How to Deal With Overstimulation When You’re a Sensitive Person

A highly sensitive person deals with overstimulation

Highly sensitive people have finely-tuned nervous systems, which can make everyday life more stressful and overstimulating.

Growing up, I felt things deeply and was often told, “Stop being so sensitive!” This left me feeling as if something was perpetually wrong with me. I knew from a young age that I experienced the world differently, but it took me decades to figure out why. Perhaps you can relate.

Discovering I was a highly sensitive person as an adult was life-changing. I always understood that I was different, but this revelation allowed me to see my sensitivity as a strength, not something to hide or feel ashamed of.

(Are you a highly sensitive person? Here are 27 “strange” things highly sensitive people do.)

If you also identify as a high-achiever (someone who is driven to achieve), you are probably aware that stress and overstimulation can easily threaten your well-being. You might even be someone who suffers from high-functioning anxiety.

After all, sensitive people have finely-tuned nervous systems that can easily detect the emotions and moods of others, as well as the energy of their environments, experiencing them as their own.

When these lines get blurred, it can be highly dysregulating, since highly sensitive people are essentially walking emotional sponges, absorbing everything around them.

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When Overstimulation Is a Given

According to Sensitive, co-written by Jenn Granneman of Introvert, Dear, nearly thirty percent of the population is highly sensitive. As someone ultra-sensitive to their surroundings — and also a stress management coach — I get it! I know how easy it is to feel overstimulated by everyday life and navigate a loud world where sensitive people are the minority.

Plus, life feels busier than ever these days, with endless to-do lists, meetings, and people vying for your time. But the good news is, there are practical things you can do to protect yourself from feeling stressed or overstimulated. Here are some of them.

How to Deal With Overstimulation

1. Recognize the signs.

Overstimulation can look like tension in the body, restlessness, racing thoughts, rumination (repetitive anxious thoughts), shallow breathing, stomachaches, or feelings of being overwhelmed or stuck.

Ask yourself what warning signs you notice when you feel overstimulated. Are you having more stomach issues than usual? Are you feeling anxious more often? Are your racing thoughts keeping you up at night?

Personally, I like to keep this quote by writer Madeleine L’Engle in mind: “When I am constantly running, there is no time for being. When there is no time for being, there is no time for listening.” 

2. Check in with yourself.

Check in with yourself a few times a day for a minute, asking questions like:

  • What do I need to flourish today?
  • How am I feeling emotionally and physically?
  • Have I eaten or drunk enough water?
  • Have I moved my body today? (Movement can help with overthinking!)
  • Have I gotten fresh air or sunlight today?

Introverts often recharge by being in nature, so taking time to go outside is often a natural fix!

3. Give yourself permission to pause.

Rest often feels counterintuitive to doers and high achievers — like something you must earn. In our hustle-obsessed culture, rest has been incorrectly labeled as a sign of laziness or weakness. But with a global burnout epidemic, is that mentality really serving us?

As sensitive people, if we don’t take time to recharge our batteries, we can feel burned out and exhausted much more quickly than others. Knowing your limits, and creating space in your life for rest, is crucial for maintaining your well-being.

My advice? Try experimenting with unplugging for 1-2 hours in the evening and intentionally blocking off small pockets of “me time” in your schedule for breaks, stretching, fresh air, connection, creativity, or alone time.

(Speaking of solitude, here’s the science behind why introverts need alone time.)

Also, consider this quote by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, advocate of the four-day work week: “Rest is not work’s opposite. Rest is work’s partner.”

4. Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s your oxygen tank.

You cannot continually pour from an empty cup and thrive, and trying to do so long-term is a recipe for overstimulation and burnout. Sensitive overachievers need to be more diligent with self-care than others because of our finely-tuned nervous systems. Thus, making self-care a regular ritual is crucial.

Self-care is about caring for yourself so you can feel your best by doing things that nurture your mind, body, and spirit. When you feel well taken care of in these three ways, it is easier for you to connect with and serve others — without feeling drained or resentful toward them or yourself.

Self-care is about taking time for yourself — for example, by carving out a little time each day (even if it’s just twenty minutes), or an hour each week, to do something fun or relaxing.

Is the chaos of life overwhelming you as a highly sensitive person?

Sensitive people have certain brain differences that make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a way to train your brain so you can navigate the challenges of sensitivity, access your gifts, and thrive in life. Psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland will show you how in her popular online course, HSP Brain Training. As an Introvert, Dear reader, you can take 50% off the registration fee using the code INTROVERTDEARClick here to learn more.

5. Know your limits.

Introverts and sensitive people often have trouble saying “no.” However, chronically overcommitting can be a fast track to overstimulation and stress. It’s crucial to know and communicate your capacity for something, or when you need space or time away from situations that are overstimulating.

Learning how, and when, to say “no” is vital for staying balanced — it’s a form of self-care and setting healthy boundaries. By having a strong sense of your limits in any given situation, you’ll be equipped to make better decisions, protecting your energy, joy, and peace in the process.

Asking for help is another way to acknowledge your capacity; it allows others to support you by using their gifts and stepping up to the plate. I know it’s hard to ask for help as an introvert or sensitive person. But believe me, it’s necessary when you need to! 

As Jen Fisher, Chief Well-Being Officer at Deloitte, says, “We’ve been conditioned to believe that asking for help is a weakness, but I think that it’s the ultimate act of self-care and strength. And doing it not only improves your well-being, but it also benefits those around you.”

6. Be mindful of what you are consuming.

Social media, too many intense shows or movies, or true crime podcasts might overstimulate your nervous system — especially before bed. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to have a positive day when you begin by checking in on the latest doom-and-gloom news. Sensitive people are affected not only by everything in their immediate surroundings but also by what is happening globally — which is why it can be helpful to limit your media consumption.

There’s no doubt social media is addictive. Research shows that spending too much time on social media can lead to lower self-esteem, depression, and loneliness, as well as distract you from connecting with things in real life that bring you joy and recharge you.

I suggest experimenting with putting your electronic devices away an hour before bed — or one day on the weekend. Instead, connect with others in person, with nature, or by doing something creative to process and calm your emotions.

7. While working, take frequent screen breaks.

We are more connected than ever, which can leave you feeling like you can never escape work. Sitting has been labeled “the new smoking,” so the longer you sit at your computer without breaks, the more fatigued you might feel.

Taking quick breaks is a simple way to take care of yourself, but one that is easy to forget. Start by taking a short break every two hours — step away from your computer and put away all your electronic devices.

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Get up and stretch in front of your desk (or wherever you’re working).
  • Try sitting outside for at least 10 minutes.
  • Go for a walk in nature. Put your phone in “do not disturb” mode and focus on your senses.
  • Do something completely unrelated to work, whether that’s reading a book, connecting with friends or family, or doing something relaxing.

8. Recharge your emotional batteries.

While most of us are diligent about keeping our phones and devices charged so they perform optimally, paying attention to your own batteries is equally important. Everyone and everything we encounter either drains or recharges our batteries.

Think of managing your energy like managing your bank account: If you make too many “withdrawals” at once, you can end up overdrawn and in the red.

Try making a list of the things that recharge you — and note any regular battery-drainers you encounter. Then, plan those “energy deposits” into your schedule. (Here’s how you can boost your energy by doing an energy audit.)

As motivational speaker Mel Robbins says, “Energy is expensive. Don’t give yours away for free.” 

9. Move your body daily.

Regular physical activity not only helps improve your sleep, but it is also a proven stress management strategy. And the good news is, all movement is beneficial to the body. That could look like walking up and down your stairs a few times daily, meeting a friend at the gym, riding your bike, or dancing in your living room. The key is to move in ways you actually enjoy, change things up, and get some form of movement daily.

I agree with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, who says, “Every day, for at least fifteen minutes, be selfish, and enjoy some time for you.”

10. Nourish yourself.

Sensitive people can experience blood sugar crashes more intensely than others — feeling “hangry.” Eating a balanced diet with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and lean proteins will help stabilize your blood sugar and give you the energy and stamina to conquer your day.

One other thing to be mindful of is caffeine. Too much caffeine can increase your body’s stress response and throw off your sleep, creating a vicious cycle.

Since highly sensitive people can be more affected by caffeine, aim to cut it off by noon.

11. Get adequate sleep.

Sleep is the superpower of your health and well-being, and highly sensitive people often need more of it than others. After all, sleep is crucial for emotional regulation and better resilience in navigating everyday stress. Research shows that high-quality sleep helps lower your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and improves your memory, cognitive function, performance, energy levels, and immune system.

Sensitive people often find their sleeping patterns are easily influenced by environmental factors, such as noise, light, and temperature — meaning that having a solid sleep routine is important. Adults, just like children, need a relaxing routine that signals to the body that it is time to start winding down.

12. Practice self-compassion.

You are not a failure when you make a mistake or have a bad day — these things happen to all of us. Self-compassion is about learning to be kind to yourself when you are struggling, feeling inadequate, or when something doesn’t work out as planned. It involves realizing that even though these things happen, you’re still human and worthy of love and acceptance.

One way to practice self-compassion is by reframing your thoughts with kindness rather than judgment or criticism. For example, “I forgot to mention the status report during our meeting, so I’ll circle back to the team” versus “I’m such an idiot!”

The next time you feel imposter syndrome kicking in (which is normal, by the way, and something everyone from CEOs to competitive athletes experiences), try talking to yourself the way you would to a child or a cherished friend.

In the wise words of meditation pioneer Sharon Salzberg, “Compassion is not just how we treat others. It is how we treat ourselves.”

And this is especially important when you’re a sensitive person dealing with overstimulation.

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