Mental Health Matters: Stressed in the Netherlands

Beware: This is not your typical post-vacation writeup. If you want to see cute reels about our European vacation, then check me out on IG. If you want to hear cool stories about our time in the Netherlands, Brussels, Croatia, and Venice, then follow Garlands Abroad. But if you want to hear about how something I’ve lived with my whole life re-surfaced, then keep reading.

While in the Netherlands, I did an online sensitivity profile. The cutesy name got me: Are you an orchid, tulip, or dandelion? Each flower represents a nervous system type. For example, dandelions can withstand anything. Orchids? Not so much. According to this quiz (and life), I’m an orchid; we have highly sensitive nervous systems. We are easy to stress and hard to calm down. 

Duh. I’d already developed an understanding of myself, explored, and written about the following: 

Though I’d learned how to keep stress levels at bay in the States, I had to modify methods while out of the country. If you recall, stressful events ranged from having a crazy laundry washing schedule to losing a debit card. Initially, I wasn’t going to blog about these events, because I thought they didn’t sound like “real” issues. But learning the terms highly sensitive nervous system and dysregulated nervous system validated that these issues are real for me. 

When I couldn’t figure out how to work the stove, for example, I could feel anger and anxiety building up. It was a simple task: light a gas oven, but at the same time, it wasn’t. You had to hold a button down with all your strength, while turning another knob just right, until flames appeared. If you released the knob too soon, you lost the flame. Some people (i.e., dandelions) can keep trying three or four times, while maintaining a laugh and a smile. I cannot. 

After I found out I was an orchid, I was sent the Top 10 Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System. This list resonated with me so deeply, and I’ve decided to show you how while telling you about what it was like for me to live in the Netherlands: 

#1: You’re constantly on-edge and overwhelmed

Facts. Overwhelmed is an understatement for how I felt when I had to wake up at six in the morning to catch a train to Amsterdam to ride in a van with six strangers to Zaanse Schans to do a walking tour. While on a food tour in Rotterdam, I ruminated: How am I going to wash clothes this week? What are we going to eat? Should I buy a blender? That was my brain while eating a kroket or listening to how Jewish people were captured in Rotterdam.

#2: You’re frequently snappy, irritable, or reactive

As a reminder, I was working while we were away. I almost cried during a Zoom meeting because I felt as if people were ignoring me during the conversation. I never have hurt feelings at work, so this was unexpected. I ended up turning off my camera and muting my mic so they couldn’t see my crimson eyes or hear my sniffles.

#3: You experience chronic pain and illness

Laryngopharyngeal reflux is considered a chronic illness, because it never really goes away. Like me, most people with this condition learn to manage it with rest and diet. Guess what else is considered chronic illness? IBS. In Rotterdam, increased stress and a lack of appropriate nutrients caused my cough to briefly re-surface. Ginger tea helped with digestion. 

#4: You’re highly sensitive to sensory stimuli

I don’t like noises: small or big. You know how people click a pen top or tap something on the table? Yeah, that makes me want to commit murder. My husband is a pen clicker. I didn’t know this until we were in a one-bedroom apartment overseas. I could hear the click, click, click from the bedroom and it distracted me to the point where I couldn’t concentrate sometimes.

#5: You experience sleep problems and daytime fatigue

Insomnia returned during week two. Sometimes, I awoke two or three times a night. The night before our excursion to Giethoorn, I got three hours of sleep. It took four hours for me to get my shit together just to be pleasant. After that, I purchased a box of chamomile and lavender tea to help me downshift before going to bed. 

#6: Chronic attention and concentration problems

Friends have an idyllic perception of me writing in the mountains or next to an ocean when we’re away. That’s not reality. I need complete silence and comfort (see #4). I need to be well fed and well rested (see #5). When we were in the Netherlands, I was none of that, and it was not only hard for me to write, but also to read. I found myself re-reading sentences multiple times while grading, and it took four hours for me to review nine applications for a contest.

#7: Cravings and extreme appetite changes

If you ever see me eating chocolate, then there’s a problem. I’m a meat and potatoes girl; chocolate means I’m de-centered. But luckily/unfortunately (depending on your perspective), in the midst of my stress, we traveled to Bruges, the “chocolate capital of the world.” I found some little chocolates the size of a half-dollar and started putting them in my morning coffee. By the end of our Netherlands trip, I’d also purchased and eaten a box of Dove bars. 

#8: Immune and hormonal symptoms

I am perimenopausal, and I attribute any hormonal imbalance to that. On this trip, I could tell my hormone levels had decreased and contributed to me having a hard time regulating my nervous system. You can read about that here

#9: Skin and gut conditions

For the first two weeks of this trip, instead of IBS, I actually pooped less, like every four days. Even though it’s the opposite of having loose bowels, irregular bowel movements, in general, can be a sign of stress. Not knowing when I could or might poop added more stress. Additionally, in Brussels, you have to pay for a bathroom, and in Amsterdam, you may be riding in a boat down a canal, neither are ideal situations for immediate bathroom breaks. 

#10: You’re highly sensitive to other people’s emotional states

This is usually the case for me, but because I was only around Dwight, and his emotional state is as steady as a rock, this issue didn’t surface during this trip. 

So yes, I’m an “orchid’,” who has a highly sensitive nervous system. I need lots of things to regulate, but I didn’t put things in place until I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia. 

More about that in the next post.


59 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Stressed in the Netherlands

    1. You’re so welcome! It has changed my entire perspective of life. There a book called The Highly Sensitive Person that I recommend, too.

      Check your spam. The results come back pretty quickly.


  1. I have similar problems. Dr. Axe articles and website info on leaky gut were extremely helpful. I also started on Garden of Life supplements and probiotics, but recently they didn’t seem as effective as they once were and I switched them up to Dr. Axe’s brand. We also eat oatmeal with ground flaxseed, walnuts and berries. Sleepytime tea each night (Trader Joe’s has a similar tea, but “Sleepytime” seems to work the best for us. Powdered garlic seems to be my reflux problem. I can eat raw fresh garlic and have no problems. Processed foods will have me feeling off and we buy organic frequently, but not fanatically.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this! This. is. me! I have three different teas for bedtime: sleepytime is in the rotation, but I’ve also discovered one with ashwaghanda in it, which works wonders, and another with kava.

      Again, everything you’ve said here is exactly me, so I’ll have to look into Dr. Axe.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. EVERYTHING does connect! And I wish we would learn this sooner, in our families, communities, schools, etc. I’m sure indigenous people probably know this, but anywho…I’m hopping off my soapbox lol

      Thank you for reading, Kelley ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your honesty about difficult, yet universal, topics. It helps us realize we’re not alone when we struggle, and makes us acknowledge that even the people we admire most struggle, and have to learn coping skills. So it’s not just “me,” you know? I’ve never taken the test, and I have no idea where I’d come out on it. But I do know that certain things not going the way I want them to stress me out completely, and make me emotional in ways that seem out of proportion to the situation. I don’t have digestive issues when I get stressed (except in very extreme cases, when I get diarrhea), but I do get a rash. Various spots on my body turn bright red and itch like crazy! Other issues you wrote about completely resonated with me. I’ll have to try the test and see what it says…. And I agree that learning to accept ourselves as we are is huge! Worrying about what’s wrong with us is so damaging.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s exactly right, Ann. I remember when I first came back to writing. I wanted to be like Oprah, but for the people. I always would watch her talk to famous people about topics as if they had it all together, and I remember thinking, it’s so interesting that when people get money, they say things like “money isn’t everything,” or they act like meditating opens you up to some glowing portal.

      Anywho, my point is, this was my unconscious/conscious intent…to share as a regular person, not someone who has it all figured out. Thanks for recognizing this ❤

      And yeah…a rash is a definite sign of stress. Our bodies always know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I wanted so bad not to be an orchid! 😀 But I knew (before I took the test) from your description of the Top 10 Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System that this is me, to some extent. Thank you for sharing this Kathy. It’s comforting to know there are many orchids out there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was surprised, too, LaShelle! All my life, I just thought I was ‘crazy,’ for lack of a better word. The doctor who writes about this makes clear this is not a mental illness…it’s directly related to your nervous system, which is biological. I also heard a podcast where the guy explained the parasympathetic vs the sympathetic nervous system, and it sounds similar, just without the cute flower term lol

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post so much Dr. G!

    1) Because you wrote it 2) Because you highlight the contrasts that happen when we travel 3) Because I can relate and 4) Because….. I shared in a recent 60 minute speech to 700 education workers that started with my entire ‘tech setup’ crashing … and then 5) I found peace in the eye of the storm. … and kicked that talk into a NEW HEMISPHERE There was even a sign language interpreter during the whole event and my overactive nervous system had to screen that out, and then I hired a techie to actually screen it out. It’s now on YouTube “Cultivating Mental Health Daily”

    WE ARE A STUDY IN CONTRASTS US HUMANS And it’s in the acceptance of who we are — at all ends of the spectrum that we find peace.

    I also wanted to add that your essays and writing are life to people like me. As a psychologist we are FORBIDDEN from sharing parts of ourselves during work. One of the reasons I chose to retire my psychologist practice after 18 years in 2016. Because writing and speaking gives me the freedom to BE HUMAN. And your work — underscores the importance of adding OUR STORY to the narrative.

    WELCOME HOME DR. G we missed you 💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dr Deeeee ❤ You know I'm so grateful for you, your presence, and your friendship.

      A tech-setup crashing??? I would've been losing it on the inside.

      I thought about what you'd said about how professionals cannot talk about their lives. So often, I thought I should've done something in psychology, but now I see why that wouldn't have been a great idea…aside from the fact that I'm a writer, I would not be the type of writer I am today!

      "Acceptance of who we are is where we find peace!!!" YES! Learning about this dysregulated nervous system info has been THE most liberating so far. It's like I was able to pinpoint all these different times throughout my life (childhood through now) and others' responses to my sensitivity and now everything makes perfect sense. It's also helped me to have a little bit of forgiveness for people, because with this, the doc said most people around you don't know how to respond to people like us.

      le sigh

      Anywho, thanks for being you and for being in alignment with me ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh wow it’s so fascinating to learn this side of you and I’m so glad you’re sharing! I can’t wait to take the test and see. I’m so sorry you have to deal with all this shit and of course I don’t really have a solution. Although it sounds like your coughing has subsided, except when it came back 😬 But I still swear by drinking Essentia alkaline water every morning if you ever want to give that a try. I never cough anymore! Thank you for sharing all of this, Beautiful Orchid! Xoxoxo

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Is it? I think because a lot of people perceive me as perfect and having it all together, when really on the inside, I’m like all of the things I’ve described above, standing right in front of them lol

      The thing about drinking the alkaline water is that they didn’t sell it in Europe…they didn’t sell much of what I needed, so that was one factor 😦

      Thank you, Libby ❤ I appreciate you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing your wisdom from your life journey, Kathy. I relate to what you’re saying about ACE. The stress and emotional abandonment in childhood affects our health long term. Glad to read your reflections, you’re someone who sees the whole picture clearly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s so true, and when you’re talking about something like your nervous system, it’s usually things only the person can feel and not anyone else. This information has helped me so much to feel validated in what I’ve always suspected but didn’t have a term for.

      Thanks for your kind words, too. I appreciate them ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Welp, no surprise there. I took the test; I’m an “Orchid”, too. I watched the video as well. I’m actually looking forward to the email I’m supposed to receive in the next few days expounding on the helpful ways being an “Orchid” can help me reach my “full potential.” Again, thank you for sharing this, Kathy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The weekly emails have been most validating for me. I have literally been reflecting on my entire life and now understand myself more (I’ve felt so misunderstood/misguided) much of my life. I even showed the list to my husband, who tends to question my “self-diagnoses.” This time, he was nodding and like yep…this is you.

      On Thursday, I’ll share ways I’ve found to re-balance and heal the system.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I so appreciate your honesty in sharing intimate details like this, Katherin. I completely relate! My reflux cough gets very pronounced when I am stressed – it drives me crazy. And I sure understand those chocolate cravings. I still can’t shake them.
    This reminds me why I’m a bit nervous to travel outside my comfort zone. I just came back from two small trips visiting friends and my son. Of course, there are wonderful aspects – but so much of what you mentioned comes into focus. I felt a little off balance and was really happy to get home. I have a big trip to visit my daughter in Minnesota in two weeks. I’m a bit nervous about it – mostly the flight and getting to where she is. But I know it will be wonderful to see her and where she lives.
    Every day, my biggest blessing is to celebrate being healthy. I hang onto that!
    Thanks for sharing and corroborating so much of what I have also experienced with stress.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Judy ❤ I really, really almost didn't write this (and what follows).

      The reflux-stress connection is really fascinating to me, and I'm still in process of learning about it (technically and personally).

      Anywho, I totally get your apprehension about traveling. It's like if you don't have all your coping mechanisms in place to account for any unexpected situations, then things can literally fall apart.

      I'm back home now, and I have to tell you, as soon as I landed, it felt like a HUGE exhale.

      Judy, you and I have decided the same thing: focus on one day at a time and what's positive for that day!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a good friend and she has “vagus nerve issues.” When she gets stressed, she uncontrollably vomits. I was with her at a movie theater and it was awful. So I’ll take my coughing over that any day!
        Honestly, I think the difference with your traveling is that you were working while traveling. I would think that is really tough with unforeseen circumstances. Just reading about all your travails stressed me out. If you were truly on a traveling vacation, I think then it would be a lot easier.

        Glad you’re home safe and appreciating each day. It’s absolutely the best way to live life!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That may be true. I thought about that, too (about the working part). The committee work was totally unexpected, and I did think maybe I shouldn’t teach while I’m away…just wait til I get back.

        …and what in the who hay??? Yeah, I’ll take the coughing lol

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Very informative. I like the way that they used flowers as categories. However, I remember a time when dandelions were frowned upon, now we look at them as healthy food. So, even categories can be misleading.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dandelions have NEVER been the hero lol But your’e right. There’s dandelion tea! It makes sense they would be the strong ones; they’re like the roaches of the flower category: they’re known to last through anything!


  10. Me , too 😕. I have good news, though!
    I’m much less sensitive since finally going through menopause! I still hate noise and I’m very sensitive to other people’s emotions. I’m working on that. Hang in there. 💕

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Great post, and interesting things to think about. FYI…I don’t think there’s such a thing as something small, or not worth writing about. If we shared all these things, we wouldn’t necessarily feel different, or alone, or all the other feels that lead us down paths that might not be desirable…

    Liked by 2 people

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