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The Realities of Being a Highly Sensitive Mom

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called The Realities of Raising a Highly Sensitive Child. I had no idea the impact that post would have on you all.  As a parent raising a highly sensitive child, those are my realities.  But I often forget that those are other people’s realities as well and it is so good to not feel alone. Since that post went live, I have been trying to write the follow-up post about my Realities as a Highly Sensitive Mom.  But it’s been extremely slow coming.
               
                   I am guided by my emotions after all!
 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Highly Sensitive refers to people who have more sensitive sensory processing (simplified: their senses are more sensitive).  They feel things strongly.  They may be more sensitive to how their clothing feels rather than how it just looks.  They can be highly emotional and internalize situations in their lives. They may even become overwhelmed easily. But they aren’t limited to these things.  Every highly sensitive person has their own story and experiences.  

You can read more about being highly sensitive HERE! There is also this awesome test you can take to see if you may be a part of this group.  

Before a few years ago, I had no concept of being Highly Sensitive. There was no normalization of my emotional state, just excuses. This is just teenage angst. You are just dealing with your husband being gone. You are an artist, that’s just a part of being a creative. You are just highly emotional. It wasn’t until we discovered that my daughter is highly sensitive, that I realized that I was a highly sensitive too! 

All the sudden, I had a name for how I had felt my entire life. I wasn’t crazy or just out of control of my emotions. I had a reason for who I was. It had a name and I cannot tell you how important that has been for me. Being a highly sensitive mom has brought about so many challenges that I have had to learn how to process.  

But I want to tell you, mama, it may be challenging, but it is oh so rewarding. Understanding how I am wired has helped me become a better mom to my daughter, a better wife to my husband, and more gently with myself. I can now recognize my limits and I am learning how far I can push them.  I have learned to say “No” to things, but also to say “Yes” to the right things.  I can now vocalize when I am getting overwhelmed and communicate where I am struggling.  

I am finally accepting myself.  And that makes all the difference in the world for me.  

Being a highly sensitive mom can be quite the adventure, but it’s also a really fun ride (except when I am extremely overwhelmed and can’t seem to calm it down…). This journey looks different for everyone, but here are a few of my realities!

My Realities as a Highly Sensitive Mom

My mood can change in a second.  

Sometimes I don’t see it coming and all the sudden I have become a “mommy monster”.  Recognizing it and separating myself can make all the difference! This doesn’t even always apply to motherhood.  Sometimes Kendall will get so confused by the sudden shift of my emotional state. But I have learned a few things that trigger it for me.  

  • Have I eaten recently? I can easily forget meals and things will shift in a second when I become hangry!
  • When was the last time I had alone time? This is hugely important to me. I have to allow alone time several times a week. 
  • Have I been drinking water? It’s amazing what a little water can do for your emotional state. 
  • Have I committed to too many things? I may need to clear my schedule or commit to less going forward.  

Is this you? try this: Communicate with your partner or kids that you need a moment. My conversation with daughter typically looks like this: “Hey little one, I am struggling right now and I need a little bit of alone time, so we are going to have some quiet playtime while I take care of myself.” While sometimes this doesn’t go very smoothly, she has come to understand the need for alone time and even asks for it for herself when needed.
           If that doesn’t work… hide in the bathroom.

I am incredibly ticklish.

Guys, this one is for real. I’m talking nearly every place on my body is ticklish. I also absolutely HATE being tickled. It causes so much anxiety for me. My husband has learned that it is not a good idea to tickle me! I am still working on helping my daughter respect this. 

I can get overwhelmed really easily. 

This has been a struggle in my life for a long time.  I always thought that it meant I wasn’t cut out for certain things or that I was out of control.  Now, I pay attention to the things that overwhelm me and make intentional decisions throughout the week to help minimize this. 

Is this you? try this: I recently learned about the idea of doing bite-sized action steps from Lydia Lee over at Screw the Cubicle. While her focus is primarily on leaving the 9-5,  I have taken that idea and applied it to every aspect of my life, even laundry.  I break things down into every “bite-sized” step it takes to accomplish things. Then I can just start with one, manageable piece of my puzzle. This helps me feel like am accomplishing things along the way and help me avoid feeling overwhelmed because I am focusing on the small steps, not the big ones. Also, only choose about 3 tasks to work on at a time, so that you don’t have too much going at once.

I startle REALLY easily.  

If I am walking down the hallway and someone is coming the other way,  the chances are high that they will scare me by just existing. Knowing that I scare easily has led me to realize that horror films are not my friend.  I don’t need that in my mind! 

I can cry really easily.  

Sometimes I don’t even realize it is coming!  I might watch a commercial and end up in tears.  Or those Facebook videos that are all sentimental… they get me every time! Sometimes it is because I can feel the emotions of the character I am watching, other times it is just because I cry easily. 

Is this you? try this: Cry. Seriously. Just let yourself cry at all those things.  It feels REALLY good, I promise

I have to prioritize my alone time.  

As a mom, being alone is not easy. My daughter loves being with me, which makes things hard when I don’t want to be around anyone.  But I have learned that I am a better mom when I take time for me. These are some of my favorite ways to be alone: 

  • Take a bath or an extra long shower 
  • Go to a coffee shop 
  • Go for a drive (a double win if your kids sleep in the car! Just saying…) 
  • Have quiet playtime at least once a day 
  • Stay awake a little later than everyone else and enjoy the silence. 

Is this you? try this: Find that thing that makes you happy and calm.  Maybe it is coffee shops, driving, playing video games, and watching terrible Netflix shows.  Communicate with your life partner that you need to start taking more time for yourself.  Single mom? Spring for a babysitter once a week/biweekly/monthly, whatever you need or trade childcare with a friend. Then take that time alone.  Go sit at a coffee shop and read.  Whatever you need, take it!  You are worth it. 

I hate water on my face.

Washing my face is a nightmare.  I find that keeping a washcloth in the shower specifically for my face helps me a lot.  I can wipe off my face wash instead of feeling like I am drowning by putting my head under the running water. Let’s just say, those shower make-out scenes that are in all the movies….not sexy for me in real life. It mostly just consists of me blocking my face from the water droplets that are bouncing onto my face or avoiding the running water in general. So I just end up anxious and cold.  Not worth it.

Basically, my skin, in general, is very sensitive

When I am feeling anxious, I don’t want to be touched. I don’t like pillow fights and they can result in a full-blown panic attack.  I also invest in clothes that are truly comfortable. 

Is this you? try this: Communicate.  Tell your kids, partner, or friends about your anxiety.  Tell them that sometimes it happens and you have no idea it is coming.  When it happens, try to communicate what is happening so they can respect your personal boundaries.  

The shows/movies I watch affect my mood.  

This one took me a while to accept because I didn’t want to change the shows I watch and if I am honest, I haven’t really changed it all that much… But when I watch a highly dramatic show, I tend to feel a little more stressed.  If I watch something sappy, I feel sappy, etc… But this isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes I can tell I am feeling highly stressed and I can watch something like Skam and I will be way calmer within a short amount of time.   

Sometimes I struggle being a mom.  

Over the years I have had to become very intentional with my time to make sure I prioritize things that I am passionate about.  I also make sure to invest in friendships outside of just mom friends. 

Sometimes I just stick my kid in front a TV/tablet and I don’t feel bad about it.  

At times, I just need time.  That’s okay.  

Being highly sensitive helps me be a better friend.  

I will say, I don’t keep a large group of friends (I am very introverted), but those I have, I love fiercely. I also will hold on to friendships or potential friendships longer than I probably should. I don’t like to give up on people because I can understand their situation and know where they are emotional. It is important to note that I have realized I let people take advantage of how understanding I am.  I have had to find a balance between being a great friend and taking care of myself. 

Is this you? Try this: think through all the people in your life that you feel give an equal-ish investment.  Focus on those friendships.  Also, recognize the people that you keep “trying” to befriend, but who clearly aren’t interested in anything more than Facebook friendship.  You don’t have to cut them out, but don’t invest any more emotionally to those friendships.  Take that emotional investment and apply it to the ones who are invested in you too. There are some friends who become like family, there are some friends who are “sometimes friends”, and there are some friends who are just “Facebook friends”. All of those are good, they just need different things from you. 

I have a highly active imagination.  

This is one of my favorite things! I really enjoy driving around town and making up/playing out stories while I do so.  I will have the conversations, think through the settings, name the characters, and more.  My husband has been encouraging me to start writing some of those stories, instead of just playing them out in my head. This is new to me, but I am welcoming an outlet for these stories. 

Is this you? Try this: Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by it.  Why are we encouraged to have an imagination as kids and then all the sudden we have to “grow out of it”?  It’s okay.  Let yourself enjoy those moments, but make sure you put equal time into being present when you are with your friends and family.  You can also try journaling to get some of them down on paper.  You can choose for the journal to be private or you can share them with your family.  

My Favorite Books

These are books that I have read over the last few years that have really impacted how I view myself!  They aren’t all specific to being highly sensitive,  but they have really shifted my mentality and helped me process who I am! 

     

Moving Forward

The biggest key I’ve learned to manage as a highly sensitive mom is communication.  Talk openly about it.  There is no need to be afraid or nervous.  This is who you are.  Embrace that.  If people don’t understand, that is on them. Not you.  You cannot control what everyone does, but you can control your home environment and how you spend your time.  

Start to pay attention to your triggers.  If you notice that you are often overwhelmed or anxious by a situation, try to avoid it or take a break.  You are in control.  If you feel that you need to decompress, take the time to do it. Find what you need and allow yourself to have that.  

Also, pay attention to your strengths.  Does being highly sensitive help you connect to other people’s emotions really well? Does it give you a keen eye to pay attention to details? Do you work better when you are in a certain environment? What do you do strongly, because of who you are?  

Being a highly sensitive mom has helped me better understand myself and others.  It’s been quite the adventure learning and accepting those pieces of my life, but it was completely worth it!  If you’re also a highly sensitive mom, you got this! 

 

37 Comments

  1. shelley

    Hi Erica,
    I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the work of Dabrowski. I first learned about him in gifted education classes I was taking and his work just made so much sense to me – and described one of my children perfectly. Your own child is so lucky to have a mom who “gets it”. Best to you all.

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I actually haven’t heard of his work, but I will have to look it up! And thank you, I try to use my understanding to help my daughter too.

      Reply
  2. nicol

    ah this is interesting to read and nothing to be ashamed about. I’m sure theres others who can relate to this

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I absolutely agree. There is nothing to be ashamed of here. I have found so many amazing women who are in the same boat. It’s been great!

      Reply
  3. Deborah Nicholas

    Wow i didn’t even know this was such a thing so it was amazing to read it.

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      Thanks! I hope to bring more awareness to something that is so natural!

      Reply
  4. Rachel

    I dont think you have anything at all to be ashamed of and I am sure so many relate to you x

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      No shame here at all. I may not have always understood it, but I now embrace my sensitivities!

      Reply
  5. Sarah Bailey

    I am not a mom, but I am a highly sensitive person. While it can get overwhelming, I don’t think that it is a bad thing at all. It means you are more empathetic and allows you to feel things more deeply x

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      Absolutely! I think your perspective is absolutely right! We can feel things so deeply and truly empathize with others. I love that part of it!

      Reply
  6. hannah

    I think it’s ok to be like you are, i mean we are only human. I’m not a mom so i don’t really have any experience of this

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I so agree that its good to be yourself! Embrace who you are!

      Reply
  7. Kumba

    Aww being sensitive isn’t always a bad thing – you can show empathy and compassion which arent bad traits. I don’t have experience as a mother but I am always worried that i’m not sensitive enough!

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I totally agree! My empathy and understanding has opened up doors to connect with people I never thought I would!

      Reply
  8. Stephanie Merry

    I’m not a mum, but I am highly sensitive and can get overwhelmed quite easily x

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I think so much of being highly sensitive applies whether you are a mom or not. I so get being easily overwhelmed. It took me a long time to figure out how to deal with all that!

      Reply
  9. Rhian Westbury

    I had never heard of being highly sensitive in this way but it’s eye opening to see how others live x

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t even realize exists, I know I had no idea until I started reading about it!

      Reply
  10. Jade Bremner

    I’ve never heard of this so it’s interesting to read. I struggle with my temper not just by having a short fuse but I really struggle to deal with certain parts of my life x

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I’m glad it was interesting! I think the best place to start is recognizing it. When you recognize the places you are struggling you can start to find the places in your life that help with it. Finding your triggers for your temper can help you make intentional decisions in those hard moments to alleviate it a bit.

      Reply
  11. Sarahjane Wood

    I had never heard of this before but it sounds very frustrating. I am so glad you feel comfortable enough to share this. Thank you.

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      Thanks! It used to be really frustrating, but as I’ve learned how to cope with everything, I started to feel less frustration and more acceptance towards it.

      Reply
  12. Tanya Brannan

    Whilst I don’t think I am a highly sensitive person, several of your statements rang very true with me – I also cry at TV adverts and for no good reason. I get overwhelmed and I hate being tickled or even someone breathing on me. I honestly didn’t know that being highly sensitive existed, so this was a really interesting read for me x

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I’m glad it was interesting!! I love hearing people who deal with some of the little things like me!

      Reply
  13. Jessica McDonnell

    I’m definitely a highly sensitive person – I get overwhelmed quite easily and sometimes struggle to control my emotions, although I’m not a mum, I can definitely relate.

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      This definitely applies to those who aren’t moms as well! Glad you can relate 🙂

      Reply
  14. Lianne

    This was really interesting, I never really thought of myself over sensitive but a lot of your comments rang true with me.

    Reply
  15. Emma

    Lovely read, you’re incredibly brave for sharing it!

    Reply
  16. Cecilia

    I am sure that you are not the only one. I am highly sensitive to noise and light, but it’s not a struggle in everyday life. I think you are brave sharing your story x

    Reply
  17. Daniella Keating

    I think I’m highly sensitive too! I feel like we care more though.

    Reply
  18. beautifullyimperfectmama

    I love this post. Mostly because, as someone who is not highly sensitive, I can still relate to quite a bit of this. Needing alone time, feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done. It’s always a comfort to know that you’re not alone. I also believe it’s important for us to talk openly about our struggles and to acknowledge them rather than sweeping them under the rug. I truly Applaud you for sharing this!

    Reply
  19. Lisa Benavidez

    I think it’s so helpful to read what other moms (and people in general) feel. I’m sensitive in some areas but not really in motherhood. I loved reading your thoughts!! It helps me to understand the different emotions we all have! <3

    Reply
  20. ANNA

    I AM NOT A MUM BUT I CAN IMAGINE IT CAN BE TOUGH. I HOPE I WILL BE JUST GOOD MUM, DOESNT MATTER IR OVER SENSITIVE, YOU DOING GREAT!

    Reply
  21. Clarissa

    Reminds me very much of myself and my girls, although they have autism and with that sensory issues are a big Problem, very hard and frustrating daily

    Reply
  22. Amanda

    I could have written this! Thank you for sharing; it’s always nice to be reminded one is not alone in this. I began to realize something was up back in high school (over 20yrs ago!), and during college while learning about the various diagnosis and disorders of special needs students for my special education degree, I latched onto the term “sensory overload” as almost, but not quite what my grandmother and I experienced in certain social situations. I had children, one with autism-like tendencies due to epilepsy and med side-effects, before I found the term “highly-sensitive”. Blog posts like yours have been helpful to me to understand myself, as well as for me to help my Gram understand and make adjustments to her changing needs, AND even ideas to help my little one through her trials…being a toddler is hard enough, sometimes! Again, thank you, and God bless!

    Reply
    • ericagilliam

      I’m so glad this was helpful for you! It makes such a huge difference having a few easy ways to help make your everyday life easier.

      Reply

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