Did you ever hear the term “introvert hangover”?
Just throwing out a wild guess, you’ve probably not only heard of it but experienced it too.
And you may have been a little baffled by it.
No, you didn’t drink a bottle of vodka last night, but you are definitely feeling as if. All you did was go to a party (sober) / the mall / dinner at the in-laws / a job interview and now you are totally and utterly wiped out with a pounding head ache.
Given that there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for your general malaise, you might have started doubting yourself. Is this just a figment of your imagination? Are you making it up? What is wrong with you?
At least this is how I used to question myself before I learned that the proper term for what I was experiencing was “overstimulation” and I learned exactly what overstimulation, or more specifically, HSP overstimulation, means.
WHAT is HSP overstimulation?
WHAT IS STIMULATION?
Your nervous system consists of your brain, spinal cord, and all the nerves in your body. The nervous system’s job is to receive information from your environment and then respond to that information.
Stimulation is anything that wakes up your nervous system and gets it going. Here are a few examples of stimuli that might fire up your nervous system:
- Sensory stimuli like lights, sounds, smells, and touch.
- Social stimuli like meeting new people or receiving criticism.
- Emotional stimuli like your own or other people’s feelings.
WHAT IS OVERSTIMULATION?
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) have a more reactive nervous system than other people. This means that an HSP’s nervous system gets fired up from less provocation than a non-HSP’s nervous system, and for any given stimulus, it puts on a more intense response.
It also means that it’s easier for our nervous systems to get “overloaded”. Like something that would make a non-HSP feel comfortably alert might cause an uncomfortably intense reaction for a highly sensitive person.
And that’s basically what it means to be overstimulated. You are so stimulated that…
- it doesn’t feel good in the moment and/or
- your body gets really worn out from the effort
WHAT DOES HSP OVERSTIMULATION FEEL LIKE?
Overstimulation is associated with various physical signs and symptoms and we don’t all experience it the same way. It can just be a general sense of tension or you might notice more specific symptoms like increased heart rate, shaking, blushing, or sweating.
This is what overstimulation feels like for me:
- A heightened state of awareness
- Being more alert
- Feeling fired up
- Feeling like my entire body is ready to bounce
- My body temperature goes up, sometimes to the point of blushing and sweating
Many people automatically associate overstimulation symptoms with fear and anxiety, but it’s important to realize that your body can be similarly stimulated by any other emotion or just from getting used to a novel experience. It’s helpful to remember that these feelings don’t always signal something bad happening – for example, I feel more alert and fired up from simply being engaged in something new and interesting.
The definite downside of getting fired up like this though is the crash that comes after. Sometimes you might be overstimulated for only a moment and your body will return to a calm baseline without any noticeable adverse effects. But if you are in a heightened state for any length of time, it will eventually wear you out.
And that’s when the hangover happens.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT HSP OVERSTIMULATION
If you are going to live a full life, it’s impossible to avoid overstimulation completely. But what is very much possible is learning how to manage overstimulation so that a) it doesn’t hold you back in life and b) so that you don’t get chronically overstimulated, which can come with some ugly mental and physical health consequences.
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