Under-stimulation and insufficiency

Some unmet needs are really easy to spot, especially if you are used to having them met. For the person who normally eats well, hunger is self announcing. For the person who has always eaten a poverty diet, malnutrition seems normal. Often when we’re thinking about our own needs all we have to measure things against is our own experience and if that’s always been lacking, we may have no idea what sufficiency would look like or how far from it we are.

Being under-stimulated is hard to spot. Especially if, like me, you don’t really know what you’d be like if you were operating in optimal conditions. One of the things I’m exploring at the moment is the possibility that under-stimulation is having a serious impact on my mental health. 

I’ve known for some years that I need a considerable amount of brain stimulation in order to feel ok. I need ideas, challenges, and things that stretch me. I can keep myself functional on this front by engaging with the right content and actively seeking ideas. I do better when I have people to interact with who challenge me and make demands that I have to stretch to respond to. I’m finding a lot of what I need there in my creative family and I feel I’ve got that in hand. I’m not convinced I’m at an optimal level yet, but I’m working on it.

I’m also confident at this point that I’m a high maintenance person emotionally. I need a great deal of emotional intensity in my life, while also needing to avoid drama. I can meet some of that emotional need through my creative life. I find I need multiple deeply involved emotional relationships in order to function at all. (As an aside for people who don’t know my circumstances, I’m married to one of my creative collaborators.) I think at this point I understand broadly speaking what I need to function, and I haven’t figured out what an optimal state would look like.

My current guess is that where I’m falling down is on the body stuff. I suspect I’m just not getting enough body feedback most of the time and that this is a major contributor to my not functioning. Being ill has limited what I can do with my body in the last few years and that’s clearly a contributing factor. I also tend to dissociate when I’m stressed and I expect that’s making everything worse.

We tend to think of mental health as being entirely separate from body stuff, as though these are two entirely different systems. When body stuff does make it into the mental health conversation, it’s mostly about just getting the basics right – food, exercise and avoiding addiction. I’ve not seen much at all about getting beyond that and exploring what your body might need and how that impacts on mental health too.

Having come to the conclusion that I’m a really high maintenance person in all other regards, I suspect it’s just as true of the physical side of myself. I need to reclaim the things that I used to do – walking and dancing especially – that give me the body feedback I need. Ideally I need to get back to being able to swim, moving in water has always been good for my mental health. I’m considering my options.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Under-stimulation and insufficiency

  • the recluse

    A few weeks ago, I saw one of those “screenshot of a screenshot” posts that, I believe, originated on tumblr relating to this topic. In it, the OP proposed that a LOT of people in modern society, living in cities and working in offices, suffer from chronic understimulation. I think that they were on to something and that you’re correct: this is something terribly difficult to recognize, as we’re not accustomed to having it in the first place. The stress of being understimulated is still processed by the body as *stress* and that stuff is hard on a person.

    I hope that you have all the best luck in finding remedies.

  • potiapitchford

    My suggestion is that you try to undertake some form of sensory audit of you haven’t already considered this. Consider each of your senses in turn. What makes you happy? What irritates? What soothes and what stimulates? And think about the less recognised sensory systems too such as perioperception. Most neurodivergent people have a spiky sensory profile needing more in some areas and less in others. It’s getting the right balance across them all for you as you are now. Worth remembering that as we progress through life out sensory systems also change so what was too If once might not be now.

    • Nimue Brown

      Huge thanks, and I’ll see what I can do with this. Most things I seem to have really variable relationships with and I don’t know what the variables are! Darkness is about the only thing I reliably find soothing, maybe water… things to figure out.

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