COVID-19 brought about many changes to both our inner and outer worlds. Many of us went from socializing, working around a lot of people, eating at bustling restaurants to isolation. As months went on, some of us were eager to get back out and see new faces again. But some of us started to find comfort in the isolation, quickly adapting and accepting this “new normal”. When it was time to emerge from our dwellings and be out in society again, we may have started to notice a decrease in patience towards others. We may have felt anxiety symptoms such as shortness of breath or a racing heart. We may have noticed that noises were too loud or lights were too bright—and an urgent need to escape the situation. Some of us may have started to struggle with extreme irritability, and an overall feeling of restlessness. Whether these symptoms are new to you or you have been dealing with them long before COVID-19, one explanation could be overstimulation.
Overstimulation is a type of sensory processing difficulty. This occurs when your senses relay more stimuli to the brain than it can handle. Some have described this experience as a “static” that makes it difficult for them to concentrate or pay attention to what is happening around them. Others describe it as “being able to hear every single conversation going on in the room all at once” and “like someone is turning the volume up really loud”.
Some helpful suggestions for coping with overstimulation include:
1) Closing Your Eyes and Taking a Deep Breath—sometimes taking a moment to yourself when you are in the midst of overwhelm can help mute what is going on around you. So, if possible, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Focus on the sound of your exhale as you release the tension building up inside of you. Allow calming thoughts to enter your mind. Practice this one if you are unable to escape immediately.
2) Stepping Outside—if possible, find the nearest exit and take a step outside to get some fresh air. Try to focus on one element in nature; maybe a tree or a bird flying above you. Continue practicing taking deep breaths until you feel centered again.
3) Finding a Calming Tool—if you can step away from the overwhelming situation and find something that helps calm you, perhaps a fidget spinner or meditation app, tune into that while you allow time for your body to regulate. Even stepping away into the restroom to have a moment alone to listen to a soothing song can be helpful.
4) Taking a Break from Technology—if you notice that you are spending a lot of time staring at a screen or being bombarded with e-mails, text messages, etc., perhaps creating intentional time away from screens may be helpful in decreasing the frequency of overstimulation. Carve out whatever time seems doable to you—ten minutes, 30 minutes, maybe even an hour—and engage in activities that do not involve screens such as taking a walk outside, working on a craft, or reading a book.
Although overstimulation is often linked with ADHD and autism, anyone can struggle with sensory overload. If you are struggling with overstimulation and would like to learn tools to help overcome the desire to retreat from activities and if you find yourself isolating from others, we encourage you to call us at 253 Therapy and Consult to schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist.