Sensory Overload

I think we’ve all heard of sensory overload before. But for those of you who haven’t, allow me to elaborate. Sensory overload is when you get more input from your five senses than your mind can handle. Some common triggers of sensory overload are loud noises and atmospheres such as parties and concerts or bright and flashing lights that can cause over-stimulation.
To narrow it down, you have five senses- sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Imagine the five senses are actors and they’re all taking part in a musical. Each one of the five senses will have a different role depending on the director of musical. Also, imagine the actors have a lot more of a say than the director does. For my musical in particular, Touch and Smell are doing superb. They’re playing their parts really well. Sight is doing okay. A bit overdramatic at times but nothing to worry about. But then, along come Taste and Sound. They’re giving their all in the roles they have been assigned but they’re giving way too much enthusiasm and it’s beginning to outshine the other actors. As well as that, their overly obnoxious performances are ruining the musical and it just ends up becoming a train-wreck because they’ve been pushing so hard for the spotlight that everyone else suffered. That’s basically what sensory overload is like for me. Like I said, it’s different for everyone but it’s basically when senses do their job TOO well and send your brain into disarray.
Sensory overload is common for people on the Spectrum but it is also common for people with Anxiety, PTSD, Multiple Sclerosis and other conditions.You can get sensory overload at any age in any circumstance and it can be extremely overwhelming.
Some symptoms of sensory overload are difficulties in focusing, feeling extremely irritated, feeling uncomfortable or restless, a constant urge to cover your ears or shield your eyes, getting wound up or flustered, feeling stressed or anxious about your surroundings and finally, being highly sensitive to certain textures and fabrics (though people on the Spectrum can sometimes be irritated by fabrics and textures even when they’re not in sensory overload but during sensory overload, they can become a lot more irritating than usual). It may just sound like we’re being overly anxious but in reality, sensory overload can sometimes hurt physically.
For me, sensory overload is often triggered by loud and sudden noises such as balloons popping, party poppers and fireworks. There are also these cracker things that crack when you throw them on the ground and they send me into a frenzy. I’m not so bad with lights but it’s mainly blue and white lights that irritate me most. Especially around Christmas time because the more modern Christmas lights only seem to be white, blue or gold and they’re bright and extremely irritating to my eyes and they make my eyes water a little bit. What makes sensory overload worse for me is crowds and socializing. Even if I’m masking. Again, especially around Christmas time or other special occasions when crowds seem to be imminent. When people push into me or come too close to me if I’m in sensory overload, I can’t stand it. Sensory overload also affects my taste and if certain tastes and textures of foods touch my tongue, it sends goosebumps up my whole body that bite like green ants.
Of course, everyone is going to have different triggers for sensory overload and everyone experiences it differently but they’re the main ones for me. The earliest I remember of going into sensory overload for the first time was when I went to a birthday party and there were some kids that were deliberately popping balloons for fun. It was horrible and I got awful ringing in my ears that I normally get when my sensory overload is triggered by sound.
I think the worst part of having sensory overload is when nobody takes you seriously. Unfortunately, there have been times where I was in severe sensory overload and I had to mask it and act like nothing is wrong because I have been made fun of in the past for going into sensory overload over what anyone else would describe as “little things”. I have been told to get over it. I’ve had people whisper “BANG” really loudly in my ear while I cried or someone clapping their hands in my face to see my reaction. I’ve also had people snap at me for being such a spoilsport because I let my sensory overload get to me.
Not that I’m older and people are starting to understand me more, life’s been easier. People now know that when I go silent, it’s probably because I’m in sensory overload and I have to be left alone for a little while. Sometimes that “little while” can last up to weeks depending if it results in burnout and how bad it was. That sucks because I have lost friends over the years because they thought I had stopped talking to them all of a sudden when really, I was in burnout and was just taking a long time to recover. As a result, there have been times where I’ve been in burnout and I’ve had to mask myself but that’s a story for another day. 
That leads me to the next term- Sensory hangover. This term can be used more as slang for “Autism burnout” but it is quite relevant! It’s basically a term used for the state a person is in after coming out of an environment that causes sensory overload. It’s like the aftermath of sensory overload if you will and it’s similar to having a hangover (but not really). There is still some lingering irritation and it may leave you exhausted or it can make you cry a lot.
I guess the moral of the story is this- if you see that a family member or a friend is feeling uncomfortable in a certain situation or environment, remove them immediately. Also, don’t judge people for feeling flustered and upset over certain lights and sounds that get to them and don’t try to advise them as that could make things worse. You can offer to take them somewhere quieter or just try to take their mind off it or just give them space if they want to just be by themselves to stim or do whatever they need to do to help themselves. I may do another blog in the future advising people on what to do if they have a friend or family member who goes into sensory overload while they are with them. But for now as always, support, respect and help is always the key so keep that in mind!

A book and a hot chocolate- one of the best cures for me when I am in sensory overload

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