Amazon sent me an email in October with the headline “The countdown to Black Friday.” I deleted it. I did not want to think about Black Friday before Halloween. I do not, actually, want to think about gift shopping at all.
Last week I took my daughter to Toys’R’Us for a set of knee and elbow pads before we took her scooter to the park and just walking through the store left me with an elevated heart rate and a headache. At the end of every other aisle there was a video screen running a product demo on loop. Character-branded products spilled from shelves and were piled up in extra displays so we had to zig-zag around them. My 3-year old was their targeted audience and she succumbed completely. “Mama, what is this? Can we buy it? Please?”
My senses were totally overwhelmed. I felt assaulted.
There are certain places I try to avoid all year - the perfume counter of a department store, anywhere extreme sports videos are blaring from TVs, and stores where food samples are being handed out. My senses are sensitive http://www.nurturedmama.net/5-secrets-of-an-introverted-mother/, and when they overwhelmed I shut down. It takes me hours to recover. I am a highly sensitive person (HSP) and shopping takes it out of me in the best of times. Holiday season is not the best of times.
I know I’m not the only person who experiences this!
So how do you handle gift shopping, or really any shopping, when the retail holiday engine starts rolling? Here are some tips to navigating holiday season shopping when you are a highly sensitive person:
Going into a store and trying to keep track of your mental shopping list with distractions buzzing all around you is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, set aside some time in a comfortable spot to make your shopping list. Group items by where you need to shop for them. You might also want to sketch out a budget, which will help you avoid those “Get me out of this store!” impulse buys. Bring your list with you on every outing.
As much as I prefer to support my local community, during the holiday season I turn to the internet. Look over your gift and think about what you can order online.
Be creative with this! You don’t have to shop only on Amazon. Your local stores may have an online shop presence, and would arrange for you to pick up your order instead of shipping it. Also, check out handmade shopping networks like Etsy for unique items. You can even use Etsy’s shop local filter to find makers right in your back yard. I found some great gifts this way last year!
Make It Easier
Make any shopping you need to do as easy on yourself as possible:
• Arrange to shop without your kids.
• Shop during off hours - early on weekend mornings or mid-day during the week are usually good times.
• Only go to one or two stores in a day.
• Ask store staff for help finding items so you can get done faster.
Think about all the variables that raise your anxiety and get as many of them under your control as possible.
This may take a little more time and planning, but will make you far less crazy in the long run.
Know Your Triggers
Some HSPs are sensitive to noise, others to smells, others to crowds. Some are all three, or more. Pay attention to what bothers you most and try to avoid the situations that will put you face to face with those triggers.
If you feel your anxiety rising, be willing to walk away. Remember that gift-giving should be a joyful thing. If the process is making you less than joyful, back up and try something else (see below for some alternative gift ideas that don’t involve stores!). Or just come back later when you can control more of the variables.
This is a method I use whenever I go into any store with my daughter, who is easily distracted (just like her mama). Before we even get out of the car, we talk about what we are going to buy and what behavior I expect from her, as well as what the consequences will be if her behavior goes out of control.
It is a method that is really well used on myself, too. If I’m going into a store for one thing, I remind myself of that before I go in. I give myself permission to walk out if I begin feeling overwhelmed and panicky. If I have a budget, I review it before I get in line to make sure that what’s in my basket is going to keep me within it.
Avoid The Shopping
If the idea of shopping makes you want to cancel Christmas altogether, think about alternate ways to give gifts that feel better for you.
• Make gifts by hand. Making gifts is one of my favorite things about Christmas. But even if you are only a little crafty, there are things you can make. Check out my handmade gift Pinterest board for ideas.
• Reduce your gift list. Gift overwhelm is a topic I cover in my annual class, 21 Days to a Peaceful Holiday If holiday gift giving feels out of control in your life, consider reducing the number of people on your list. I especially love the Want-Need-Wear-Read guideline for large families.
• Consider alternate gifts. I recently found a old post on Life Your Way with great ideas for clutter-less gifts (which are also shopping-less gifts). Think about what you have and others need. Can you give the gift of time to a friend who needs help with a big project? Maybe offer new parents a night off by offering to take care of their kids? Last year I made a pack of “coupon” slips for my guy, which included taking over bedtime when it wasn’t my turn, foot rubs, and special meal requests. Also look into charitable organizations like Heifer International, where you can make a donation in someone’s name, which can feel really good for both of you.
Holiday shopping doesn’t have to feel like running a marathon with wild animals chasing you (is that just me?). With a little attention and planning, you can lower the stress and even rekindle the joy of giving.
Doña Bumgarner is a sensitive mama to a sensitive 3-year old. She lives on the Central Coast of California with her partner and their collection of cats and chickens. She blogs about creative self care for mothers at Nurtured Mama. Join her for 21 Days to a Peaceful Holiday starting on December 1, where she will help you fill your holiday celebrations with intention, joy, and presence.