7 Triggers of Over-stimulation and Over-sensitivity: How to Manage Them So You Can Be Around People

NY Magazine

NY Magazine

We rode along the Dakota Trail near the shoreline of Lake Minnetonka. My man and I rode out front on his fun red tandem bike. My kids trailed behind us like teenage ducklings. We waved and rang our bells at neighbors we passed and strangers who smiled. The sun shone through the trees overhead and a cool breeze made the pedaling easier. This all sounds pretty damn good, right? It was, and yet, I barely kept my emotions in check. My nerves were shot and I pushed myself to be a happy trooper.

Why?

Trigger #1: External Conflict

For two weeks prior to the bike ride, I had been dealing with kid/money/schedule issues with my former husband. Though my ex-husband is a good man, I’d rather drink Drano than receive emails from him with subject lines like, Schedule or Child Support. These are matters divorced co-parents must tackle but nevertheless they are tricky topics that require a lot of tongue biting and grown-upness.

Often these matters crop up when things are going well in my life. My career is moving along. The kids are in a good place. I am in a healthy relationship. Then boom, we have to discuss finances or a change in the schedule. Sigh. It’s like delightfully floating on your back in the ocean and then someone throws a boulder on your stomach. You’re totally content but the weight makes floating really hard.

The back and forth emails and face to face discussions often add conflict and minimize cooperation. I so badly want cooperation. The overall tone is negative rather than collaborative, with each of us pointing out how the other is not living up to our expectations. The adrenal glands above my kidneys squirt out gobs of cortisol in response.

Trigger #2: Lack of Sleep

Due to the above conflict, my sleep quality declined to nil. I fell asleep, no problem, but the 2:45 and 4:19 demons woke me up with a desperate need to re-hash every word anyone ever said or could say. Just as I would drift to sleep a cold bolt of adrenaline would seize my mind and force me into thinking rapidly and negatively. I slept two hours the night before the bike ride.

A nice stop for lunch will make it all better.

No.

Trigger #3: Multi-caring

After riding for about six miles we arrived at a local bar/restaurant on the water. I planned this location for lunch because it was pretty and a manageable distance from where we got on the trail. Given that it was a Saturday, the place was hopping. Music blared and the scene was full of boat people (people who pulled up in their boats), party people (sometimes the same as boat people) and those like us, local families.

As we sat in the sunshine, looking at menus and waiting for our food, my man said this type of place is not his scene. It’s too crowded and the music is too loud. It’s a place to be seen rather than talk and eat. Well, OK.

Bees flew around our heads incessantly. My daughter is extremely fearful of bees. She told me every time one was near me or her.

We talked among ourselves but I noticed my middle son was quiet and no one was drawing him out. As an introvert, I know it’s fine for him to be quiet and observe but also as an introvert, I know it’s nice if someone notices you and gently brings you into the conversation. I tried to do that by asking him what he ordered.

My mind ping-ponged around the table checking the temperature on everyone’s happiness gauge.

Trigger #4: No Downtime

Once back home, I began to work on dinner. No real downtime between riding a bike for a few hours and jumping into dinner prep. Come to think of it, not a lot of downtime this summer, period.

Trigger #5: Multi-tasking/Interruptions

I noticed the apple cider/honey combination I had prepared before leaving was still too liquidy to be the syrup I needed to glaze the turkey breast, so I turned on the burner to let it boil down further. Meanwhile kids were asking me if they could have friends over, my man’s dog needed water, I was cleaning the turkey and getting the vegetables ready.

You guessed it. I boiled the glaze down to glue and had to start over.

Trigger #6: Being Scrutinized

Once the turkey was in the oven, my man offered to husk the corn. Great, yes, thank you.

He pulled out the recycling bin and remarked that we are not recycling yogurt containers properly.

I brought a bowl of green beans out to the deck and started to trim them while he husked the corn. He asked if I was putting the cut beans back into the bowl with the uncut ones. Yes. I wanted to minimize the number of bowls used.

He asked me if the water was on for the corn. I jumped up to put it on.

Trigger #7: Inner Conflict

I mentioned my man’s dog. He is the smartest sweetest Border Collie/American Eskimo mix. I truly love this loving animal but… his hyper-vigilant nature can stress me out a bit. Usually I can handle his restlessness but if I am already over-stimulated I absorb his anxiety like a sponge. I have to detach from him in order to avoid the stimulation. This makes me feel bad because I know how beloved he is by my man.

The next day meltdown

I managed to keep it together the day of the bike ride but the next night when my man arrived at my house the shit hit the fan. I was tense and so was he (probably feeding off of me). I had been dwelling on all the negative aspects of the last few days and projectile vomited them all over him. He left a few minutes after arriving. I was relieved when he left but knew it was going to hurt the next day.

I called a sensitive friend and gained comfort from her understanding and validation.

I had the whole evening to myself. Downtime to breathe.

I sent my man an email before bed in an attempt to explain my words and actions.

I was so emotionally exhausted I actually slept decently that night despite all the turmoil.

The next next day resolution

It did hurt a lot the next day.  I knew I had to take control of the reins of my over-stimulation.

I composed an email to my ex-husband. In it, I summoned all of my reasonable and diplomatic skills and did my best to meet him halfway and still maintain boundaries. I know I am better at persuasion than logic so I gave persuasive arguments for my way of thinking.

Action dissolves fear. Sometimes you have to meet conflict head on but softly.

After a long conversation with my man, I realized two things. 1. He never meant to question or scrutinize me. We simply speak a different language. He is more objective and logical. I am more subjective and feeling based. He is practical. I am intuitive. He is task oriented. I am people oriented. 2. We can be an unstoppable team if we work together and appreciate each other rather than judge each other. This is growth in a relationship — learning from your differences. I felt blessed to have a partner willing to listen and try to understand me.

Multi-caring and multi-tasking are two issues I am always going to have to deal with especially when my kids are around. In the multi-caring department I have to learn not to jump in and protect my kids or whoever I feel is being wronged. I have to let them learn to defend themselves. In kitchen multi-tasking, I know I do better if I cook alone before everyone arrives or if I accept help from others but we each work independently on our own part of the meal.

To sum up my methods of resolution for each trigger:

  1. External conflict: Confront it, but softly in your own way.
  2. Lack of sleep: Do whatever it takes to get solid sleep. If you have to take something I say do it. Not every night but when you are especially over-sensitive. Monitor and protect your sleep schedule.
  3. Multi-caring: Love generously but don’t fight everyone’s battles.
  4. No downtime: Protect your energy and time. Keep open time (hours not minutes) between activities to prevent meltdown. Talk to encouraging friends to regain energy as well.
  5. Multi-tasking/Interruptions: Work alone or ask for help but work independently within the task.
  6. Being scrutinized: Consider the other person’s perspective. They may assume they are being helpful. Explain the way you work best.
  7. Inner-conflict: Share openly and vulnerably how you feel. With some individuals, it is going to be difficult to explain your sensitivity because they speak a totally different language. The ones who are willing to try to understand are worth the effort.

Do you have any different triggers? Any other methods of managing them? 

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