Large crowds, noisy environments, impromptu parties — situations like these can leave both introverts and highly sensitive people (HSP) feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. Suddenly everything is too loud, you can’t concentrate, and you just want to get out. If you’re in a state of hyperarousal (which is not uncommon for HSPs), your vision may go fuzzy or you may feel as if it’s hard to breathe.
It can be a truly distressing experience.
As a highly sensitive introvert with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, I’ve found myself overwhelmed and overstimulated more times than I can count. As such, I’ve learned how to cope with these feelings and regain my composure. If you’re overwhelmed or overstimulated, here are eight things you can do to center yourself and relax.
How to Regain Calm When You’re Overwhelmed
1. If possible, remove yourself from the situation.
Listen to your instincts and remove yourself from whatever situation is causing you to become overwhelmed. If you’re inside a building, getting outside is your best bet — but leaving the noisy/crowded room will work as well. If you’re in a crowd outdoors, move to a clear area. In a pinch, single stall bathrooms and cars are a great, quiet place to duck into.
2. Do box breathing.
This one comes straight from my therapist. If you can’t remove yourself from the overwhelming situation, the best way to calm down quickly is to do a deep breathing exercise. Box breathing is the easiest deep breathing technique to remember when you’re overwhelmed:
- Slowly and steadily inhale through your nose while counting to four.
- Hold the breath while counting to four.
- Exhale slowly and steadily through your mouth while counting to four.
- Continue this pattern for four minutes.
Practice the box breathing technique while you’re calm to make it easier to tap into it when you’re in a frantic mindset.
3. Get outside.
There’s something so soothing about a leisurely stroll through the park or a simple hike up your favorite trail. When the clamor of everyday life gets to be too much, taking some time to get back to the tranquility of nature can be incredibly relaxing. Plus, studies have continually shown that getting some sun does wonders for your mood and energy levels.
While a jog to the park may not always be feasible when you’re overwhelmed, stepping outside and taking a brisk walk around a nearby quiet neighborhood or office complex will work as well.
4. Read a book.
A little bit of healthy escapism is comfort food for the soul, and nothing quite lends itself to escapism like a good book. Furthermore, books are an excellent relaxation tool. In study conducted by the University of Sussex, subjects who read for only six minutes exhibited slower heart rates, less muscle tension, and reduced stress levels.
Once you’ve removed yourself from whatever situation has you overwhelmed or overstimulated, get to your happy place and crack open a book. To really dial up the relaxation, cozy up under your favorite blanket and grab a cup of tea, coffee, or hot cocoa.
5. Focus on your body.
When we talk about self-care, we often talk about doing the activities we find especially soothing or revitalizing, like cooking, exercising, or engaging in a hobby. But actually taking care of your body is one of the best forms of self-care. Take some time to turn your focus onto your body; give yourself a manicure, go through your favorite skin care routine, do your makeup, or give yourself a hot towel shave.
6. Take a bath.
Speaking of taking care of your body, a hot bath or shower when you’re feeling overwhelmed is an easy way to calm down quickly. Submerging ourselves in warm water causes our brains to release serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and social functioning). Baths are also a great way to indulge in a bit of aromatherapy. Lavender, rose, or chamomile essential oils (or bath bombs) will help to relax you even further.
7. Listen to music.
If you’re not too overstimulated to enjoy a little music, consider pulling up your favorite calming playlist and popping in your earbuds. According to Duquesne University, music can produce positive physiological reactions, including (but not limited to) healthier respiration, pulse, and blood pressure. If you don’t have anything at the ready, both Spotify and YouTube are practically awash in playlists curated specifically to induce feelings of calm and peacefulness.
8. Stay off social media.
When you’re overwhelmed and overstimulated, it’s important to avoid any activities that will further exacerbate your symptoms. Unfortunately, social media sites (as much as we love them) have become increasingly aggravating as time goes on. The world is divided on so many things, and we’re turning to social media to talk about it.
Thirty-eight percent of social media users like and promote political and social material, and no matter where you fall on the spectrum, you’re likely to see something that either angers or saddens you. When you’re already upset, this isn’t what you need. Take a break from social media until you’re feeling stable.
Being overwhelmed or overstimulated to the point of wanting to run is an upsetting experience to be sure, but there are ways to calm yourself down quickly and regain control. Remove yourself from the situation, do breathing exercises, and whenever possible, go home and relax. You got this.