Sensory Overload: 5 Ways to Deal with Being Overstimulated
"In a noisy place I cannot understand speech, because I cannot screen out the background noise" -Temple Grandin
I want to start with this definition that I googled from webmd.com."Sensory overload is when your five senses — sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste — take in more information than your brain can process. When your brain is overwhelmed by this input, it enters fight, flight, or freeze mode in response to what feels like a crisis, making you feel unsafe or even panicky."
In some ways, life has become a state of sensory overload. We live in a world that values productivity where we are just constantly moving through a checklist of things. We have the world at our fingertips with technology. We can look up any song, video, show, movie and connect with people from across the globe. With that also comes social media. Social media is pretty much a part of most peoples' lives. Many of us stay on social media, and I'm guilty of that. Especially with trying to run an online business. I wake up, scroll away, and pretty much stay engaged online all day. According to statusbrew.com, Around the world, there are 4.88 billion internet users now, equating to almost 62% of the world's population.
Now add full-time jobs, raising kids, maintaining a social life, exercising, significant others, etc. Whoa! Life is busy, and life is overwhelming. So it's completely normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed at times. For me and many others, situations of high stress affect our bodies. When I am under a lot of pressure, my stomach hurts, and I may also get digestive issues. When you're already anxious, on edge, or overwhelmed, you can be at a higher likelihood to experience sensory overload too. Sensory overload often feels similar to having an anxiety attack and can make you feel very uneasy/restless, irritable, fearful, have a hard time relaxing, and on edge. It can make you feel like you want to run away to a quiet space and away from everything going on around you. Sensory overload activates your fight or flight response and makes you feel like you have a mini panic attack.
Too Much Too Handle
Awareness is essential, and the first step for me is to identify what causes me to overload. Certain situations can activate sensory overload, such as loud noises or music, crowded room, bright lights, flickering lights, loud tv, unwanted physical touch, smells, room temperature, strong smells, uncomfortable clothing, food textures, etc. Everyone will have situations that trigger sensory overload, and not all people will experience overstimulation in all five senses.
I know that I am experiencing sensory overload when loud noises bother me. This is when the tv is too loud, someone's cellphone is too loud, or the music in the car will be too loud. Often, I wonder if these things are loud (sometimes they are) or if it's just me in my state of panic. Being in a crowded room can also often trigger my sensory overload. Usually, if there are too many people around me, I feel overwhelmed. Everyone that knows me knows that I live for cold weather. If the temperature gets too warm or hot, it's a no for me, and it can make me feel stressed out. Unwanted physical touch I can't stand. There have been so many times where I've snapped at my partner when he randomly touches my leg. I often have to dim my living room light because it's too bright when I am already under stress or having a bad day; I know to keep things that activate my senses hopefully at a minimum.
This may sound like a lot, but I'm not living in a sensory overload every day. This only happens under intense amounts of stress that make you sensitive to these things. I would imagine that it would be different also depending on if you're an introvert or extrovert. I'm an introvert, so I like recharging alone as it is.
Managing the Overwhelm
There are ways to manage and even prevent sensory overload. When I feel under a lot of stress, I like to take a break and be by myself to decompress. This can help me prevent getting to the point where I become overstimulated. Other activities to relax can be to focus your attention on something else. Reading a book, listening to a podcast, taking a nap. If you're comfortable, it's essential to talk to your significant other, friends, family about your sensory overload. This has helped a lot. Because it can help other people understand what is going on when you ask them to lower the volume or maybe even when you leave to have time for yourself. It's helped my significant other be sensitive to my overly stimulated senses. Sensory overload is real, and it can cause relationship stress. If this becomes unmanageable, you can also discuss this with your doctor and seek mental health therapy services. Take care of yourself. Stay hydrated, sleep well, and eat well.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope it was helpful. Let me know if you or a loved one has experienced this and how you manage it.