Before I understood what sensory overload was I thought I was crazy. I didn’t understand why going to the zoo gave me panic attacks or why after a long day at work I wanted to snap at anyone who talked too loudly. I thought I was just being ridiculous and rude and needed to pull myself together. However, as I started to grow a wider community of friends who struggled with their mental health, I was introduced to the term ‘sensory overload’. As HealthLine puts it, “Sensory overload happens when you’re getting more input from your five senses than your brain can sort through and process. Multiple conversations going on in one room, flashing overhead lights, or a loud party can all produce the symptoms of sensory overload.” I personally experience sensory overload in crowded spaces that have high volumes or after a long day of activities. Over this holiday season especially, I was put in lots of spaces with family where I eventually started getting anxious from all the input. Luckily, from experience and research I’ve been able to compile ways to cope with sensory overload.
Wear Ear Plugs
As someone who is especially triggered by noise, dampening the volume of a situation is a great first step to take. You can try regular ear plugs, earbuds, or even noise canceling headphones. I personally like to use my earbuds with no music playing. It helps quiet the noise just enough to hear myself think, but still leaves me available to participate in a conversation.
Focus on One Thing at a Time
A main cause of sensory overload is feeling like there is simply too much happening around you all at once. Your senses are taking too much in and don’t know how to process it all. A way to force your body into focusing is choosing one thing at a time to assess. If you’re in a crowded restaurant, close your eyes and focus on the smells of the food. If you’re walking through a crowded area, focus on the movement of your feet and the direction you’re moving rather than everything going on around you. If you’re inside, focus on an object like a window or the pattern of a wallpaper. Zone out for as long as you need!
Remove Yourself From the Situation
Taking a break is one of the best ways to calm yourself and start fresh. If there’s simply too much overload, it is perfectly fine to leave a situation. You can always come back later, even leave the space all together. Listen to your body and mind when it’s telling you you’ve had enough. Going somewhere quiet to think for a minute or get some fresh air can do wonders. If you’re with someone, you can assure them you’re okay, you just need a minute to yourself.
Most importantly, if you’re using these strategies in public, never let yourself get caught up in what other people might think of you. For some of us we need to make the world work for us and there is no shame in the ways we make life accessible and enjoyable.