How Highly Sensitive People Can Manage Stress When Changes Happen to Our Routine

Do you ever wish you could have a fresh start? 

Travel to some faraway land where no one knows who you are, or where you came from?

In the past, the urge to run away was a recurring thought, and I sure did give it a lot of attention. 

Starting from my early teenage years, I hadn’t spent more than three years in the same country until I finally found a place to settle down.

As I grew older, the need for novelty was quickly replaced with a craving for stability. 

It took me a long time to find the routine and habits that best fit who I am.

Then a lovely surprise called 2020 threw a wrench in the gears I’d carefully arranged over the years.

As a Highly Sensitive Person, I can admit I don’t fare well with sudden changes in my environment and like many others, my stress levels throughout the year have been fluctuating more than ever before.

To deal with this sudden change, I had to learn how to adapt. 

Thankfully though, it’s not as complicated as we can make it out to be.

I took inspiration from the strategies that worked when I traveled to and settled in other countries. 

The first lesson I drew from my personal experience was the following: ‘reduce multitasking.

There are many studies describing how poorly humans perform at multitasking, yet the one I found most interesting comes from a research article by Mark, Gudith, and Klocke (2008.) 

The findings suggest that interruptions subconsciously make us work faster to compensate, but at a price: “experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure, and effort.”

These results were also influenced by individual differences, with different personality measures predicting “disruption costs of interruptions.” 

What does this mean for Highly Sensitive People, many of whom share similar personality traits?

Being more attuned to both the environment and their inner-world, Highly Sensitive People can find themselves in a precarious position when it comes to dealing with stress. 

Unfortunately, many changes and interruptions that wouldn’t phase most can be a source of distress for some. 

This is how routine and healthy habits can be used to our advantage: research suggests that even a loosely scripted routine has measurable benefits on sleep, self-esteem, motivation, and of course, stress levels. (Northwestern Medicine)

Setting up habits for the daily and weekly chores needing to be done will ultimately reduce uncertainty. 

A habitual task requires far less working memory than a novel one; it almost seems to be automatic sometimes. 

In uncertain times, one should remind themselves to respect their boundaries.

Even though it may feel unpleasant to turn down an invitation or cancel plans, we all need some time for self-care.

By trying to follow even a loosely structured routine, I always found moments where I can solely focus on self-care and they felt more accessible, and more in my control. 

Just like there are benefits to organizing our time, separating the space that is accessible to us may greatly reduce the stress that comes with spending so much more time at home. 

One of the negative aspects of working from home is that all of our habits take place in the same location.

A solid piece of advice I discovered in early quarantine times came from a video essay from CGP Grey, which brilliantly suggests the key to reducing stress and improving productivity lies in separating the space available to you into four parts: exercising, sleeping, playing and working.

This brief yet comprehensive rule greatly helped me figure out my weekly schedule as I transitioned from going out every weekday to doing an online university in my apartment. 

Instead of doing everything lying on my bed like I originally planned to do, I religiously kept each activity to the designated “area” I arbitrarily assigned to them.

There is a reason why one of the best ways to overcome  procrastination is organization: it’s a natural stress reliever.

Going back to multitasking, it can often be difficult to fit all the tasks that need doing in a working day, without working ourselves to exhaustion. 

Perhaps there are just too many things to focus on, and not enough time to give each of them the attention they deserve.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: we worry there is too much to be done, and we end up too worried to do any of it. In those situations, it is important to be self-critical and recognize our limitations.

There is a sacrifice to be made between the need to feel accomplished, and the stress our body goes through to get there. 

When I had to deal with this dilemma earlier this year, what truly helped was taking each task, habit, routine; each action one at a time.

However, sometimes a sudden change comes not from the environment, but from our support system. 

Dealing with the loss of a loved one, be it from divorce to even simply losing touch with a close friend, can feel like being forced to start a new chapter.

When that happens, the priority is often to reinforce or find a new support system.

Just as with other types of change, it’s best to take it one day at a time, and focus on arguably the most effective weapon against stress: self-care.

Those are the best ways I found to see noticeable improvements in my mood and stress levels. 

By approaching each part of my routine with my full attention; exercising, sleeping, playing and working, I ended up fixing my sleep schedule, organized my meals, and dealt with chores in far less time than when I was trying to suddenly change everything about my day.

What strategies have you found to manage stress when sudden changes arise?


Interested in a similar topic? Read How Highly Sensitive People Can Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed


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