In the back of a family friend’s car, I once again tried to go through the day’s events in my head, but the feeling was creeping up on me faster than I could breathe. As if someone had turned a dial, at once my senses became heightened, the smell of the car air freshener filled my nose and made the pounding in my head harder, faster. The car seemed to be gliding through the dual carriageway at the highest speed not touching the ground. My heart raced.
What was happening? Why was I feeling like this? Was I really the only one being affected?
I asked my sister who seemed to be oblivious to my panic if she thought the air freshener was too strong. She shook her head and said something, but I immediately regretted asking. Each letter of every word she said moved towards me and dispersed as they approached making them sound like muffled droning. The interference irritated my brain, so I turned away quickly. I pressed my eyes tightly shut and plugged my ears with my fingers to block out the upbeat music. Opening the window was no good, the noise pollution from the wind and other cars compounded the problem. Bowing my head between my knees with eyes still shuts I felt around for the lever to open the car door as it travelled at what was likely
There was not enough strength in my arms to pull it and I could only think of the telling of that would be rained on me if I tried to escape. Everything was so loud already it was the last thing I wanted. I hardly remember what happened between that point and when we reached home, but it took about a month of rest and careful movement to feel normal again.
This all happened during a stressful academic period and instead of slowing down I put more stress on myself. Despite the brain fog and random waves of light headedness, I still went for a coffee with a friend that day (two in fact) because I didn’t want to let her down after having already cancelled before.
I didn’t mention it to my parents either because they already had a clouded view of mental health; I felt that to bring it up I needed to be clear and have all the facts otherwise they would dismiss it and my quickly dwindling energy would be wasted.
That was nearly five years ago. I still experience sensory overload but on a much smaller scaler. It’s
important to understand that usually, things like this don’t just disappear.
Here’s what I’ve done to cope
- Talked to my GP
- Did my own research – it was through that I stumbled on articles and the term ‘sensory
overload’. Having an explanation for what was going on made me feel calmer and much more enlightened.
- Became more self-aware (this was the game changer) by spending time with and by myself to reflect on feelings and behaviours. This helped me recognise triggers and how to control them. Stress is a big trigger and caffeine in these situations probably isn’t a good idea either but for me a nap usually levels it out.
Anxiety is normal but when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder.
Sensory overload is oversensitivity to sounds, sights, textures, flavours, smells and other sensory input. Sensory Overload anxiety is not as often talked about as other forms of anxiety, but it most definitely exists.
If you think you are experiencing Sensory Overload (or any mental health symptoms), don’t panic or try to deal with it on your own, seek help and advice from your nearest mental healthcare practice.
It is so important to put yourself first and reach out to people, talk and tell them how you are feeling.
When sensory information gathered from our five senses arrives in the brain it is sorted and stored appropriately. However, an influx of information causes competing sensory information and so the brain cannot interpret it all at the same time.
According to professionals at Healthline.com, ‘This may feel a lot like being “stuck”. The body’s reaction to that is to get away and remove yourself from the sensory input [you’re taking in]. The body starts to panic in a chain reaction which is heightened if you are unable to leave the
Other ways of coping
- Action plan – plan ahead for situations where a lot of things will be going on at once.
E.g. write a list before going to shop for groceries, plan your trip ahead of going to a
- If you are familiar with the location, plan ways to get out of a situation, place or event in the
safest and quickest way prior to going.
- Go with someone you trust and explain your situation to them prior and ways they can assist you.