As a neurodivergent student, you may be familiar with the feeling of overwhelm. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including sensory overload, difficulty with organisation, and an overabundance of information to process. When overwhelm sets in, it can be difficult to focus, learn, and retain information. In this blog, we’ll explore what overwhelm is, why it happens, and offer some tips on how to reduce it.
Overwhelm is the feeling of being completely overloaded and unable to cope with a situation. It can manifest in a variety of ways, including physical symptoms such as headaches, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing, as well as emotional symptoms such as anxiety, stress, and frustration.
When overwhelm sets in, it can be difficult to focus on tasks and complete them promptly. It can even give way to more extreme symptoms such as dissociation, aggressive outbursts, and even self-harm for some.
Many factors can contribute to overwhelm, including:
• Sensory overload: For some neurodivergent individuals, sensory input can be overwhelming. This can include sounds, sights, smells, and textures that are too intense or distracting.
• Difficulty with organisation: If you struggle with organisation and time management, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the number of tasks you need to complete.
• Too much information: In today’s world, we are bombarded with information from all directions. It can be difficult to process and retain all of this information, leading to overwhelm.
• Anxiety and stress: If you struggle with anxiety or stress, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by even the smallest tasks.
• Masking: pretending that all of the above factors aren’t affecting a neurodivergent individual so that they don’t stand out or appear different is probably the most taxing of them all.
Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to reduce overwhelm and manage your workload effectively. Here are a few tips to get started:
When you have a lot to do, it can be overwhelming to try to tackle everything at once. Instead, try prioritising your tasks based on their importance and urgency. This will help you focus on the most critical tasks first and avoid getting bogged down in unimportant details. If you have a large task to complete, such as a research paper or project, it can be helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will make the task feel less overwhelming and help you stay motivated as you complete each step.
Creating a schedule or routine can help manage overwhelm. This could include setting aside specific times for studying, breaks, and self-care activities. Having a structured routine can help you stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed by your workload.
Self-stimulating behaviour or ‘stimming’, whereby an individual may make repetitive movements or noises, can be a great way to calm and manage overwhelm when in a situation a neurodivergent individual is uncomfortable with, or in social situations in general. There are lots of fidget toys readily available, and many are pocket-sized and discreet. They can really help in a pinch and are generally great to have to hand.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help you manage and stay focused. This could include taking a walk, practicing deep breathing exercises, or engaging in a relaxing activity such as yoga or meditation.
However, sometimes even short breaks only go so far. Schedule a ‘Zero Day’ regularly. This is simply a day where you do nothing but salubrious activities, as structured or free-flowing as you like, only doing things that you enjoy and find relaxing. Watch your favourite TV show for the umpteenth time, curl up in bed with a giant cup of tea and a book, stim to your heart’s content, listen to loud music, or indulge that special interest. Whatever you choose, Zero Days can be very effective in alleviating a lot of pressure and stress, and allow a neurodivergent individual a chance to unwind and relax.
Overwhelm is a common experience for many neurodivergent students, but it doesn’t have to hold you back from achieving your goals. Remember, everyone’s experience with it is different, so be patient and kind to yourself as you explore different strategies and find what works best for you.