Sensory Overload: How it affects mental and emotional health

Sensory overload occurs when the nervous system is overwhelmed by too much stimulation

Dr. Chandni TugnaitUpdated: Saturday, June 11, 2022, 10:07 PM IST
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We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with sensory information. From the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, our senses are constantly being stimulated. This can have good and bad impact on our mental and emotional health. When our senses are being bombarded, it can be hard to process the information we’re taking in. This can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed or stressed.

What is sensory overload?

Sensory overload occurs when the nervous system is overwhelmed by too much stimulation. This can happen when someone is exposed to loud noise, bright lights, strong smells, or other intense stimuli.

People with sensory processing disorders are especially susceptible to sensory overload. These disorders make it difficult for the brain to filter out irrelevant information and process incoming stimuli in an orderly fashion. As a result, people with these disorders often experience overwhelming sensations. Sensory overload can be a frustrating and debilitating condition, but understanding more about it can help people to find ways to cope with it.

Causes of sensory overload

From the sights and sounds of a busy city to the countless ads we see every day, our brains are constantly processing new input. Sensory overload can have several causes, including exposure to too much stimulus, anxiety or stress, and underlying medical conditions. It can also be triggered by certain drugs or medications.

Symptoms

When sensory overload occurs, it can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Memory problems

  • Panic attacks or psychosis

Types of sensory overload

Too much noise, too many smells, too many people, too much movement — it’s overwhelming, it’s exhausting, and it completely overloads your senses. There are different types of sensory overload, but the most common is visual overload. This is when there are too many stimulating sights and colours for your brain to process, and it causes your body to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Other types of sensory overload include:

Auditory overload: Caused by too much noise

Olfactory overload: Happens when there are too many strong smells in the air

Tactile overload: Occurs when you are bombarded with too much physical sensation, such as being touch or held.

No matter what type of sensory overload you experience, the result is always the same — a feeling of utter overwhelm.

How to manage it

Sensory overload is often experienced in crowded places or during times of stress. For some people, the symptoms can be so severe that they are unable to function properly. There are several ways to cope with this, such as avoiding triggering situations, keeping a journal, and practising relaxation techniques.

Taking breaks throughout the day, especially in nature, can help reset your body and mind. Putting on calming music or sounds can also help soothe your senses. Creating a calm and organised environment, avoiding bright lights and loud noises can help manage symptoms. Practising mindfulness and meditation can help you focus and ground yourself when you’re feeling overloaded. With the right support, it is possible to manage the symptoms and live a full and satisfying life.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with sensory overload, but these are some things that can help. If you think you may be experiencing sensory overload, talk to an expert or a mental health professional for further guidance.

Sensory overload is a real problem that can impact our mental and emotional health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take some time for yourself and try out some of the suggestions above. Your mind and body will thank you for it.

(The writer is Psychotherapist, Life Alchemist, Coach & Healer, Founder & Director, Gateway of Healing)

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