How Highly Sensitive Introverts Can Soothe Holiday Stress

Two introverts in Santa hats drink hot chocolate

You don’t have to attend any holiday celebrations that leave you exhausted or overwhelmed.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — if you can keep calm despite the chaos of crowded shopping centers, the dread of non-stop holiday gatherings, and the stress of hosting friends and family members, that is.

The truth is, the holiday season can be overwhelming for anyone, but especially for highly sensitive introverts, who process their experiences deeply. While I happen to love the holidays, and look forward to them every year, I also have to be careful not to overcommit. Juggling family obligations, my never-ending to-do list, and my own needs — as both an introvert and a highly sensitive person — can be downright exhausting.

If just looking at your calendar of upcoming holiday festivities is enough to make you feel like hyperventilating, you’re not alone. In fact, one survey suggests that 62 percent of people experience heightened stress during the holidays — and since anxiety is already statistically more common in introverts than extroverts, it’s no wonder that this time of year may put us on edge.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your anxiety and stress during the holidays. Here are five gifts you can give yourself when you need to de-stress this holiday season.

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5 Ways to Deal With Holiday Stress as a Highly Sensitive Introvert

1. Find moments of quiet time to recharge your energy.

We highly sensitive introverts need alone time to unwind, process our emotions, and recharge our energy. Without it, we risk becoming exhausted, frazzled, and irritable — and no one needs that kind of grinchy energy during what’s supposed to be a jolly occasion.

But downtime can be especially hard to come by during the busy holiday season, when you’re constantly rushing from one celebration to the next (especially if you’re traveling to visit relatives or hosting family in your home).

So this year, make that time for yourself. Look at your calendar and block off a few evenings — or at least a few hours in between obligations — to step away from it all and do something that replenishes you. Go for a walk, meditate, or hole up in your introvert sanctuary and nap or read a book.

And if scheduling downtime isn’t an option? Steal a few minutes of quiet when you can. When you need to get out of a crowded, noisy house, slip away to take the dog for a walk or volunteer to run to the store to pick up a forgotten ingredient for dinner — then take the long way home.

By taking even a few minutes to recharge, when it’s time for the next gathering on your holiday agenda, you’ll feel calmer and able to be more present and engaged. Downtime is truly one of the best gifts you can give yourself — and the people around you will get the gift of celebrating with you when you’re in your happiest, most relaxed state. Win-win.

2. Give yourself permission to skip that holiday party (or several).

Taking the time you need for yourself might mean being choosy about the events you participate in. It may be difficult to decline an invitation or cancel plans — especially if you’re prone to people-pleasing; you’ll feel like you’re disappointing someone. But remember that it’s okay to prioritize your mental health. Plus, most people will understand if you have a scheduling conflict during the holidays. (After all, their schedule is probably just as jam-packed as yours.)

If an event is making you anxious, give yourself permission to cross it off your list of obligations, guilt-free. Or, at the very least, allow yourself to duck out early after making a brief appearance.

Personally, I used to dread my former employer’s annual holiday party, which usually took place in early January. While I would optimistically RSVP “yes” when invitations went out in early December, I found that as the day of the party drew near, my anxiety would build. I quickly realized that I just didn’t feel like leaving my house when it was dark, cold, and icy outside — especially on the heels of an already exhausting and busy holiday season. 

On top of that, my interactions at the party felt awkward and forced, and I’d leave feeling completely zapped of energy. Eventually, I gave myself permission to “regretfully decline” that invitation, and having that one thing crossed off my list of obligations made all the difference in my stress level. (By the way, I give you permission to skip more than one party if need be!)

All in all, remember to pace yourself. You don’t have to attend every social event that pops up, so avoid overcommitting. Just let the host know as soon as possible that you won’t be able to make it — and send your deepest regrets (and, depending on who they are, maybe a nice gift to make up for it). Not sure which events to skip and which to attend? Here’s a framework to help you decide.

3. Have a cozy introvert sanctuary readily available.

The holidays are my favorite time of year in my house. I break out the twinkle lights, fuzzy blankets, and seasonal candles, unpack my warmest socks and favorite pajamas, and keep my cabinets stocked with hot cocoa supplies. My home is always my haven, my sanctuary, but during the holidays, it feels like an especially cozy refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world. When I start feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, this is where I go to take a break and “reset” with a cup of tea and a good book or holiday movie. In fact, the Danish do this well via hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-gah), a feeling of comfort, contentment, and restfulness.

So this year, give yourself the gift of creating a safe haven you can retreat to when the stress of the holidays starts to become too much. Take this opportunity to designate an “introvert zen zone” for yourself, away from the noise and chaos of the world outside. You might even consider treating yourself to an introvert-friendly gift you’ve been eyeing, like a book, candle, or special tin of tea that will help make your sanctuary extra inviting. 

Whether it’s your home, your bedroom, a designated corner in your cramped studio apartment, or even a playlist and a pair of noise-canceling headphones, every introvert needs a space that’s solely theirs to escape to when needed.

4. Give yourself the gift of self-care.

No internet list of stress-relieving tips would be complete without the requisite self-care advice: Get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, eat food that nourishes you, take time to meditate, and exercise if you can (it releases endorphins and can help reduce stress and anxiety).

It may sound basic, but when you’re focused on holiday shopping, cooking, and managing plans with friends and family, basic self-care is often the first thing to be sacrificed. While it can be difficult to find time for things like rest and exercise during the busyness of the holidays, neglecting yourself will only add to your stress. Plus, no one can blame you for wanting to hit the gym. You can always say you’re going to burn off some calories from all the holiday cookies you’ve been eating!

Here are some other ideas for introverts to practice self-care:

Taking time to meet your basic needs can help you alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. This includes seeking out additional support if you need it — consider talking to a doctor or seeking out therapy if you need extra help managing your stress levels.

Is the chaos of life overwhelming you as a highly sensitive person?

Sensitive people have certain brain differences that make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a way to train your brain so you can navigate the challenges of sensitivity, access your gifts, and thrive in life. Psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland will show you how in her popular online course, HSP Brain Training. As an Introvert, Dear reader, you can take 50% off the registration fee using the code INTROVERTDEARClick here to learn more.

5. Take a moment to reflect — and be grateful.

When all else fails, and you find yourself hiding in the bathroom at the holiday party, your loud, extroverted family members start getting on your nerves, or you’re stuck at a crowded airport while your plane is delayed… close your eyes, take a deep breath, and try to remember the reason for the season — whatever that means to you.

Anytime you notice holiday stress creeping up, try making a list (whether you jot it down in a journal or phone, or recite it mentally) of five things you have to be thankful for this holiday season. You might express gratitude for time spent with loved ones, a warm and safe place to spend the holiday, good health, the opportunity to take part in the traditions that matter most to you, and all of the happy memories you’ve made over the past year.

When you’re stressed or anxious, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. But taking a moment to breathe and shift your focus to the positive can help calm and center your mind, and put things into perspective.

Remember, like all things, the holidays are temporary. So, try to enjoy them, and remember that this, too, shall pass.

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