Can a Highly Sensitive Person Enjoy Halloween?
Originally described as innate sensitiveness by Carl Jung, and then called highly sensitive persons by Dr. Elaine Aron, about one-fifth of the population possesses the trait of high sensory processing sensitivity. Individuals with this trait have a biological difference in their nervous system which heightens their awareness of sight, sound, taste, and touch. These individuals experience the world a little differently than others, which can be both rewarding and draining. For HSPs, Halloween can definitely be a mixed bag of tricks and treats, but being aware of what impacts one’s internal and external world can truly help a highly sensitive person make the most out of any celebration. Here are six aspects of Halloween that may impact the sensitivity of an HSP.
1. Seasons Change- When Dr. Elaine Aron created the Highly Sensitive Person Self-Test in her 1997 study, one of the original questions she considered adding to the assessment was “Are you sensitive to seasonal or weather-related changes in the amount of daylight?” This question didn’t make the final cut, but it is something to take into consideration. Being sensitive to changes in the weather doesn’t necessarily mean you are suffering from Seasonal Affect Disorder, but it does mean you are more in-tune with the subtle differences in the changing of the seasons- good or bad. For some, a new season is a welcome change of pace, but for others it’s a less anticipated, inevitable transition. Depending on where you live, Halloween can signal the starting point of shorter days and colder temperatures. If you are someone that does better in milder temperatures, even the thought of another cold Chicago winter is enough to send you spiraling into hibernation mode as early as October. Don’t let the weather bring you down. Each season has its own rewards, and perhaps making a list of what you enjoy about each season is an excellent way to remind yourself what you love about fall. As an HSP, it’s also important not to get too ahead of yourself. No one needs to spend time dreading winter before it’s even scheduled to arrive.
2. Sights and Sounds- It is well documented that about 20 percent of people in the general population have a nervous system that amplifies the surrounding world, thus making individuals with high sensory processing sensitivity more aware of environmental subtleties. Even a seemingly ordinary day to a non-HSP can be overstimulating to a person with high sensitivities, so imagine what a day like Halloween can do to someone more influenced by the sights and sounds in the environment. Children ringing doorbells to acquire candy, images of ghastly figures filling television screens, toy witches cackling throughout local shops, and gruesome haunts lurking around every corner… these are just some of the sights and sounds that accompany Halloween. Aside from the expected overstimulation of this holiday, it can also stir up unpleasant and gory images that a lot of highly sensitive people find disturbing. It’s important to know your limits as an HSP. You might enjoy the festive nature of the season. You might even enjoy a scary movie every now and again, but you don’t have to go with your friends to see the latest slasher film if you know it’s going to upset you in the end.
3. So Many Sweets- Cupcakes and candies start showing up at the office, and Twix bars and Kit-Kats adorn every grocery store aisle. If you have a sweet tooth, Halloween is the start of the indulgences of the holiday season. In HSP S.O.S. episode #1 “Food Sensitivities,” we discuss just how much diet can impact the physical and emotional well being of highly sensitive individuals. Not eating enough can lead to irritation and the jitters, while eating too much of the wrong thing can result in mind fog. Processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and caffeine are just some of the things HSPs might want to limit or avoid during this time of year. Natural, whole foods tend to be a good option, and remembering to eat regular meals instead of just munching on treats at parties can do wonders for one’s physical and mental health. It’s not necessary to turn down every single goodie that comes your way, but pay close attention to how foods are impacting you. If you are aware of how certain foods impact your mind and body, then you can make more educated decisions about what you choose to enjoy and what you choose to pass up.
4. Selecting a Costume- Anyone that knows and loves a highly sensitive person is well aware of our tendency to overthink or overanalyze every decision. The highly sensitive are typically concerned about how their actions and behaviors impact others. To say HSPs pay attention to the details is a huge understatement. This holds true for picking out a costume at Halloween as well. As discussed in HSP S.O.S. episode #4 “Sensitive Superheroes,” individuals with sensitivity take their love of superheroes, and other fictional characters, seriously. It can become a sort of therapy for those that have always felt a little misunderstood by larger society. It’s no wonder then that we spend weeks perfecting our costume, matching every last detail to the character in the original comic book series or insuring that our shoes and handbag are historically accurate. Attending a party with someone at Halloween can also add more to think about to the occasion. You don’t want to show up in mismatched ensembles, but you don’t want to be too matchy-matchy either. It’s a real struggle sometimes to find just the right costume for the ever creative HSP. There is nothing wrong with wanting to wow family and friends with a clever costume, but like all things, if the highly sensitive person feels like the process of selecting a costume is adding too much unneeded stress to daily life, then it’s time to pause and reflect. More important than the look of the costume is probably the feel. HSPs definitely have preferred textures and fabrics. A costume that represents a cool concept AND is comfortable to wear enhances the chances of a fun-filled night.
5. Sorting Through Memories- When I was nine, I attended a Halloween birthday party for a friend. At this party, guests were bobbing for apples. There was a girl there that I knew from school dressed in a clown costume, and she was eagerly dunking her face in and out of the bucket of apples,. When she couldn’t successfully grab an apple, she grew frustrated, began crying, and nearly drown herself in her attempts to retrieve that tempting piece of fruit. Why do I mention this? I mention it, because not a Halloween goes by that I don’t get flashes of that moment sort of frozen in time. I don’t think I could ever dress myself, or my child, as a clown because of this experience, and I certainly will never have a party that includes apple bobbing. As we discussed in the “Letting Go” episode, emotions are closely tied to memories. The highly sensitive person often “feels” for other people, and this can be both positive and negative. When we recall a certain memory later in life, we also recall the way we, or the people around us, felt at that moment. If it’s a good memory, then the trip down memory lane is rewarding. If it is a bad memory, however, reminiscing about the past could impact our state of mind in the present. The memories we associate with a given holiday can throw us off at times. At a time when sights, sounds, and scents are amped up, it’s useful to remember that sensory input can trigger old memories. Just being aware of this can help an HSP self-monitor reoccurring mood memories. We may not be able to ever forget that one Halloween where the neighborhood bully stole our little brother’s candy, but we can choose to respond to it in a manner that doesn’t rob us of our present happiness. It’s also useful to recall comforting memories around the holidays as well. Take some time to sort through the chambers of your mind, and pull up some pleasant Halloween experiences to relish when feeling out of sorts.
6. Shifting Perspectives of Introverts & Extraverts– In our show IN/EX Adventures, my cohost and I share our unique perspectives of the world as an introvert (INFJ) and an extravert (ENFP). A lot has been written about the differences between introverts and extraverts in recent years, yet many myths about the two traits still persist. Introverts are often viewed as being shy or anti-social, and extraverts are frequently characterized as always wanting to be the life of the party. Identifying oneself as an introvert or extravert doesn’t mean that you always function from that perspective. Introverts typically get their energy from inner reflection, and extraverts feel energized in social environments. That doesn’t mean introverts never enjoy going out, or extraverts never long for a little solitude. At Halloween, for example, many introverts thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to don a mask and attend a party as someone else. As an introvert, I can attest to the comfort of an evening where everyone is going to be wearing something out of the ordinary. The expectation is to be a bit playful, and this is just the kind of permission and expectation that can help an introvert frame an experience for optimal enjoyment. There is a sense of freedom in anonymity, and when everyone is wearing silly outfits, it helps level the playing field for the sometimes awkward feeling introvert. The extravert on the other hand, may feel a need to up the ante a little bit during Halloween. As my cohost and I shared on our Highly Sensitive Halloween episode, the highly sensitive extravert may feel like there are unspoken expectations to be even more “out there” than usual. They might feel pressured to make the party more extreme, or to produce a jaw dropping costume idea. Again, remember that as an HSP it is often useful to check your perspective. Are you putting this pressure on yourself? Do your friends really expect you to show up dressed in a gorilla suit and swing from the chandeliers? Probably not, so any time you are starting to feel too stressed out about any aspect of Halloween, just remember to pause and reflect.
Halloween can be fun for HSPs introverted and extraverted alike. Even if there are aspects of Halloween you despise, take a minute to focus on what you do like about the season. The holiday season can force highly sensitive people out of their comfort zones and expose them to even more sensory input, but being highly sensitive is not a condition or disability. Knowing yourself, and knowing what you’re about to experience, can truly help you have a Happy Highly Sensitive Halloween!
Weekly podcasts for Highly Sensitive Persons at HSP S.O.S. on The Captain’s Pod!