Have you ever been in a state of affairs the place there’s simply an excessive amount of happening? Your senses are manner too stimulated, and also you simply really feel extremely overwhelmed.

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It’s not all in your head. What you’re experiencing is known as sensory overload, and it may possibly occur to anybody at any time, triggered by any variety of sensations. Maybe it’s the ear-pounding din of many voices in a crowded room. Or the blinking and twinkling of a zillion vacation lights. Or an overwhelming whiff of fragrance.

Health psychologist Grace Tworek, PsyD, explains what’s taking place while you’re feeling sensory overload and how one can snap out of that dazed-and-confused feeling.

What is sensory overload?

Have you ever had too many tabs open in your web browser? When you’re making an attempt to do a bunch of issues without delay, your working system will get overwhelmed and simply can’t sustain. Everything slows down. Maybe your display screen freezes or in any other case stops doing what it’s speculated to do.

Yeah, sensory overload is kinda like that. When it descends on you, it may possibly really feel nearly paralyzing. Suddenly, you’re the human equal of a blue-screened laptop.

“Sensory overload happens when input from any of your senses — sight, sound, taste, smell — feel overwhelming and trigger a physiological response,” Dr. Tworek explains. “It’s your sympathetic nervous system letting you know that something is up.”

Your sympathetic nervous system is the a part of your physique answerable for your “fight-or-flight” response. It switches on while you really feel chances are you’ll be in peril — and within the case of sensory overload, it additionally happens while you really feel immediately confused by some facet of the world round you.

What triggers sensory overload?

Sensory overload could be prompted by a number of completely different sensations, and what triggers you won’t set off the individual sitting subsequent to you.

  • Sound: Loud and protracted noises, like live performance music or a cacophony of voices round you in a restaurant, may trigger you to really feel sensory overload.
  • Sight: When there’s lots happening round you and you may’t work out the place to look or what to focus your consideration on may really feel like sensory overload. Bright or flashing lights may make you’re feeling this fashion.
  • Smell: Perfumes and cleansing provides are simply two of the varieties of scents that may really feel overpowering and result in sensory overload.
  • Touch: Some persons are extra-sensitive to the way in which sure materials really feel. You may expertise sensory overload from, say, sporting a scratchy materials or donning tight or uncomfortable garments.
  • Taste: The scent, texture and even spice degree of sure meals can set off sensory overload, like should you’re consuming one thing new to you or one thing very spicy.

It’s not at all times that easy, although. Sometimes, sensory overload happens when a number of senses really feel overwhelmed.

Imagine, for instance, that you just’re visiting Times Square: There are hundreds of individuals round you, all chatting (sound) and generally bumping into you (contact). The heavy scent of meals from avenue distributors wafts all through the streets (scent), whereas neon lights and screens flash commercials atop each constructing (sight).

Where do you have to look? How are you able to focus? Hello, sensory overload!

Sensory overload signs

There’s no single psychological or physiological response to sensory overload.

“When your body’s alarm system starts to go off after being triggered, it can feel different for different people,” Dr. Tworek explains.

Some frequent psychological and emotional reactions to sensory overload embody:

  • A normal feeling of stress.
  • Anxiety.
  • Confusion that may appear nearly paralyzing.
  • Inability to focus.
  • Irritability.
  • Racing or intrusive ideas.

“It can feel like your brain is on a hamster wheel, just running away from whatever it is that you’re experiencing,” Dr. Tworek illustrates, “and your body is responding to that.” Physically, chances are you’ll begin to expertise:

  • Dizziness.
  • A flushed (crimson) face.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Sweating.
  • Tightness in your chest.

“Once those senses are triggered, it almost feels like the ball starts rolling and it becomes a snowball effect,” she continues. “It grows and grows until it becomes overwhelming.” If it goes unchecked, sensory overload may even result in a panic attack.

What circumstances are related to sensory overload?

Even although sensory overload can occur to anybody, some persons are extra vulnerable to it than others.

  • Anxiety: Depending on the specifics of your anxiousness, you might expertise sensory overload in social conditions or when confronted with a phobia.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): When you’ve got ADHD, you will have a tough time focusing your consideration, which might result in sensory overload.
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Many individuals with autism have sensory aversions, like a dislike of loud noises or sure textures. You would possibly expertise sensory overload while you’re uncovered to these aversions.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): People with PTSD can expertise flashbacks after they face experiences that remind their mind of their trauma, and sensory overload performs a task. If you’re a fight veteran, for instance, you might really feel sensory overload throughout a fireworks show.

But you don’t need to have a psychological well being situation to expertise sensory overload.

“If you’ve experienced something traumatic in your past, there may be a sound, a smell or a memory that can cause these sensations to feel as if they’re overflowing,” Dr. Tworek notes.

Sensory overload in kids vs. adults

The older you get, the extra coping abilities you study. But youngsters aren’t there but, which makes them extra vulnerable to sensory overload.

“Children may experience this more often than adults because they have not yet developed methods and levels of communication to explain what they’re experiencing in the same way as adults,” Dr. Tworek explains.

Kids with autism spectrum dysfunction are additionally extra prone to expertise sensory overload, as they’re extra delicate to sure varieties of stimuli than their friends.

“Some types of clothes, for example, can feel very overwhelming to some children, like long-sleeved shirts or certain kinds of fabric,” she says. “All the different sensations they’re feeling on their skin can lead to overload.”

How to deal with sensory overload

When sensory overload freezes up the display screen in your psychological laptop, there are some steps you may take to reboot — no IT division wanted.

“There are a variety of strategies that you can tap into to help you manage these symptoms in the moment,” Dr. Tworek says. They embody:

Dr. Tworek’s favourite respiratory train to deal with sensory overload is serial three respiratory, or 3-3-3 for brief (much like field respiratory, often known as 4-4-4-4). Here’s do it:

  1. Breathe in your nostril for 3 counts.
  2. Hold your breath for 3 counts.
  3. Breathe out by your mouth for 3 counts.
  4. Repeat as wanted. Each spherical ought to take a full 9 seconds.

This train each slows down your breath and turns your thoughts to the act of counting, which might distract you from sensory overload and floor you within the current second.

“This exercise is relatively easy, but it requires the focus of both the brain and the body,” Dr. Tworek states. “As you do it, the symptoms of overwhelm will start to back away slowly, which gives your body a break and gives your brain a chance to reset and reevaluate the situation.”

Can sensory overload be prevented?

You don’t have to attend till sensory overload hits to apply respiratory strategies and different methods for self-soothing. In reality, you shouldn’t.

Think of it like putting in malware in your psychological laptop: You could not want it proper now, nevertheless it’s insurance coverage for the longer term. Here’s what Dr. Tworek recommends:

1. Identify your triggers

Pay consideration to the instances while you expertise sensory overload so you can begin to determine what causes it. What kicks off these emotions for you?

“Ask yourself which sensations trigger your sense of overwhelm or overload,” Dr. Tworek advises. “Is it a certain location or a specific sound? If you can establish those patterns and determine your triggers, you can come up with a game plan for interacting with those scenarios in the future without feeling so overwhelmed.”

If, for instance, you notice that you just typically really feel sensory overload at loud live shows, you might begin selecting seats close to the again of the room or prioritizing outside music venues, the place the sound carries otherwise. You may additionally begin bringing earplugs to boring a number of the depth of the music itself.

Once what triggers you, you can begin working in your reactions to these particular triggers.

2. Practice your coping methods

Breathing looks like the best act on this planet, however while you’re within the midst of sensory overload, it doesn’t at all times come as simply as you’d like.

“There are things you can do in the moment to reduce the experience and slow things down, but it’s helpful to practice them outside of the context of feeling overwhelmed,” Dr. Tworek says.

Try a pair rounds of 3-3-3 respiratory while you’re wandering the grocery retailer or hopping into the bathe, or while you’re in line at a espresso store or headed to mattress. The extra you apply them, the simpler it turns into to faucet into them while you want them.

“You’re teaching our body how to relax in lots of different scenarios,” Dr. Tworek notes. “It’s almost like you’re building up a resilience to overwhelm.”

3. Seek assist should you want it

Let’s lengthen that laptop metaphor one final time: Sometimes, you’ve achieved all the things you may consider to attempt to get your laptop again up and working correctly, nevertheless it’s simply not working. So, what do you do? You make an appointment with a technician who can diagnose the issue and assist get issues all fastened up.

If you discover that sensory overload occurs to you typically, or that you just simply can’t appear to regulate it when it hits, it could be time to talk with knowledgeable. Make an appointment with a therapist or different psychological well being supplier who will help you’re employed by this difficulty — so you will get again to having fun with the world round you, as an alternative of feeling overwhelmed by it.

To study extra from Dr. Tworek on this subject, take heed to the Health Essentials Podcast episode, “How to Dial Down Sensory Overload.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast publish each Wednesday.

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