Sensory Overload and how to cope.
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Sensory Overload And how to cope
Sensory overload has been found to be associated with disorders such as:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Autistic spectrum disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Sensory overload occurs when one (or more) of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment.
Basically it feels like everything is happening at once, and is happening too fast for you to keep up with.
Sensory overload can result from the overstimulation of any of the senses.
Hearing: Loud noise or sound from multiple sources, such as several people talking at once.
Sight: Bright lights, strobe lights, or environments with lots of movement such as crowds or frequent scene changes on TV.
Smell and taste: Strong aromas or spicy foods.
Touch: Tactile sensations such as being touched by another person or the feel of cloth on skin.
Obviously, everyone reacts differently to sensory overload. Some behavioral examples are:
High energy levels
Fidgeting and restlessness
Refuses to interact and participate
Low energy levels
Avoids touching/being touched
Covers eyes around bright lights
Covers ears to close out sounds or voices
Poor eye contact
Jumping from task to task without completing
Complains about noises not affecting others
Overly sensitive to sounds/lights/touch
Difficulty with social interactions
There are two different methods to prevent sensory overload: avoidance and setting limits:
Create a more quiet and orderly environment—keeping the noise to a minimum and reducing the sense of clutter.
Rest before big events.
Focus your attention and energy on one thing at a time.
Restrict time spent on various activities.
Select settings to avoid crowds and noise
One may also limit interactions with specific people to help prevent sensory overload.
It is important in situations of sensory overload to calm oneself and return to a normal level.
Remove yourself from the situation.
Deep pressure against the skin combined with proprioceptive input that stimulates the receptors in the joints and ligaments often calms the nervous system.
Reducing sensory input such as eliminating distressing sounds and lowering the lights can help.
Calming, focusing music works for some.
Take an extended rest if a quick break doesn’t relieve the problem.
What if someone you know is experiencing sensory overload?
Recognize the onset of overload. If they appear to have lost abilities that they usually have, such as forgetting how to speak, this is often a sign of severe overload.
Reduce the noise level. If they are in a noisy area, offer to guide them to somewhere more quiet. Give time to process questions and respond, because overload tends to slow processing. If you can control the noise level, for example by turning off music, do so.
Do not touch or crowd them. Many people in SO are hypersensitive to touch—being touched or thinking they are about to be touched can worsen the overload. If they are seated or are a small child, get down to their level instead of looming above them.
Don’t talk more than necessary. Ask if you need to in order to help, but don’t try to say something reassuring or get them talking about something else. Speech is sensory input, and can worsen overload.
If they have a jacket, they may want to put it on and put the hood up. This helps to reduce stimulation, and many people find the weight of a jacket comforting. If their jacket is not within reach, ask them if they want you to bring it. A heavy blanket can also help in a similar way.
Don’t react to aggression. Don’t take it personally. It is rare for someone who is overloaded to cause serious harm, because they don’t want to hurt you, just get out of the situation. Aggression often occurs because you tried to touch/restrain/block their escape.
When they have calmed down, be aware that they will often be tired and more susceptible to overload for quite awhile afterwards. It can take hours or days to fully recover from an episode of sensory overload. If you can, try to reduce stress occurring later on as well.
If they start self-injuring, you should usually not try to stop them. Restraint is likely to make their overload worse. Only intervene if they are doing something that could cause serious injury, such as hard biting or banging their head. It’s a lot better to deal with self-injury indirectly by lowering overload.
To summarize—Remember the 5 R’s:
Recognize the symptoms of overload.
Remove yourself from the situation.
Reduce the stimulus causing the overload.
Relax your body and calm yourself down.
Rest yourself as you will most likely feel fatigue.