The Holiday Sick

It never failed.  When I was a child, every holiday I would be physically sick.  Every.  Single.  Holiday.  It actually became a family joke of the “rock, paper, scissors to see who’s gonna stay home with Heather this year” variety.  As a kid, I had no idea why I would get sick for the holidays.  My parents had a vague sense that the illness came from internally held emotions, but they didn’t really have ways to explain it to me or to fully intervene.  Having learned more about giftedness over the past decades, it all makes sense to me now.

Many of us gifted people are wired to experience emotions intensely.  We don’t just feel a little bit excited, our whole bodies pulsate with the ginormity of our excitement!

Many of us gifted people are wired to experience sensory input intensely.  We don’t just hear things, we hear them at 20 decibels louder than the average bear.

And, many of us gifted people are introverted.  There’s a significantly higher percentage of gifted people who recharge in solitude as compared to the general population.

The combination of these three things (along with some other stuff), can lead to increased somatic expressions of emotions.  Meaning, many gifted people experience physical symptoms due to their emotions. 

What does this have to do with the holidays?

First, holidays are exciting for kids.  Holidays can be nerve-wracking for kids, too, as they see people they haven’t seen for a while.  Holidays can be sad for kids if they are grieving.  In short, holidays evoke a whole messy blob of emotions.  In gifted kids, holidays can evoke a huge messy ocean of emotions.

Second, many introverted people prefer to avoid outwardly expressions of their emotions, and hold them internally instead.  However, emotions have energy to them.  That energy needs to be released somehow.  If it isn’t, it eeks out in all sorts of sideways ways.  One of which can, and often is, physical illness or pain.

Third, the sensory intensity does not just apply to our 5 external senses.  Gifted people can have more attuned proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses, as well.  The biggest culprit to holiday sick is the intense interoceptive sense.  Our interoceptive sense communicates our internal body feelings to our brain.  It’s the sense that tells us when we’re hungry, or have a headache, or sleepy.  Emotions have physical sensations attached to them.  Our chest hurts when we’re scared.  Our stomachs fill with butterflies when we’re nervous.  The more intense the emotion, the more intense the physical sensation.  The more intense the interoceptive sense, the more intense the physical sensation.

And voila! 

Extraordinarily intense excitement + extraordinarily intense butterflies in the stomach – outward emotional expression = holiday sick.

So, what to do?

If you or your child experiences holiday sick, be mindful of it. 

Talk about it. 

Explain why. 

Find ways to regulate the emotions effectively.  Encourage emotional expression, whether through talking to someone, playing a musical instrument, writing, artwork, etc.  Get the emotional energy out. 

Come up with plans to regulate the amount of holiday kerfuffle.  Pre-organize an escape plan, if the emotions or sensory input or people-ing becomes too big.  Opt out of holiday events or activities that are smaller priorities. 

Teach and practice relaxation skills.  Deep breathe.  Color.  Sing.  Hum.  Meditate.  Yoga. 

And, always keep a barf bucket nearby.