Overstimulation is very common these days, in both adults and in children. Especially neurodiverse people, with labels like ADD, ADHD, autism and HSP, get overstimulated often. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this, or to deal with it. As an adult woman with the ADD-label, I speak from experience. Over the years, I found strategies to deal with overstimulation, without the need to use medication.
In this article we'll share 10 tips to prevent or deal with overstimulation. Tips can be useful both for adults and children.
What is overstimulation?
We all receive information through our senses throughout the day. In every moment, we hear, smell, feel, see and taste different things. We call these stimuli; bits of information coming in through the senses. Most people can process the stimuli well, but some people struggle with this.
When someone becomes overstimulated, the pieces of information are not properly processed by the brain. Because it takes more effort for some people to process these stimuli in the brain, feelings of tension and tiredness arise.
When you have a very sensitive and reactive central nervous system – such as people with ADHD, ADD, HSP and autism – you easily become overstimulated. Both internal stimuli (feelings, thoughts and physical sensations) and external stimuli (people, energy, sounds, light, smells) have a stronger effect on you than on people who's brain functions normally.
Being overstimulated: the symptoms
Overstimulation can manifest itself in the form of strong feelings, worrying, frustration, physical, mental and emotional tension and inner restlessness . This often leads to physical and mental fatigue, stress, reduced concentration, sleeping problems, restlessness and intense emotions . But headaches can also occur, or even (temporary) failer symptoms, fever, vomiting or epilepsy.
Overstimulation is not easily visible from the outside and that is why there is a lot of misunderstanding about overstimulation.
Prevention is always better than cure, is what they say. I’m speaking from experience when I tell you this is true, when it comes to overstimulation. It’s far easier to learn to not get overstimulated, than to relax and feel good again, after being overwhelmed.
Avoiding an overload of stimuli
Some people with ADD, ADHD, HSP or autism avoid situations where overstimulation may occur. This can be beneficial, but you have to be careful not to live in your own bubble all the time. Some basic human needs, like the need for connection and social contact, can be missing when we’re living this way.
Like with everything, balance is key, is my experience. Fortunately, there are other ways to prevent overstimulation, beside complete avoidance of stimuli.
1. Take time alone, to calm your nervous system
If you quickly become overstimulated, for example because you are a highly sensitive person or as a symptom of ADHD or autism, it is important to schedule a sufficient amount of alone time on a daily base. This way, we can process the stimuli that came to us during the day. For children who are dealing with overstimulation, it is also important to give them space to process their day, for example when they come home after school.
I like to create a relaxed atmosphere, take a bath, burn a candle and turn on relaxing music.
If you’re living together, with a partner or with your family, it may be a bit more difficult to be alone on a regular basis. Maybe you can try to calm your nervous system together, for example, by lying on the couch with your partner or child(ren), listening to each others heartbeat or breath.
Maybe you like to use a weighted blanket. Don’t talk. Just enjoy each other's presence. Focus on your breath and the warmth of your bodies. This doesn’t only help with overstimulation, but will benefit your connection as well ;).
If this is already too much, go for a walk or spend some time alone in another room.
2. Dealing with overstimulation: Yoga, meditation & breathwork
A very powerful way to prevent overstimulation or to calm down after being overstimulated, is to ‘return to the here and now' as much as possible during the day. Just focus on your body and breath, on the sounds around you, or on the feelings in your body. Yoga and meditation/Mindfulness are powerful methods to practice this. Guided meditations can help you ground, as well as yoga. With breathwork, we can literally learn to regulate our nervous system.
In my experience, the more often we practice breathwork, yoga and mindfulness, the less often we will become overstimulated.
A very simple and powerful breathwork exercise, that will immediately help you calm down your nervous system, is to exhale longer than you inhale. For example, inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds. When your lungs are fully empty, stay there for a while, until you feel the impulse to breath in again. Try to relax your muscles during this exercise.
3. Herbs and Supplements for Overstimulation
A healthy and balanced lifestyle is the foundation of a peaceful and calm mind & body. What is generally known is that certain foods have a stimulating effect, and these foods are best avoided if you are easily overstimulated. Think of coffee, alcohol, sugar and spicy food.
On the other hand, various herbs and supplements can contribute to rest and relaxation. There are even herbs and supplements that support to calm your nervous system, so that you are less likely to become overstimulated.
Herbs (essential oils or teas) that support your nervous system and help dealing with overstimulation
- Lemon balm
These different oils or teas help us deal with overstimulation. We can apply the oil – diluted in some base oil – on our temples or in our neck. Or drip some drops on the pillow or use a (cool mist) diffuser.
There are also some delicious blends of relaxing essential oils . You may need to try some essential oils first to determine which one works best for you.
An oil that I – as a Wandering Mind with ADD and highly sensitive person – benefit from a lot, although it is not by definition recommended for overstimulation, is peppermint oil. I use this to concentrate, but also to relax. It is wonderful for me to apply one or two drops to my temples, just before going to bed, or in my neck (this also works well when our muscles are tense).
Supplements that help us deal with overstimulation
We can also use natural supplements that calm our nervous system, so that we are less likely to become overstimulated. Most of the supplements are suitable for both children and adults.
Our recommendation is to contact a specialist before deciding what supplements to take, such as an orthomolecular therapist, iriscopist, hormonal expert or homeopath. This way you can more easily discover which supplement is right for you. Are you going to try out these supplements yourself? Stick to the recommended dose and be careful when you are pregnant or are using medication. We always choose an organic brand with a good reputation. Also, we prefer to buy from a local supplier, so we minimise our ecological footprint. We also always check the ingredients. Is the supplement suitable for vegan/vegetarians, what additives are used? These are things we take in consideration when buying a supplement for overstimulation.
4. Calming music to deal with overstimulation
For some people it works well to listen to calming music or nature sounds when overstimulated. For example, listen to classical music or binaural beats. I myself regularly listen to ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union on Spotify. It is said that this is the most relaxing sound to listen to, because it lowers your heart rate, among other things. I also regularly play binaural beats on Spotify (we need to use headphones to benefit from the binaural beats), or I listen to playlists such as ‘Peaceful Piano' and ‘Peaceful Guitar'.
See our Spotify playlist for calming the nervous system
5. Medication for overstimulated nervous system
There are different types of medication available for an overstimulated nervous system. These are for example ADD and ADHD medication such as Ritalin, Dexamfetamine and Concerta. We always prefer to stay off medication, but when you feel there is no other option, this might be (temporary) for you. Always do this in consultation with your doctor or another medical specialist.
6. Dealing with overstimulation: Noise canceling headphones
Noise canceling headphones or earplugs with noise canceling feature are amazing for adults and children that regularly deal with overstimulation. For us, especially when living in a noisy city, it is an essential product. Using noise cancelling earplugs changed our lives. This wonderful technique, that was discovered a few years ago, blocks the noise from outside. When you play relaxing music, external noises that can cause overstimulation, are muted. This helps us to relax and to avoid overstimulation.
If you are dealing with ADD, ADHD, autism or HSP symptoms like overstimulation, noise canceling headphones might be an investment that will change your life.
7. What to do in case of overstimulation? Digital detox!
Don't underestimate the impact of ‘the digital world' on our nervous system. It might be the biggest cause of the growing number of people feeling overstimulated. Take for example our smartphone. Think of all the notifications that come in during the day, the sounds, the artificial light, the stimuli when we scroll on social media… They can cause overstimulation quite easily.
If you’d like to experience less overstimulation, try turning off your smartphone for a few hours. Skip watching television and if possible, avoid the notebook as well.
Focus on the present moment. Walk, cook, breathe, look at a tree, read a book, move your body, meditate… Putting your smartphone out of reach to focus on other things, is a great idea when you’re dealing with overstimulation.
8. Spend time in nature to deal with overstimulation
The best medicine for many modern problems or diseases, can be found in nature. In our experience, nature is the best answer to overstimulation. Earlier we shared our experience with natural supplements and herbs. But a walk or workout in nature also works miracles. Going out into nature – connecting to the trees, birds, earth and water – helps when dealing with overstimulation.
Walking barefoot is an amazing way to ground ourselves. This might be one of the easiest way to prevent overstimulation.
9. Breathe deeply
As mentioned before, breathwork is an amazing way to learn to regulate our nervous system. For me, as a HSP/ADD women, it is essential to regularly focus on my breath. I used to breathe very rapid and shallow. During breathwork classes, I learned to breath deeper and in a better way. This changed my life in so many ways.
When we take deep breathes – especially when we focus on the outbreath – our nervous system calms down immediately. Try it, it is very powerful.
10. Ayurveda and nutrition in case of overstimulation
Ayurveda (Tibetan medicine) assumes that there are three doshas; Vata, Pitta and Kappa. Your body may have created an imbalance in these doshas, which can cause health problems. The Vata dosha seems to be the dosha that is most prone to overstimulation. When overstimulated, your Vata dosha might be too high. Travel, weather changes, insufficient sleep and excessive mental or sensory stimulation (stimulus) of any kind can all challenge the stability of Vata. But certain foods and other influences such as cold weather, can also higher your Vata.
Tips to lower your vata:
- Stick to a routine.
- Go to bed on time, make sure you get enough sleep.
- Prepare mostly warm, nurturing, moist meals and eat at set times.
- Use sweet, sour and salt in your food.
- Massage your body with warm oil, such as sesame oil.
We wish this article has given you some ideas on how to deal with overstimulation. Have you not been overstimulated by all the options? ;-). Just feel which option(s) resonates with you, and try out different things. We all have different needs, in different times of our lives. We learned that the most important thing is to listen to our body, our intuition and our heart.
What do you do to deal with overstimulation, or to prevent overstimulation? What is your best strategy? We would love it if you share your experience in the comments.