Today’s just one of those days. Way too anxious, way too tired. Sensory overload came over me this morning in full swing. Even the power of headphones did not stop all the different senses getting too much. I’m putting it down to lack of sleep, alcohol and medication.
I was supposed to go shopping. I was supposed to buy food for the week ahead, buy some envelopes and post a letter. I forgot to get off my stop on the bus not once but three times…so I decided to get off in town. I forgot completely about what I needed to do. I made it to tesco (a 5 minute walk that consisted of too many voices, too many cars, too many tapping feet on the pavement, construction guys throwing tools around and my own breathing) but my shopping list consisted of just mushrooms because I forgot all that I needed. I wandered around the shop for a bit before realising I had to pay. I then caught the bus back…
The entire time I couldn’t breathe. The minute I left my flat this morning I felt like a boa constrictor was perched on my throat. My chest was so weak and hollow, my breaths were fast. All I could focus on was every single noise, every single image and person. Everything but my mind. It was like walking through a dream. I completely forgot the reason why I was going out in the first place. However, I made it to a to b and eventually back to a…but my goodness. What a morning.
Sensory overloads are horrendous. Sensory overloads or meltdowns occur when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. Examples include; crowded places, noise, people, too much information, visual overload.
- Noise can be magnified and sounds become distorted and muddled.
- May be able to hear conversations in the distance.
- Inability to cut out sounds – notably background noise, leading to difficulties concentrating.
- Touch can be painful and uncomfortable – people may not like to be touched and this can affect their relationships with others.
- Dislikes having anything on hands or feet.
- Distorted vision – objects and bright lights can appear to jump around.
- Images may fragment.
- Easier and more pleasurable to focus on a detail rather than the whole object.
Helping someone in Sensory Overload
If someone is having a meltdown, or not responding, don’t judge them. There are things that you can do to help. This can make a world of difference.
- be aware. Look at the environment to see if it is creating difficulties. Can you change anything?. Watch the person closely – changes in behaviour or indicators of distress may be small. Watch breathing patterns, especially.
- be creative. Think of some positive sensory experiences.
- be prepared. Tell the person about possible sensory stimuli they may experience in different environments.
- be calm. People in sensory overload are feeling very distressed and anxious so staying calm may help them relax. Offer comfort if the person wants it (touch or words) and move away from the area that is causing distress. Be patient and wait for the sensory overload to finish.