Your heart pounds, you begin to tremble, your chest constricts, pain shoots through your core, your mind blurs ... and all this, simply as a response to a threat, insult or even a simple tone of voice. Highly sensitive people frequently live life on the brink of emotional snowballing, a term I use to describe a situation where emotions get out of control, and quickly become out of proportion to the situation at hand.
Just think of a small snowball rolling down a very steep hill - it becomes larger and larger and rolls faster and faster very quickly. Form many highly sensitive people, this emotional turbulence is a fact of life. But why? As Elaine Aron pointed out in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, "most of us are deeply affected by other people's moods and emotions". In fact, you could say that most highly sensitive people are simply excellent chameleons to the emotional landscapes around them.
This can be good news if everything is peachy bliss, but many times, highly sensitive people find themselves absorbing the poisonous negativity around them. You could say that the highly sensitive person's problem is taking things too personally. But it's much more than that. The highly sensitive person is deeply affected by any highly stimulating situation, whether physical, mental and emotional.
In a sense, you could say they feel everything at a more extreme level than the non-HSP person. While this can make life a lot more profound for highly sensitive people, it can also make interpersonal relations very bitter indeed.
Below you will find 4 techniques I have found useful in preventing emotional snowballing. I'm a highly sensitive person myself and hope these will help quell the tidal waves of emotion when they roll your way.
Highly Sensitive People - 4 Techniques To Stop Emotional Snowballing
Although these techniques appear to be very common-sense and obvious, remembering them and putting them into practice is easier said than done. My hope is that they will implant a seed in your mind that you can carry away with you and remember, when the time comes to deal with any emotional strife that comes your way.
1. Seek out a quiet, empty spot to cool down.
As I mentioned before, highly sensitive people suffer a lot at the hands of hyper-arousing and stimulating situations. The best thing to do when you become aware of the symptoms of emotional stress is to remove yourself from the situation. Excuse yourself, or simply walk away from the person or people that are causing you harm and find a deserted, empty place.
I say deserted and empty because the least stimulating, the better. You need to make time to re-cooperate and soften the violent sensations inside of you. I find that the bathroom is usually the best place to go, especially when the lights are out and everything is muted and dim.
2. Focus on something that made you happy today.
If nothing made you happy today, try the past week, or you could think about the best thing that ever happened to you. I find that focusing on something positive helps break the cycle of negative emotions that begin to quickly increase inside. It also helps remind you that life wasn't always as painful as it seems in the present moment, and helps give you perspective.
If you have had a bad run in with a specific person in particular, you can also try thinking of the last time you enjoyed being in their company. Did they make you laugh, did you share something nice together, were you excited to talk to them? This works especially well with family members and close friends who have upset you.
It's good to remember that everyone has bad days once in a while, and they aren't necessarily angry at you - in fact, usually they aren't. They are simply reacting to their own bad feelings and taking it out on you. Once again, this technique of focusing on a past positive experience works well after you've sought out a quiet and empty spot to re-cooperate.
3. Listen to, or watch something upbeat.
The biggest mistake that I made as a highly sensitive person was to listen to melancholic, dark music when I felt emotionally strained. Although it's nice to feel as though others can relate to the way you feel through their music, this is not a healthy way to deal with emotional turmoil.
If you're primarily an auditory learner like me, listening to happy music is one of the best ways to stop emotional snowballing. Try listening to "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bob McFerrin for starters! If you're primarily a visual learner however, the next best alternative is to watch a comedic movie that will allow you to relax and break out of the negative cycles of emotion. Have a list of comedy movies at hands, just so you don't loose time frantically scavenging for one.
4. Remember that this too will pass.
This philosophic approach to preventing emotional snowballing for the highly sensitive person, is a powerful way to transcend your emotional strife and look at life with a birds eye perspective. Think of everything good and bad that has ever happened to you. All of it has passed by and has been replaced with something different: the good with the bad, and the bad with the good.
Life is a constant flux, and a wax and wane of good and bad. If everything was always good, we would find life boring and we'd take it for granted. In this way, the bad moments in our lives can even be seen as necessary and beneficial - they provide a contrast for the good so we can appreciate it even more fully.
So just remember: when you are close to an emotional snowball, remember that this too will pass. Like everything in your past, it will perish and be replaced with something else.
If you have any suggestions for fellow highly sensitive people, please share them below. As they say, sharing is caring. :)
Photo by: Davi Ozolin