Two of the most common questions about sensory overload are:
Sensory overload happens when the senses are overstimulated or overwhelmed.
You are likely already thinking of your five senses. See, hear, taste, touch, and smell. y
You have at least three more. Some scientists say we have more than 20 senses.
Also, you have a sense of balance. It also called your vestibular sense. In addition, it keeps you upright. Finally, it helps prevent you from falling over. And it tells you where your head is in space.
You have a sense of movement. It is also called proprioception. It helps you move your muscles and joints. Likewise, it tells your brain how much a muscle or a joint moved. It helps you be coordinated.
Finally, interoception is the sense of your internal organs. This is your eighth sense. Interoception tells you that you are hungry or thirsty. It also lets you know about your breathing. Or when you need to go to the bathroom.
What happens when your senses are overloaded? First, one or more senses are receiving too much information. What is more, sensory information overload usually comes from your immediate environment. Or the place you are in at the time.
For example, sensory overload often occurs in a noisy place. It can also be busy. Additionally, it also often happens when there are bright lights. Or a lot of lights. Furthermore, it causes discomfort and stress. People experiencing sensory overload are in distress. It can happen to any of the senses. Moreover, it can also happen to more than one sense at a time.
The following are your eight senses. Accordingly, examples are included in what might cause sensory overload.
Sensory overload happens to people of all ages. It happens to children, adults, and seniors.
For example, a toddler experiencing sensory overload may have a tantrum. A child might have a meltdown in a noisy, busy place. What is more, they may refuse to go to such an environment. They may plead to leave. A toddler might be fearful of a noisy place. Likewise, a child might be fearful of a busy place. In this situation, they may not be able to express what is bothering them.
Even for adults with sensory overload, it is often difficult for them to pinpoint and describe the problem.
For someone with sensory overload, what is noisy and busy to them may not feel noisy and busy for you. For instance, an adult may leave an event early. Alternatively, they may not go somewhere with many people. In particular, with many strangers.
Everyone has sensory preferences. People enjoy different senses. Furthermore, people enjoy different sensory experiences. To sum up, it’s normal to be different!
More people experience sensory overload in daily life. Because our world is getting busier. Noisier. And brighter.
Sensory overload can be caused by several things. Moreover, the experiences that trigger a reaction can be “typical or normal” for others.
If “typical and normal” events interrupt your daily life, then sensory overload may be the cause.
Are you under if you are experiencing sensory overload? An occupational therapist can help you determine the cause of your symptoms. If you are worried about any symptom; it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Some people experience one or more of these symptoms every day. Others experience it only in certain circumstances or certain places. Some experience an overstimulation of the senses because they are tired, but do not experience at other times.
Other people are more prone to experiencing sensory overload because of an underlying cause. This can be disability, disorder, or difference in their brain. It is often associated with autism, Asperger’s, the Highly Sensitive Person, anxiety, concussion, fibromyalgia, sensory processing disorder, and PTSD. However, there are many more things that can make people experience overstimulation in daily life.
There are many types of disorders, disabilities, or differences that contribute to sensory overload because of sensory sensitivity. This can happen at any age. The list of them keeps growing! Finally, sensory overload is a specific problem for people with autism and anxiety.
There are three important things to do if sensory overload is a problem. Examples:
Choosing a sensory-friendly event, place, product, or service means that you are less likely to experience sensory overload. That is because the event, place, or product service has made an effort to reduce the sensory experience. For example, a sensory-friendly grocery store might have quiet shopping hours. The lights are less bright. The background music is turned off. Similarly, the beeps and dings of noisy cash registers are also turned off.
You can also better manage your sensory experience personally. Take breaks from it. Reducing the amount of time you spend exposed to it. Therefore, you might go to a party at a new location with lots of people. But you might only go for a short period. Places and events that identify as sensory-friendly may also have a quiet space or quiet room. It is a place for patrons to take a break. For example, a sports arena might have a quiet room. Also called a sensory room. It too is a place where patrons can take a break. They can hit pause on the loud, noisy, bright crowd and game.
Finally, it is helpful to reduce sensory input. Simply reduce it. People who experience sensory overload often wear noise-canceling headphones to listen to music or even white noise. They block out extra sounds. Or they wear earmuffs. They wear sunglasses. Or maybe shaded lenses inside. They block out bright lights.
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Christel Seeberger worked as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has sensory sensitivity herself; she has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016. Sensory Friendly Solutions brings together people around the world looking for sensory friendly living and businesses and organizations who offer sensory friendly experiences.