Dear Ms Peirano,
I, 42, am a mother of two energetic sons (7 and 11 years old) and work in an agency. My husband also works full-time, so a lot of things are left behind at home. And here is my problem. I know a lot of moms complain about clutter and chaos, but I think it's a lot stronger for me than for others.
I like it quiet and tidy, aesthetic and tidy. When I was a student, my small apartment was always my sanctuary, and I didn't go out as often as my friends did. I read, played the guitar and painted. Was more the type for a quiet chat with a friend in the park or cafe than for nightlife.
And now we live in a three-room apartment. A bedroom, a living, working and dining room and a children's room. And there's always something lying around, no matter how much I clean up. Everything is stuffed, the wardrobe, the shelves, the hallway, the bathroom. I can't seem to calm down at all. During the pandemic it was awful working from home (both my husband and I) and homeschooling. I always said to myself: It will be better when the pandemic is over. But it hasn't gotten any better. I can't work in peace in any room, I'm constantly being disturbed, and the apartment also needs more attention. We need to paint and renovate at some point, but there are always commitments and events, and that really annoys me.
Add to that my guilt. I already work (35 hours a week, sometimes more) and the children are often in after-school care. And when I do have time with them, I would like to crawl away and lie in bed with a book and just have REST. Even in front of my kids, if I'm being honest.
There is actually no one who really understands my situation. My husband just takes his liberties and he doesn't really see what needs to be done. That's why he's much more relaxed. My mother tells me that she didn't have it any easier when she had four children. My girlfriends also whine sometimes, but they seem to be more resilient and endure more. I think I need and always have needed a lot of rest. And sometimes it physically hurts me not to be able to withdraw. I can't sleep well, my nerves are on edge, my heart is racing.
And unfortunately I can hardly get out of my shell. I don't feel like inviting visitors (then it will be even more crowded here!), to do something that many people are going on vacation to. To be honest, I would just like to have my quiet student apartment back for a longer period of time and be by myself.
What can I do?
Dear Dorothee B,
When I read your story, the first thing that came to my mind was an explanation. Have you ever dealt with the phenomenon of "high sensitivity"? If not, it would be worth it. I have advised some patients to deal with it and also to test themselves. For example, you can familiarize yourself with the symptoms of hypersensitivity on netdoktor.de and do a self-test via this link.
Since the statements are all self-descriptions (e.g. "the moods of other people influence me"), the answers are of course also subjective in their expression. Nevertheless, the response patterns as a whole indicate whether you feel you belong to the group of highly sensitive people and whether many of the key symptoms are strongly pronounced in you. The realization of being highly sensitive is a great relief and an aha moment for most of those affected.
High sensitivity means that your own nervous system absorbs stimuli more than that of people with average or low sensitivity. Whether it's noise, smells, movements, music, moods or the news: Highly sensitive people are more strongly affected by it. This is a blessing and a curse at the same time.
When it comes to musical sensitivity or empathy, the feeling for special situations or the joy of experiencing nature, high sensitivity is fantastic. It enhances the positive feelings and makes life enriching and exciting.
I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. In my PhD, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.
Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.
Do you have questions, problems or lovesickness? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.
However, when it comes to negative stimuli such as construction noise, hustle and bustle, bad mood, threatening news, etc., which we humans are constantly confronted with, especially in the big city, high sensitivity is a curse. Because highly sensitive people are much less able to hide, ignore and switch off. If the stimuli become too much or too strong, those affected suffer.
And since the stimuli are perceived more strongly, the stimulus limits are reached more quickly than in people with average sensitivity. This creates a constant search for peace and retreat, coupled with a fear that the next day, the next week, the next party, the next encounter will be too much again.
And the problem is: Highly sensitive people can't just switch off their high sensitivity because it's Christmas and their family is visiting or because they have small children and it's been turbulent for years. This can lead to great suffering during special events such as visits or festivals.
There is only one thing that helps: to take yourself and your stimulus limits seriously and to seek peace and quiet again and again.
I can imagine that in your situation it is difficult to calm down at home. Living with four people and two lively children in a three-room apartment is a big challenge. My advice would be that you take an MBSR class, which stands for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. In these courses, which can be found through the MBSR umbrella organization, you will learn sitting meditation, walking meditation, body scan and many other techniques to perceive and respond to yourself and your feelings.
However, you need a quiet place to practice. How about clear spatial and temporal solutions in consultation with your husband?
For example, can you rent a quiet co-working space, if only for a few days, where you can work in peace? And maybe you can have a lounger there too, or at least a yoga mat? That could reduce a lot of stress and usually doesn't cost too much either.
Decide how to create more order and beauty in your home. Maybe space-saving shelves, a few boxes in the attic for winter/summer things, cleaning out will help. And think about what exactly you want to renovate to make your home feel more comfortable. A tidy environment often releases a lot of energy.
Can the kids still go to a class (which they also enjoy) on a certain afternoon and you stay at home and have the apartment to yourself?
Can you and your husband agree on weekends when everyone has no children and can either go away or stay at home alone? A free weekend per quarter for everyone would be a rule of thumb.
Can you get up earlier and have an hour of free time before everyone else while everyone else is still asleep? Would you meditate, do yoga or just read in peace, write down your thoughts or go for a walk? If you say you're getting less sleep, just go to bed an hour earlier. Consciously sacrifice things that don't give you as much (e.g. TV).
Observe what other stimuli annoy you and overwhelm you. For example, discussing problems with colleagues or other mothers while the children are meeting. Maybe you can also practice self-care here and walk through a park again instead of listening to problems?
When you are with your children, you could also consciously ensure that you do as little as possible at the same time (still shopping, checking your smartphone, making phone calls). Try to be fully in the moment with all your senses. This also creates relaxation.
By the way, noise-cancelling headphones are also worth their weight in gold!
I hope that I was able to give you a few suggestions on how to calm down.