How to Manage Sensory Overload in Adults

Did you know that adults can experience sensory overload? Oftentimes, sensory overload is only talked about among children. However, sensory sensitivities is not something that individuals will grow out of. It is not uncommon for adults with diagnosed sensory processing disorders to experience a sensory overload response, too. Therefore, it is important to know and understand strategies to help adults cope with sensory overload.

What is sensory overload?

Sensory overload is a response that occurs when the senses are overstimulated. According to research, sensory overload occurs when the brain has difficulty managing incoming sensory information. This is a result of sensory input from your 8 different senses causing your brain to be overwhelmed. Additionally, sensory overload can happen in one or more of the senses.

Who experiences sensory overload?

There are several different reasons that someone may experience sensory overload. The most common reason is a sensory processing disorder. This may include diagnoses such as autism, anxiety, concussion, hearing loss, PTSD and many others.

However, you may experience sensory overload without a specific diagnosis that directly impacts your sensory processing. Everyone has different sensory preferences. Sometimes those preferences become extreme and interrupt your daily life.

Three adults sitting in a circle having a conversation.

What causes sensory overload in adults?

Things in the physical environment in spaces and places may trigger a sensory overload response. This may be present in workplaces, schools, grocery stores, shopping centres or at home. Examples of common factors that contribute include:

  • Bright lights.
  • Flashing lights.
  • Loud noises.
  • Sudden noises.
  • Crowds.
  • Clutter.
  • Strong smells.
  • Confusing situations.
  • Unfamiliar places.

Nonetheless, it is important to note again that everyone has different sensory preferences. Therefore, what may trigger sensory overload for one person, may not be bothersome for another. Additionally, sensory preferences may change with age. It is common for people to change their sensory preferences as they get older.

What are the common symptoms of sensory overload in adults?

It is critical to be able to recognize the characteristics of a sensory overload response. Furthermore, it is important to note that some traits of sensory overload may look similar in both adults and children. For example, some common symptoms of sensory overload in adults include:

Woman sitting by herself by the water meditating to reduce sensory overload.
  • Lack of focus.
  • Anxiety.
  • Fear.
  • Anger.
  • Sadness.
  • Irritability.
  • Discomfort.
  • Covering eyes.
  • Covering ears.
  • Feeling jittery.
  • Avoiding certain spaces.
  • Avoiding certain activities.
  • Fidgeting.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Ongoing tiredness.
  • Stress during social situations.

Strategies to minimize sensory overload in adults

If you or someone you know experiences sensory overload, there are several strategies you can utilize to help minimize the severity of the response.

Infographic describing 4 ways to manage sensory overload in adults.

Determine your triggers

The first strategy that is important to utilize is to recognize and acknowledge what your triggers are. For instance, you may tend to get extremely overwhelmed or upset in large and noisy crowds. Therefore, by acknowledging what specific environments or activities may cause you increased stress, you are less likely to put yourself in a situation that causes increased stress.

Additionally, this will be helpful to share with your friends, family and colleagues. This will allow them to avoid potentially creating an uncomfortable situation. As well as help provide support when needed.

Create a sensory-friendly kit

As adults, it may be difficult to avoid certain environments or activities that may cause a sensory overload response. Especially if it is in your workplace. Furthermore, it is helpful to create a sensory-friendly tool kit with things to help reduce the sensory experience. For example, if you tend you get very overwhelmed in bright and/or flashing lights, consider bringing sunglasses with you.

 Or if loud noises tend to cause you to stress, try bringing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. Ultimately, these sensory tools will help individuals who have hypersensitivities experience a more relaxed sensory experience.

The last things you may want to include in your sensory-friendly kit are fidgets or other sensory-friendly products. It is important to understand that fidgets are not just for children. These sensory-friendly tools help to provide a calming and distracting effect within stressful situations. Be sure to look out for Sensory Friendly Solution’s sensory-friendly kit coming soon!

Identify safe spaces

Another important strategy to utilize to help cope with a sensory overload response is identifying safe spaces. These are spaces you can reside in when feeling anxious to provide a sense of peace and comfort. Furthermore, it is helpful to identify a safe space both at home and within your workplace if necessary.

Develop a routine

Lastly, an effective way to help manage sensory overload is creating a routine. Developing a routine is an efficient way to ensure you are engaging in meaningful activities each day that provide comfort. By doing so, you are less likely to put yourself in a situation that leads to greater stress.

Sensory overload is a common experience for many adults with heightened sensitivities. Consider using some of these suggestions to help manage your sensory sensitives more effectively. For more suggestions to manage your sensory overload, check out these tips from Jenara Nerenberg, the author of Divergent Mind.

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