Take a moment to look at your laptop or phone screen right now. How many tabs do you have open? How many windows? How many running, active apps or programs?
It seems to be a badge of honor these days to announce that you can coherently navigate twenty or more open tabs at a time. The more we can take on and juggle, the better, right?
But the reality of our modern society is: we’re suffering from overstimulation. In a very big way.
So, what is overstimulation? How does it affect our lives? And perhaps most important of all: how do we overcome it?
What Sensory Overload Does to Our Brain
First, let’s take a look at what overstimulation actually is.
Simply put, overstimulation is physiological, psychological overload. It’s an active overburdening of the senses, affecting both the physical and the mental bodies in tandem.
When we’re overstimulated, we’re feeding the body and brain more information than it can actively process. Overstimulation can come in a variety of forms, too.
It can be purely sensory — like when we go to a rock concert and are dazzled by lights and sound. Or, it can have a psychological component too, like when we’re overburdened with work and spend too many hours in front of a screen.
John Gray and the Science Behind Overstimulation
John Gray, relationship counselor, lecturer, and bestselling author of the book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, has many great insights about the science behind overstimulation.
When you take a look at the neuroscientific evidence of sensory overload, you begin to realize that overstimulation isn’t just a problem for our modern society — it’s a disease. And here’s why.
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John Gray explains that our world, in the wake of the Digital Revolution, has become so integrated with digital technology that overstimulation has become the norm. And this is bad news, because this constant overburdening of the senses really isn’t healthy for us.
Besides the strain we put on our senses, we’re also unwittingly allowing ourselves to become overstimulation addicts.
John Gray discusses the way overstimulation creates excess dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter tied to the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, so when we’ve got excess dopamine in our circuitry, we feel pretty good.
The problem with so much excess dopamine is that as time goes on, our dopamine receptors become less responsive to the natural ebb and flow of our hormones. This means that we require greater and more powerful stimuli to release the dopamine we’ve come to crave.
See how the addiction factor kicks in? The more we have, the more we need. It’s an endless, vicious cycle that throws our entire system out of whack.
Most Common Overstimulation Symptoms to Look Out For
The first step in battling the bombardment of overstimulation in our lives is being aware of the most telltale signs and symptoms:
- Nail biting
- Inability to sit still
- Racing thoughts
- Sugar cravings
- Digestive distress
- Eye strain
- Heart palpitations
Leading Causes of Overstimulation
Overstimulation can come in a variety of forms but keep on the lookout for anything that taxes your senses.
The leading cause of overstimulation in our lives today? Screens.
Think of any form of screen you deal with on a day to day basis. You name it, and it’s likely contributing to your overstimulation: televisions, laptops, phones, tablets, digital billboards, the list goes on.
If it’s a digital screen, it’s actively taxing your senses, and we need to be aware of how much we’re exposing our minds and bodies to these technologies.
Why ADHD in Kids Today Is On The Rise
In the 1980s, 1 in 20 children were diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Today? That number has risen to 1 in 9.
Why the dramatic spike? Well, experts suggest a number of factors, including more refined diagnostic tools for psychiatrists, a decreased taboo surrounding behavioral disorders, and greater patient advocacy.
But we can’t ignore the glaring societal shift staring us in the face: these days, kids spend a lot more time sitting in front of screens than playing outside.
The same neurochemical imbalances that encourage adults to become ‘addicted’ to overstimulation are the same imbalances that affect children. The more reliant kids become on artificial stimulation, the less interested they are in organic, human to human stimulation.
How to Stay Focused — John Gray’s Overstimulation Solution
So, how do we overcome overstimulation and stay focused in a world of ever-increasing technology integration?
We have to stay conscious of the amount of time we’re spending in front of screens. The more aware we are, the better equipped we’ll be to combat sensory overload.
One of the methods John Gray suggests for balancing our time spent in front of a screen is to have designated ‘no screen’ time. This can become a special part of our day in which we intentionally unplug from what’s around us.
Getting away from the many screens in our lives isn’t easy! But purposely setting aside a stretch of time (at least twenty minutes or so) in which to give your senses a break is important for balancing the mind and body.
Meditate for a deep brain reset
John Gray’s second suggestion for mentally unplugging? Meditation. This can easily serve as your ‘no screen time,’ with the added bonus of resetting the balance of your neurochemicals.
Here’s how it works: repeated meditation produces the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin regulates our mood, alleviates anxiety, and battles depression. It’s a powerhouse of a neurochemical and it’s something we could all use a little more of in our lives.
The best part about increased levels of serotonin? This mood-boosting chemical actually repairs and resets dopamine receptor sites in the brain. Think of it like a reset button for your overworked senses. Serotonin can help soothe the agitated, overstimulated dopamine receptors, and decrease your dependence on external stimuli for the feelings of reward and pleasure dopamine provides.
You don’t need much to meditate! Just a few minutes a day in a quiet room. You can meditate standing up, sitting down, or even lying on the floor. If you’re new to meditation, try a guided meditation or two to get the ball rolling.
Are you looking for a brilliant meditation track to help you along your way? This OmHarmonica track is extraordinary and praised by many. Keep in mind, though, that it uses binaural beats and should be listened to with headphones:
Mindfulness Meditation to Battle Overstimulation
If you feel confident meditating without guidance, try this mindfulness practice that focuses on the breath. With just five minutes a day, you can dramatically shift your awareness and increase your ability to stay focused:
- Find a comfortable position to sit or lie down in.
- Set a timer on your watch or phone for five minutes.
- Close your eyes, and bring your hands to rest by your side or on your knees.
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Exhale through your mouth.
- Continue to breathe, and focus on the way the air feels as it enters your nose and leaves through your mouth.
- Do not control the breath in any way. Simply observe the physical sensations that accompany each breath.
This simple mindfulness exercise can serve as a powerful tool in combating overstimulation.