Picture this: You’re staring at your laptop screen. Eyes flickering across the different opened tabs.
Ping! You get a notification on your phone. And another one, and another, and another…
A looming deadline casts a shadow over your growing pile of to-dos. Yet somehow, a side trip into the vortex of social media has gripped your attention. And the next thing you know, two hours have gone by.
Oh, overstimulation—you invisible culprit.
“Our world has always been full of things designed to distract us,” says Nir Eyal, a habit-forming expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest. It’s the reality of our modern society, unfortunately, coercing our minds into a perpetual state of buzzing anxiety.
So, what exactly ties together this unnerving mental static, and more crucially, how can you silence it?
Understanding the complexities of overstimulation is the first step. And from there, you can pave your path towards mental clarity and tranquility.
What Is Overstimulation?
Overstimulation is simply physiological and psychological overload. These excessive burdens can happen through any of the senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell—and also mentally through the overconsumption of information or multitasking.
An example of a physical one could be a complete sensory overload at a concert—your hearing with music, your sight with the dazzling lights, and your touch with the bustle of the crowd.
And with mental overstimulation, it could be as simple as responding to emails, scrolling through social media feeds, trying to complete a task, and shopping online—all while rewatching all 10 seasons of Friends.
While juggling is the societal norm (and, perhaps, an expectation), research shows there are major downsides to it. One study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking discovered a link between multitasking and symptoms of depression and social anxiety.
And what this shows is that being constantly bombarded can not only weaken our ability to think but also harm our mental health.
What sensory overload does to our brain
Our brains process approximately 11 million bits of information per second, but consciously, we can only handle about 40-50 bits. This means the majority of stimuli we encounter are processed subconsciously.
Scientifically speaking, the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, controlling impulses, and focusing attention—takes a direct hit during sensory overload. During this time, it struggles to sift through the influx of information, resulting in mental fatigue, anxiety, and impaired focus and decision-making.
It’s amusing to picture our brains as browsers with too many tabs open. But, the truth is, overstimulation is a real, physical challenge that can hamper our daily functioning.
ADHD and overstimulation
In the 1980s, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) diagnosis was relatively uncommon, impacting just one out of every 20 children. Presently, the situation has dramatically shifted, with ADHD emerging as one of the most prevalent mental conditions among children. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that an estimated 6 million children, ranging from ages 3 to 17, have been diagnosed at some point.
They go on to say that the cause and risk factors are still being researched. But what is known is that genetics are a huge factor.
Those with ADHD often have brains that struggle to filter sensory inputs. Consequently, they tend to have a reduced capacity for handling stimuli, reaching a point of sensory overload more rapidly than those without the disorder.
So while overstimulation doesn’t cause ADHD, it surely doesn’t help those who have it.
What Causes Overstimulation?
In this always-buzzing digital era, the sneaky culprits behind your overstimulation can include:
- Social media. Just one more scroll, you say, entering the endless world of likes, shares, and stories.
- Work emails. The never-ending ping of work notifications and emails chasing you beyond office hours.
- City buzz. The non-stop hustle and bustle of city lights, traffic, digital billboards, and crowds.
- Tech gadgets. Your beloved screens, keeping your eyes busy and minds in constant hypermode.
- Social pressure. The silent yet loud expectations from friends, family, and even yourself.
- Busy lifestyle. Juggling work, health, and a sprinkle of social life.
- Global news. The wave of global issues and crises that keep your worry-wheels turning.
It’s no wonder you may find yourself muttering, “Why can’t I focus?” However, the blame can’t all be put on external factors. According to Nir, habits drive about 40% of our daily behaviors.When the brain learns a pattern, it drives an impulse for us to repeat that behavior again and again. — @nireyal Click To Tweet
You may well know that the aforementioned culprits drive surges of dopamine to the brain. So it’s not simply the act of checking socials, being social, or any of that sort that drives us; it’s the craving for the positive sensation that we once felt and seek to feel again.
“Once the brain discovers something it values,” explains Nir, “the discomfort of wanting compels us to repeat the behavior, even if those behaviors are sometimes against our best interests.” And feeding those habits can lead you down the path of constant overstimulation.
Signs and Symptoms of Overstimulation
How can you tell you’re battling sensory overload? Here are some overstimulation symptoms and signs to look out for:
Inability to sit still
Revenge bedtime procrastination
Struggle with focus
Heightened emotional responses
Overreaction to minor problems
Sweating, shaking, or blushing
These are subtle nudges, signaling you to pause, reassess, and possibly find healthier ways to keep your mental and physical well-being in check. And remember: If overstimulation feels like a constant, uninvited guest, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional.
What Does Overstimulation Feel Like?
Imagine being in a room where every conversation, bright light, and sudden movement overwhelmingly amplifies, forcing your senses into a frenzied state—that’s overstimulation in a nutshell.
The thing is, every individual juggles a different set of sensitivities and thus experiences them distinctively. So, while one person might cringe at the racket of overlapping conversations, another might recoil from the sudden brush of peculiar textures against their skin.
Here are some other general reactions you may experience:
- Covering your eyes and ears or seeking solace in noise-canceling gadgets to muffle out the world.
- Becoming restless, fidgety, and having an overwhelming urge to leave the sensory-stuffed space.
- Struggling with overstimulation anxiety, which might manifest itself through intense discomfort, irritability, restlessness, or an emotional outburst.
- Demonstrating symptoms similar to a panic attack, especially if you can’t immediately exit the overstimulating environment.
- Encountering physical, mental, and emotional fatigue after the event and taking some quiet time to rest and recover.
If you’ve nodded along to any of the above, whispering a soft “Oh, same!”, remember that your experience is valid. And knowing your triggers and reactions is one step away from sensory overwhelm and one step closer to being indistractable.
How to Manage Overstimulation: 5 Tips From Mindalley Experts
The magic question is: What can you do about overstimulation? Here are a few simple things you can do to regain tranquility.
1. Know your personality
Have you ever thought that understanding your own personality might help you deal with the noisy world around you? Multiple New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Rubin thinks so.
She believes knowing more about yourself is like finding a secret guide to life. Why? Because your personality helps you decide how to face challenges, work with others, and enjoy your downtime.
Gretchen noticed that people often show similar behaviors or tendencies. “I realized that there was a way to understand these patterns until we could really set ourselves up for success or help other people find more success.”
She came up with “the four tendencies” to describe these patterns:
- Upholder. You stick to both internal and external expectations and meet your goals.
- Questioner. You’re driven by your own motivation and will meet external expectations only if they make sense to you.
- Obliger. You meet external expectations but might not meet your own unless there’s outside accountability.
- Rebel. You do things your way and resist both external and internal expectations unless they suit you.
Curious about which type you might be? You can take Gretchen’s The Four Tendencies Quiz, which can help you find out in just about seven minutes.
2. Tap your way to calmness
“Often at times, we are so caught up in doing and collecting things that we do not realize the burden it is creating in our life,” points out Jennifer Patridge, an expert in emotional freedom technique (EFT), in her Tapping Into Emotional Mastery Quest on Mindvalley.
It’s a candid reflection of how our pursuit, especially in the materially drenched culture we inhabit, spirals us into stress and unrest.
So, what can help? EFT tapping, a form of mindfulness for anxiety.
Gently tapping on specific meridian points can manage but potentially alleviate the anxiety that comes with overstimulation.
The EFT tapping points
Here are nine main meridian points Jennifer highlights in her Quest:
- KC (Karate Chop): On the soft outer section between the top of the wrist and the base of the pinky.
- TOH (Top of the Head): Where lines from ear to ear and nose to back of the neck intersect.
- EB (Eyebrow): Slightly above and to one side of the nose at the eyebrow start.
- SE (Side of the Eye): On the bone at the outer corner of the eye.
- UE (Under the Eye): On the bony ridge, 1 inch below the pupil.
- UN (Under the Nose): On the flesh between the lower nose and upper lip.
- CH (Chin): Between the chin and the bottom of the lower lip.
- CB (Collarbone): Where the sternum and collarbone intersect, just below the U-notch.
- UA (Under Arm): About four inches below the armpit on the side of the body.
3. Be present
Being present is not merely a trendy phrase—it’s validated by research, with studies indicating a link between mindfulness and reduced stress. And this can greatly help when your senses are going every which way.
“Presence influences every area of your life, from how you look to how you feel and think,” explains Juan Pablo Barahona (JuanPa, for short), a Quantum Flow healer. “And it reflects in your business, relationships, purpose, and spirituality.”
In his Ultra Presence Quest on Mindvalley, he provides some straightforward, no-nonsense tips to help you stay present:
- Engage in mindful breathing. Focus on your breath, its rhythm, and how it feels.
- Utilize grounding techniques. Identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Practice gratitude. Identify and reflect on three things you are grateful for every day.
“Your mindset connects you to your essence and the energy available to you,” as JuanPa adds. And while life may ebb and flow, his techniques might just be the thing to help you ease that overstimulation anxiety.
4. Use meditation to recharge
Navigating through daily life, it’s no wonder you might find yourself mentally drained with the buzzing and overstimulation that modernity throws your way. Meditation, more than just a peaceful pause, offers a sanctuary to recharge amidst the chaos.
It’s not only a pathway towards serenity but also a method to increase brain power, using your own neurochemistry as a tool.
“When you meditate, your brain produces pleasure neurochemicals and your body becomes accustomed to the wonderful sensations they bring,” explains Dawson Church, a neuroscience researcher and trainer of Mindvalley’s Mystic Brain Quest.
The thing is, though, if you’re new to meditation, the wandering mind can seem frustrating. However, when you surrender to the process, you enter a state of flow. This not only helps alleviate your mental exhaustion, but it also helps enhance your cognitive abilities.
5. Block your time
Feeling swamped by constant notifications, emails, and tasks? Chances are, you are.
In today’s digitally charged world, your attention is pulled in numerous directions, which often leads to mental clutter and stress. That’s why Nir is a big supporter of time blocking.
It’s essentially allocating a designated slot for each task in your day. Emails at 10 a.m., project work at 11 a.m., social media browsing at 1 p.m., and so on and so forth.
“By defining how we spend our time and syncing with stakeholders in our lives, we ensure that we do the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t,” explains Nir in his Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest on Mindvalley. “It frees us, as it did me, from the trivialities of our day and gives us back the time we can’t afford to waste.”
Furthermore, by separating tasks, you deflect the continuous pings of digital distractions. This fosters a calm, focused environment where you know how to stop procrastinating, and productivity blossoms. Consequently, your mind remains undivided, and tasks get completed, one serene block at a time.
So, not only does time blocking offer a remedy for overstimulation, but it also provides a straight, clutter-free path to fulfilling your day-to-day objectives without feeling overwhelmed or scattered.
Awaken Your Indistractable
Living in a digitally charged world has its pros and cons. While it can obviously enhance life, each click, swipe, and notification often sends you deeper into a sea of constant buzz and distraction.
But there’s a way to balance the calm with the noise. Mindvalley’s The 4 Keys to Indistractable Focus FREE Masterclass has Nir Eyal sharing his insights and wisdom so you, too, can rise above overstimulation.
Over 240,00 students have gone through this 73-minute class, and they’ve found their way back from chaos. Like Charlotte Blank, the chief behavioral officer of Maritz, who says it’ll “help you make the most of your time and find peace and productivity in an increasingly distracting world.”
As Nir says, “We are what we pay attention to.” And when you pay attention to you, you may just find you awaken your indistractable.
Images generated on Midjourney.