Chronic overstimulation happens when your mind is overloaded with no chance to rest or recover — and it shows up in surprising ways.
As a highly sensitive person, overstimulation can be a common occurrence.
Making up about 20 percent of the population, highly sensitive people (HSPs) feel everything more deeply — whether it’s others’ emotions, the beauty of a piece of classical piano music, or the stinging pain of a paper cut. And we are also much more sensitive to noise, busy places, and uncomfortable atmospheres.
In fact, life can be such an intense experience for HSPs, it can become easy to get stuck in a loop of overstimulation — because overstimulating situations are everywhere. This is known as “chronic overstimulation.”
Being able to recognize when you’re getting overstimulated for long periods of time is key to breaking the cycle of chronic overstimulation and fatigue. That means understanding the signs that you need some extra rest or self-care — or that you may need to avoid certain situations altogether — before you reach the point of crash.
Here are some of the signs you can look out for that could indicate you’re not just overstimulated, you’re chronically overstimulated.
9 Common Signs of Chronic Overstimulation Highly Sensitive People Experience
1. Your sleep pattern has changed — you’re sleeping too much or too little.
Being overstimulated can often cause changes to your sleep patterns.
For some, you may be sleeping for much longer than usual as your body attempts to recover. Other people, on the other hand, may struggle to get to sleep, as overstimulation may be keeping you awake.
Finding a way to track your sleep — by keeping a sleep diary or using an app (like Sleep Cycle) or smartwatch — are some ways that you can keep an eye on your sleep to ensure that it becomes more consistent.
2. Even when you have gotten enough sleep, you still feel tired.
Constant overstimulation is exhausting, as too much stimulation of your nervous system will tire your body out both physically and mentally. This is a result of our bodies producing cortisol, which is known as the “stress hormone.”
So when you are frequently in situations that overstimulate you, your body is not able to recover well, causing you to feel fatigued all the time, even if you’ve slept your usual amount.
As it is, HSPs tend to need more sleep than non-HSPs, and practicing self-care, mindfulness, and creating an HSP sanctuary can help us relax and get a better night’s sleep.
3. You feel irritable — even at things that shouldn’t really upset you.
Once your body starts to feel overstimulated, it will become harder for you to tolerate situations you might normally be OK with.
The slightest thing can upset you: someone turning on a blender in the kitchen without warning, a car whizzing by you too fast, or even someone just saying, “How are you?” when you’re not in the mood to talk.
Whereas some of these examples may have caused you discomfort before — especially since HSPs tend to respond to stimuli more than others — if you’re feeling overstimulated, they can make you feel even more irritable.
4. You find yourself crying more easily (sometimes for no reason at all).
Similar to feeling irritable, when our HSP minds and bodies experience too much stimulation, we may struggle to tolerate everyday situations. As a result, we may find we cry more easily. Whereas a commercial for The Humane Society may have brought tears to our eyes before, now we’re experiencing a downpour of tears.
When we’re tired, both physically and mentally, we can lose our ability to think rationally, so situations that would previously not bother us that much may suddenly become stressful or upsetting for our sensitive souls and trigger more tears than usual.
5. You crave downtime… all the time.
Everyone has a different idea of “downtime.” For me, it could be watching Netflix, running, or simply just sitting and doing nothing (preferably outside). Or I’ll read a book in my HSP sanctuary, my safe haven.
If you find yourself craving downtime — and more often than usual — you may be overstimulated. As a highly sensitive person (or any person, really!), it is always useful to have a selection of activities you can do to soothe your mind if you become overwhelmed or overstimulated. This could mean painting, yoga, going for a walk in nature, or baking.
Basically, anything that makes you feel happy and relaxed is a good “downtime” option.
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6. Everyday chores — like doing the dishes — become nearly impossible to manage.
Due to the overall exhaustion that comes with overstimulation, keeping on top of things like doing the dishes, cooking, or cleaning the house may seem like too much to cope with, both physically and mentally. A day’s worth of dishes is one thing, but several days’ worth is another.
Since we HSPs tend to easily get mentally and emotionally flooded, to better manage your daily chores and routines, it’s best to find a way to reduce your overstimulation or avoid such tasks and situations in the first place.
7. Looking at your to-do list fills you with dread.
Another sign you may be overstimulated is if your to-do list seems unbearable, no matter how big (or small) the tasks are.
A mind and nervous system on overdrive will often struggle to cope with organizing tasks, planning your day, and working through problems. And since we HSPs tend to love following a routine, not being able to even look at our to-do lists is definitely a sign we need a break.
8. You find yourself zoning out randomly and have trouble focusing on the present moment.
When your mind becomes so overstimulated with different thoughts, feelings, and emotions, it is very easy to zone out of the present moment and into a daydream — even if you’re supposed to be paying attention to what your boss is saying in a Zoom call.
But it becomes increasingly difficult to stay present when there is so much going on inside your mind and body.
That’s where mindfulness practices — such as deep breathing, doing a body scan, and looking for things around you that you can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste — come into the picture. They can usually help you come back to the present moment, and they’re also good for our highly sensitive selves to practice regularly anyway.
9. You are experiencing physical symptoms and ailments, that don’t seem to have a clear physical cause.
Overstimulation often causes stress, and research shows that stress can contribute to physical ailments, such as headaches, back pain, joint pain, insomnia, and/or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
To better manage these ailments, it’s best to consult your doctor in order to get to the root cause of them.
Know Your Overstimulation ‘Triggers’ — and How to Beat Them
Of course, avoidance and awareness are the best ways to prevent and manage chronic overstimulation, especially if you’re experiencing it often and it’s interfering with your day-to-day life.
In this case, it’s important to try and identify your sources of overstimulation and reduce them (whenever possible). A helpful way to do this is to keep a journal of events occurring before you start to have feelings of overstimulation. This way, you can look for patterns and triggers.
In addition to this, increasing your downtime and making more time to rest is crucial, in order to allow your body and mind to relax again. This means not only taking the time to find relaxing self-care activities, but it also means looking after your body by eating nourishing foods, finding exercise you enjoy, and getting enough sleep each night (based on your age group).
This takes all practice, but once you learn to recognize these signs of chronic overstimulation, you can begin to reduce the effects of it and get back to enjoying the many benefits of being a highly sensitive person.