You’re sat in the office, you’re tired, probably hungry and soon you can hear every tiny sound in the room. From the click of the keyboards, to the breathing of the person three feet from you. The noises start to build until it’s completely overwhelming and it feels like the walls are closing in on you. This, is sensory overload.
This phenomenon often goes hand in hand with the feeling of being irritable, where every little thing feels like the biggest problem you’ve ever faced. The ones you love will seem like the most annoying, inconsiderate people you’ve ever met and your brain struggles to focus on any one thing.
Why does sensory overload happen?
It surprised me that the topic of sensory overload isn’t spoken more about, as it is a very common side affect of anxiety. Due to the fight or flight response already being in overdrive, your senses are heightened to a point where you are acutely aware of everything.
This could be sounds, smells, movement, even food may taste different. All of this crashes over you like a tidal wave of emotion and stress, you won’t be able to concentrate on any one thing because your senses are so overpowering.
Sometimes, these overwhelming senses can lead to panic attacks. If you’re in a very crowded space for example, you may become more aware of people breathing, the heat from their bodies or the sounds of their voices. This can then lead to a panic attack brought on by feelings of claustrophobia.
Be patient with those suffering with sensory overload
Very anxious people may seem more irritable or ‘grumpy‘ as many people often put it, but everyone would be if you were being bombarded with heightened senses all day every day. Give the person space and allow them to work things out on their own, but let them know that you are not too far away if they need something. Although you may have good intentions by talking them through it, you may be unintentionally adding to the stress and the noise.
If you do suffer with this particular ailment, remember to be patient with yourself. Remember, this is your body’s natural reaction and it is something you can’t always prevent, nobody wishes it upon themselves.
How to cope in the moment
There are a couple of ways you can handle sensory overload when you are in the heat of the moment:
- Invest in noise cancelling headphones, close your eyes and focus on a piece of music – this can help you to focus on the one sense of sound, rather than being distracted by everything going on around you.
- Practice breathing exercises and try and hone your attention in on the rise and fall of your chest – easier said than done, but one of the most effective ways to bring things back to a normal level.
- Walk it off somewhere quiet and calm – if you have access to a wide open space that isn’t too busy, like a park or hiking trail, then try going for a short walk.
- Open a book and relax – reading can be a great way to collect yourself, as your brain is focusing on the words and the story and drawing focus away from the things that may be causing you stress.
- Find a sensory anchor – this could be a spot on the wall to focus your gaze on or a relaxing song. One of my favourite sensory anchors though, are essential oils. I use these in a roller ball and give it a sniff when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Using oils like lavender and chamomile are best, as they have natural calming properties.
I often suffer with sensory overload and these are just a few of the things I like to do to collect my thoughts and start to get my focus back on track. It’s not always easy to do, especially when you are in work, in an office or in retail. Try and find a quiet place, no matter where you are, so you can reconnect with your physical self, find your focus and smash out the rest of your day.
Don’t miss out, sign up for my mailing list to get exclusive content every fortnight!