Overstimulation is a common occurrence in people with ADHD. It describes the feeling of one or several of your senses — sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch — taking in more information than your brain can handle. Related to sensory overload, overstimulation can affect your attention, your focus, and your overall well-being. But you can learn how to cope by identifying triggers and environmental factors and practicing sensory integration techniques.
Understanding Overstimulation in ADHD
It is thought that people with ADHD are more vulnerable to overstimulation due to how the ADHD brain processes, receives, and organizes external stimuli. While a person with ADHD may have higher distractibility when it comes to irrelevant stimuli, they have a modulatory impairment for relevant stimuli.1 At times, it can feel like the brain becomes stuck; a person feels paralyzed by the overload of stimuli. It can also cause you to feel restless, exhausted, or anxious. Being overstimulated may activate the fight-or-flight response, putting you in a state of chronic stress where cortisol runs rampant.
How Sensory Overload Can Affect Attention, Focus and Well-Being
Sensory overload can make it hard to focus and feel well in both children and adults. If you’re overstimulated, you may feel like you are unable to proceed with a task or you may feel the need to escape the triggering environment.
If a child is overstimulated by noisy classmates or an itchy shirt, they won’t be able to tune out these sensations and tune into the test in front of them, potentially leading to a poor grade. If an adult is overstimulated by the sound of mouse-clicking, colleagues chatting, and/or the smell of coffee brewing in the break room, they won’t be able to stay on top of their work. Not only could this lead to poor work performance, but if it happens in other places, like social gatherings, their social life might suffer too.
Identifying Behavioral, Emotional & Physical Signs of Overstimulation in Individuals with ADHD
There are a number of behavioral, emotional, and physical signs of overstimulation in adults and kids to look out for:2
- Sleep issues
- Emotional outbursts
- Difficulty focusing
- Panic attacks
- Avoidance of certain places
- Social withdrawal
- Preference for certain fabrics
- Pickiness with food
Triggers & Environmental Factors
Identifying your triggers is the first step in learning how to cope with overstimulation. These are some of the most common triggers and environmental factors related to sensory overload:
- Crowded places
- Loud noises or music
- Bright or flashing lights
- Strong smells
- Certain materials like clothing tags or itchy sweaters
- Having too many tasks at once
- Unwanted or unexpected physical contact
Coping Strategies for Overstimulation
Avoiding your triggers is one way to cope with overstimulation, but this isn’t always possible. Here are some ways to cope with the experience of sensory overload:
- Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation
- If you cannot avoid the stimulating environment, take occasional breaks
- Start carrying ear plugs, noise-canceling headphones, and sunglasses
- Limit screen time
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
- Cut back on caffeine and sugar
- Let your loved ones know that you are easily overstimulated
Sensory Integration Techniques
Sensory integration refers to structured and repetitive exposure to sensory input (or a “sensory diet”) to allow an individual prone to sensory overload to process and react to sensations more efficiently. These techniques are typically introduced by qualified occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, or another type of mental health professional who is trained in sensory integration therapy. Over time, the exposure becomes more challenging and complex, gradually training the nervous system to adapt. In addition to structured exposure to sensory input, sensory integration may also include balance treatments, movement therapy, and customized physical activities.
Environmental Modifications for Sensory Regulation
While you cannot always avoid or change triggering environments, you can control your home environment. If you or your child have difficulty with sensory regulation, try these environmental modifications to reduce the likelihood of becoming overstimulated:
- Use dim, natural lighting
- Designate specific spaces in the home as quiet, stress-free zones
- Try a weighted blanket
- Use calming colors and textures when it comes to decor, towels, and bedsheets
- Declutter your home
- Play relaxing music at home or a white noise machine to minimize unpredictable outside sounds
- Avoid strong-smelling candles and cleaning sprays
- Have visual reminders of daily routines/chores
Self-Care & Stress Management
Make self-care a daily part of your routine, especially after an over-stimulating experience. This may involve journaling to pinpoint how you felt at the time, using a weighted blanket, or simply spending time alone in a non-stimulating environment.
As you become more aware of why and how you become overstimulated, you can catch yourself before you reach the peak of discomfort. Taking a moment to check in with yourself, reflect, and take a break can help stop overstimulation in its tracks.
Seeking Professional Support
If you need more support, reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, or sensory integration therapy. They can help you come up with more coping strategies or rule out any other conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.
If you are considering using medication to address the anxiety that stems from overstimulation or to reduce this and other symptoms of ADHD, consider trying Brillia. Brillia is non-prescription medication clinically-proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and ADHD without harmful side effects. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals, Brillia consists of targeted antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, which plays a crucial role in many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including various enzyme activities, calcium homeostasis, and communication between neurons. It is also highly related to mood regulation. In regulating the activity of the S100B protein, Brillia also normalizes the level of monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin) in different parts of the brain, leading to better concentration and less irritability.
Brillia is able to be used by children, teens and adults with a variety of diagnoses, or no official diagnoses at all, as long as they suffer from anxiety or hyperactivity, lack of concentration and mood regulation. We do have many with ADD, ADHD, PTSD, OCD, ODD, autism or just anxiety, or other issues using Brillia with great success. Brillia is not habit forming, it does not cause drowsiness, lethargy or depression, and it does not mask the personality, it does not affect appetite, does not cause weight loss or weight gain or growth, there is no “coming off” of Brillia should you decide to stop or take a break, does not alter blood chemistry, you do not build a tolerance to it and has no contraindications with any other supplements or medications, so you can add it to the regimen without worry.
Find out more about how Brillia works to reduce symptoms of anxiety and ADHD with two formulations: Brillia for Children & Teens and Brillia for Adults. And explore more resources on mental health at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.
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