Overstimulated by Life? 20 Ways to Give Your ADHD Senses a Break

Is overstimulation a facet of daily life? Do you experience emotions and physical sensations intensely? Are you easily overwhelmed? Emotional dysregulation and sensitivity issues are common in adults with ADHD. Here, learn to manage and reduce sensory overload.

Depression, fatigue, mental stress, pain, frustration, overwhelmed, too much, concept. Young depression frustrated stressful woman or girl cartoon character holding head. Fatigue psychological problems or headache bad news.
Depression, fatigue, mental stress, pain, frustration, overwhelmed, too much, concept. Young depression frustrated stressful woman or girl cartoon character holding head. Fatigue psychological problems or headache bad news.

Feeling overstimulated? All the time?

Overstimulation is a daily reality for many people with ADHD. We feel too much — physically and emotionally. We struggle with emotional regulation, impulsivity, and big feelings. Many of us also experience sensory sensitivities, reacting strongly to sights, tastes, smell, and more. And when we’re stressed, we feel everything more intensely.

Navigating sensory overload is exhausting. It impacts our sense of wellbeing — we don’t seem to glide through life easily as others do. And we never know what will trigger us on any given day.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to manage our sensitivities and lessen — or even prevent — sensory overload. Here are a few suggestions.

Overstimulation Strategies: How to Manage Physical and Emotional Sensitivities

The basics

1. Gain awareness. Educate yourself on hypersensitivity, ADHD, and sensory issues. It will be an ongoing process, but the more you understand these factors, the better you’ll understand your own challenges.

2. Practice self-advocacy. Learn to speak out, without shame, about your needs.

[Get This Download: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

3. Share your sensitivities. Explain your pain points so others in your life can adjust expectations.

4. Lead a healthy lifestyle. Nutritious foods, restful sleep, movement, mindfulness, and any activity that reduces stress and adds joy to your life will make it easier to regulate your emotions. Keep these in check, and it might reduce your physical sensitivities and irritabilities, too.

5. Find support, including professional help, to manage your hypersensitivities, ADHD, and the lifestyle factors that may contribute to your challenges. A good therapist can help you build awareness around your triggers and provide coping tools.

For touch

6. Wear non-itch fabrics and tagless, seamless clothes (or remove tags).

[Read: Why You Can’t Stand Certain Smells and Textures]

7. Try on clothing, while shopping or from your own closet, and pay attention to how you feel. Is the item too constricting? Does it itch in some places? What kind of fabrics feel most comfortable to you? Put back or toss out (or, better, donate) items that will cause trouble.

For sound

8. Use a white noise machine or whirring fan to block out distracting, annoying sounds at home or in the workplace.

9. Find a location you can escape to if you need a break (it could be the bathroom, a closet, or another part of the home/building), especially in triggering situations (like family reunions).

10. Avoid cafes and other noisy public places, or go during off-peak hours. If you’re a regular in some locales, try asking them to turn down the music.

For smell

11. No-scent policies at work and elsewhere are de rigueur, so don’t be afraid to speak up (discretely if need be) about strong scents.

12. Essential oils and incense can help mask offensive smells and even soothe anxieties. Test your tolerance for these first.

For taste

13. Be open and honest about your sensitivities before accepting dinner invitations or entertainment outings. Your friends might be more understanding than you think. Remember, they are inviting you for your company, not to challenge your taste buds.

For emotions

14. Be aware of the situations that trigger your strong emotions. Do your best to remove yourself from them or anticipate and avoid surprises.

15. Take note of context. Do your emotions seem more heightened during a specific time of day? Before or after taking ADHD medication? On an empty stomach? When you’ve had a sleepless night?

16. Learn to identify the physical responses that accompany emotions. Does your heart race? Does your chest tighten? Do you clench your fists or jaw? Are you suddenly jittery? Do you “shut down” for hours or days?

17. Give yourself time outs. Physically remove yourself from situations when tensions are running high.

18. Use a journal or calendar to keep track of the situations, contexts, and physical cues around your emotions, both good and bad. This will help you gain control over them.

19. Talk to friends and loved ones about ADHD and how it impacts your ability to control emotions. Acknowledgement and awareness can go a long way.

20. Practice self-compassion. It’s no good to beat yourself up if you lose control. Everyone does it from time to time. Apologize when needed and move on. This way, you’ll also model self-acceptance and self-forgiveness to those around you.

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Why ADHDers Are So Sensitive: The Reasons for It, The Strategies to Manage It” [Podcast Episode #72] with Zoë Kessler, which was broadcast live on July 16, 2014.

Overstimulation and ADHD: Next Steps

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