Sensory overload is a phenomenon where one feels an overwhelming sense of discomfort in the external environment (or sensory surroundings). Many people may feel anxious and want to immediately leave the situation that created it. A sensory overload may often trigger agitation, irritability, or violent responses (attacking the nearby person, shouting, throwing things) in some people.
Sensory overload is when the brain is not able to process the sensory information taken in by the five senses: smell, taste, hearing, sight, and touch. This makes people panic or blank out, and they feel like distancing themselves from the source that has triggered this response.
There are a variety of triggers, and each person may have their sensory input overloaded by one or more factor that includes:
- Loud noises or music
- Very bright lights
- Very cold or very hot temperatures
- Crowded places
- Extreme emotional expressions
- Scratchy or uncomfortable clothing
- Intense smells
What conditions are associated with sensory overload?
Sensory sensitivity and overstimulation are often more pronounced in certain neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as the following:
Autism spectrum disorder
People with autism have difficulty processing extreme emotions and tend to suffer from hypersensitivity to sensory input. Why this happens is still unknown, but measures (such as making the children gradually adapt to the trigger) can help such people. Dealing with sensory overload forms a major part of rehabilitation in those affected by autism spectrum disorders.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
People with ADHD typically have trouble focusing and often feel anxious and panicky when faced with overwhelming triggers and overstimulation, such as loud noises.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
People with PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder are more prone to experience sensory overload in challenging situations. For example, a military veteran who suffers from PTSD may be easily overstimulated by the lights and sounds of firecrackers.
Besides the conditions above, experts think that the following conditions also seem to cause sensory overload:
If people feel overwhelmed by certain things in life, they could be only experiencing sensory overload and not necessarily any of these conditions.
Is sensory processing disorder a separate condition?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) affects how your brain processes sensory information. While children are more likely to have SPD, adults with the condition likely had the symptoms since childhood.
Debate among doctors is mixed as to whether SPD is a separate disorder or not. Some doctors argue SPD is a symptom of other disorders, such as autism and ADHD. Other doctors believe it’s possible to have SPD without having another disorder. For now, SPD is not recognized as an official medical diagnosis.
How is sensory overload treated?
There is no specific medication available for the treatment of sensory overload. It is important to schedule an appointment with the doctor and describe the symptoms that are present.
The doctor will recommend treatments accordingly, such as:
- Therapy: Specific therapy sessions have benefitted both adults and children in dealing with anxiety and distressing symptoms of sensory overload.
- Medications: Anti-anxiety medication or antidepressant
- Stay away from triggers: Once people know which situations or things are triggering the symptoms of sensory overload, they can take steps to reduce sensory input. For example, instead of arranging a birthday party in a hotel, you can call your friends at your home.
- Take care of yourself: Focusing on self-care is an easy way to deal with overpowering situations. So, getting good nutrition, drinking an adequate quantity of water, regular physical activity, and getting sufficient rest and sleep can help.
Latest Mental Health News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Green SA, Ben-Sasson A. Anxiety disorders and sensory over-responsivity in children with autism spectrum disorders: is there a causal relationship? J Autism Dev Disord. 2010;40(12):1495-1504. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20383658/
Top What Does Sensory Overload Feel Like Related Articles
ADHD: Worsening SymptomsADHD symptoms get worse with bad habits. Watch your lifestyle so hyperactivity, impulsivity, restlessness, fidgeting, inattention, and other symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity diagnosis do not get worse.
What Are the Symptoms of ADHD in Kids? Tests, MedicationWhat is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)? Learn to recognize ADHD symptoms in children.
Adult ADHD QuizWhat are the symptoms of adult ADHD? Take this quiz to learn what it means for an adult to suffer from ADHD and what can be done about it.
Autism SpectrumAutism in children and adults is a developmental disorder, characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), which is part of a broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults. There are numerous theories and studies about the cause of autism. The treatment model for autism is an educational program that is suitable to an individual's developmental level of performance. There is no "cure" for autism.
Autism QuizTake the Autism Spectrum Disorder Quiz related to the causes, reasons, symptoms, treatment, diagnosis, and therapies for this behavioral disorder.
Autism: Early Signs and SymptomsAutism is known as a condition that falls under the category of the "autism spectrum disorders" because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior of an individual. Autism is said to be a "developmental disorder" because the signs and symptoms of the disorder generally appear in the first two years of life. However; toddlers, teens, and adults also can have autism.
Early signs and symptoms can vary amongst infants, babies, toddlers, teens, and adults that may include; no eye contact, not responding to his or her name; doesn’t babble or “baby talk”; does not use language correctly; rocking; twirling; and head banging.
FibromyalgiaFibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points. Stress reduction, exercise, and medication are the standard treatments for fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia PictureA syndrome characterized by chronic pain, stiffness, and tenderness of muscles, tendons, and joints without detectable inflammation. See a picture of Fibromyalgia and learn more about the health topic.
Fibromyalgia QuizFibromyalgia could be the reason for your constant, deep bodily pain. Learn more about this painful condition with the Fibromyalgia Quiz.
Is ADHD a Form of Autism?While symptoms of ADHD and ASD may overlap, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not a form of autism. Here are the differences between ADHD vs. ASD.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)Multiple sclerosis or MS is an autoimmune disorder in which brain and spinal cord nerve cells become demyelinated. This damage results in symptoms that may include numbness, weakness, vertigo, paralysis, and involuntary muscle contractions. Different forms of MS can follow variable courses from relatively benign to life-threatening. MS is treated with disease-modifying therapies. Some MS symptoms can be treated with medications.
What Are the Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder?Sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory integration disorder is a collection of challenges that occur when sensations fail to respond properly to the outside world. The cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown, but genetics, congenital conditions and environmental factors may be to blame.
What Are the 3 Patterns of Sensory Processing Disorders?Learn about the 3 primary patterns of sensory processing disorders (SPDs), how they affect the senses, and a few examples of each subtype.
Tourette SyndromeTourette syndrome is disorder, which symptoms include involuntary facial tics, motor tics, and vocal tics. The cause of Tourette syndrome is not known. ADHD is associated with Tourette syndrome. Treatment includes medication, psychotherapy, and in severe cases surgery.
What Are the 3 Main Symptoms of Autism?Autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can manifest as different symptoms in different children. The average age of diagnosis is 2 years, though some children may be detected at around the age of 5 years.
What Is the Best Treatment for ADHD in Adults?The best treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) involves a combination of medication, education, skills training, and psychological counseling.