Oct 25, 2023 | Neurodiversity

Overstimulation ADHD

Tools to Help with Overstimulation and ADHD

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Overstimulation can be a significant challenge for individuals with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. When people with ADHD experience overstimulation, it can intensify their symptoms and make it difficult for them to focus and regulate their behavior.

Over the next few blog posts, we will be delving deeper into this subject. Stay tuned for more on the metal and physical aspects of overstimulation and its impact, tools to help, and tips to learn how to recognize early signs and triggers to prevent stimulation from turning into overstimulation.

What is overstimulation? 

According to verywell mind, “overstimulation is what happens when there’s too much sensory input for your brain to handle. It can make you feel overwhelmed, irritable, and uncomfortable.” Individuals with ADHD often can’t filter this sensory input, making it more challenging to deal with, and overcome additional stimuli. Overstimulation can feel different to the individual. It may lead to feelings of panic, distress, or anger, then to a full shut-down. From loud noises, to crowds, feeling overstimulated can happen anywhere and at any time.  

Some common triggers, according to research, include: 

  • Touch 
  • Texture 
  • Smell  
  • Sight  
  • Sound 
  • Taste 

Research has shown that individuals who experience sensory over-responsiveness (SOR) will have more intense sensations, for longer periods of time, which results in “fight or flight” behaviours. Psychology Tools defines fight or flight as an “automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee.”

Tips to help combat overstimulation 

Implement sensory breaks 

When you begin to feel overstimulated, it is important to implement sensory breaks into your daily routine. As we mentioned above, individual experiences will vary, as will your needs and requirements for what will help. There are many different activities you may want to consider during your sensory break.  

Some examples might include the following: 

  • Listening to your favourite music 
  • Taking your dog for a walk 
  • Calling a friend 
  • Journaling 
  • Sitting under a weighted blanket 
  • Meditating 
  • Chewing gum, eating a sour candy, or snacking on something crunchy 
  • Use a fidget toy 

Whatever it is you choose to do, the idea behind a sensory break is to allow the body a chance to focus its nervous energy on something else, which can help the mind calm and refocus, allowing the body to return to a relaxed state. 

Recognize your tolerance 

Everyone has a different tolerance for the number of stimuli they can handle before experiencing overstimulation. Therefore, it is key to understand what your threshold is, and what you can do to combat those feelings when they arise. One way to help with this is to pay attention to the types of sensory input that you find overwhelming. Write it down and keep track of what you find triggering. 

While you can’t control every aspect of your environment, understanding your tolerance can help you recognize the things that make you feel overstimulated so that you can try to avoid them, or implement sensory breaks as needed to help. 

Build a support system 

Having the support and encouragement of trusted family members, friends, or colleagues is beneficial to everyone, especially individuals with ADHD. Research has found that developing interpersonal and professional relationships is key to helping cope and deal with daily life. In many cases, dealing with certain symptoms can feel isolating and overwhelming. However, with the support of those around you, you will feel less alone and have a safe space to help you navigate your feelings. 

If you are feeling overstimulated at work, for example, having a co-worker you can confide in, can help ease your emotions. When the people around you have a better understanding of what you are dealing with, you don’t have to explain yourself, or fear feeling judged. 

Overstimulation will continue to occur as you live your life and partake in day-to-day activities. However, by implementing helpful strategies, understanding your tolerance, and having a support system, you will be better equipped to manage your feelings.  

Learn more on this topic

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