Teaching the ABCs to my Highly Sensitive Child

While reading their favorite ABC book, ABC T-Rex,  I noticed that  Sisi (my sensitive 6 yo) and Matteo (my less sensitive 2 yo)  each responded to the book differently.  Matteo noticed and repeated the letters, memorizing all the alliterations.  Sisi studied the pictures, especially the facial expressions, intently.  She had many queries. “Is the T-Rex so excited about all that ice cream? Is he worried about burning his food on the grill? Why is that guy hiding behind the tree?”  To Sisi, this was a book about a character that she wanted to know deeply- his joys, his fears, all of it.  These weird symbols on the page called ABCs?  Barely noticed them. That’s not how her brain works. She is incredibly empathic, and characters are primarily what grab her attention in ALL books.  HSPs tend to be super emotionally aware.  They are also creative and look for subtleties in pictures.  Matteo seems to be more interested in the actual letters and numbers than in faces at this point, which is why he’s learning them so quickly on his own.

I’m glad that we kept homeschooling so non-academic for the first 6 years of Sisi’s life, despite peer and cultural pressure to introduce academics at a young age.  She had time and space to develop her creativity and emotional intelligence.  I definitely see the fruits! I hoped that the ABCs, and even writing her own name, would come to her naturally, as spoken language, colors, and social skills did.  But the ABCs didn’t. They haven’t.  Six years of ABC songs, puzzles and books, and she still wasn’t grasping them.

The unschooling philosophy says that Sisi she’ll learn her ABCs when she wants to learn them.  Once the intrinsic motivation is there, she’ll learn them in a snap. The Waldorf method doesn’t introduce any academics until 7 years old, when the child leaves the “dream state” and enters reality.  I respect and incorporate ideas from both unschooling and the Waldorf method, but I’m finding it really hard to be a “purist”.   I guess I couldn’t wait until 7 or 8 or 9 to see if she’d grasp the ABCs on her own.   I do respect the parents who do! It takes so much faith and confidence to just wait (and wait and wait).

There are still many things I choose not to teach. As Jean Piaget said, Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself.” However, I’m not opposed to bringing in a few programs, workbooks, and classes that I think would fill in a gap or spur my  kids on.   Why not tap into some of the great resources out there, even if my kid is not asking for them specifically?

So here’s what we chose: Handwriting Without Tears was recommended  by an Occupational Therapist friend who used it in her job as well as her own homeschooling. We’re taking it slowly, about 3 letters per week, just 10 minutes a day.  She’s now learned to neatly write and recognize all her capital letters, and is starting on her numbers.   Everything about HWT makes sense to me- the order of the letters they teach (not in ABC order!), the learning manipulatives, the workbooks, even the teeny tiny pencils to encourage correct positioning of the fingers.  She enjoys it.  Maybe not as much as she enjoys costumes and play dough, but she enjoys it nonetheless. She also knows that after she learns her lower case letters, we can move on to reading, which she’s pretty stoked about!  I was humbled and relieved when I decided that I CAN utilize an expert’s method to teach something I have no idea how to teach.  In fact, it was freeing to decide that I’m allowed to teach at all.

How did your kids learn their ABCs?  On their own?  With a program?  Would love to hear what worked for you!

Not a Bored Homemaker

I’m very rarely bored.  If anything, I’m too stimulated.  So I purposely keep my schedule mellow and make sure there are many blank squares on the calendar.  Blank days where my my only real duties are to keep the family fed, clothed, and tidy up a bit. Anything beyond that is extra credit. Many would be super bored and understimulated if they lived my life, I know this for a fact.  But I am not.  There is almost always something to captivate my attention: the birds outside, my kids playing, a cup of tea, even this blog.  When there is not, I can easily zone out into space for much longer than is “normal”, thinking deeply or not thinking at all. Yes, zoning out is not even boring to me! Since HSPs notice more details in the environment, and then deeply process those details, we are perhaps more easily entertained than the average person.

I have dear friends who have confided that being home with the kids all the time is somewhat torturous.  That they are bored to tears, and  jealous of their husbands and friends who get to work.  My friend told me that a stressful day at work is a vacation compared to being at home with the kids.  I can sympathize with this, but I can’t fully understand it.    I didn’t like working all that much, even in a job I was passionate about (see this post).  I can’t say I really thrive out there in the career world, and have wanted to be a stay at home mom for a very long time.    If I HAD to work, I would try to hustle and save like 75% of my income and then retire early so I can do exactly what I’m doing today, staying at home.

A coworker in college was shocked and somewhat horrified when I told him I aspired to be a stay at home mom.  He kept saying, “I feel so sorry for you.   Why are you even getting a college education?”  First of all, how condescending, right?  Berkeley, a place for open-mindedness and tolerance, and yet he so easily judged my dream, mostly because I wouldn’t be paid, and my efforts wouldn’t benefit the community and the world (I beg to differ, but whatevs.)  

This conversation from 13 years ago came to mind as I underlined and starred this passage from The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, PhD.

Twice as many HSPs as non-HSPs in my study called themselves homemaker, housewife, or full-time parent. (Not all were women.)… HSP ‘homemakers’ find a good niche for themselves, provided they can ignore the culture’s undervaluing of their work.  Research on parenting, for example, continually finds the elusive quality of ‘sensitivity’ to be the key in raising children well.

Thank you Dr. Aron for the validation.  I really needed to hear that.  Being a stay at home parent may not be the best fit for everyone.  Many wish they could get out of the predictable, sometimes mundane home, and out into the exciting wider world.  But to an HSP, exciting might be a good book, new recipe, chopping apples, pulling weeds, chatting with a neighbor… and that’s ok!

Lifestyle Design for the HSP

I have a mustache.  No, not that kind.  I’m a mustachian, meaning I subscribe to the philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache. Which is this: save a huge portion of your income (50% or more if you’re a badass!) invest that money wisely, and then retire early while living a humble but fulfilling life doing whatever you love to do.

I came upon his blog 6 months ago when I was finally ready to make radical changes. I was already disillusioned by the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that is considered “normal” in southern California (hence this post).  I had already decluttered my house and my schedule pretty drastically.  I had already come to embrace my highly sensitive nature, and the idea that taking care of myself meant saying no to many things-  obligations, social media, mindless consumption, etc.  This led me to the question- what do I want to say YES to?

My answers:  family time, deep (face-to-face) friendships, my Christian faith,  nature and healing, peace and quiet, .

Mr. Money Mustache’s blog has inspired me to make design my life around these YES’s.  If my family can get off the rat wheel, be freed of the bottomless pit of consumerism, allow our money to work hard for us, then we are truly free to design the lifestyle we want (and need).  It’s like hippie meets savvy investor.  This mustache suits me well.

So here is our dream… In 3 years, you will find me on a 5 acre plot of land living in a small guest home (or tiny home or yurt- TBD) while building our dream home.  Joe will take a 2 year sabbatical to build our straw bale house, but we will all help, including the kids, because it will be the world’s coolest homeschool project.  We will grow much of our own food, raise chickens, the whole deal.  After that 2 years of building, Joe will either work a computer IT job remotely from the comfort of our homestead, or start a completely new career doing one of the many things he’s amazing at (too many to list.).  Of course, there are many steps in between.  You can read this Mr. Money Mustache post for the basic steps we’re taking.  

My message to HSPs who feel trapped by a certain lifestyle,  who long for a simpler life that engages all 5 senses without bombarding them, maybe it’s time to dream big and jump off the wheel.

 

 

My Christmas Don’t-Do List

Everyone has limited time, energy, and resources.  We can’t do everything.  Sometimes it’s hard for us conscientious folks to let these things go, especially if they are objectively good things to do, or things that our culture deems important.  Or even things we’ve done every year in the past but don’t have time for this year. That’s why a “Don’t-do” list can be so freeing- by giving ourselves permission to not do some things, we can do other things very well.  This 2016 holiday season has been easy as pie.  My “Don’t-do” list is a mile long.  My “To-do” list is pleasingly short.  And yet everything feels nicely balanced in our household.

My Christmas Don’t-do list *

  1. No Christmas lights on the exterior of the house.
  2. Not a lot of decor inside the house.  We do the basics- a paper banner, a tree, stockings.  I just don’t like the clutter.
  3. No Elf on the Shelf or Santa.  In our home, Santa is a lovely folk tale that none of us take seriously.
  4. No Christmas shopping at malls/stores.  What few presents we buy all come from online stores.
  5. No pretty gift wrapping.  It’s butcher paper with sharpie doodles over here, which I like to think has it’s own special charm 🙂
  6. No Christmas cards.  Never have, never will.  But I do love receiving them.  Very hypocritical of me.
  7. No daily advent calendar activities.  I don’t like the pressure.
  8. No Christmas cookie bake-off.  We eat paleo, so the cookies take twice the effort, twice the cost, and taste half as good.  Not even trying this year.
  9. As evidenced in  the picture below, I don’t clean up pine needles.  I just let em fall and fall.

My Christmas Must-do list…

  1. Nightly Weinachtspyramide lighting ceremony.
  2. Buying a fresh-out-of-the-ground tree the day after Thanksgiving.
  3. Impromptu dance parties in the kitchen at least 3x a week.
  4. Making our own ornaments. This year was salt dough sculptures, and I finally caved and let my kids use glitter for the first time ever.
  5. Low-maintanence magnetic advent calendar.
  6. Almost nightly Christmas devotionals.  If we skip some nights, no biggie.
  7. For our kids’ gifts, we are trying the “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” thing.  It was so easy to shop for them this year, and we actually used our charter school funds for the “educational” toys.

*Don’t do lists are very subjective.  We will all differ in our priorities and values.  Please don’t think I’m telling you not to do any of those very  good things.  And please forgive me if my daughter tells your kids that Santa isn’t real.  I have sworn her to secrecy, but we’ll see how that works out.

 

My Toddler Scratches Other Babies

When Matteo scratches or pulls the hair of another child, it fills me with so much anxiety and shame.  That sting of embarrassment as the other parent tends to their injured child and tries to hide their  shock.  That deep feeling of disappointment as I think “Matteo, you’re so much better than this! What is wrong with you?”  Or worse, “What did I do wrong as a parent? Did I fail in some way?”

It all started months ago at the park.   The first time he scratched a cute little red-head at the park, I was shocked to see a “mean streak”. I can’t remember my reaction, but I’m pretty sure I made the scratch a very big hooplah.  Clearly this wasn’t effective because he did it again.  And again.  In the church nursery, at the playground, in the library play room.  Always with kids his size or smaller, when they seem to enter his territory or show interest in something he’s playing with.  What started out as an occasional defensive scratch or hair-pull has now turned into a habitual and preemptive strike anytime a little one comes near.  It’s gotten to the point when I dread seeing babies or young toddlers at the park. I’m tempted to high-tail it home.

We HSPs are pretty good at seeing patterns and consequences.  If we’re the anxious types, we tend to imagine worst case scenerios.  That’s what I did- I imagined that Matteo’s behavior, if unresolved, could lead to serious aggression and even violence down the road.  Maybe he’d be a bully!  This talent for forward-thinking causes me a good deal of anxiety.  But thankfully, it also motivates me to action.  I’d rather take this problem too seriously than too lax.  It always baffles me when people only tackle problems after they have turned into crises.  That’s not really the HSP way.  It’s certainly not my way. When it comes to parenting, I’m a nip it in the bud kind of girl.

So I came up with a game plan. But first I did my research.  I turned to the parenting expert I admire most, Janet Lansbury.  One of her podcast episodes (My 2 Year Old is a Bully) was exactly what I needed to hear.  She said the most important thing you can do is remain unruffled.  This scratching behavior makes sense to Matteo. He’s not a “bad child”, nor am I a “failure.”  He’s trying to communicate something with actions.  I need to answer him in a way that will take away this need to scratch.

  1.  Notice a pattern.  Matteo scratches or pulls hair when a young, small toddler gets in his space, looks him straight in the eye, or tries to touch him or something he’s interested in.
  2. Figure out what he’s communicating.  What I think he’s saying is, “I don’t like when little kids are too close.  It makes me feel scared and I don’t know what they’re going to do, so I will protect myself because you haven’t protected me from other smothering or aggressive toddlers in the past.”  In the past, I should probably have spoken up to parents whose children were violating his space, but the people pleaser in me really really really didn’t want to do that.  I tried to make it no big deal because toddler aggression is just a part of life.   But  my lack of response when he was clearly uncomfortable has caused him to strike first before others can hurt him.  When I look at it that way, his scratching and pulling is actually quite reasonable.  But of course, it’s not acceptable.
  3. Try to prevent the aggression.  I pride myself in letting my kids loose at the park to discover things on their own. I never wanted to be a helicopter parent.  But because Matteo is feeling scared and vulnerable in these situations, I probably need to shadow him a little more, even keep him in the carrier at times if he’s showing me he’s overwhelmed.  I may even opt out of social engagements and stay home a little more until he’s ready to face little ones.
  4. If he does scratch, I will calmly restrain him by holding down his hands and say, “Grabbing hair hurts.  I won’t let you grab hair.  We need to be gentle with our friends.”  Then take him somewhere else where he’ll have his own space.  The goal is to sound calm, unphased and confident, even though inside I’m probably freaking out.  I just need to practice that calm demeanor, and hopefully I can internalize it.
  5. I don’t believe in forcing aplogies, but I will check in with the other child and say sorry on Matteo’s behalf.

You guys, it feels so good to have a game plan.  How do you handle biting, scratching, and other aggressive toddler behaviors?

I also found this article super empowering.

Update 12/22:  My game plan is working, or maybe the phase is just passing.  He is scratching much less often.   And I’m responding with the calm, unruffled confidence of a mom who is in charge.  So yay me!

 

Operation Christmas Child Meltdown


My child had a meltdown in the checkout line at Target.  Why?  Because I was buying so many goodies for needy children, and none for her.  I made sure to prepare her before our target run with a little talk about  Operation Christmas Child and why I’m so thrilled to participate in it.  My child seemed genuinely excited to fill a shoebox for a little girl her age, and was very thoughtful about her choices.  “Ooh, I think she’ll like the pink toothbrush  because most girls like pink… except for me.”  But after a while, as the cart filled with sparkly wondrous things, the jealousy and the disappointment (and I’ll say it, the consumerism that plagues all of us  despite my efforts to squash it) welled up in her, and she had a full on tantrum.

There are so many words I wanted to use in that moment.  There was a nice little guilt trip on the tip of my tongue… “Why don’t you appreciate the abundance we have?  Why do you always want to buy things you don’t need?  Don’t you realized how other kids in the world are suffering?  I’m so disappointed that you can’t be a joyful giver.” But thank God I didn’t say any of those things.

You may disagree with my silence, but I don’t regret it.  Have I ever felt jealousy?  Have I ever lusted over stuff I don’t need?  Have  I rejoiced in someone else’s misfortune?  Absolutely.  All the time.  And I’m way older than 5.  I do NOT need someone lecturing and guilting me about my selfishness.  That is never the answer.

So what did I say?  Nothing for a while.  Then when I felt kinda centered, I told her, “You seem really upset and disappointed.  It’s always hard when we want something we cannot have.  But today we’re shopping for needy kids around the world, not for ourselves.  I will not be buying anything for you today.”  That’s it.  She cried the whole way home, then an hour later apologized for getting so angry.

One of my parenting goals is to step aside and allow my children to pursue good things of their own free will, not out of force, guilt, or pressure to please me. I think it’s a hard route to take, and that the good pursuits will take time.  Honestly, guilt trips definitely work on my sensitive child in the short run.  But I’m parenting for the long run.  I figure that the best I can do is be an example of love and generosity for my kids.  I’m already seeing some of the fruit of this “hands off” approach, but I’m sure the best is yet to come.

operation-christmas-child-meltdown

Camping is Stressful and Awesome

camping-is-stressfulI just returned from a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Forest.  It was an awesome trip, but I had to apologize to my whole family for being such a complainypants.  I was pretty stressed out and I think I set a bad tone for the trip.  The point of a camping trip is to relax and unwind, right?  It just showed how much control I like to have over my environment, and you can’t control nature.

So why do I camp?  Many HSPs have a special connection to nature.  Open spaces give us permission to slow down, daydream, and breathe.  For example, a day at the beach tingles all 5 senses just enough to keep us pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed the way city life can be.  I also believe strongly in the benefits of physically grounding oneself in nature– digging your feet in the sand, hugging a tree, wading in the water, bathing in sunlight.

As a kid in suburban California, I never got to camp.  My dad was not interested, and my mom was too busy working and holding the family together.  My one and only camping trip took place in 7th grade when my best friend’s hippie family invited me on their backpacking trip in the high Sierras. I’m sure they  didn’t realize what a dead weight I would be.  I remember complaining.  A lot.  About: being devoured by mosquitos (they always like my blood best!  So unfair!), ear pressure and faintness from high altitude, being afraid of slipping off the side of the mountain or falling off the log bridge, etc.  With that family, I’m still infamous for being a complainypants on that trip.  They love me nonetheless, and understand that I’m a product of suburbia.

As an adult, I make it a priority to camp.  My daughter loves it. She’d chose a humble camping trip over a fancy hotel trip any day.  As an HSC, I see her thrive in wild, open spaces.   I am hoping my kids will be rugged and confident outdoors like my husband is, and camping regularly will help nurture that quality.

matteo-nook-1

But let’s be real- camping is called “roughing it” for a reason.  It’s not easy, and nature can be scary, especially for someone who is highly sensitive.

Things that stress me out about camping…

  • Packing light, but not too light.
  • Mosquitoes. Why do they love me and my daughter so much but barely touch my husband and baby? Do mosquitoes like HSP blood more perhaps?  Just a hypothesis 🙂 Also my bites become golf ball sized welts.
  • Fear of wild predators (bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, etc.)
  • Keeping the tent clean and uncluttered and mosquito free.
  • Going potty in nature.  It’s just sooo hard for me.  Perhaps a gadget like this pee funnel might help next time?thanks for your support!
  • Making sure the kids are safe and comfortable.
  • Dangers in general, like falling off a cliff.
  • Worrying about food poisoning because the cooler didn’t keep things cool enough, or I didn’t wash the dishes well enough.  This amazing germ busting cloth helped ease my worries about the latter.  I used this cloth to clean EVERYTHING on this trip, including myself and the kids.
  • Worrying about breaking the rules of the park or getting yelled at by the park rangers. I’m such a goody goody.  I also fear accidentally setting a forest fire.
  • General discomfort of being sweaty, itchy, too hot, too cold, dirty, smelly, etc.

I read this list to my husband and he couldn’t believe all the things going through my head on a camping trip.  He’s the ultimate bare-footed, tree-climbing, rock-scrambling outdoorsman. It’s hard for him to even imagine being stressed in nature.  I’m hoping that by camping several times a year,  I can desensitize myself to some of these worries/fears/discomforts because camping is totally worth it.  The best things in life aren’t always easy, right?

When you read this list, can you relate?  Do you have a complicated relationship with camping, too?

camp-site cholla-garden-2   pesto view

Why Am I Homeschooling?

Hello again!   It’s been many moons since I checked in on HSM.  I’ve been busy gardening, propagating succulents, reading all I can about investing (I have truly entered my 30’s), and homeschooling my Kindergartner.  We are “unschooling”, so that basically means just continuing to be curious and do life together.  I’ll share more about unschooling in the future.

why-im-homeschooling

So why am I homeschooling?  I think my reasons aren’t the typical ones.  I am a devoted Christian, but I’m not homeschooling for moral or religious reasons.  I’m not homeschooling to shelter my children from bad cultural influences, either.  I’m not homeschooling because the public schools around me suck (they don’t- they are very highly rated.)

For me the decision was easy. My education priorities can best be accomplished outside of the traditional school setting.

  1. Sunshine, fresh air, immersion in nature on a daily basis.
  2. Preservation of sleep cycles and slow daily rhythms.  I want my kids to sleep in, nap, enjoy a healthy, leisurely lunch without rushing. The go-go-go lifestyle just doesn’t suit HSP parents or children very well.
  3. No busy work.  My kids have more important things to do, like play.
  4. Cultivating a natural love of learning!  This means let learning be the reward, instead of sticker charts, grades, pizza parties, etc.
  5. More hands-on learning. Internships, field trips, classes in the community with people of all ages, starting their own small businesses from a young age.
  6. Travel-schooling/world-schooling. Our dream is to spend large chunks of time in other places, and a regular school schedule would only hold us back.
  7. Permaculture education. In 3 years, we will be designing and building our own straw bale home and permaculture garden!!! What could be more educational that building your own home?
  8. Risk-taking, free-thinking, even failure, will be encouraged.  I’ve read a lot of inspirational autobiographies and they all say the same thing:  take risks, learn from your failures, don’t play it safe.  The typical school tells you what to do, how to do it, and expects you to do it well, if not perfectly.  This is too much pressure for conscientious HSPs who already veer toward perfectionism.
  9. Steering clear of the rat race.  I will not be teaching my kids that the key to a happy life is to study hard, get good grades, go to a good (expensive) college, get a good job, buy lots of nice things, and work forever to keep buying nice things.  I believe that’s the path most schools train you for.  The rat race begins in Kindergarten.  I hope my kids aspire to more than that.
  10. I just want to.

I’m not gonna lie- there are some things about homeschooling that make me nervous.  I wish I could say I’m 100% confident in my choice, but I’m not yet.  We’re just starting out, and figuring things out as we go. Sometimes I wonder…

  1. Could homeschooling cultivate laziness and lack of discipline?
  2. What about socialization? Social capital?
  3.  If my kids decide to go to college, will they be ready and qualified for it?
  4. Will my kids be isolated from other races, religions, and socio-economic classes?
  5. Will I get worn out and wish I could have a break?
  6. Will outsiders judge me if my kids are not learning the same things on the same timetable as everyone else?
  7. Will my own interests and passions bias my children toward my passions instead of their own?

I believe there are solutions to each of these worries.  I hope that as I find my groove, they will no longer be an issue.  But right now I have to process them.  I welcome any thoughts!

 

I Don’t Enjoy Roughhousing With My Kids

don't like roughhousing

Is this an HSP thing?  A woman thing?  A me thing?

When my daughter wrestles, jumps and crawls on me it can really stress me out.  I have such a low tolerance for when she accidentally kicks me, grabs my neck, or pulls my hair.  The bigger she gets, the harder this time is for me.  I feel like such a wuss.

As I learn more about my HSP tendencies, I can totally see why I don’t like (and have never liked) rough play.  HSPs can be more sensitive to pain.  We might worry more about injuries.  We might be more ticklish, and need a little more personal space. I definitely prefer quiet, calm play- puzzles, origami, art projects, reading.  I always joked that I’m a nerd, but I think I just like to be calm within my own body. That’s how I liked to spend my time as a kid, and that’s how I’d like to play with my kids.

I wish it weren’t so because she just loves to play that way.  She’s always asking for “wild time on the bed” which is a routine we’ve done since she was an infant.  It’s our time to bounce, roll around, have pillow fights- to burn off excess energy before bed.  It was easy when she was a baby, but now she’s bigger and is a firecracker of flailing limbs.  There are lots of articles about the benefits of roughhousing, and I see firsthand how much joy it brings her.  She is in the BEST mood after some wild play with me, dad or friends. I know it’s necessary and good.

Is it ok that I don’t like playing in this way? Can I honor my own needs/preferences, or am I depriving my kids of something essential? Can I leave the wild play to dad, who genuinely enjoys it and doesn’t worry as much about injuries?  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Party Anxiety

party anxiety tipsWhy can’t I be good at parties?

I ask myself this all the time.  I sometimes leave parties thinking I failed somehow.  Like I didn’t make a good enough impression, connect well with others or make good small talk.  Maybe I felt overstimulated and worried that others could totally tell.  As I’m driving home, I might replay an awkward scene in my head and wish for a do-over.

The weird part is that I’m usually at parties with people that I actually like, and it’s fun.  I laugh, I chat, I give hugs.  But I still leave with a heavy feeling in my heart, a sense of failure. A sense of missed connections.  And I feel drained and ready to sleep for 10 hours straight.

It makes me wonder:

  • Where does this performance anxiety come from?  Parties have always been a bit intimidating.  Even as a young child I had mixed emotions about parties- equal parts excitement and dread.  I think I tried to suppress these complicated feelings by being super outgoing and excited.  To this day, I can feel myself overcompensating at parties by being very social, trying to talk to almost everyone in the room, and being one of the last to leave- almost to prove to myself and others that I’m “good at parties”.  I totally suppress my HSP introverted side.
  • Are people really judging and evaluating me, or is it in my head?  Possibly, but not likely.  Most people are probably enjoying themselves too much to care, or are equally self-conscious and inward-focused.  Anyway, what does it matter?  You’d think in my 30’s I’d learn to stop caring what others think of me.  But since HSPs are especially empathetic, we’re good at picking up on others’ reactions.  It’s hard not to wonder how others’ are perceiving you, and if they are picking up on your anxiety.
  • Why do I get so overstimulated at parties?  I remember in social psychology learning about the cocktail party effect- the ability to tune out irrelevant background noise and focus on the conversation at hand.  I suck at this.  My brain has a hard time separating the relevant from irrelevant stimuli. I take everything in- the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and social cues- and that can be draining.    It takes so much energy to focus on the person I’m talking with, and even if I’m having a nice conversation my body might feel on edge.  This overstimulation produces a fight or flight reaction in me, which makes me think I’m stressed and anxious even though I may not be.
  • Am I missing the whole point of parties?   While my ideal social scene is a coffee shop with 2 or 3 girlfriends sharing deep conversation, parties are a totally different vibe.  Just because it’s not my favorite scene, are parties worthwhile?  I think so.  Each party has a purpose- to celebrate a person or event, to catch up with pals, to just enjoy some treats and keep each other company.  While I can occasionally connect in a deep way with people at parties, this is not guaranteed.  And that’s ok.  Togetherness for togetherness’ sake can be a good thing!

My solution:  This holiday party circuit, I decided to honor myself in these ways.

  • Plan ahead: This is such an introvert thing, but if you’re not a fan of small talk, maybe make a list of 3 or 4 possible answers to the question, “So, what’s new?”  My recent go-to’s: baby just turned 1, just got back from Costa Rica, signed up for Stitch Fix, planted my winter vegetables.  Much better to give a specific answer than a blank stare or “Oh, nothing much!”
  • Pep talks on the way to the party (and during).  I mean literally talking to myself on the drive.  I say things like, “You feel a little nervous about the party.  That’s totally ok.   It might be noisy and crowded, but you can handle it.  Take a break if you need to.  It’s ok to just grab a drink and sit on the couch.  It’s ok to just observe.  No one will be judging you; they have other things on their minds.  It’s not a popularity contest.  You were invited because someone wants you there.”  This helps so much!
  • It’s ok to just sit and watch for a while.  To get your bearings.  It’s actually kind of bada$$ to be zen and quiet in the midst of a chaotic party.  Get a drink, sit down on the couch. Let others entertain you. Chances are, when you’re ready, you’ll find yourself in a conversation and it’ll be swell.  No need to force it.
  • Take a breather!  Go to the bathroom.  Step outside for some fresh air.  Leave early if you really need to.  You came to the party and made an appearance even though it took some courage, leaving early is not a sin.
  • Pat yourself on the back when it’s over.  Don’t do what I used to do- replay all the awkward moments and chastise myself.  Instead, think of some good moments- funny things that happened, cool people you met, a delicious appetizer you enjoyed.  You are a work in progress, and you’ll have many parties ahead to keep sharpening your party skills.

These intentions have worked!  I’m not totally cured of my party anxiety, but at least I know where it comes from and how to help curb it.  I really did enjoy myself at all the parties I went to this holiday season, and did minimal Kristin-bashing afterward.

Did you experience party anxiety as a child?  Do you experience it now?  How do you cope?