Written by Nimue Brown
One of the things I’ve learned a lot about in the last year is the impact that understimulation has on me.
When we talk about overstimulation it tends to be in terms of sensory overload – light, sound, movement. Understimulation is not a need for this. My experience of understimulation is that it is a distress caused by lack of good quality input.
There are three key areas where I notice this being an issue. The first is intellectual – I need a lot of good stuff for my brain to chew on. That can take a vast array of forms, but it needs to be part of my everyday life. I need to be challenged, I need things that take a lot of thinking about and I need things that interest me and engage my curiosity. Now that I’ve got the hang of it I can be largely self-sorting in this regard.
I need a lot of emotional input. Again, this can take many forms but the key is intensity. If I’m not inspired to feel strong emotions I struggle after a while. It might be tempting to answer this by seeking out things that will make me miserable or angry – these things are easy to find. It makes me wonder how many people (especially online) are answering their own needs for strong emotional engagement by doing just that. It isn’t a good answer, but I can understand why someone desperately in need of more depth and breadth of feeling could be drawn into it. The worst of our media absolutely plays to this need in ways that are highly questionable.
The third need is around information from my body. I get into awful states if my brain doesn’t have enough body information. When I’m well I can deal with this by walking, dancing, swimming and so forth. Disassociation has massively worsened it in past years, as has being too ill to be active. Seeing how critically important physical information is for my mental health has taken me deeper into exploring embodied Paganism.
Many of us live very sedentary lives. Increasingly we live and work in ways that isolate us from other people. If we’re not careful about what we expose ourselves to, our emotional and intellectual input can be the equivalent of junk food. We’re often surrounded by noise, movement, light and other sources of overstimulation. For those of us who are normalised to dealing with multiple screens and sources of stimulation, it can be hard to deal with anything at a slower pace. Are we collectively responding to understimulation by simply seeking out excessive sensory input rather than good quality sensory input?
I know that both understimulation and overstimulation have terrible effects on me. My ability to function is sorely compromised by both. Yet modern life seems to be taking us deeper into both.
When we’re suffering it will always be tempting to pick the quickest, most obvious solution to that discomfort. However, building a life that nourishes your soul requires more attention than this. It isn’t enough to be firefighting all the time, or propping yourself up with whatever is easiest to use. Taking the time to think about what’s genuinely good and what really serves you is incredibly important. Seeking a richer and more rewarding life is possible, but we need to take space away from all the things bombarding us with noise, trivia and adverts if we’re to have a hope of doing that.
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