Sensory Overload

You didn’t get past something like that, you go through it — and for that reason alone, I understood more about her than she ever would have guessed.
— Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart

This is something that I have experienced from time to time but never understood. Not until I saw something that talked about how people with anxiety or depression can often times have a sensory overload. I felt so relieved that I could actually put a name to it now. I no longer just felt “crazy” as I was going through it. What I read validated it for me. It let me know that what I was experiencing was, in fact, normal for my condition.

So what is sensory overload? It’s when we are surrounded by too many stimuli to the point it becomes unbearable and leads to confusion and/or anxiety.

This isn’t something that I experience all of the time so I never could really figure it out on my own. It will usually begin with me feeling anxious and if I let that continue without trying to stop it, it will keep growing inside of my mind until I reach this point that I can’t handle anything. It becomes crippling. Once I reach the point of sensory overload I want to just escape to my bed where I know it’s calm and quiet.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have that option of escaping. I have come to realize that when I let things go unchecked and I reach this point I can often become internally angry. If someone is talking while I’m experiencing this I just keep thinking that I would love to just tell them to shut up. Of course, I could never actually do that, but it’s something that I have to be aware of. Telling them to shut up may make it a little easier on me, but it’s not fair that I am treating them negatively for something that they have no control over and aren’t even aware is happening. Trust me that thought is there as the anger and frustration build inside of me though.

So how do we deal with this? Like everything else we first have to acknowledge it. Don’t ignore it and hope it will go away. Remember we have to actively try to resolve our conflicts within ourselves. Once we can acknowledge it we can work on moving through it. When I experience sensory overload my best way of dealing with it is to remove myself from the situation that is causing it. By doing this I’m not hiding from it, I’m allowing myself to get back to a state of mind that allows me to think more clearly. I don’t want to overwhelm myself, that’s counterproductive. For me, the sensory overload is a symptom of something else, like my anxiety. It tells me that I’m not understanding something about myself and that I’m putting myself in situations that I don’t enjoy.

It took me a while to understand that there isn’t something wrong with me when I’m going through this, but that I’m ignoring something that I shouldn’t be.

Remember our number one goal should be practicing self-care, and that means being in touch with our true selves.

You may have noticed that I like to put a small challenge at the end of each post. I hope that it gives you something to work on. Today I'm not going to challenge you to go out looking to see if you can experience sensory overload. We should never go out actively looking for problems. Instead I challenge you to look back and try to identify a time that you may have experienced it. Try to figure out what those triggers were and what sense became overloaded.