How Sensitive Introverts Can Slow Down — Even When Life Won’t

An introvert reviews her to-do list

When it comes to slowing down as a sensitive introvert, only you know what you can let go of and what you can keep up with. 

As much as we try to respect our own gentle rhythm and not buy into the faster, stronger, bigger narrative our culture shouts at us from every corner, there are moments in our lives when it is hard to slow down.

I’ve had one of these periods in my life recently. Although it can be difficult for anyone, it can be particularly difficult for introverts and highly sensitive people, who may be people-pleasers and put others’ needs before their own. 

So what do we do when, despite our best efforts, we can’t seem to slow the machine down? 

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Is It Even Possible to Slow Down?

You may be wondering — is it even possible to actually slow down? In my experience, even if I kept trying to do less, more and more things kept coming at me, a pile that got higher and higher. Was I doing something “wrong” since it seemed like I always had something to do?

Or maybe it was all in my head? (As an overthinking introvert, I know this could be the case!) Or was I unable to slow down because I didn’t really want to (on some subconscious level)?

Well, guess what? It was not in my head — and God knows, I did want to slow down. At certain times, however, it’s just immensely harder than usual. Since we highly sensitive introverts get overstimulated more than others, when everything comes at us all at once, our stress goes way up.

You may have these moments, too, like when your car breaks down and it takes months to fix it while you happen to be remodeling your house… plus, you have family issues to deal with… Then the usual everyday things start to feel like too much, and suddenly you can’t breathe anymore. Maybe you’re even having bouts of anxiety and panic attacks.

So how do we deal with these moments and slow down in the best way we can?

First Things First — Recognize That Things Are Going Too Fast

The first step is to realize that things are moving too fast and you feel as though you’re about to drown instead of stay afloat.

Think about it: Maybe before hitting a wall, you had clues that something wasn’t working. For me, the moments when I can’t decide what to eat because I can’t feel what my body needs — if I’m actually hungry, that is — are a surefire sign. I love cooking (“culinary therapy” is real!), and I love eating, and when I can’t do those anymore, I know something is off and not right. 

Being irritated, seeing my calendar filled with appointments and to-dos, not being able to read for pleasure anymore, feeling like I can’t breathe deeply… All of these are signs that my sensitive, introverted nature is being pushed too hard, and my mind, brain, and body are overwhelmed.

So what’s a highly sensitive introvert to do? Try out various coping mechanisms to put the brakes on overwhelm and up your emotional health. Here are some ideas. 

6 Ways to Put the Brakes on Overwhelm and Slow Down

1. Sleep more (and more… and more… and more!).

Sleep, sleep, sleep… and then get even more sleep. Short naps, long naps, medium naps, long nights… As much as I hated the idea of using my spare time for an un-fun thing like sleep, the best thing that I could do for myself in moments of overwhelm was to take naps

If you can’t nap, that’s okay; sometimes your body can’t relax enough to take a break, but maybe a few minutes of resting your eyes will give you the boost of energy you need.

In these stressful moments, we don’t always realize how tired we are, since our bodies are on such high alert, managing the 101 things we have going on. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 18-60 years old need at least seven hours of sleep per night. Are you getting that?

Don’t worry, it is normal to sleep more than usual when we go through a demanding time. It doesn’t mean we are doing something “wrong” or that we are lazy; it simply means our body is tired and needs time to recover from all that it is doing for us. 

2. Carve out more alone time for yourself. 

You might also need more alone time than you usually do. When you spend your day exerting a lot of energy, whether it’s from working on projects or working with people, it makes sense that you’d need more restorative alone time… and it might be hard to get.

Give yourself permission to keep in touch with your friends less than usual or reschedule plans if you’re too tired. They will understand — especially if they’re sensitive or introverted, too. 

One of the mistakes I used to make that prevented me from slowing down the way I needed to was doing things because they felt good in the past or because I thought they “should” help me feel better. As a result, I wouldn’t give myself what I really needed in the moment, which was downtime.

I used to want to keep things as “normal” and unchanged as I could. But, the truth of the matter is, they were not normal and I needed to change, too. I’d feel so guilty and mad at myself for not being able to keep up with my singing lessons, for example, but it was simply too physically demanding. So I settled for less, the same way I made my yoga routine less intense and shorter. 

Only you know what is too precious to let go of and what is too difficult to keep up with. But if you can’t enjoy something that is supposed to make you feel good, then it might be time to let it go for a while. Less, gentle, slow, and short is the way. I promise, you will be able to come back to the things you love, and invest your energy in them again, once you’re recharged.

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3. Do not add more things to your schedule.

Trust me, in the thick of your rush-rush-rush life, now is not the time to create, improve, or learn new routines and activities. I know it is hard, but you already know and do a lot of things that support you, even if you may doubt it right now, while you’re in the thick of things.

When you have more time, and less stress, you’ll be in a better headspace to try new things — and can then give them the time and attention they deserve.

When I’m tempted to add something to my schedule or life, like a new hobby, something I have found helpful is giving myself a week before deciding to take on anything new. Whether it’s an artistic activity, like painting classes, or a thing that needs fixing, I’ll put a reminder in my calendar for a week later. Then, if I still want to do it, and have the energy to, I’ll begin.

If it doesn’t seem so important, urgent, or fun anymore, then I don’t do it and keep it in mind for a later time. If I’m not sure, maybe I’ll wait a few extra days (or a week) before making a decision. If a week seems like too long, choose a timeframe that works for you and that doesn’t add too much anxiety to the anxiety. Speaking of anxiety…

4. Learn to tolerate the anxiety that comes with slowing down.

I think that learning to tolerate the anxiety that goes with slowing down can help. And I’m still learning! Because, when we are in it, everything seems so urgent — and anxiety tricks us into believing it is. 

Try to get used to feeling anxious or uncomfortable with slowing down; take more time to do things and don’t worry about how quickly others may be doing things. Start with small things, like a tiny task on your to-do list. Plus, keep in mind that you don’t have to slow down everything at the same time. (There is no point in making yourself even more anxious.) 

What is one manageable thing you could give yourself one more hour (or, let’s be crazy, day) to do, with as few consequences as possible? Start there. It will give you solid ground and momentum to continue doing that in other spaces of your life where it might be more difficult.

5. Reach out to others for support.

As basic as it might seem to say, do not hesitate to reach out to others for support. Even if you don’t want to ask for help, they will be happy to offer what they can. It is not a weakness to let other people take a bit of the load off you (and they can always say no).

Perhaps you’d love a friend to pick up some groceries for you? Or to walk your dog? Or even pick up your child from school?

Once you get into the habit of asking for help, it’ll get easier — and make you feel better, and less overwhelmed, in the process.

6. Don’t guilt yourself over what you are (and are not) doing.

And please, please don’t guilt yourself over what you are — or are not — doing. Guilt is the opposite of slowing down; it is a fast spiral into more stress and anxiety. So let it go.

You do not have to feel guilty for doing too much, and you do not have to feel guilty for doing too little — you are doing your best, and it is enough. Take a breath, you are doing well — and probably even better than you think!

If you don’t home-cook every meal, it’s okay. If you make a typo in an email to your boss, it’s okay. If you don’t walk your dog for an hour a day, it’s okay. Give yourself a break!

These times in life are hard, and slowing down is hard, so give yourself grace. Even in moments when our lives are rushing us, and the world is screaming at us to hurry up, and our still-small voice sounds very small, trust yourself. Things will get better and slower.

Highly sensitive introverts, what advice would you add? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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