Overcoming ADHD Overstimulation: Coping Skills And Strategies

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a long-term neurodevelopmental disorder that typically interferes with sensory processing and can cause emotional dysregulation. Although ADHD tends to occur most commonly in children, both children and adults with ADHD may share similar symptoms, including hyperactivity, difficulty paying attention, and a heightened level of impulsivity. 

For many individuals diagnosed with ADHD, overstimulation can be a common symptom. Overstimulation usually occurs when a person takes in more sensory information than their brain can process in real time. While anyone can become overstimulated on occasion, people with ADHD may experience sensory overload or overstimulation during routine or ordinary situations. Learning to predict and manage overstimulation can involve implementing coping skills, environmental modifications, time management strategies, emotional regulation techniques, and lifestyle changes. A licensed therapist can help those with ADHD develop these skills and use them to effectively manage overstimulation and other symptoms.

A middle aged man in a blue jean shirt sits on the couch and leans against a windowsill while gazing out with a sad expression.
Are you experiencing overstimulation from ADHD?

Understanding ADHD overstimulation

To understand ADHD overstimulation, it may be helpful to learn how the brain takes in and processes information. Our brains normally take in information using the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. 

With so much sensory processing happening throughout every second of every day, the brain usually learns to filter out what is important from what is not important to manage sensory overload. 

However, for individuals with ADHD, this process can be different. Instead of filtering out the important from the unimportant, an individual with ADHD may see all the information as important, which can make it difficult to focus on one thing at a time. 

Sensory issues or sensory sensitivities, such as overstimulation, can be triggered by a variety of factors. For example, smelling a strong perfume, hearing sudden, loud noises, or being in an environment with lots of visual stimuli can all cause overstimulation and sensory over-responsivity. When you know what triggers overstimulation, it can be possible to take steps to overcome it in the future. 

Individuals who are overstimulated may respond in different ways. For some, overstimulation may present as difficulty focusing on a task, while for others, it may manifest as an inability to stop fidgeting. 

Overstimulation for students can result in slower response times in the classroom and difficulty engaging with peers in positive ways. However, understanding situations that cause overstimulation and having coping skills prepared to manage these situations can be helpful.

A woman in a white shirt rests her head on her arms as she leans against a windowsill and looks at the cellphone laying on the edge infront of her.

Coping skills for immediate relief

When facing overstimulation, having a set of coping skills and relaxation techniques may be important, particularly for individuals with atypical sensory profiles like ADHD. The following skills can enable a person to pause in the moment, reduce the perceived overstimulation, and return to the task at hand.

  • Deep breathing exercises: Individuals may practice specific deep breathing techniques designed to bring focus back to the moment at hand and reduce extra stimuli. Techniques like box breathing are generally designed to increase relaxation and reduce overwhelming emotions.  
  • Mindfulness techniques: Using mindfulness techniques, including journaling, meditation, and focusing on specific environmental cues, may help people with ADHD remain calm.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique usually works best when a person can lie or sit comfortably in a quiet space. The individual may start by flexing a muscle group, starting either at the feet or the face, and holding the muscles flexed for five seconds while practicing controlled breathing. Then, they can move on to the next muscle group, releasing tension along the way. 
  • Sensory grounding activities: Drawing attention to specific things around you can be a way to ground thoughts and emotions when experiencing overstimulation. One way to do this may be by using the 5-4-3-2-1 method, in which a person typically names five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. 

Environmental modifications

Managing overstimulation may also rely on controlling elements within the environment when possible. For example, setting up an organized, clutter-free workspace may reduce overstimulation and environmental anxiety. Using organizational techniques can streamline information and give an individual with ADHD less to filter when looking for an item or thinking about what to do next. 

It may also be helpful to set up an environment free from distractions. For an individual with ADHD, it may be challenging to work in a library or classroom, given the often-busy nature of these locations, as well as the number of people and things with which to interact and observe. 

Having a quiet, independent workspace can help individuals managing ADHD symptoms find more success at school or work. In some cases, physical manipulatives, like sensory toys or fidget spinners, may help focus attention and reduce ADHD symptoms. 

Time management strategies

An area which individuals with ADHD may have trouble is managing time. This can include remembering due dates, dedicating adequate time to finish projects, and keeping track of time throughout the day. 

As the focus of someone with ADHD may frequently shift, it can be easy to dedicate time to a project or idea that is not a priority while running out of time to finish projects of importance. This can be why having time management strategies may be beneficial for individuals with ADHD. 

Some effective time management strategies may include setting up calendar reminders, using a timer to dedicate a set amount of time to a project, and breaking large tasks into smaller chunks. 

Emotional regulation techniques

Some individuals with ADHD may have a difficult time regulating their emotions, especially when they’re overstimulated. Practicing emotional regulation techniques may be beneficial when facing an overstimulating time or situation. For some, this may involve identifying and naming emotions, which can bring clarity to a situation.

It may also be important to practice self-care and self-compassion when managing overstimulation. Rather than being hard on themselves, individuals with ADHD may benefit from practicing positive self-talk and focusing on the positive rather than the negative. Some therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may help individuals manage their emotions and change negative mindsets into positive ones.

Lifestyle adjustments

Managing overstimulation and other ADHD symptoms can also involve making lifestyle changes. For individuals with ADHD, eating nutritious foods may be one way to reduce symptoms and manage the impact of symptoms on daily life. Exercise may also play a critical role in managing overstimulation due to ADHD. 

Another key lifestyle adjustment that may benefit those with ADHD may be improving sleeping habits. Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as sleeping in a dark room, limiting screentime close to bedtime, and cutting out caffeine in the afternoon and evening, can ensure a good night’s sleep. This can help the brain and body fully recover before starting a new day, which, in turn, may reduce symptoms of ADHD and overstimulation. 

A close up of a woman in a white shirt as she looks out of the kitchen window with a serious expression.
Are you experiencing overstimulation from ADHD?

Building resilience and long-term coping skills

While many strategies can help in the short term, finding a long-term coping strategy can be a major key to improving happiness and productivity for individuals with ADHD. To do this, it may be beneficial to build resilience through practice in everyday life. For many, building resilience and long-term coping strategies starts with seeking support from a mental health professional. 

Benefits of online therapy

For individuals with ADHD, entering a new environment, such as a therapist’s office, can trigger overstimulation. With online therapy, individuals can attend therapy from the comfort and familiarity of their own homes without risking increased levels of anxiety or stress by driving to a brick-and-mortar office. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Research shows that online therapy can be highly effective for treating and managing ADHD symptoms, particularly attention deficit and social function. Those who are interested in seeking professional help with ADHD symptoms like overstimulation may benefit from working with a therapist online.


Individuals with ADHD may experience overstimulation due to their brains receiving too much sensory information at once. However, over time and with practice, an individual can learn coping strategies involving time management, environmental modification, and lifestyle adjustment to reduce the impact of ADHD symptoms. Online or in-person therapy can also be effective options to help individuals with ADHD manage overstimulation as it arises.

Gain a better understanding of ADHD
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started