An Midlife Introvert’s Tips to Deal with Sensory Overload

Happy Spring 2022, midlifers! Welcome to a fresh new season where nature gently emerges from its winter hibernation to explode in a kaleidoscope of colour. As Spring beckons us outdoors and socialising picks up, it can quickly become exhausting, particularly for introverts like me.

A common misconception about introverts is that they’re anti-social. Not true. We desire meaningful connections with others and thrive on in-depth conversations. Particularly in midlife when we are more intentional about enjoying our closest relationships. Because of the intuitive trait of INFJ introverts, we ‘see’ more than what others say. We notice body language and tone of voice. We also listen for the unspoken messages others communicate because we want to understand people beyond their social masks. We naturally absorb others’ energy, good or bad and this can be exhausting, and drain our energy.

Highly Sensitive Introverts

Dr Elaine Aron, Author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive in a World that Overwhelms You, notes that some highly sensitive persons, which make up about 70 percent of introverts, have a sensitive nervous system. This could be due introvert’s empathic edge to absorb others’ emotions, good or bad. To prevent triggering the sensitivity to others’ emotions, I limit placing myself voluntarily in high-anxiety provoking environments. I spend a lot of alone time between carefully selected social engagements and it’s why we can better focus on one or two people or small groups in social settings.

But what else can introverts do to manage sensory overload? Below, I share several ways I’ve found helpful to reduce becoming overstimulated.

Nine ways to decrease stimulation and avoid becoming overwhelmed

  • Turn Off the Lights

Michaela Chung suggests simply turning off the lights in a room, and dimming a space can reduce stimulation.

  • Close Your Eyes

In midlife, I find my energy lasts longer if I rest in the afternoon. I like to wear an eye mask to reduce natural light.  I quietly rest on my bed, allowing my thoughts free reign or I have a short nap. I’m a morning person, known as a lark, who has better mental clarity in the early mornings. This is when I do my spiritual devotional, and best writing. Resting during the day for a short period recharges my batteries and gives me the mental clarity to get some bonus writing done in the afternoon.

  • Turn Down the Noise

I love to listen to music while I write or have morning devotionals. But sometimes, when I really need to focus my energy to concentrate, turning down the music and having complete quite helpful.  I close my door to reduce the noise of my household.

  • Limit Your Choices

I love dining out not only because it’s a welcome break from cooking but more so it’s an opportunity to connect with the people I love.  What I don’t like about dining out is the wide selections on some menus.  Having too much choice can drain my energy. I know this one might sound strange, but if I’m going to a new restaurant, I like to look at their menu online and pre-select dishes I may enjoy.  I do this because once I enter a new environment a great deal of energy goes into getting comfortable with the new stimuli in an unfamiliar environment. Adding to that a wide menu selection and trying to focus on my dining companions can be quite draining.

  • Limit Digital Time

The same goes for reading and online surfing.  Right now on my desk are ten books I want to read at the same time. There’s an equal number of tabs open on my desktop and other digital devices because I’m always busy connecting ideas and need to search and verify the information. This can be mentally exhausting.

  • Choose Online/Distance Learning

Where and how we learn is important to conserve the energy of introverts.  Online or distance learning eliminates too much interaction with others. Flexible learning hours can also work better with our natural energy peaks because it allows us the freedom to study at our own pace and peak learning times in a day.

  • Low Key Hobbies

Because introverts need less external stimulation to engage in activities that bring us joy, we prefer low-key activities such as reading, walks in nature, or gardening. I love to build jigsaw puzzles during the holiday season. Also, sewing and crocheting, making art, or cooking and baking. I enjoy watching a movie or television series. In summer, I love to swim and enjoy or go for scenic drives.

  • Reduce To-Do List

Before social events, I find it helpful to reduce how much I do before and after social events.  Understanding your energy reserves will help you determine how much you can handle on a day that requires some type of socialising beyond your normal daily routine.

  • Pace Your Social Energy

With a deeper self-awareness about my energy reserves, I carefully choose the types of social activities I engage in. Introverts tend to prefer one-to-one or small group socialising over bigger groups and busy social settings.

As you can see, there are multiple ways to reduce sensory overload that leads to exhaustion. Learning to understand and manage your natural energy reserves can lead to a more enjoyable life and help you thrive on purpose in midlife!

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