Overstimulation: How To Handle Sensory Overload at Work

CoachHub · 28 October 2022 · 4 min read

What is overstimulation?

Overstimulation is a state of being that is caused by too much sensory input. Being overstimulated occurs when one is overwhelmed by information from their senses and struggles to process their environment.

Your senses are like messengers to the brain bringing information regarding your surroundings. Your brain processes this information and instructs your body to react to stimuli. When there is a large amount of sensory input your brain may struggle to interpret everything at once and become overwhelmed, or overstimulated. Your brain then becomes weighed down with so much data and cannot focus on processing anything.

Although anyone can experience sensory overload it is also a common symptom of certain health conditions like autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD and Tourette syndrome.

Causes of overstimulation

You may become overstimulated when there is a large amount of competing sensory information in your environment. Imagine a crowd of people speaking to you all at once and you do not know who to listen to first. The following are potential triggers to be aware of:

  • Exposure to bright fluorescent, or flashing lights
  • Loud noises or various sources of noise at once
  • Certain text that are course, rough and scratchy
  • Crowded spaces and large groups of people

Signs of overstimulation

  • Poor focus
  • Restlessness
  • High irritability
  • Brain fog
  • Urge to resist sensory input
  • Discomfort in your environment
  • Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
  • Textures and fabrics irritating skin
overstimulation

How to deal with overstimulation

It can be challenging to know how to deal with overstimulation in the moment. Your brain is already struggling to focus and it can be hard to pull yourself out of the storm. The following list suggests some simple practices for dealing with overstimulation while in the midst of sensory overload:

Awareness

The first step in dealing with states of overstimulation is to be able to recognize them when they arise. You must become acutely aware of the signs of over-stimulation and understand when your senses are overwhelmed. With an awareness of when this state arises, you can pause and take the necessary steps to soothe yourself instead of allowing the overstimulation to continue.

Practice mindfulness

Once you have recognized that you are being overstimulated, take a moment away from your work and practice being present with how you are feeling. It is not necessary to judge or resist what you are experiencing. Simply watch what is happening and be mindful of the sensations in your body. This practice will reduce the stress in your body and improve your focus.

Breathing exercises

There are many different breathing techniques that can help to calm your nervous system and bring you into a state of relaxation, even in the most overstimulating environments. They are very simple to learn and can be practiced anywhere. Diaphragmatic breathing and pranayama techniques are known to reduce stress levels and blood pressure.

Ask for help

Do not be afraid to ask for what you need. Can you ask for the lights to be turned off or for the music to be turned down? Could you close a door or window to reduce external noise? Understand the root of overstimulation and take steps to reduce it.

Change your environment

Ask yourself is possible to change your setting. If the stimulation in your environment is beyond your control do not feel like you are stuck. Can you take your work to a quiet corner or to a meeting room? When you are overwhelmed you may feel powerless to move or change your environment but even a short break or a quick walk outside can make a significant difference.

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Tips to prevent overstimulation

As you reflect on past moments of overstimulation you can begin to learn more about your triggers and work towards preventing the state from reoccurring, or at least reducing its effect on your professional life.

Recognize your triggers

Each time you find yourself in sensory overload reflect and make a list of what factors contributed to this state. What were the sources of the overstimulation? Become aware of what is overwhelming for your senses so you can understand what changes to make in the future.

Improve your well-being

Overstimulation can be exaggerated when you are stressed and fatigued. Set an intention to improve your overall state of being to reduce your stress levels at work. Ensure you are getting the right amount of sleep, nutrition, hydration and movement. Working with a coach can help you to identify the areas you need to work on and provide you with the tools and strategies to improve your mindset and state of being.

Exposure to nature

Getting directsun exposure and fresh air early in the day will immediately reduce stress in the body, improve focus and elevate your mood. Consider implementing a morning walk before work or having your morning coffee outside. Getting sun exposure in the early hours will positively impact your energy levels for the rest of the day and will reduce the chances of overstimulation.

Reduce distractions

Take a look at your habits and ask yourself where you can reduce stimulation. Can you leave your phone on ‘do not disturb’ until later in the morning? Can you reduce your screen time? Can you turn off certain notifications? Can you read a book on your commute to work instead of going on your phone? Can you eat in silence? Reduce any unnecessary stimulation to prevent becoming overwhelmed.

In conclusion

Overstimulation in today’s modern workplace is very common. With so many distractions competing for your attention is natural to become overwhelmed. Thankfully there are simple solutions such as reducing screen time and taking breaks in nature. If stress and overwhelm are beginning to have serious impacts on your daily life then working on your well-being with a coach can have a significant impact on your happiness. Taking small steps today can go a long way while investing in your well-being through coaching will improve every aspect of your life.

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Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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