Imagine this: You’re watching the next new blockbuster Marvel film in a theater and a cool scene with a strong, strobing light appears on the screen. How do you feel? Read out this article to know about the 5 ways overstimulation steals your focus and how to prevent it.
If your answer is “Nothing”, congratulations. You’re neurotypical.
Many people around the world experience some form of overstimulation, a sensory disorder that amplifies the information the brain receives from the sense organs, on a daily basis. Their answer to the question is more along the lines of “Intense Discomfort.”
This also condition makes it hard to focus and stay on track with tasks that are important to affected individuals. Read on to find out exactly how overstimulation hijacks your focus, and what you can do about it.
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It is already hard enough to focus on getting important tasks squared away while being neurotypical, what with all the attention-sucking technology in modern society. Throwing ADHD overstimulation into the mix just adds insult to injury.
As time goes on, a person being bombarded with various degrees of sensory stimuli will inevitably lose sight of important tasks and become more likely to drag their feet. Or they won’t move at all. This kind of procrastination, though not always recognized as a behavior associated with ADHD, is nonetheless detrimental to the quality of life for those who experience it.
The dynamic between ADHD, overstimulation, and procrastination is a well-documented phenomenon amongst the scientific community. Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist and leading authority on ADHD, has written on this very subject in his published books, positing, along with other researchers, that the key link between the three conditions is distraction.
ADHD is a condition that increases one’s distractibility—overstimulation makes those distractions more potent and increases their numbers, and all of that distraction drastically increases the likelihood of procrastination. Thus, knowing how to increase focus to counter distraction is vital.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with procrastination:
- Avoid Overstimulation by working in a quiet, secluded area free from distraction
- Work on one thing at a time, giving the task as much of your concentration as possible
- Work on fewer tasks overall, cut out or outsource as many tasks as you comfortably can
- Make a realistic schedule of when you intend to do what, and how long the task will take
- Make a list of all the tasks you must accomplish, rank them by importance, and time sensitivity, then complete important tasks first
Chronic fatigue, exhaustion, and feelings of tiredness are common symptoms of a wide variety of pathologies. However, when dealing with exhaustion induced by overstimulation, it is important to remember that solving the underlying overstimulation is often enough to knock out the tiredness also.
This is because the root cause of the exhaustion is the extra stress coming from the overstimulation. Everything becomes so intense that the brain can’t tell the difference between something benign or dangerous. It almost gets stuck in a long loop of fight or flight scenarios. After enough time and repeated overstimulation episodes, the stress centers in the brain may wind up in a permanent or prolonged state of hyperactivity.
And that’s where it gets worse. Hyperactive stress centers prevent one from having good, quality sleep every night. This is particularly an issue because sleep is one of the primary mechanisms through which the body releases stress. So the less you sleep, the more stress builds up, the more tired you will feel.
Here are some strategies for dealing with exhaustion:
- Again, dealing with the root of the issue, overstimulation will net you the greatest results. Remove as many stimulus inputs as possible
- Exercising is another great method by which the body manages and relieves stress. Doing some light to moderate physical exercise, whether it be a simple job or a complex weight training program, will do you some good
- Watch what you eat. Believe it or not, not eating enough calories may be a large contributing cause of your stress. Your body being in a constant state of hunger and calorie deficiency is detrimental to your recovery and adds another distraction to the list
- Get some sun. There is a reason why the first thing people recommend as a remedy to fatigue is spending time outdoors.
3. Intense Emotion
The state of being overwhelmed is the perfect breeding ground for emotional outbursts of all shapes and sizes. This is because everyone reacts to that overwhelming feeling differently. Some will respond with intense feelings of sadness and despair, others with anger and fury. The commonality between all of these outbursts, however, is that they were triggered due to the impact of overstimulation on an individual’s patience threshold.
Think about it this way. How many times does one need to poke a bear before it attacks? The harsher the individual’s experience with overstimulation is, the harder the poke. And thus, the lower that number gets. When the outburst is finally triggered, it often completely captures the mind of the individual experiencing it in a process called flooding. Everything else is momentarily pushed out of the mind in favor of one, guttural emotion.
Of course, this sudden exodus of the contents of the mind does not discriminate and will include things that ought to be kept in mind. Thus, learning how to manage these outbursts is a good idea. Here are a few ways of doing that:
- Have a trusted support system in place that you can call upon when upset. Often, no matter how upset a person gets, there’s always at least one person they trust who could calm them. Having people like this handy, who understands, listens, and doesn’t judge you for how you feel is invaluable
- Don’t be too self-critical. Despite outbursts having a negative connotation attached to them, your feelings are valid no matter what. So don’t beat yourself up about them. Instead, listen to yourself, feel them out, and talk about it with someone if possible
- Preempt your outburst by taking a break. When you start to feel overwhelmed and tensions rising, that is the perfect time to stop what you are doing, take a knee, and excuse yourself from the situation. This way, you can stay on track with your focus and prevent flooding from happening
4. Sensory Overload
Sensory stimuli, things like sight, smell, and touch, are the primary agents through which people gather information about the world. If too much information comes in through a sense organ at once, the brain cannot process it all, and thus has impaired function until the stimulus subsides. This is textbook overstimulation: too much information at one time.
So far, we have charted how overstimulation produces a myriad of other symptoms, each with its unique impact on an individual. But what of the effects of overstimulation itself?
In this case, overstimulation will cause a condition called sensory overload, where so much information comes in that intense feelings of pain, discomfort, and irritability are produced. Things like bright flashing lights or loud crowds of people can trigger sensory overload in everyone, but especially for those who are already more sensitive to stimuli.
Here’s how to manage overstimulation:
- Seek out a mental health professional if possible. As much as it is important to know how to self-care, there is no replacement for the professional advice of your doctor. They could impart valuable, specific information tailored to your unique condition that you couldn’t get anywhere else
- Keep a pair of headphones, sunglasses, and other such items close by. Products that interrupt information reaching your sense organs are invaluable for those dealing with overstimulation. Keep them around and use them as necessary
- Design your environment, create routines, and stick to them. Knowing what to expect will take you a long way in avoiding sensory overload. Give some thought to your routines and environments and find ways to tilt them in your favor.
Often left out of the loop in talks of overstimulation, anxiety is the final method by which overstimulation steals your focus that we will discuss.
Overstimulation is as hard on the mind as it is on the body or the heart. Experiencing repeated instances of what is essential sensory trauma creates a sense of anxiety not so dissimilar from that experienced by war-torn soldiers returning home from the battlefield. In one account of such anxiety, a young woman describes sweating through shirts, being unable to stomach food, and more just from the sensory anxiety of going to university every day.
Her description of sensory anxiety as “not your ordinary anxiety” may perhaps be an understatement considering her experience, but it does highlight that important point. The anxiety of knowing that at any moment, something you see, touch, taste, hear, or smell could trigger you into sensory overload is an entirely different animal than ordinary, specific anxiety.
Here are some techniques you can use to ease the worry:
- As much as possible, stick to friendly environments with acceptable stimuli
- Prepare mentally for what cannot be avoided or blocked out. Knowing a punch is coming is better than not
- Don’t push yourself farther than you need to. Baby steps are your friend; jumping into things too fast could serve to make your anxiety worse
- Have a support group of people who love and care about you, that you can lean on
Need More Help With Overstimulation?
There are plenty of resources, both online and in this community, that you can rely on to deal with overstimulation effectively. Feel free to browse through other articles on our blog, and contact us if you have any questions. We’re here to help.