In the face of May being Mental Health month, we wanted to talk about some more aspects of every day life that can cause you and me and everyone of us stress – and worse. Mental health is something everyone of us is and should be concerned about because it affects every single one of us. Today, we will have a look at an overwhelming feeling that some of you may have felt before: sensory overload.
We will have a look at the definition of this term as well as causes and impact. And, of course, we will try to find out how music and ambient noise can help lessen the effects of sensory overload.
What Is Sensory Overload?
Oftentimes, sensory overload is confused with a medical condition that is often linked to autism. Compared to it’s medical counterpart, sensory overload can happen to anyone, independent of the person’s usual state of mental health. Thus, we want to distinguish between the medical condition that heavily impacts a person’s every day life to an extend that working may not be possible anymore – and the unnerving and overwhelming feeling many of us may suffer from from time to time.
In these terms, sensory overload is an over-stimulation of one or more senses. This can affect all of the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. These senses get stimulated by many elements in our environment and certain factors can cause an over-stimulation. These factors can thus over-stimulate one sense or stimulate many senses at once which can cause an over-stimulation.
What Causes Sensory Overload?
As mentioned above, the overwhelming feeling of sensory overload can be triggered by many elements in our environment. These elements include:
- mass media
- an overabundance of information
All of the above can cause visual, audible or other sensory triggers that stimulate and thus potentially over-stimulate our senses. Loud noise and strobing light are commonly known and acknowledged sources of distress. However, people can feel overwhelmed by things that feel completely normal and natural to others, always depending on the current state of mind or mood. This can include continues touching in a crowded subway or even the overbearing noise of people talking over each other.
What Does It Look Like?
Sensory overload expresses itself in different ways. This depends on the kind of over-stimulation, the sense or senses affected, and on the person affected and their usual behavior and well-being. However, the following symptoms are associated with or linked to the overbearing sensation that is sensory overload.
- Tension, mental and muscular
- Sleeplessness, fatigue and signs of insomnia
- Restlessness and fidgeting
- Avoids stimuli by covering ears and eyes or avoiding touch
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on just one activity
- Irritability due to seemingly minor issues
- Angry or frustrated outbursts
- A general appearance of “zoning out”
But as is stated above, these symptoms vary depending on cause, senses over-stimulated and the person experiencing sensory overload. While some may react with outward and aggressive behavior, others might completely draw back from any interaction to avoid more overbearing stimuli.
Treat Sensory Overload Yourself
No matter if you are affected by sensory overload or you know someone, adult or child, suffering form this temporary condition, there are a few things you can do yourself to treat the negative effects. However, I want to point out that a constant feeling of being overwhelmed can also relate to a stress-induced disorder or illness which would require professional attention.
The best way to self-treat yourself (or others) is to learn and identify what triggers the overload. That way, the reasons for it can be easily removed. Lowering lights and getting away from overbearing situations is a logical as well as advised treatment. Furthermore, reducing over-stimulating noise can be very important, even when the sensory overload does not stem from the sense of hearing. Noise cancelling headphones, white noise machines or other ambient noise can help flee from a situation and environment that cause sensory overload.
If you want to treat temporary overload or help someone ease out of such a state, we have a few, audible aids for you.
Your happy place is a place of sanctuary and calm. Here, you can feel safe and protected, happy and careless. It doesn’t matter if your happy place is a place that actually exists, or one you like to dream yourself to in order to retreat from the real world for a little while.
Read more about re-creating your happy place.
Libraries are naturally calm and quiet spaces for learning, studying, reading and research. In order to concentrate and focus, distractions are limited in libraries, as is noise. This makes the atmosphere of a library a perfect one to get away from overbearing sensations. The sound of footsteps or even some slight chatter may, on top of that, make you feel less (left?) alone.