'm a highly sensitive (HSP) introvert, and could anticipate what was coming. I knew that for this (thankfully) short time period in my life I wouldn't be able to retreat into total silence and privacy as often as I need to. I knew that I wouldn't be able to shut myself in my office to work (my office here has no door). I knew that most of the time I'd be unable to hide from the noise of the TV, my roommate's long phone calls with friends or family (introverts hate the phone and extraverts love it), and the overpowering cooking smells (HSPs are highly sensitive to some strong smells and find them stressful).

The first week, I didn't worry that I might be losing my mind because I felt like I couldn't relax, couldn't think clearly, felt anxious, and found it shockingly hard to focus and get things done. At times, I felt like my nerves were wound so tight that if you touched my arm electric sparks would fly off it.

I didn't implode, and amazingly (though I frequently felt like it) I didn't start screaming at any point.  In fact, though I'm sure I sometimes acted a little weird, I'm amazed to report that in more than two weeks I haven't had one single meltdown. Wow.

The secret? My personal arsenal of HSP Introvert survival strategies:

1) Wear noise-blocking headphones

If travelling, I'd be more upset if I'd left my headphones at home than if I'd left behind my entire makeup case. When I was 19, a study buddy lent me his dad's extra set of Peltor heavy duty ear protectors so that we could both wear them while studying at his house. I've never been without a pair since. I'm wearing them right now.

If my roommate turns on the TV behind me while I'm sitting at the computer, on they go. If I'm staying in a little hotel in Spain with a loud all-night bar on the first floor, I get a full night's sleep. Basically any time my personal peace is threatened by an uncontrollably loud outside force, they're the blessed shield between me and the world. Obviously, I prefer not to wear them if possible as my head can get tired of them, but I put them on whenever I have to. The fancy noise-cancelling ones probably work well, too, I've just never tried them.

2) Get sources of noise, invasion and stress behind closed doors

When you can't hide behind a closed door, see if you can get the source of stress/noise/lack of privacy to move behind one.

As an HSP I'm hypersensitive to intrusive sounds (such as the frequent noises emanating from my roommate's computer), and as an introvert I often resent auditory reminders that I'm not alone, so here's what I did: I nicely asked my roommate if they might find a small space in their bedroom for their computer and cheerily suggested moving it there. No problem at all, it was the perfect solution. Ta-da - I've got my space.

3) Capitalize on alone time when you can get it

When private or quiet time is at a premium, seize it and maximize it when you get it, in order to recharge and get things done. Right now, my roommate is out, so I ran straight to the computer to blog as I need silence and a sense of space to write. I'll also do any other tasks that are hard to do when I'm not aone, such as critical thinking about my business, coaching calls, etc. I've walked past the pile of dirty dishes all morning, since it makes more sense to wash those when I'm not alone, as I don't need to concentrate to do that. Same goes for brainless data-entry-style financial tasks. When things get busy around here in a few hours, I'll be calm and happy as I got a lot of critical stuff done already.

4) Use a practical get-away to escape potentially overwhelming scenes

My roommate produces quite spectacular smells while cooking (I think it's a combination of too much oil and too-high temperature, in a tiny space), so when it looks like cooking is imminent I usually seize the moment to take the dog for a walk, which I would have to do at some point anyway and also gives me alone time to reflect and recharge.

Same goes for if there's going to be any kind of loud project involving hammering and the like. I plan to be out of the house, whenever possible, during those times.

I'm not usually THIS sensitive, but a very small space amplifies sensitivities, I've found. So these strategies really help!

I've spent time reading about and understanding myself as an HSP Introvert, and even though people don't necessarily understand it, my roommate understands it enough to receive my requests as being reasonable and in the name of harmony. I survived the first week, and now actually feel pretty normal.  I'm so much saner and agreeable to live with than I used to be in a situation like this, thanks to these tried and true tricks. So good luck to you - I'd love to hear what your challenges are!

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a practicing medical doctor, life coach, international speaker, professional flamenco dancer and author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.

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