‘Tis the Season of Overstimulation

The holiday season can bring excitement, joy, warmth, and celebration. It can also bring stress, overwhelm, exhaustion, and overstimulation. The lights, the noise, the crowds, not to mention the additional cognitive stimulation on top of an already very busy brain. I catch myself often in these teeter-totter moments. I am so excited, and ahh, there is so much to do! It is easy to get swept up in family expectations, making too many plans, and time blindness. Talk about a sensitive ADHD/perfectionist nightmare! And I know it all too well. I enjoy looking at the pretty lights, adventuring in ice castles, and connecting with loved ones, but I am very sensitive to sound, light, and touch (even as a kid). Little things like damp, cold feet or being around someone who talks too loud can affect my ability to enjoy any moment. And over too many years of over-committing and not listening to my sensitivities over the holidays, I learned the hard way how implementing self-care is CRUCIAL in how I can actually enjoy the holidays. If I don’t, it tends to lead to illness, migraines, irritability, and/or panic attacks. 

‘Tis the Season of Overstimulation

Here are 5 tips to help decrease overstimulation and overwhelm:

  1. Create an On-the-Go Sensory Kit
    Some things may include earplugs, backup medicine, warm clothes, socks, sunglasses, essential oils, headphones, water, etc. I keep extra of these in my car as well.
  2. Take an Intentional Break for Practicing Mindfulness and Grounding

    Notice yourself on edge? Consider giving yourself permission to take a break. Get some fresh air, go to the bathroom, get your charger from your car, or take a mindful moment to fill up your drink. Being intentional about taking a break can help pause and regroup. Incorporate reminders to help you notice when you feel overstimulated as a way of checking in. The more you are aware, the more you are able to incorporate strategies to support you better. Some of my favorite strategies to help me re-ground during these breaks include belly breathing with cross-coordination movements, the 5.4.3.2.1 technique (identifying 5 things you see, 4 things you touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste), and growing roots – envisioning your feet being rooted deep to the ground.

  3. Identify Boundaries and Think About Why They Are Important

    What boundaries might you need to help you better enjoy this season? It could be incorporating buffer downtime between events or thinking of key phrases to better support your sensitivity needs instead of having to explain everything. For example, if I need to move out of certain lighting, I can simply say I have a headache from the light. Boundaries can be really, really hard to implement, but when you think about how it can serve you for the better, it can make it easier to uphold. Especially if you know you will be more enjoyable for others as well by having them. And if you need additional working memory support- try using a visual.

  4. Simplify

    I remember talking to my mom about how I was excited about everything I was going to do but was struggling to find the time. Instead of telling me to let things go, she asked me how I could simplify. With that, I noticed that many of my expectations were from myself. This helped to shift my focus, lighten my expectations of myself, and think of ways I could delegate or prioritize.

  5. Keep in Mind the Real Goal

    Sometimes, the overstimulation and feeling overwhelmed take over so much that I swear off all activities, and then afterward, I feel sad I missed it. Take some time to think about the real goal- to be perfect, avoid it all, or have a better balance. If you have lots of thoughts swirling around in your head about what your real goal could be or you don’t even know where to start- try writing it down. This can help clear cluttered thoughts, feelings, and ideas from your brain, support working memory, and help with processing.

So, for this holiday season, I encourage you to take some time to think about what you need and some ways to support yourself better so you can enjoy it. How can you practice noticing when you need a lifeline and setting reminders to support you throughout?

Alicia Kohls, M. Ed., PCAC

Alicia Kohls, M.Ed, PCAC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach

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