Tips for the Innately Sensitive Working Mom
By Abigail Nosce
Bosses can be demanding, children can be needy, spouses have certain expectations and – as if this is not challenging enough to juggle – schools, social clubs or church organizations ask for just a bit more of our time and energy. The multiple functions of a modern day working mother are, quite frankly, enough to drive a rational person to insanity from time to time! Now, take a person who is innately sensitive to external stimulation and place them in this face-paced, complex, high energy role and you might have a formula for a nervous breakdown! So, how do we cope?
I’ve been a working mom for a little over nine years now and in recent years had discovered why I had been unable to maintain a healthy balance, while other moms seem to handle the job just fine. Over the years, I’ve received so much advice (solicited and unsolicited) about how to successfully manage the sometimes chaotic life of a working mother, but implementing the suggestions just weren’t proving successful for me in the long term. After much trial and error, and some failures along the way, I decided that the “social network of mommies” message boards just weren’t working for me and I began searching for alternative solutions to my challenges. That’s when I stumbled across the term “Highly Sensitive Person” and the challenges described to this category of people instantly resonated with me. Since then, I have freely explored other ways to thrive in my role as a working mother, shedding my attitude of “what I should do” and replacing it with the healthier mind-set of “what works.”
If you’re reading this, you probably have already identified yourself as being innately sensitive, so I won’t go into description about it here. What I will do is discuss some areas in the daily life of a working mother that may present themselves as challenging to a highly sensitive person and offer some suggestions for not only how to survive these situations, but how to make the best of them. My hope is to impart a refreshingly different way of perceiving life as a working mother and share some tips that have improved my own quality of life, solutions that other working moms might find useful to their day-to-day lives.
Out of Bounds!
First and foremost, a good rule of thumb for any mother (sensitive or otherwise) is to set clear boundaries for herself and to apply them when necessary. This is key to physical and emotional well-being. We are the only ones who know our limits. We owe it to ourselves to communicate them to others, especially to those who rely on us the most – our family.
Living with “invisible disabilities” is a fact of life for many HSPs; much of which is associated to stress and overwhelm. Unless family members experience these ailments firsthand, they most likely are not able to relate to our struggle to maintain a sense of balance and may not understand our need to withdraw in order to preserve this balance – lest our body forces us into retreat. As much as we may want to push ourselves to our limits, unfortunately there are very real consequences that follow.
I, personally, cope with migraine headaches and chronic fatigue on a regular basis. My headaches can be triggered by numerous things: lack of sleep, missing a meal, hormonal imbalance, over-stimulation, and other things of that sort – but my number one trigger is stress. My chronic fatigue can be accounted for my inherent inability to pace myself when I’m feeling great and my energy level is high – I go full throttle without even giving it a second thought (and it feels amazing!). Of course, I pay the price for it later, but for me it’s a price worth paying. These are ailments I live with on a regular basis and I have come to accept them as a fact of life. Having done so, in order to maintain balance I am in constant assessment of my state of being. I listen to the subtle (or not so subtle) messages my body sends and do what it takes to feel my best – wherever that may be on the spectrum.
It’s taken some time to get to this place of acceptance, and even more time to get my family on the same page. But now that I am, I find that the effort in becoming familiar with my abilities, learning my limits, and setting boundaries (especially with those who depend on me the most) was the best thing I could do for myself and my family. Now, instead of sacrificing myself at the altar of “the best interest of others” I preserve myself so that I can be at my best more often for the people in my life – and for me.
An Oasis for Retreat
After a full day’s work at the office, which extends into the late hours of the evening as we arrive home to carry on our work – cooking, cleaning, tending to children and spouse – the expression “A mother’s work is never done” begins to feel more like a death sentence than an acknowledgment. At the end of the day, after the hustle and bustle of the nightly routine, instead of pushing ourselves to be the Energizer Bunnies we would love to be, let’s take some time to recharge the battery. Now, let me entice you with a vision….
All is quiet in the house. The children are in bed and the spouse is engaged in their own personal-time activity. It’s not quite bedtime, so you make your way to your very own personal space; a place where you can rest, feeling peaceful and safe, where you are surrounded with the things you love which have meaning and sentimental value to you, where you can get away and be in your own little world. You treat yourself by doing something relaxing that you enjoy – like reading, journaling, sketching, bathing, or (my personal favorite) lighting scented candles, turning on soft music, turning down the lights, and kicking back in my favorite heating, massaging chair to meditate or contemplate or pray (whatever the mood).
Sound like a luxury? It’s a necessity – especially for the highly sensitive. Everyone needs to take the time to unwind, decompress, and re-energize. Extroverts are energized by being around other people. Introverts are energized by being alone. Setting aside some alone time daily should be part of our basic self-care routine. Like eating healthy, exercise and hygiene, quiet solitude is a basic need we must not ignore in order to have the energy we need to perform well the next day. Let’s give ourselves permission to enjoy it.
Tame the Beast
The moment I became a mother, along with my first child was born an instinctive sense of concern – about EVERYTHING! Although being overly cautious serves a great purpose in the life of a mother of young children, it also tends to become a habit which survives far beyond its purpose. Once the children are old enough to start exercising a bit of independence, it’s time for a mother to start breaking herself of that nasty habit called “Worry.”
One of the most awesome aspects of being highly sensitive is a wonderfully rich and deeply reflective inner thought life. We have the capacity to process the world from multiple perspectives – from the subtle, feeling level; to the literal, multi-faceted, physically present level; to the conceptual, intangible, abstract level. However, if we are not disciplined with our thoughts, this can be our curse instead of our gift. When we don’t choose the best for our inner thought life, instead of seeing the glass half full, not only do we see it half empty, but we see the fingerprints on the glass, sense the water is room temperature, notice the chip on the rim which could potentially cut our lip, and wonder why, with all the glasses of water in the world, the one which would probably give us lead poisoning would be given to us in the first place.
Yes, our mind can be our friend or foe. Luckily, we have a choice in the matter. Once I realized mine was a double-agent, making me believe all the worrying I did was for the noble cause of preventing circumstances which were in reality beyond my control, causing me undue stress and anguish, I made the conscious decision to tame the beast. It was no feat for the fainthearted, mind you. My disciplinary tool of choice: rubber band on the wrist. Every time I became aware of an anxious thought, I snapped the rubber band. When my wrist began to sting ever so slightly with the multiple times anxiety entered my mind, I realized what I had developed was a habit and became even more determined to break it. Now, I am so glad that I did. Instead of spending my free moments worrying about what happened, is happening, or could happen, dissecting every little aspect of a worrisome circumstance, in bondage of my irrational fears, I now enjoy a rich, fulfilling inner thought life which brings me much joy and enlightenment. This is a freedom worth fighting for!
Everyone has their own nickname for it. But whatever it’s referred to, there is a general understanding of what it means. It’s that time of the month when the polite, tolerant, sweet mother who takes good care of the family goes on her monthly week-long vacation, and filling in for her is her no-nonsense, moody, dictator double riding the crimson wave with whip in hand. We can be honest; many of us ladies are just not very pleasant to deal with at that time – and aptly justified. Every month our already highly sensitive bodies receive a surge of hormones, bringing about a time of heightened sensitivity, vulnerability and awareness which can be very overwhelming. Or it can be very enlightening.
Modern times has labeled PMS as a “curse” or at best a “hormonal imbalance” suggesting there is something unnatural about the cycle. Even the term itself “Pre-Menstrual Syndrome” describes it as a disorder or disease. But some cultures recognize it as a time for a woman to reflect and go deeper into herself as she is more receptive to messages from her physical body and higher wisdom, more aware of imbalances and areas in need of healing, and her inhibitions are not as strong during this time, giving her the gumption to address areas in need of correction which are otherwise tolerated the rest of the month. Yes, this time is a sacred time for a woman – a time for her to honor herself, to give herself the extra care and attention that she normally would bestow on her loved ones, and allow herself the freedom to just be.
I have adopted the term “moontime” to describe my monthly cycle, because just as the moon waxes and wanes in and out of its natural phases, so does the feminine body. Observing this is my sacred time allows me to not only be more tolerant of the not-so-pleasant physical symptoms that go along with this phase, but more importantly to become more in tuned with myself, listening to my inner guidance and tapping into my creative energy – helping me to achieve healing and ultimately a higher expression of my soul. In saying this, I challenge women (and the men who love them) to change their perspective on this widely diminished time in a woman’s life. Instead of regarding a woman’s “moontime” as a week-long rampage by the temporarily-insane, recognize the role it plays in enriching her life, exercise a bit of patience, and just let her be.
This Too Shall Pass
Sometimes there’s just no avoiding it. Life as a highly sensitive person can be sometimes uncomfortable at best and downright unfair at worst. However, there is an upside. Just as all good things must come to an end, so must the not-so-good. When the going gets tough, we can take comfort in knowing it will eventually pass and there are better times just waiting for us in the coming moments of life. Sometimes all we can do is our best to take care of ourselves and do what it takes to be okay in the moment. And that’s okay.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to tackling the day-to-day conundrum of working full time, raising a family, and being the fully present, amazingly awesome women we want to be (and are!) is to take time out for ourselves, be good to ourselves, love ourselves as much as we love others in our lives, and above all accept ourselves for who we are today. We must be our own advocates. Nobody knows us better than us. I leave you now with a blessing from my heart: Take care, be well, and live your best life!
Return to the Articles and Stories Index