4 Tips to Manage Sensory Overload and Holiday Stress

Are you looking for four tips on how to deal with holiday stress?  In this blog post, you will learn about going back to the basics as the most effective strategies to help keep the holidays enjoyable.  Moreover, you will learn how you and your family can manage sensory overload.

Holiday stress is real

Do you feel more stress during the holidays?  Did you know that an American Psychological Association (APA) survey (2006) shows holiday stress is putting women’s and men’s health at risk?  For example, the APA cites that nearly half of all women and 40 percent of men in the US experience heightened anxiety and tension during the holiday period (2006) 1

For people of any age who experience sensory overload, the holidays are especially sensory-rich.  Sensory-rich describes environments that have a more-than-typical sensory experience across one or more of the senses.  For instance, exposure to sensory-rich events and places includes things such as office parties, concerts, holiday-themed activities, family gatherings, markets, and more people out and about shopping. Furthermore, these sensory-rich holiday events, in conjunction with the added stress of the holidays, make the season difficult for people with sensory sensitivity.

The holiday season brings added stress for children with autism, anxiety, and sensory overload.  Read on to discover 4 tips to manage sensory overload. In addition, you can set yourself, your children, and your family up for success and reduce holiday stress.

Group of diverse people are gathering for the Christmas holiday.

Four key questions to ask

For example, with my family from overseas, we have a running joke about the same series of questions we always ask each other when we visit.  Think about the approach you take when guests visit.  You are often more solicitous. For instance, asking, are you hungry?  Are you thirsty?  Did you sleep well?  Likewise, on road trips, do you need a toilet break?   However, can you remember the last time you asked yourself these same questions?  Or checked in with your family?  Here are the four key things to ask about.

  1. Hunger.
  2. Thirst.
  3. Tiredness.
  4. Toilet break.

These four are the key to your check-up to manage sensory overload due to extra holiday stress.  Also, it is essential to know that they are all tied to interoception.  Interoception can be defined as your internal body sense.  You actually have eight senses and interoception is an important one. It is responsible for informing you if you are hungry, thirsty, or need to use the toilet..

If you are hungry, thirsty, tired, or need to use the toilet, your body and brain are less able to manage the sensory experience from your other senses. Furthermore, this is something that you are likely not conscious of.  Many people, children, and adults, alike, don’t even recognize it.  As a result, you simply have less tolerance, resilience, and “bandwidth” to cope with sensory overload.  Moreover, you are less able to manage busy, noisy, and bright environments when other parts of your sensory nervous system are not being attended to.

4 Tips to Manage Sensory Overload and Stress

Infographic highlighting 4 ways to manage sensory overload and holiday gatherings.
  1. Eat. Avoid hunger.
  2. Drink. Avoid thirst.
  3. Get sleep and rest.
  4. Take toilet breaks.

So regularly, ask yourself the 4 questions.  Are you hungry?  Are you thirsty?  And, are you tired?  Do you need to go to the toilet?  However busy your holidays are, take stock of these basic sensations and address them for yourself.  More importantly, address them for your family too!  These four questions will go a long way to help alleviate holiday stress.  Better yet, plan a day ahead so they are managed proactively.

Hungry?  Pack snacks.  Make it a habit to carry a healthy snack like an apple with a piece of cheese or nut butter for you and your children.  With all the extra food around the holidays, regular mealtimes can falter.  Candy and treats aren’t good at keeping bellies full.

Thirsty?  Bring along a bottle of water wherever you go for each member of the family.

Tired?  Bedtime routines and the holidays seem incongruous.  For young children, even simple things like putting pajamas on before the drive home can help.  Building in rest breaks and quiet time for everyone before and after significant activities and events is helpful.

Finally, go to the toilet on a regular basis.  Make it part of your leaving the house routine for some party, event, or gathering routine.  Ignoring the cues from your body about going to the toilet, as well as your level of tiredness, hunger or thirst is not healthy. Ultimately, this will contribute to your sensory overload and add to holiday stress.

Remember these 4 tips and manage your holiday stress. For more ideas on ways to manage holiday stress, check out camh’s blog post.

Want more help for the holiday season? Read on:

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  1. American Psychological Association. (2006). APA Survey Shows Holiday Stress Putting Women’s Health at Risk. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/women-stress
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