Do you ever come back from vacations feeling like you need a vacation to replenish from your vacation? This happens for all of us, whether we’re highly sensitive or not. Change in routine is stressful for all of us. It’s especially stressful, however, for those of us who are highly sensitive, even if the change is positive, like a vacation. Highly sensitive people take in way more information on a moment-to-moment basis than those who are not as sensitive, which means that they can become over-aroused or exhausted much more easily. Being highly sensitive in some ways is like having a lot of computer programs running that the same time. The computer is processing much more information, which can cause it to process more slowly or even sometimes cause it to freeze when the system is overloaded. When you reboot the system, things run smoothly again. Similarly, it’s important for us to notice when we’re becoming over-aroused and take time to ‘reboot’ or rebalance our nervous systems so that we can continue to function at our optimal level of wellbeing. If you’re not sure whether you’re highly sensitive and would like to find out, click here to take the test.
Perhaps you have some sense now as to why vacations might be particularly stressful if you’re highly sensitive, especially if you’re vacationing in a new place, perhaps in a different time zone, with different foods, away from the comforts of your home and regular routine, perhaps with extended family. So I’ve gathered some tips to support you in making sure you’re returning from your vacations this summer feeling renewed and revitalized rather than depleted. Even if you don’t consider yourself highly sensitive, these tips may be beneficial!
- Make sure to get enough sleep. Sleep is so important for everyone, but especially important for highly sensitive people who need the extra time to replenish with all the information that’s being processed each day. This can be particularly hard during vacations, sleeping in a new space, with more going on into the evenings, perhaps even dealing with a time change. Plan and prepare ahead of time as much as possible, e.g., bring melatonin if you use it regularly or if you’ll be dealing with a time change to help your body adjust, download a white noise or nature sound app on your phone just in case, figure out what time you need to get to bed generally in order to get enough sleep so that you’re able to make informed choices, use lavender essential oil to help your system relax before bed, practice body scan or yoga nidra before bed if you’re having through winding down. Lastly, go to bed when you’re tired. Many of us are used to pushing through to keep up with others, because we feel like we should or we don’t want to miss out, remember the costs of this choice to stay up and give yourself permission to honor your sensitivity.
- Continue your morning routine as much as possible. The way you begin your day sets the tone for your entire day. For me, this involves making sure I’m able to start the day at my own pace and take some time for myself. Again, this can be particularly hard on vacation. Talk to your family about your morning needs, get up earlier if needed to ease into the day, make sure to bring supplements and other things that contribute to a familiar routine in the morning. On a recent vacation, I noticed a world of difference regarding my mood and energy level on the days where I began my day exercising for 30 minutes and then reconvened with everyone afterwards.
- Pause and check in with yourself throughout the day. Perhaps set a timer on your phone–there are apps you can download that will sound a gong to remind you to be mindful and check in. Here are some things you might notice that would indicate high arousal: rapid heart rate, feeling of going, going, going, shallow breathing, scattered or foggy thinking, dissociation (meaning that you don’t feel fully present in your body), exhaustion/fatigue. If you notice you’re highly aroused, this is a good indicator to prioritize some downtime to help your system settle.
- Connect with nature. Highly sensitive people have a deep connection to the natural world and it’s an important resource for us, we typically feel renewed when we spend time in nature. Even if you’re vacationing in a city, you can take time to take in the sunshine, the blue sky, the gentle breeze, the sounds of birds (link to taking in the good). Make sure to take in this experience of nature with all of your senses, soak it up, and feel your connection to something greater.
- If you’re vacationing with your family, talk to them ahead of time about your needs during the vacation. If you haven’t broached the topic of being highly sensitive with your family, this might be a great time to so. On the other hand, if it doesn’t feel safe or supportive to share about this with your family, you can frame the conversation around your needs in general. You might say something like “Being highly sensitive (or leave this part out), I’m aware that it’s super important for me to take down time when I need it so there may be times where I choose to stay in if you all are going out to dinner or to another site. This isn’t because I don’t want to go or don’t want to spend time with you all. I’ve learned that I need this time so that I can be energized, present, and engaged as we’re out and about and doing activities together. I’m really looking forward to our time together and want it to be replenishing and fun for all of us!”
- Pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking and what your body wants/doesn’t want. Often times vacations involve ‘indulging’ and letting go of our day to day healthy habits. This in and of itself isn’t good or bad, but indulging too much can result in you feeling depleted by the end of vacation, especially if you’re highly sensitive. Rather than being rigid with what you can and can’t have, just be thoughtful and check in with your body when eating and drinking. Again, this may be difficult when there aren’t a lot of options, so it might be helpful to bring healthy snacks or make sure you get to go to the store when you’re there to buy things that are good for your body. Also make sure to drink plenty of water–this helps your system detoxify and run smoothly.
- Give yourself permission to honor and hold your sensitivity with compassion. Vacationing, especially with family, can bring up outdated beliefs and inner or external judgement about our sensitivity so it’s important to stand in a place of acceptance and power around our sensitivity. It might be helpful to anticipate issues your family may have, consider how to respond, and remember that our sensitivity is okay and something we love about ourselves. For example, if your family sees your choices around food as ‘too rigid’ or ‘too picky’, it might be helpful to remind yourself of what you know and appreciate about your sensitivity around food. Perhaps you might say something like, “I’ve learned that when I eat foods with a lot of additives and sugar, my system gets thrown off and I can get irritable, cranky, or exhausted, and I want to make sure I’m in a good space and have energy to hang out and enjoy our time together.”
- Take time each day for yourself. Remember that when you take time for you, especially first thing in the morning, it helps allow you to be present and energized as you hang with your family throughout the rest of the day. This can be especially difficult when traveling with little ones so make sure to arrange with your family or your partner or bring engaging toys or games that they can play independently, that will allow you to get some downtime. Ask for support when you need it and remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish (link). Being highly sensitive, you may need more downtime than your partner or than others and know that that is okay. Being sensitive is also what allows you to notice the subtle emotions and needs of your kiddos so that you can meet them where they’re at. Taking care of yourself and asking for support when you need it is also great modeling for them.
- Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ . I know I’ve already spoken to this a little bit but I think it’s useful to hear it more than once, because it can be so hard to do! For those of us who are highly sensitive, 1-2 activities/day is probably enough before we need some downtime. This is where it can be particularly important to check in a notice our arousal level. If you’re renting a car with your family and driving all over to different sites, give yourself permission to skip out on one and take a power nap in the car or sit at a restaurant and read. Better yet, if you can drive separately so that you can head back to your hotel or house when you’re ready for some downtime. Talk with your family to plan to start with the sites that you’re most excited about so that you don’t feel as conflicted if you have to skip out at the end of the day.
- Be mindful about your use of technology. I say this rather than saying unplug completely because for some of us, it helps maintain a low arousal level just to take 15 minutes to check email each morning to make sure there’s nothing immediate we need to respond and to help us stay caught up. If you want to unplug completely, it might help to make sure you have an away message on your email and phone so that you don’t have to worry about people wondering why you haven’t responded.
- Research the area and talk with family ahead of time so you know what to expect. If you’re traveling in a new country, educate yourself about customs, foods, what to do/not do ahead of time so that it’s less to process in the moment. It might be helpful to get a guide book about the area (I like the Lonely Planet guides), so that you have a reference and can identify things you’re interested in seeing/not seeing ahead of time. Perhaps take some time before the vacation or the first day of the vacation to talk with your family about a rough structure or plan for the vacation. Having a basic idea of what’s happening and holding this basic plan loosely can help your system stay settled. It can also help you more clearly identify how much is too much and when you need to take down time.
As I write these tips, I notice a theme of checking in and noticing how you’re feeling and giving yourself permission to honor your sensitivity by taking time to settle your nervous system when you need. That’s what it boils down to. If you can make sure to do this throughout your vacation, you’ll come home feeling relaxed and renewed. Because it can be difficult to honor our sensitivity with our family or in-laws, I also want to name how it can be helpful. Showing up fully in all our vulnerability actually strengthens your relationship with your family. Practicing acknowledging and expressing our needs can also help your family members to honor their own needs and make choices that are healthy for them, whether they’re sensitive or not. It’s helpful for us to remember that honoring our needs is helpful for everyone, not just for ourselves.
I hope these tips help you navigate your vacations with less stress and more energy. I would love to hear any feedback or additional ideas you might have. If you’d like to learn more about high sensitivity, Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW, and I have another Introduction Workshop for Highly Sensitive People coming up this summer. For those of you who’ve already attended our introduction workshop or already know a bit about high sensitivity, we have an all day retreat for Highly Sensitive People towards the end of the summer so stay tuned!
Challenge: Print out this list of tips and take it with you on vacation. Choose 1-2 of the above tips that feels most important or critical to focus on. Share these tips or your focus areas with someone vacationing with you and discuss each of your needs and expectations for vacation. Help support one another and hold each other accountable.
Affirmation: It is okay for me to honor my sensitivity and take care of my needs.