Sensitive in the City: Coping Strategies for a Busy World (Part 1)

My Aussie and long-term friend Ellen lived in London for many years before moving back to sunny Australia. She has been one of my major teachers and inspirations as she’s constantly working on self-improvement. Ellen has enabled me to look closer to my own feelings as our long and very deep conversations are filled with openness, laugh and vulnerability. I still remember the day Ellen brought to my life the concept of being sensitive. It was a great relief to know what I wasn’t a weirdo nor precious and that I wasn’t alone. Today Ellen shares her story and coping strategies to help our sensitive souls:

I moved to London to explore a new city, to meet new people and to find new job opportunities. I’m a person who normally likes staying at home with a good book, but I reasoned that if I wanted to make the most of my time in this new city, I would need to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people and explore the city as much as possible. I threw myself into this task by saying yes to every opportunity, going out every night after work and spending my weekends exploring.  

A few months after starting a new job, my new work colleagues invited me along to club night after work one night. Held at a crowded nightclub, it had the typical loud dance music and strobe lights. Everyone was excited and yelling to be heard above the noise. The beat was really loud and the strobe lights triggered a very strong panic attack in me, and within 5 mins of paying my entry fee, I quickly made my excuses, collected my coat and left. Once at home, I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep exhausted. 

My colleagues told me the next day how much fun it had been and what a great time they had. I didn’t feel the same way. I stopped saying yes to every opportunity, preferring to stay home instead. I suddenly found London too noisy, too pushy, it had too many people and it was very draining and tiring. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I want to take part in all this fun? 

I started to take notice of my symptoms and I researched them online. I came across Susan Cain’s TED talk, and then bought her book, ‘Quiet’. It was a groundbreaking discovery for me to learn that I might be an introvert and that I get re-energised from being alone. It was a huge relief to know there  was nothing wrong with me. I was reading the book in a cafe and a man came over to me and asked if I was enjoying the book. He told me the book had changed his life for the better. It made me so happy to know there were people in London just like me! 

Then, after listening to a podcast one day, I was introduced to the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person. It also sounded like me. I bought a copy of Elaine Aron’s ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ book to learn more. Elaine’s research says that 20% of all animals have a sensitive nervous system, and 70% of those are introverts. 

The highly sensitive traits that resonated with me were:

●      Overwhelmed by sound, smell, touch, sight or taste

●      Stressed by time pressures

●      Overstimulated by too much social interaction

●      Impacted by violent situations on TV or cinema

●      Sometimes withdraw to dark, quiet spaces during the day or night

●      Rich, complex inner life

I had pushed myself for so long to do many things just because everyone else was doing them. My emotions swayed wildy between high-highs and low-lows. I felt like my nerves were ‘frayed’ and I was irritable at work and with my friends and family. I was often embarrassed by my rude behaviour towards the people I cared about, which made me feel worse about myself. I decided I needed to take better care of myself, to learn new coping strategies and test them out to see if they would work for me. 

I read books, blogs, listened to podcasts, watched Youtube videos, asked friends and read research articles. I looked up symptoms, looked for interventions, strategies and ideas tips and tricks that other people had used to help them deal with a busy world. I found inspiration from psychology, philosophy, behaviour-change, spirituality and personal development. I’m always on the look-out for what people do to calm down, relax and stay healthy, and to try it out on myself to see if it works for me.

What do you do to look after yourself? Let us know in the comments below and I’ll give some of my own suggestions in the next article.