Brain overload: what it is and how to fix it (5 tips)
So much on your mind you’re scared your brain will explode? Learn about brain overload and why you might be overwhelmed.
Have you ever felt like there's so much on your mind your brain might simply explode? Okay, that's a little dramatic. But brain overload is a real thing! It can feel like your head is suddenly full of fog and you can't focus on anything, leading to anger, anxiety, and frustration.
No one wants to feel this way, so let's dive into brain overload meaning and solutions ASAP.
First, what is brain overload?
Brain overload is a term often used to describe the feeling of being overwhelmed.
This mental state can be triggered by any number of things: for example, if you're working on a project and it's due tomorrow; or when someone asks you to think about something in particular and then they start bombarding your brain with a bunch more things your brain has to process.
For neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, the leading researcher on the topic, the huge amount of information we have to digest in the digital age is to blame. He writes:
The very brain region we need to rely on for staying on task is easily distracted. We answer the phone, look up something on the internet, check our email, send an SMS, and each of these things tweaks the novelty- seeking, reward-seeking centres of the brain, causing a burst of endogenous opioids (no wonder it feels so good!), all to the detriment of our staying on task.
We're so bombarded with information, our overloaded brain doesn't know how to deal with it.
What does brain overload feel like?
When your poor brain's overwhelmed, you may feel like you can't focus, or that you can’t remember things. Maybe it feels like there are too many thoughts racing through your mind, or maybe you feel like nothing makes sense at all.
This is a particular issue for people with ADD or ADHD, and relates to 'executive dysfunction': a group of symptoms that affects memory, time management, and organisation.
What are the symptoms of brain overload?
In our fast-paced and post-pandemic world, it's no wonder brain overload is so common. If you’re feeling tired, stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, that could be what's going on.
Many people who suffer from brain overload experience:
A constant sense of being overwhelmed. With a list of tasks to be completed consuming your thought
A severe lack of time. You feel like you have to do everything at once.
A tendency toward procrastination. Your mind races with all the things that need your attention, so you're unable to focus on any single one.
These symptoms all feed into each other - constantly thinking about what you need to do, feeling as though you have to do it all at once, and not being able to actually do any of it - forming a pretty vicious cycle!
Fortunately, there are ways to combat brain overload.
How do you fix brain overload?
To fix brain overload, you need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
You'll have to put down your phone and practice mindfulness. You'll need to avoid multitasking and yes, you'll have to get enough sleep!
But most importantly, you'll need to learn how to ask for help when things are too much—and listen when people offer it.
1. Start by taking a break from your phone!
Turn off notifications. It can be challenging to resist checking your phone, but you can give yourself more time away from it by turning off your notifications. This will allow you to focus on other things, and help keep you away from the temptation of checking your phone every 5 minutes for new updates.
Turn off your phone! When you're tempted to pick up your phone, and turning off notifications isn't enough, switch it off completely instead. See if that helps with any stress levels (or other symptoms).
2. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts, feelings and surroundings in the present moment. It's been shown to help you focus on the present and reduce stress. It can also help you to control your emotions, improve relationships and decrease chronic pain. If you're looking for a simple way to cope with brain overload, practicing mindfulness regularly may be just what you need!
3. Clear your mind before bedtime
Meditation. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might be because your brain is too busy processing things from the day. Try meditating for a few minutes before bed to clear your mind and relax your body.
Yoga can help you sleep by calming both your mind and body. It also helps relieve stress and anxiety, which often contribute to insomnia when left unchecked for long periods of time—meaning you’ll get a better night’s sleep!
Relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery are exercises that will help reduce tension throughout your body while allowing you to focus on relaxing thoughts or visuals in order to fall asleep faster
4. Avoid multitasking
You might think that multitasking is the best way to get things done, but in fact, research shows it can actually lead to stress and anxiety. The brain cannot focus on multiple things at once, so when you try to do it all (hello brain overload symptoms!), your brain will cycle between each task instead of working efficiently on just one thing at a time.
If you want to avoid information overload and keep your mind focused on what's most important right now, avoid multitasking and take the time necessary to complete each task individually before moving on to the next one.
5. Ask for help
If things are really getting too much, reach out to someone who can help. This might be your boss or a colleague who can ease your workload, a friend to vent to and offload some of the overload, or a medical professional who can help you manage your stress levels and mental health.
So, is it possible for the brain to be overloaded?
Remember, the brain is a muscle. Imagine if you picked up a weight way too heavy for your arms, or went on a long run without any prior training - your muscles would be pretty, well, overloaded!
The same thing can happen to the brain. When you feel as though there are too many things going on in your head all at once, it makes it hard for you to focus on one thing or process information efficiently. It can prevent you from being able to think clearly about anything, or even just relax and get some restful sleep.
Brain overload can be caused by any number of things, including stress (from work or school), anxiety over an upcoming event (like traveling abroad), or depression symptoms like low moods and lack of motivation.
It's a real thing, but it’s not something that you have to live with. As long as you know the symptoms and how to manage them, you can keep your head from spinning.