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Overstimulation Causes Anxiety; How to Refocus and Feel Calm

Overstimulation causes anxiety. Everywhere you go, everything you do, your brain takes things in. This is good. It means you're alive, alert, and active. However, the constant barrage of stimuli can work against you when "everything" becomes too much. Constant input from the world around us leads to thoughts, interpretations, and emotions and can keep us feeling keyed-up, on edge. This causes a pervasive sense of anxiety that can be vague and hard to pinpoint. Anxiety due to overstimulation can be exhausting and sometimes even debilitating. Knowing why this happens and how to refocus can reduce anxiety and leave you feeling a much-needed sense of calm

Why Overstimulation Causes Anxiety

We are constantly bombarded by sights, sounds, smells, conversations, opinions, news reports, social media posts, scares like coronavirus and environmental catastrophes, demands, questions, and so much more. Our overworked brains don't get a break. We don't have much of a chance to think for ourselves or space to process all of this input.

As a result of constant stimulation, the brain goes into reaction mode. We experience things such as:

These are reactions, which are different from responses. A response is a chosen thought or feeling that leads to action (or purposeful non-action, not freezing or shutting down but a choice to do nothing about an anxious thought). Reactions are automatic. They're not conscious choices on our part.

Perhaps you're in a store, shopping for supplies. You see empty shelves and notices about shortages of sanitizing products. The bright store lights reflecting off the bare metal shelves amplify the effect. People around you are feisty and irritable, even pushing or shoving to get what they need before you do. You pick up snippets of conversation about coronavirus, COVID-19, all based on fear and panic. You grab your phone and head for your social media accounts where you either vent about what's happening to you right now or see others' negative posts (or both). In the background of your mind, your brain is still thinking about problems at work or home.

Your body reacts without you even realizing it. Stress hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine surge as your sympathetic nervous system rev up. You're in fight-or-flight mode. You might feel anxiety's physical symptoms like a pounding heart, headache, nausea, or muscle tension. You likely feel wired, keyed-up, and tense. Your thoughts and emotions become more anxious and less calm. 

In this case, the root cause of anxiety is overstimulation. You don't have the space you need to pause, regroup, and respond. Thankfully, you can regain calm and reduce anxiety by refocusing. 

How to Reduce Anxiety Overstimulation, Refocus, and Remain Calm

To be sure, there are things around us we can't change. We can't change the way our workplace is structured, the presence of coronavirus, the way other people drive, the products on store shelves, what people say, or what they post on social media. There is always going to be stimulation around us, and much of it will be negative and anxiety-provoking. (Even positive stimulation can cause tension and anxious feelings, though, when our brain doesn't get a break.) We can, however, control where we focus and the choices we make to create the space and quiet we need to reset.

Try these actions to refocus your attention, soothe your overstimulated brain, and regain a sense of inner calm:

  • Tune in to your body often to notice feelings of anxiety. Catching and tending to physical symptoms before they get out of hand is helpful. Give your brain a hand when it is overstimulated by noticing your anxious reactions and then taking steps to reduce your unique symptoms.
  • Breathe. Develop the habit of taking frequent slow, deep breaths. This changes your brain chemistry and is soothing in the face of stimuli.
  • Take breaks. Just stepping away from the busyness and outer chaos for a few moments does wonders for your wellbeing. Take a brief walk, sip a glass of water or cup of tea, or merely turn off the lights and close your eyes--anything to reduce input.
  • Be mindful. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the moment you are in. While there is likely stimulation, when you choose one single thing on which to focus, you are providing your brain the space it needs to regroup.
  • Embrace nothingness and become comfortable with silence. We've become so accustomed to having something at our fingertips to constantly occupy us that we've forgotten how to be still. The moment we have a tiny bit of downtime, we too often reach for our phone to check the news or social media, or we start talking to Alexa, which means we must listen to and process its answer. Challenge yourself to spend time each day doing nothing but let your brain, your whole being, relax.

Intentionally reducing all of the stimulation you're subjected to will go a long way in reducing anxiety from overstimulation and increasing inner calm. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, March 12). Overstimulation Causes Anxiety; How to Refocus and Feel Calm , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 29 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/3/overstimulation-causes-anxiety-how-to-refocus-and-feel-calm



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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