If you’re like me, the holidays are bittersweet, a mixed bag. I love the twinkly lights, poignant holiday songs, and the smell of pine mingled with hot chocolate. The holidays are also a time of navigating family dynamics, overstimulation, and memories of loved ones no longer with us.
Maybe you can relate to the intensity, the highs and the lows.
In my decade as a therapist working with Highly Sensitive People (who I prefer to call Intuitive Warriors) I’ve noticed a theme: the holidays bring up certain issues for everyone and then there are some challenges specific to HSPs.
Everyone, HSP or not, often struggles with three aspects of the holidays:
Family dynamics: mom’s controlling behavior or dad’s criticism can’t be ignored when it’s right in front of you.
Feelings of loss: perhaps you’re aware of a family member who’s passed away or can’t be present, or an important relationship that’s ended. Whatever the circumstance, the holidays highlight change and loss.
The pressure to finish our to-do list: while getting everything done is stressful on any given day, our to-do lists becomes gargantuan during the holidays, creating buckets of anxiety.
The holidays also bring HSP-specific challenges:
Over-stimulation: particularly at places of commerce like malls or multi-purpose stores like Best-Buy or Target, we are bombarded with masses of frantic shopper and noisy, flashy holiday music and decor. For most HSPs, this has very little charm and quickly leads to overwhelm.
Self reflection: HSPs are blessed with the gift of processing everything deeply, and that includes ourselves. Often during the holidays and New Year, Intuitive Warriors consider how we feel about ourselves and our relationships as well as our life’s meaning and purpose. You know, the light stuff. While that reflection is rich and valuable, it can also bring up painful feelings about how we’re dissatisfied or ways we’ve let ourselves or others down (we tend to be hard on ourselves).
Worries and expectations: We are often thoughtful about the gifts we buy and ways to create a holiday special to loved ones. The downside of this beautiful intention can be overwhelm and perfectionism as we try to make everything “just right”.
Feelings of loneliness: HSPs need deep, quality relationships. In today’s culture, that can be hard to find. Also, some families are fractured and messy, and togetherness feels more like a minefield than a winter wonderland.
So how do we honor our nervous system, get through the challenges of the holidays, and embrace our gifts as Intuitive Warriors?
Honor the way you’re wired:
Make a plan for family time:
Embrace the gifts of being an Intuitive Warrior:
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, the holidays will deliver challenges right alongside the gifts. With a bit of awareness and a few tools though, you can make them work for you and get back to enjoying the magic.
Brooke Nielsen, LMFT
Brooke Nielsen, LMFT has dedicated over 10,000 hours to supporting Highly Sensitive People as a psychotherapist and global HSP consultant. She practices psychotherapy in Boulder, CO and specializes in working with sensitivity and healing of trauma (EMDR). She's also the founder of Intuitive Warrior, an online platform offering resources and support to Highly Sensitive People worldwide. An HSP herself, Brooke went years feeling overwhelmed and anxious before learning how to support her finely-tuned nervous system. She considers it a joy and an honor to get to pass that knowledge and support on to others.
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