It took a pandemic for me to realize that I was a highly sensitive person. Before COVID-19, I used to juggle multiple things at once. I had a full time job, I was trying to write a book, I was working out, I launched this very blog and I had multiple social events a week. I was so proud of myself - I was busy, and that meant I was productive. Or so I thought.
I continued to do everything sans the social events well into the pandemic - but those social events got replaced with virtual hangouts, and longer work hours. As we all shifted from being in an office setting to working from home, my company at the time held back to back meetings to compensate.
I was exhausted. I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time because I was still doing my thing - knocking off multiple tasks on my daily to do list. I was living in the “hustle culture” and thriving on it.
About a year into the pandemic, I started feeling restless. I was doing so much, yet it felt like I was swimming against a strong current. I was paddling furiously, but not going anywhere. Weeks would go by in a blur, and I couldn’t recollect exactly what I had done. It felt like I was living on autopilot, and the only thing I felt was how tired I was.
I had enough. But I wasn’t sure what I had enough of. It was a combination of things really.
I was trying to do a little bit of everything, and instead of enjoying my writing, or posting my blog posts, or being present with my friends and family in a virtual world, I was just checking these things off the list.
I couldn’t keep my attention during those back to back meetings anymore - I found myself tuning out after one hour.
I was dreading going outside and doing the little things that used to bring me joy - like grabbing a cup of coffee from a local coffee shop, or browsing through the aisles of a grocery store picking up ingredients to make a yummy dish. I was tired of straining to hear what was being said underneath masks, and revealing my hearing loss over and over and over again.
I was burnt out. I was feeling screen fatigue, listening fatigue…really, all the fatigue. I ignored my brain screaming at me to slow down, and kept pushing and pushing. Then several things happened in my personal life, and I met my limit. One day, I just couldn’t handle it all and checked out.
I went to my bedroom, took my cochlear off, and lied in my bed. I snuggled in bed doing nothing for about an hour, and enjoyed complete and utter silence. After that, I felt more rejuvenated than I had in a long time.
The combination of listening fatigue (which is when concentrating separating sounds from background noise, and then processing and translating those sounds into meaningful information becomes difficult, and a strain on your brain), and overstimulation of my energy being pulled into different directions led to major burnout.
I was ignoring the signs of my body, and kept pushing myself. It felt like I was living life on autopilot, but not actually taking in my surroundings or what I was doing. My body was telling me “hell no”, while my brain was telling me “keep going”.
Something had to give. I tackled one of the bigger obstacles - which was my battle with listening fatigue. The sudden influx of day-long virtual calls, and processing voices coming through an electronic medium, and constantly straining to hear what people were saying with their masks on led me to feel exhausted at the end of each day. This left me with a major headache and depleted energy, unable to handle anything else.
I had to come up with ways to set boundaries for myself in order to conserve my energy. When it came to listening fatigue, I had to tune out to tune into myself (aka what my body was telling me).
I started off small:
- I made sure to not put my cochlear on until the last minute in the mornings, and took it off as early as I was able to in the evenings.
- I made sure to minimize the amount of noise I was exposed to after work by staying away from the television, and instead going for a walk instead.
- I started using mobile ordering whenever I wanted to grab a coffee, or headed to the self checkout at the grocery store to minimize straining to hear others (now, with folks being mostly maskless, I don’t do this anymore!).
Then I did a couple more impactful shifts:
- I was ruthless in cutting down the amount of virtual meetings I had (and swear that my work was all the better for it).
- I ditched television altogether, and started reading instead.
- I started taking a daily nap without my cochlear on to give my brain a chance to rest and recover (especially on days with more auditory stimulation).
Most importantly, I started listening to what my body was telling me. I became more aware of when I felt my energy lagging, and more mindful of any telltale signs of a headache coming along. I tuned out to tune into myself.
If you find yourself becoming more sensitive to things that otherwise wouldn’t bother you - take a moment, and tune in - what is your body telling you? What are some of the ways that you can give yourself a break to restore your energy levels?