Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | October 20, 2010

High Anxiety: Too Much or Too Little Going On?

What goes on around us in our external environment can trigger anxiety, especially the extremes of having too much going on or not enough. 

Too Much Stimulation:  (aka “overstimulation”):  This occurs when there’s too much going on for us to handle.  The level of overstimulation that can trigger anxiety is going to vary greatly from person to person, so it’s good to think about how much stimulation that you can handle.  Picture this scene:  You are at a large amusement park (such as Disney Land, Lego Land, Magic Mountain).  It’s a hot day and you are sweating.  There’s a large school on a field trip with over two hundred 8 year olds who are running and screaming with joy.  You have been standing in line for a ride and there’s a family with a crying toddler behind you, a bunch of the school trip children are in front of you playing a game where they try to hit each other.  You are tired and hungry.  Are you anxious?

For some the answer is yes.  For others, the answer may be no, but a different setting where there is a lot of noise, a crowd, or certain types of lighting might be overstimulating.  What type of setting triggers your anxiety?

Too Little Stimulation:  (aka “understimulation”) Did you know that boredom can trigger anxiety?  Some people get anxious standing in line, sitting at a doctor’s office, or being stuck in traffic.   Why?  Because there is time and space to think/worry about other things, or focus on bodily sensations that can trigger anxiety.  When people are busy (but not too busy), there’s sometimes less “room” for anxiety to occur in this way.

Do you have anxiety at work?  Maybe you have a job where you have too much or too little stimulation. 

So What to Do? One approach that’s gaining popularity is the “mindfulness” approach where one pays attention to the feelings in their mind and body and accept them as part of the present experience.  I talked about grounding as part of bringing oneself back into the “here and now” and away from anxiety.  That can be very effective, especially if combined with some relaxation such as abdominal breathing or Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) –I’ll write about these later.

Another approach is too keep occupied –a relational way of doing this would be to talk to people in your environment (such as someone in line or at the DMV).  It does not have to be superficial, idle chatter, it’s possible to have meaningful conversations with complete strangers!  I once commented about a little Christmas tree that a woman was buying in the grocery store.  The woman then told me that she was buying the plant for her very ill brother, who she was very worried about.  She seemed to really appreciate having someone to talk to, even if it was just for a few minutes while standing in line.

If you’re more introverted, you might prefer to read while you are waiting.  If you’re in an overstimulating situation, you might want to remove yourself, even for just a few minutes.  Simply excusing yourself to go to the restroom or step outside might help you to enable yourself to calm down.

In summary, the first step is to become aware of what situations are either “too much” or “too little” for you.  Then you can think more specifically about how to better cope with those situations.

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee



  1. thank u .i know i am over whelmed.i need to take a timeout day for me

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