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ADHD Overstimulation is no joke. When we get overstimulated, our brains can freeze, our attention gets zapped, and we become incapable of doing anything. Or, our brains can switch into fight mode, where we can overreact to a situation or make impulsive choices that we later regret.
This my friends, is the result of overstimulation, and while it happens to all of us, for ADHDers, it can be a huge struggle because it limits access to our executive functions – something we struggle with to begin with.
So if this is something you struggle with, read on, because you CAN manage it!
Why Overstimulation is a problem for ADHDers
As we all know, our brains have attentional challenges. We may want to focus on something important, but if our brain doesn’t agree that it’s important or interesting, it starts filtering in other information. You don’t have control over this situation, sadly.
So, for example, something that happens to me, is getting overstimulated by loud talkers in a restaurant. If someone 3 tables over has a voice that carries, then my brain is listening to it, whether I like it or not.
Meanwhile, I’m getting frustrated because I’m really trying to pay attention to the conversation I’m having with the person I’m with, but it’s really hard to stay focused. However, my companion is able to focus, so now I’m also comparing my level of focus to theirs and it goes on from there.
When I get overstimulated in restaurants, I shut down. I start to mask my way through the rest of the meal, not hearing or taking in anything of importance and I just count the moments until I can leave.
Is ADHD Overstimulation the Same as Hypersensitivity?
Great question! There’s significant a difference between ADHD overstimulation and hypersensitivity. When you’re hypersensitive to something, that stimulus will always create the result of overstimulation.
However, ADHDer’s get overstimulated because they cannot filter or prioritize all the stimulus in their environment, so the stimulus is more variable and unpredictable.
What Does Overstimulation Feel Like?
Overstimulation can be physically and or emotionally uncomfortable. When we’re overstimulated, we tend to get irritable, panicked, or stressed or completely shut down. Either way, it causes a state of emotional disregulation which can lead us to regret our reactive behaviors or make us want to escape the situation.
When this starts to become a pattern, we stop experiencing situations that we know will overstimulate us, even if we’re not aware of it.
Personally, I tend to get overstimulated by loud noisy places and crowds. Both freak me out, so I don’t go to concerts I hate flying, and I think I’d literally go mad if I was in a night club for 5 minutes.
So, how do you know when you’re Overstimulated and what do you do about it?
If you start feeling…
- cranky or irritated
- like you can’t focus on anything (cognitive processing)
- impulsive or aggressive
- a strong urge to escape the situation – Irish goodbye
- panicked or stressed
….then there’s a good chance you’re overstimulated.
How to Manage ADHD Overstimulation
Have strategies for calming your nervous system
If you find yourself overstimulated, the best thing you can do is excuse yourself from whatever the stimulus is and take a 5 minute break to reset yourself.
- Listen to your favorite music
- Take a walk
- Head to the nearest bathroom and do some deep breathing (exhales should be longer than inhales) or do some EFT
I know these sound like the same solutions I give you all the time, but the reason is that they tend to pull you out of a fight or flight state and back into a place where you can control your behaviors. When you’re calmer, you make better choices and you can get yourself out of situations without causing a scene.
Identify Your Overstimulation Threshold
The best thing you can do to avoid getting overstimulated, is start to understand what your overstimulation threshold is. Its different for everyone. Start paying attention when you feel overstimulated to figure out what kinds of sensory input (and what levels of each type) are most likely to overwhelm you.
Obviously we can’t control every sensory input ,but knowing your threshold can help you avoid or prepare for situations that could be overstimulating. For example, if your friends suggest meeting up at a noisy bar, but you know that’s going to be too much for you, suggest a different place.
If you tend to get overstimulated by wearing certain types of clothes (for me, it’s office attire), then try to avoid jobs where you have to dress up. Find work environments that match your style, temperament and vibe.
Manage your diet better
When you eat foods that leave you bloated or inflamed, you’re already flirting with the hairy edge of your stimulus threshold. However, when you eat a mostly whole food diet, you feel good, because there’s a huge connection between gut health and mental health. So avoid heavily processed foods. Eat your veggies and be sure to stay hydrated.
Get into movement
I’m not going to say exercise because I know some folks don’t like to workout. But even a daily walking routine can go a long way to managing your nervous system, improving your mood and help you stay calmer.
If you’re tired, you’re already working with a short fuse. So again, it makes any normal stimulus seem more overwhelming. It’s really important to manage your sleep for so many reasons related to ADHD, but this is one is top of the list.
Manage your time + stress
When you’re late, you’re rushing. You’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, you’re probably telling yourself negative things, and all that can be overstimulating. Along with getting reprimanded for being chronically late for things. This leads to more stress which leads to more unwanted stimulation.
This is a bigger conversation, but finding ways to manage stress productivity, will go a long way to managing your sensory limits.
Create a Haven for Retreat
One of the most impactful things I’ve done for myself is to create a space where I can retreat, mentally and physically. A beautiful space that makes me feel at peace helps me manage my overstimulation because I have control over the sensory input. I’ve always got spa music going, my place is reasonable clean because mess stresses me out, and it’s so quiet.
Last Words on Managing Your ADHD Overstimulation
Overstimulation can derail those of us with ADHD, but there are plenty of strategies available to help reduce symptoms. By prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, sleep, and stress reduction techniques, you can help shift your body back into the parasympathetic drive and reduce overstimulation.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different strategies and find what works best for you. With time and practice, you can learn to predict what will overstimulate you and make different choices.