Oh, Now I Understand Why It Was So Hard

A year ago, I found myself crying in my counselor’s office. I felt like I was out of control with my anger towards my kids, and my stress levels were continuing to raise. We had moved back to the United States, and I had thought that some of the stress would dissipate. Instead, I found myself still yelling at my kids and spiraling down into despondency more often. I didn’t know why.

I was away from the constant noises that had bothered me in Cambodia—the food carts blaring speakers as they went by, the motos popping, dogs barking, karaoke playing at any time of the day, and the weddings and funerals that went up and destroyed any chance at rest. I was now in a quiet neighborhood in a small town in southwest Minnesota. If there was any chance for rest, this was the place!

What I didn’t realize, though, was that my three largest stressors had moved with me—my kids. Don’t get me wrong; I love my kids completely. But they are loud. Very loud. And my introverted self often goes crazy in the mess, chaos, and noise of life with these young ones. While my outside stresses had slowed down due to our move, I was faced with the fact that I was not able to get away from this one.

As I talked to my counselor about this, she said, “Of course! You’re a highly sensitive mom! These are going to be the most stressful years of your life, probably. You need to learn how to mange and cope so you don’t go crazy.”

A “highly sensitive mom”? That didn’t sound good at all. So I did what any good person does these days—I Googled it. I went online to see if I could gain any understanding, and I was led to a page by Shawn Fink of Abundant Mama. As I read, I kept wanting to shout, “Yes! Yes! This is me! I’m not the only one!!”

Here is what she said are some common traits of the highly sensitive person:

  • Overwhelmed easily
  • Aware of subtle changes in environment
  • Sensitive to pain, noise, smells and touch
  • Desire to withdraw into solitude often
  • Overwhelmed by light and sounds
  • Extremely conscientious to the point of being insecure
  • Easily annoyed and frustrated
  • Avoid violence and confrontation, including on TV and news
  • Changes and transitions are very challenging and anxiety-inducing
  • Easily overwhelmed by too many options or choices

This was me! Now I could see why life in Cambodia had stretched me so much and how after so many years of working in that environment had worn me down. I could also clearly see that being a mom was going to push me daily to my limit. I was naturally going to feel more overwhelmed. Whew! It felt like a huge relief to be able to name this.

My husband is not like this. He is the rock when everything else is shifting, and honestly, I have always envied him. I felt like somehow God had created me in a deficient way. Early in our marriage, Vandenn would often tell me I wasn’t doing enough, and I always felt horrible. When I was doing all that I could, it still wasn’t enough. Vandenn’s capacity for serving and time with people is much higher than mine; it kind of felt like I was an inferior Christian because of it.

I now ultimately believe that God made some of us to feel things more deeply, to be aware of things on many levels, and that we shouldn’t be insecure about our own personal make up.

So, how should we as highly sensitive people cope with the stresses of life? Here are some ways that have helped me to be more intentional about managing my highly sensitive nature:

  1. Get up early.

Like way early. As early as it takes you to collect your thoughts, spend time with God, and have a cup of coffee. I know that if I wake up right when my kids do and have to jump straight into parenting the chaos that comes at breakfast (my kids get out of bed talking), I will be an angry, hot mess. I now try to get up 30-60 minutes before they do and it is the best way to start my day.

  1. Noise-Cancelling Headphones or Earplugs.

Things are usually crazy at dinnertime when I’m trying to cook, especially in the winter when the kids can’t go outside. So I have found that putting on my headphones or earplugs dramatically decreases the amount of noise. If my kids are playing happily and noisily, I don’t want to be the mom who yells at them to be quiet. Let them be kids! But for my sanity, I need it quieter and will use my headphones.

  1. Get out but if too much, back off.

This is one of those weird tips. I have found that getting out with my kids, say to play group or to a class, is very helpful. My kids love to be out and are usually happier when busy. But here’s the caveat—I’m an introvert and can only handle this for so long. So there have been times when I tell myself that it’s okay to stay home more, even if the kids are a bit crazier. Because I need to be home! You need to parent how God made you. If you’re an introverted parent, that’s fine! Parent like an introvert!

  1. Seek God’s help in understanding how you are made.

God is often revealing parts of me that need to be worked on. But He also is starting to reveal things that I can rejoice and marvel in. We are uniquely and wonderfully made, are we not? We would never want one of our children lamenting their appearance or personality. We know that God can use all things for His glory. So why do we have such a hard time with ourselves? We want to be more like someone else. Ask God to help you to see the parts that are uniquely you and the plan He has for those things.

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Being a highly sensitive person is not a bad thing. We just need to learn how to manage it in ways that are honoring to those around us and to God. Does any of this resonate with you? I would love to hear how you manage the stresses of life, in view of your personality.

43 Comments

  1. Kim November 15, 2015

    I understand and resonate with so much of this. We’ve just moved back to the US from Delhi and I thought the same thing about all the outside stimuli being gone, but with 5 kids quiet is hard to find! The joke when I was dating my husband was that we always had Tylenol on hand whenever I was around his family of 8…they always gave me a headache. Now I understand myself better and know why large crowds wear me out, but I used to feel high maintenance and like I had a problem. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      My husband and I were the same way! And visiting his family I still feel that way and now my kids add even more craziness! ? I think it’s so good to identify the things that drain us or cause stress and to find ways to control what we can (and with God’s grace, let go of what we can’t!!).

  2. Cyndi November 15, 2015

    Oh, this is so me!  We are two months and some change into our transition back to the US after 12 years on the field.  I keep thinking that I should be “fine” now that we’re “home”…but my lack of patience with my husband and son is making us all crazy.  I am an extreme introvert and crave silence like nobody’s business.  Twelve years of constant noise, confusion and somebody always being in my “bubble” has made my introvert tendencies jump to new levels.  I too have felt like I am high maintenance, especially since the hubby and son seem to be transitioning well.  I may need to get some headphones.  🙂

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      Yes! Headphones have really come in handy for me. It felt so strange at first but it helped me not to explode on my kids as much during those loud times. I hope you are able to find those moments of quiet to help your sanity!

      1. N November 16, 2015

        I feel like using headphones separates me from my family, though. I think of conversations happening, right next to me, but I’m not involved in them because I’m using headphones. How has this been for you? Ever felt that? I want to be WITH my family, but the noise feels like a bit much. I’m constantly shushing and have felt like I am not letting them just have fun and be kids.

        1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

          I have felt this. I don’t usually wear headphones if I’m sitting around with my kids. I’m most likely to wear them if I’m cooking or doing other things.  I make sure my kids have plenty of face to face time with me, so that the times I do have to put my headphones on, they don’t feel like I’m ignoring them. Another tip that I do is use earplugs. They are a little more conspicuous and they don’t block out as much noise. For me, it just lessens the “impact” of the loud noises. I can still engage in conversations with them and hear what they are saying, but the loud playing and talking is greatly lessened. I found it very helpful.

        2. Phyllis November 16, 2015

          Hey, my version is to go into our bedroom and LOCK the door. How’s that for being separated from my family? However they all know that if I get some actual quiet time like that, I can be completely present with them at other times. (And I think they enjoy going wild for a little while, without having to worry about me!)

          1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

            I do that too!

  3. tlb November 15, 2015

    This was just what I needed to read today.  All of your posts seem to be directed at me! Thank you for sharing your heart.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      Aw, thanks! So glad. It’s comforting to know we aren’t the only ones dealing with these things and we aren’t crazy!

  4. Laura November 15, 2015

    Danielle,

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve always wondered how I would do as an introvert if I become a mom. Thanks for giving hope and tips; they’re greatly appreciated!

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      Being an introvert can be very hard when surrounded by noise and people but I’m finding other things that my introverted nature actually adds nicely to the situation. God uses us and our intricacies even when we may consider it to be “inferior.”

  5. Rachel November 15, 2015

    This is great! I’m also an introvert and recently identified myself as highly sensitive, too. My husband is an extrovert from an extremely gregarious and noisy culture – and we live in his culture. Going out is so tiring for me, but with 2 small boys at home, I get overwhelmed when we’re home, too! One thing we do to help me is boys’ day out. My husband takes the kids on a day-long outing. I get the house to myself. I feel a little left out of the fun sometimes, but those days are so life-giving for me.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      I love that! I so enjoy having the house to myself and really need that space and quiet. I might have the have my husband do this!

  6. Rachel November 15, 2015

    Another thought I just had: when I’m overwhelmed by noise, activity, people, etc, my positive introvert and highly sensitive traits take a back burner to me trying to breathe. When I’m able to nurture my sensitivity and introvertedness, the positive traits become dominant.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      So true. There are so many positive things about being an introvert that get lost in just trying to keep our head above the water at times.

      1. Ruth November 15, 2015

        I agree – sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in being more extroverted and pushing down the introverted side.  But all the good points about being introverted get lost in that.

    2. Rachel November 16, 2015

      Wow, so true!  And helpful for me to hear this.  Thanks!

  7. Ruth November 15, 2015

    Thank you for this post Danielle!  I don’t think I’m “highly” sensitive, but I can definitely relate to some of these things.  And right now, pregnancy definitely makes me a lot more sensitive. I get easily stressed by noise, mess, and sensory over-stimulation and I’m definitely an introvert.  For some reason it took me a long time to realize that having a loud, extroverted daughter didn’t change that…  I’m slowly realizing that staying in-tune to my own needs for quiet and order (while also having realistic expectations!) doesn’t make me a bad mom, it makes me able to be a better mom.

    And I have also often thought of how much better I could serve if I was a high energy people person.  It’s still hard to feel like that’s not a “better” way to be, since I think we tend to idealize that type a lot, especially in our line of work.  But the people we are serving, wherever we are, are as big a mix as we are. They also need to see what does it mean for an introverted, sensitive person to follow the Father and embrace their unique calling.  Also, I think I have received a lot of depth of insight from this very type of person.

    One thing that has helped me is my husband and I each take a few hours during the weekend to get away (sometime just retreating to the bedroom, but getting out is even better) to be quiet and be with the Father.  It means saying no to some other things, but it has been so helpful.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 15, 2015

      Thanks for your thoughts, Ruth! I love the idea of each spouse getting several hours each weekend to be alone or get away for a bit. Super helpful! My kids are highly energetic and talkative and I know I need a consistent schedule to get me down time–naps or quiet time and bedtime at 7:30 on school nights–it has helped me so so much!

    2. Rachel November 16, 2015

      Ruth, amen to the part about people needing “to see what does it mean for an introverted person to follow the Father and embrace their unique calling.”  How we really can minister to others like ourselves, or those who live with introverts, by simply taking care of ourselves!

    3. ErinMP November 23, 2015

      I agree with the idealizing thing… but I try to look at it as strengths and weaknesses. For instance I think sometimes it’s easier for introverted and sensitive people to be empathetic to even little situations others might overlook (opportunities to help people)  and it sometimes means us introverts are put into places to have the deep conversations that others have a hard time starting or getting into. So both “types” are used for good things. Love your thoughts on it.

  8. Jenilee November 16, 2015

    yep. yep. yep… all of that list was me. which I’m sure is why I’m feeling this transition from the US to France to West Africa so strongly. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

      Isn’t that list enlightening? I found it so freeing just to see someone else write it down and to know that others feel the same way!  I hope that your transition eases up on you a bit and you start to feel better!

  9. T November 16, 2015

    Yes, Danielle, you mentioned in your comment just above, about nap times or quiet times.  My friend taught me to force times of quiet play or reading in their rooms (or often separated into different rooms), esp during our hot summers when we can’t go outside in the daytime.  My oldest is almost 13, and he will still participate in it this summer (we all do it at the same time)!  I’d also like to comment that w/my kids being in school at least 4 hrs most days, it helps me a lot, and I feel like I’m coming out of some sort of foggy coma after years of little kids being loud and messy!  (my kids are now 8,10,almost 13).  I know that many of you homeschool, and that must add a pile of challenges for introverted moms, esp sensitive ones!  If so, I wonder if it would be possible for your kids to have language lessons a couple times per week while you solitude in your bedroom or them even at another location?  just a thought!

    1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

      Such good hope for those with young kiddos!  My counselor said the same thing to me. She said these little years with all or most of my kids at home and with high demands is going to be the most tiring and stressful time for me. I have noticed that with my oldest in school every day, that I’m handling things much better. I have thought about homeschool moms and I know it’s a particular challenge for those who are highly sensitive.  I love your idea of getting them to do something like language lessons. I had a friend who did this and it greatly helped her!

  10. Rachel November 16, 2015

    Oh my word, I needed this right now!  I can relate almost 100% with these things right now!  Thank you for encouraging “us” to be okay with this, for this is how we were made.  That is so important!  Because I can relate with the feelings of “Am I a less-than Christian because I am like this?”  But, no!  I think, this “M” role we carry can stress us highly sensitive ones even more, so recognizing who we are and what we need to stay sane, is extremely important, especially for us living overseas!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

      Rachel, I’m so glad that you were able to relate to this and feel encouraged.  I think it’s always a challenge not to compare ourselves with those who are more extroverted or able to handle more people and activities.  Our Father has a plan for us “highly sensitive” ones and I think it’s pretty amazing how many of us He called overseas.  He must have a plan for that!

  11. Deborah November 16, 2015

    Oh, Danielle, I so “get” this. I’m also an extreme introvert, and highly sensitive, and a homeschooling mom. My daughter spends a minimum of one hour–and usually two hours–playing quietly in her room after lunch. And I still feel like I’m going crazy most of the time. I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s possible to meet my needs for quiet and solitude at this time, or I’m just going to have to buck up and deal with it for the next few years.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

      I think there is a level of “just buck up and get through this” that is very true.  I’ve been encouraged by others to find more outlets of quiet “me” time than I originally took and although it still doesn’t feel like enough–I could honestly hole up for a week and feel pretty good!–it is a way to stay a bit more sane. I hope that you’re able to find one or two more ways to consistently get more time.

  12. Jodie November 16, 2015

    Such a helpful post, including all the comments! When my husband and I were at a marriage retreat in August, one of the sessions was on differences in personalities. There were handouts for each of the Myers-Briggs types. One side of the sheet had characteristics of that type and the back side had a list of what stresses that type out (or if you’re under stress, these things will be that much harder for you). For ISFJ the word NOISE was written in all caps and kind of jumped off the page at me. I had no idea that stressor could be related to my Myers-Briggs type! Noise has been one of my biggest struggles, and I hate being a Mom who is always saying Be Quiet. I appreciate the ideas you and others have shared here, Danielle. I’ve never been one to go to Starbucks for a quiet time like some of my friends do, because  having the house all to myself is so much more appealing. And having my kids in school this year makes that possible.

    1. Danielle Krouch November 16, 2015

      Noise is definitely one of my biggest stressors! And I completely agree about it Starbucks!! My husband is always like, “Why don’t you go and relax at the coffee shop?” And I try to tell him that for me, that’s not relaxing at all. ?

  13. Phyllis November 17, 2015

    I don’t think I’m actually highly sensitive, but I’m definitely an introvert and somewhat sensitive. I would love to hear more about what you think are the good points of introverts in families. My husband is way more of an introvert than I am, and here we are, in a tiny home with all these active people. Sometimes I just want to ask God WHY? Although, I do love them all so much. 🙂

     

    Oh, also, for your third point: “Get out but if too much, back off.” For us, a lifesaver is that our kids can get out by themselves. We homeschool in the mornings, but then most days they scatter after lunch and go to various classes and activities. So, I get a somewhat quieter home with the ones who don’t go out that day. That’s especially good for our extrovert daughter, too; she thinks she’s going to die during school breaks or whenever she can’t get out!

  14. Kelly November 17, 2015

    I was just asking a friend if there is a book about introvert moms parenting extrovert daughters… My daughter (almost 2 yo) is so social and verbal and extroverted she wears me out! And it’s so tricky to balance my need for solitude and her need to get out of the house!

    I wouldn’t say I’m highly sensitive , and I am a rather social introvert (enjoy small groups and play groups)… But your tips have given me some things to think about , at least a starting point for creating a plan for thriving! Thank you!

  15. Melissa November 17, 2015

    This was such a helpful article – thank you for sharing. I find it an extreme challenge to live in an apartment with two busy boys. Oh, and my husband works from home, too. I’m definitely investing in noise cancelling headphones for him for a present. I also like the idea of getting up earlier than the kids, but that early hour comes too early for me!

  16. Brittany November 18, 2015

    This has me thinking a lot.  We’ve just had our third little, born over the summer, and my older two are still under 5.  Since the littlest arrived, I’ve struggled so much with feeling anger at my kids and yelling a lot.  I just find myself so overstimulated and very easily annoyed or overwhelmed.  I’ve always been in the middle on the extrovert and introvert scale, but closer to the extrovert side.  I think since becoming an overseas worker (or maybe just becoming a mom!), I’ve changed more to the introverted side.  Hm…anyway, thanks for this post.  It’s got me thinking and praying about this.

  17. Brandi November 20, 2015

    So how do (did) you handle being an extreme introvert & highly sensitive person in a culture that just doesn’t recognize those traits (i.e. Loud, touchy-feely, no personal space type culture)?

    1. Anna November 23, 2015

      I’m that type of person and was in that type of culture.  I was in Congo, which is loud and no personal space or privacy like I’m used to.  Plus, we had people in and out of our house constantly. It took some time, but I learned some coping skills.

      1) Set limits where you can. For me that was putting a sign with homeschool hours on the door and pointing that out when interruptions happened.  I started it to help our school day actually happen, but it helped with my sensory overwhelm, too.  I was still with other people (my children), but it was fewer interactions than also fielding constant interruptions for other people.   The other thing I did was make more of an effort to take a “Sabbath” on Sunday.  I stayed off the computer, and let people know that I wasn’t available for work.  This wasn’t 100% successful, but did increase the restfulness of Sundays.  This might look different depending on where you live and responsibilities.

      2. Figure out what “triggers” you can reduce.  There are going to be things you don’t have control over, but there may be some you can control.  I almost never watched movies or TV shows.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but they are more sensory input, and I could read a book instead.  There may be things you can come up with that would help you.

      3. Exercise.  Not everyone finds that relaxing, and I really don’t enjoy exercise in general.  I started it for health reasons, but realized that it was a way of giving myself a bubble.  There were still people around most of the time (I was biking), and sometimes it was like an obstacle course going through traffic.  But I wasn’t expected to interact during that time and if anyone tried, I just laughed, said a little and moved on.

      I hope those help. 🙂  Hang in there and keep experimenting with things.

  18. Kandis November 21, 2015

    Wow, thanks for sharing. I think this is the first highly sensitive person post I’ve seen here. I discovered that we exist this spring  . I’m so highly sensitive and have felt shame about it but at the same time have always known this is really part of me. I’m married to a local Thai for a year now and have felt so selfish for the cultural norms that I just can’t handle  . It’s really nice to hear other people’s experience and know that it’s ok that I have different needs than my husband and it’s  ok for me to make a way to get those needs met. When I think of having kids I get overwhelmed so this post was hopeful for me in the future too. Thank you!

  19. ErinMP November 23, 2015

    This is definitely something I resonate with (minus the mom part)! I fit with a lot (nearly all of it) of the highly sensitive…thanks for posting and the useful tips. I find bringing a journal or book with me (and an ipod) pretty much everywhere helps. If I need to get away to journal some overwhelming feeling or some introvert mini-me time, I can sequester myself in a corner and get some reading or journaling in quickly. Really helps me. 🙂

  20. Anna November 23, 2015

    I used to think that highly sensitive had a bad connotation like high strung or something.  Once I saw an article describing it, I realized what it really is & that I am highly sensitive and that it’s not really a bad thing. 🙂  We lived in a more rural, isolated setting in Africa, so coming back to the US means sensory overload.  Everything is faster paced and there is so much more constant input.  And then add in traveling and visiting multiple churches!  It’s a challenge to say the least.  It’s good for me to realize my limits and get my breaks where I can.  Getting into nature away from people is the thing that is best for me (but not always possible or practical.)

    I take breaks where I can.  One thing I do is wind down by reading at night, even if I’m really tired.  Another thing is exercise- which I don’t really like, but I feel better when I do it.  I prefer biking, but I will walk/jog- not with anyone, but by myself.  I let my mind go free during that time and use it as a reset.

    This article about homeschooling has some helpful suggestions, too. http://simplehomeschool.net/highly-sensitive-parent/  I try to do as many of these as I can, and it has helped me be more sane a the end of the school day.

  21. J January 10, 2016

    Dear Danielle,

    Thank you so much for your article. I think I read it when you posted it but didn’t have time to comment then, so have found it again now. I don’t know if I would call myself highly sensitive but I am a bit of an introvert who enjoys my own company. I also have 3 young children and we are living in a  3 bedroom apartment in a country in South Asia. It is my husband’s home country and we often have my mother-in-law staying with us, as my father-in-law sadly passed on just before we moved here.

    I know I need to find peace and quiet and time alone with God but it is often hard to do. I appreciate your comment about getting up earlier. I already have to be up by 6am to get my eldest child  ready to leave for the school bus at 7am. I plan to get up at 5.30 but often don’t get to sleep before 11pm, so it is a struggle. I need to make sure that I get enough sleep or I become more sensitive and irritable.

    I also realised while reading your article that my husband and I are both stressed – but not about the same things! The things that concern me a lot seem small to him and therefore he cannot empathise when I share them. He is more concerned about work and finances and the future while I am dealing with more day-to-day family and home issues.

    I would appreciate your prayers. I know my life often becomes out of balance and I am rushing around (and feeling resentful!) like Martha instead of finding time to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary. My husband and I also need more quality time together.

    Thanks again for sharing. It is also great to read other’s comments and know that I am not alone!

     

  22. Ruth February 22, 2017

    This is obviously an old post but I wanted to come back and comment because I recently realized I am totally a HSP! It’s really helping me recognize some of the big stresses in my life (screaming kids being one!), and I’m working on having a better plan for dealing with those things rather than just saying, “This shouldn’t bother me so much.” So coming back and reading your post was insightful, Danielle.

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