Crowds roaring, lights flashing, music blaring, and the smell of buttery popcorn overpowered my senses. I looked around at my family, and was amazed at how much they were enjoying the baseball game, while I could barely tolerate all the stimuli. “Why did I think I could handle this?” I asked myself. As an HSP, I should have known better.
While visiting my family in Monsey, NY, I was faced with a dilemma. My children, sister and brotherinlaw all wanted me to attend a local baseball game. I, however, felt hesitant, but kept my reluctance quietly to myself.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? What kind of dilemma would someone experience over attending a simple baseball game?
Well, for me as well as other ‘highly sensitive people” (HSP for short), it is quite a conundrum. The very nature of a professional sports event is counterintuitive to this type of person’s constitution. The loud noise, crowds of people, multicolored flashing lights, and variety of greasy popcorn and hotdog smells can easily shortcircuit the senses of HSPs, people who are very quick to reach their threshold of overstimulation by external stimuli. This short circuiting results in a lack of internal safety and irritation.
As much as I may want to participate in attending an event where there are many people and much noise, I generally decline because my nervous system gets flooded very quickly. If I do attend, I wind up wanting to make a quick escape and hide in the of a quiet of the car till those I came with are ready to leave.
I didn’t understand the mystery of my avoidance and/or reaction to certain public situations till I was in my 40’s and came across the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron. I eagerly devoured the book, highlighting almost every line in luminescent yellow as I discovered myself on each page.
Since then, I have explored a few means which have been helpful in “surviving” and thriving in a highly sensory stimulating environment. I share them here for other readers who may benefit from how to create a safe, calm space from within, even if the external environment is crowded, loud, electrically colorful and filled with all sorts of smelly things.
My family wanted me to come with them to the game. I had already escaped going with them to Rye Playland, but I felt it was “derech eretz” (“politeness” ) since I hadn’t visited for a few years, to oblige. This was a Badgers game in Pomona, a beautifully situated town nestled in the valley of the Bear mountain area of New York.
After plopping myself down in the plastic bleacher chair and rearranging my daughter’s seating so she would not continue to kick the back of the woman in front of us, I looked around and said “uh,oh.” People were cheering and booing loudly, the video screen was flashing all kinds of colorful images and the smells were of sticky, greasy, slippery materials that I think the people at the stadium called “food.”
I thought to myself “how am I going to do this? how can I stay here and at least pretend to enjoy myself since my sister and brotherinlaw were kind enough to buy the tickets and bring me and my “clan” to the game?” “I’m going to have a hard time smiling and showing gratitude when I am clutching the plastic seat and looking like I want to run” I thought.
Then I remembered some “tools” I had learned from my coaching course and private coach sessions. I closed my eyes, took one deep breath and dropped into my senses. This refers to focusing on what one’s senses are experiencing in the here and now. I closed my eyes and first tuned into the sounds that were surrounding me in the present moment. Yes, I may have looked a bit funny, meditating at a baseball game, but I did not care, as long as I could stay put instead of running out of the bleachers like someone escaping an inferno. Though it may have appeared to an onlooker that I was meditating, dropping into senses brings one to a place of deeply tuning in to present moment stimuli instead of tuning out.
In my tuning in at the game, I heard the loud droning of many voices, sharp bugle sounds and the blare of a fire alarm. I was a bit shocked to hear the alarm, which I had not noticed earlier because it blended in with all the other noises. The funny thing was that no one else seemed to notice it either. Apparently it was broken because we were not being ushered from the game.
I next tuned into my sense of touch by noticing the feel of the hard plastic under me and the comfortable cotton clothes and fresh comfortable breeze of a summer afternoon. I continued on by making myself aware of the taste of chocolate ( my favorite food) in my mouth and then took a deep inhale to experience consciously the smells around me. This was not a thought process, but a feeling awareness and I maintained all these senses at once the hearing, touching and tasting along with the smelling. After taking a few inhales of the popcorn/hotdog smells, I opened my eyes to add my visual sense.
The vision was actually quite stunning. From high up in the bleachers, I could see the lush, green mountains and blue, blue sky. White cotton candy clouds floated calmly above and the sun’s rays shone brightly. My body felt relaxed and at peace. I was grateful, with Hashem’s (G-d’s) help, to have created a safe place within that allowed me to enjoy this time with my family.
I invite readers who share with me this sensitivity to external stimuli to try this technique of “dropping into their senses” when feeling overwhelmed by their environment. It can be done at chassunahs (weddings) , l’chaims and other simchas (celebrations) and even at home, when family gatherings for holidays bring a lot of noise and happy commotion.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath. The breath allows one’s body to enter into the parasympathetic nervous system which Hashem (G-d) created as our “peace and patience” mode of being.
- Notice all the near and far sounds around you. You don’t have to name the sounds, just be aware of them.
- Become aware of the sensation of the clothes that are touching your skin. Notice the feel of objects that your hands are resting on and what surface your body is standing or sitting on.
- Inhale and notice any smells.
- Become aware of what you are tasting in your mouth. Again, nothing needs to benamed, just experienced.
- Open your eyes and take in all the visual sights with a soft focus (as opposed to a sharpfocus). Try to encompass all the sights at once what is in front of you and to the sides,while staring softly ahead.
Miriam Racquel Feldman specializes in personal coaching for women. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org