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.