Sometimes life just feels like it wears us down. This has especially been true in the spring of 2021. Covid vaccines are rolling out, and some HSPs are ambivalent or confused about what it all means for them personally and for the world…Will I have a strong reaction to the vaccine? Should I even get it? Are we all going back to the frenetic life that was before? Sometimes we start to feel burned out with all the stress and decision fatigue. Sometimes, the ground feels shaky beneath our feet. Retreat verb: “To move back or away (as from something difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable). Usage example: We retreated to the safety of the cellar at the first sign of the tornado.” Have you noticed life sometimes feels like a tornado? Maybe it’s just because I’m from Oklahoma, but the comparison sure fits!
Maybe you have been hustling to make ends meet, or working hard to support others who are struggling or depending on you. And possibly, you have been more isolated or suffered great losses. Whatever is true of you, HSP, I know what is also true is that you need retreat. We all do need that escape. That time to get away from everything. But, why?
Why is it imperative for every single one of us? And how do we make it a priority? And, above all, HOW DO WE MAKE IT HAPPEN? For me, retreat is about finding my optimal level of arousal again. Sometimes I advance. If we think about the military, that’s where the word retreat is most commonly defined or used. So, I am often advancing my army on the world or out into the world. And it feels as though the world is advancing toward me.
Retreat means to back away; to withdraw in order to replenish resources. And that is what it takes for me to return to my optimal level of arousal after being out in the world. I had an interesting conversation with my highly sensitive young adult son this week. He was telling me about how he becomes almost depressed when he doesn’t do enough, especially enough social interaction. I explained to him that he becomes under aroused, and that is problematic as well. I don’t know if he is truly an extrovert. I don’t think so, but he is young (20 yrs) and in need of more stimulation as youth (and extroverts) tend to be.
I guess my point is that we are all individuals, and optimal level of arousal looks different for every single person, whether they are highly sensitive or not. What is critical for me is that I pay attention, that I’m aware of when I am not at optimal level of arousal or when I’m headed in that direction. Then, I do things to pursue a more optimal level of arousal. So my question for you, highly sensitive people of the world is this: How do you know when you are not at optimal level of arousal? And, how do you return?
Now, you know that I’m going to say retreat is how you return if you are over aroused. Pursuing something stimulating and interesting is how you return if you are under aroused. But, how you define optimal, that’s the real question because it’s unique and individual.
Sometimes retreat might mean closing my eyes for 30 seconds and blocking out 80% of sensory input. It is extremely helpful for me to do that during my day several times, but that is preventive care for my nervous system. When I am truly over aroused, closing my eyes is not enough to return me to optimal level of arousal once I’ve gotten up there. I find it a little frustrating that I need so much more that I do truly need to back away, to withdraw, to retreat from the world in some way. What might be my first line of defense? Well, I’ve been known to hide in my car. And I’ve been known to take a hike or to go do chores with my horses. All of those things certainly helped me settle and return to myself. Because in the end, I do really see optimal level of arousal as coming home to myself.
In today’s world, It takes more for me to truly retreat, to truly return to optimal level of arousal, and I’m still experimenting with what it takes. Recently, Elaine Aron sent us all a newsletter, saying that she had retreated into her creative work for three months. And when the three months ended, and she thought, “Maybe I’ll be out in the world again,” she realized she wasn’t ready. She wanted and needed more. And, she’s in a position to take care of herself that way. But even if it is a challenge for you, you can be creative. We all need to be.
Please please write to me so I can share your tools. How do you retreat? What are your mini retreats and your bigger ones? How do you balance family visits, vacations, and retreat? I’d love to hear from you.