Sign up today and get 50% off your first session!

Overstimulated: Meaning, Causes, and Examples

April 5, 2024

Do you ever feel too tuned in to the world around you, the sensations in your body, and the thoughts in your head? You’re not alone — this experience is so common that there’s a word for it: Overstimulation. Sometimes called sensory overload, overstimulation is the term we use to describe the feeling you get when there’s simply too much going on inside and outside of you. 

Let’s take a look at what overstimulation is, what it feels like, what causes it, and a few examples that you might relate to. Then, we’ll explore the resources out there to help you manage all that sensory input.

What Is Overstimulation?

The definition of overstimulation is an intense experience caused by too much mental activity or sensory input. Loud noises, bright lights, potent smells (good or bad), and even big crowds can cause overstimulation. 

Thoughts in your head and powerful emotions, both negative and positive, can also make you feel overstimulated and send your nervous system into fight-or-flight mode.

What Are Possible Causes of Sensory Overload?

Sensory overload has unique triggers that vary from person to person. That means your experience with overstimulation might be totally different from your friend’s. However, there are some common triggers that many people find overstimulating:

  • Noises: Loud sounds, especially sudden ones, can quickly trigger overstimulation for many people. If a loud noise overwhelms you and makes it hard to process what you’re experiencing, that might be one of your primary triggers.
  • Smells: Good and bad smells alike can be overstimulating. While someone else might find the smell of powerful perfume soothing, the same smell might make you feel anxious and disoriented. 
  • Lights: Bright lights are another form of stimuli that can cause overstimulation. Likewise, a quiet place that is dimly lit can help you find grounding and peace again after too much exposure to harsh lighting. 
  • Crowds: Many highly sensitive people find time in crowds overwhelming, and it’s easy to see why. The combination of loud sounds, brushing against strangers, and an eclectic mix of smells makes a lot of people feel dysregulated after too much time spent in a crowded space.
  • Textures: Certain textures can be overstimulating, too. Something too rough and abrasive — even a tag on your clothes — might be so distracting and uncomfortable that it makes it feel almost impossible to focus on anything else.
  • Temperature: Feeling too hot or too cold can also be a source of sensory overload. Many folks on the autism spectrum, for example, may feel especially attuned to their body temperature and the level of warmth or cold in a room.

Who Suffers From Overstimulation? Is it Normal?

Overstimulation is very common, so rest assured that you’re not alone if you struggle. About one percent of the world’s population is on the autism spectrum, which can make you much more vulnerable to sensory overload. In addition, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often experience symptoms of overstimulation like restlessness, trouble focusing, and irritability. 

However, you don’t need a mental health diagnosis to validate feeling overstimulated. If you relate to what you’ve read so far, it’s very possible that you deal with sensory overload on a regular basis. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has anything to do with you — sometimes life is just, well, overstimulating at times.

Practices like mindfulness, meditation, and going to therapy or a support group can help you find the peace you need.

What Are the Signs of Sensory Overload?

The biggest signs of sensory overload and overstimulation are physical discomfort, anxiety or irritability, trouble focusing, restlessness, and a strong urge to escape the stimuli or situation.

Physical Discomfort

If a particular substance or stimulus source makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, chances are that this stim triggers you. 

Anxiety or Irritability

Likewise, feeling anxious or irritable when exposed to certain stimuli is another sign of sensory overload. 

Difficulty Focusing

If you have trouble focusing when you’re experiencing a certain form of stimulus, don’t ignore those feelings! They’re telling you something important about yourself that you can respond to compassionately. 

Hyperarousal or Feelings of Restlessness

Many people, especially neurodivergent folks, may respond to intense stimuli with feelings of intense restlessness, also known as hyperarousal. 

A Strong Urge To Remove Yourself From the Stimuli or Situation

Certain stimuli and stressors may make it almost impossible to stay where you are. If a particular form of sensory input makes you feel an urge to remove yourself from the situation, it’s likely that you’ve found a key trigger.

What Are the Best Ways To Cope With Overstimulation?

Don’t give up hope if you struggle with sensory overload! There are many ways to become more resilient, build confidence in intense situations, and find comfort.

Identify Your Triggers

The best place to start your journey is with a clear knowledge of your triggers. You can identify these with help from a professional therapist. Keeping a journal on paper or your phone and paying close attention to how you feel in certain situations goes a long way, too.

Reduce Exposure Until You Can Gradually Reintroduce Yourself

It’s okay to take a break from certain forms of sensory input — it’s a sign of wisdom and strength! Take your time reintroducing yourself to your triggers, and consider having a support person by your side for your first few exposures.

Use Relaxation and Breathing Techniques to Ground Yourself

Box breathing (four seconds in, four seconds held, and four seconds out), progressive muscle relaxation, and more can help you as you face the uncomfortable moments of sensory overload. We know how hard it can be to stop, breathe, and re-center yourself when it feels like there’s too much going on, but once you do it, you’re sure to feel a sense of relief.

Focus All Your Attention on Something Singular

If you can, try to find one grounding item, thought, or even a sensation to focus on when experiencing sensory overload. Finding something in the room or focusing on a positive phrase in your head can help you stay regulated, as can a comforting, soothing texture.

Manage Your Surroundings

Remember: You don’t have to willfully go into an overstimulating environment until you’re ready. Whenever you can, take some simple steps to make your space less stimulating. Dimming the lights, blocking out ambient sounds, and using an air purifier to stop smells can all be helpful.

Filter Out External Stimuli

You’re not always in charge of your environment, but when you are, you can make choices that lower the amount of stimulation around you. Wearing noise-canceling headphones when you’re in a crowd is a perfect example of simple stimulus management.

Consider Exercise to Release Pent-Up Energy

Exercise releases endorphins, which are some of your body’s best defenses against stress and overstimulation. Even a gentle walk with your dog can help you down-regulate when you feel overwhelmed and overloaded with sensory input. If you’re not a fan of walking, try adding an AR game like Pokemon Go into your daily routine for some extra motivation.

Seek Support from Others

You don’t have to handle sensory overload by yourself. A therapist, a support group, and your friends and family can all be game-changing when you’re struggling. Reach out to the people you love for encouragement and consider some professional support as well — everyone can benefit from someone to talk to and some accountability on the journey into resilience and strength.

How Hero Journey Club Can Help Manage Overstimulation

Are you struggling with overstimulation? We’re here to help you find your path forward. Hero Journey Club blends mental health support and video games for a one-of-a-kind experience that can help you find relief after just one session. 

Our weekly support groups are guided by professionals and take place within your favorite games, including Minecraft, Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and many more. When you start, you’ll be custom-matched with a group of peers who understand what you’re going through and share your goals. With them, you’ll work alongside an expert who knows how to support you in finding the best resources and tools to grow.

Builds Emotional Resilience

The Hero Journey Club experience can help you become stronger, more resilient, and ready to face down your triggers with boldness. By processing your feelings, sharing your victories, and working through obstacles with a supportive group, you can find strength inside you that you never knew you had.

Promotes Problem-Solving Skills

HJC can also help you become a better problem solver. By combining games with evidence-based support methods, our care model brings out the collaborator, teammate, and puzzle-solver in everyone.

Fosters a Supportive Community

Our community is in this together, and you’ll instantly feel welcomed, supported, and cheered on by therapists and peers. We pride ourselves in creating a private, safe, and inclusive space for growth. All of our sessions are anonymous using only your discord username, so you can feel free to be yourself.

It’s important to note that while Hero Journey Club is an incredible way to find support through a loving community, it should not be considered a replacement for traditional therapy.

The Bottom Line

Overstimulation can be uncomfortable, scary, and sometimes debilitating — but there’s always hope. Find support with Hero Journey Club today to take a step closer to freedom from your triggers and start enjoying life more than ever.

Sources:

Sensory overload: A concept analysis | NIH

Endorphins and exercise | NCBI

Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder | CDC

Grounding Techniques: Exercises for Anxiety, PTSD, and More | Healthline