frustrated woman

If you're familiar with my recent posts, you know that I'm excited about recent changes in my life. After almost two years of fairly normal life (city living, basic hum-drum weekly routine - neither of which I do well with) we're shaking things up again.  This weekend, my husband and I fly down to a resort town in Mexico, where he'll be getting re-established. Soon, I hope to go back to what I used to do and loved: flying between my "normal" life up north and my "anything I want it to be" life down south.

Our biggest challenge? It's not the giant move we just did, packing up most of our 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 we gave up the spacious house we were 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 a six foot tall Mexican extravert.

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, his long phone calls with friends or family (introverts hate the phone and extraverts love it), and the overpowering smells of his occasional cooking (HSPs are highly sensitive to 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 relationship-imperiling 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 husband 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 (my poor lovely husband, I hope he never reads this). When I finally get a chance to curl up on the couch and watch a video, or rehearse a little flamenco in the living room, that'll usually be the time my husband decides to check his email. When his computer was in our common space, that meant annoying constant click-click-clicks whenever I was hoping to lose myself in some rejuvenating down time.

As an HSP I'm hypersensitive to intrusive sounds, and as an introvert I often resent auditory reminders that I'm not alone, so here's what I did: I found a small space in our bedroom, which has the only door, for his computer and cheerily suggested moving it there (while disconnecting his hard drive). I don't really use the bedroom for anything other than dressing and sleeping (I'm not a fan of curling up on the bed to hide or read or think, it doesn't work for me), so it was the perfect solution. Now he clicks happily away behind a closed door, and 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 husband 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 he's around, 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 he's here, as I don't need to concentrate to do that. Same goes for brainless data-entry-style financial tasks. When he gets home, I'll be calm and happy as I got a lot of critical stuff done in his absence.

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

I don't know how my husband produces the smells he does when he cooks (I think it's a combination of too much oil and too-high temperature), but he knows it bothers me and has learned to warn me when he's about to do it. 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 he's going to do any kind of loud project involving hammering and the like. And when I'm out of the house on a task, I'll ask him to do things like washing the dishes, which otherwise might bug me later if I'm wanting to hang out or work in our main space.

I've spent time reading about and understanding myself as an HSP Introvert, and even though my husband still doesn't quite get it, he understands it enough to receive my requests (e.g. please wash the dishes while I'm out) as being reasonable and in the name of family 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, 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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