Mental Health

Sensory Overload and Over-Stimulation


Although I KNOW that I experience sensory stimuli differently to a lot of people, I can’t comprehend how anyone else possibly experiences it differently.

Like, how does anybody focus on the task at hand when there is a beeping noise going on outside? How does anyone not get exhausted after twenty minutes of processing extra sensory information than usual? How does anyone else not get headaches from bright lights? How do they not completely shut down from loud noises? How do they have conversations in busy rooms?

My sensory issues have got worse as I’ve got older, I’m sure. There was a time as a child when, although my legs would come out in rashes when wearing tights, and I didn’t like wearing jeans, I would not appear to react strangely to loud alarms or strong smells. Once my panic attacks started however, every loud noise or busy place would send me into a spiral of anxiety, catapulting into hours of exhaustion and needing a period of recovery to function again.

It was like my brain switched. I realise that my brain had always had to work ten times harder than other people’s to filter out unnecessary sensory information, to process it and to function surrounded by intense sensory stimuli. The point at which sensory overload occurred lowered as I became exhausted by masking and appearing to ‘cope’. My ability to cope with demands lessened, and at the same time the demands increased.

Imagine my brain as a kettle. The sensory information is the water put into the kettle. The kettle being switched on is my brain processing the information.

But what happens when there is too much sensory information for the kettle to handle? I start to bubble and boil.

Like the water bubbling as it heats up, the sensory information begins to get muddled up in my brain. It sends more intense but more jumbled up notifications to different parts of my brain and body.

My brain begins to spasm because it can’t work out what information it needs and what information it can filter out. As all this information gathers, it begins to hurt my sensory organs like my ears, and the water in the kettle bubbles and boils until it nearly bursts.

This is sensory overload. When the loud noises, the bright lights, the strong smells, the peculiar tastes and the uncomfortable sensations you can feel merge together and feel unbearable. You either feel everything at once, or one thing incredibly intensely.

There is too much water in the kettle. Too much information to process. Your brain, like the kettle, is overwhelmed, and has to do something to fix the situation. So, you shut-down, melt-down, or panic. This is the result of over-stimulation.

Sometimes sensory overload doesn’t look like this. It can look like irritability (a LOT of the time for me!), frustration, moodiness and anger. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint why I’m feeling like this, until I realise how much sensory stuff I am experiencing.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid these things. I know I don’t struggle with sensory difficulties as much as other autistic people do, but it does get to me day-to-day and it can take me days to recover from busy, highly-stimulating places.

There are many things that can help with sensory issues. These include tinted glasses, sensory friendly clothing, ear defenders, noise cancelling headphones, as well as reasonable adjustments to prevent the person having to be in a situation which will cause sensory overload.

But do you know what bugs me?

I just really think a lot of lights don’t need to be as bright as they are. Why do flashing lights need to exist? Why does music need to be so loud in restaurants and shops? Why can’t society be more accessible without me having to fight it?


Life with Tardive Dyskinesia (Lyme too)

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