Living with Sensory Overload

For the last few years I occasionally suffer from something called “sensory overload“. Symptoms in those that experience it vary. In my case, sometimes, when I get to much sensory information coming in (lots of movement, lots of sounds) it causes me to be agitated and feel sick.

One example I remember was at a “introduction” meeting for my youngest daughter’s primary school. Parents had been advised not take children but many did so, sat on small chairs, listening to the teacher explain about the curriculum, whilst parents talk about me and children run and scream around too, well, it became too much. In this case I was able to make things better by simply closing my eyes, blocking out the visual stimulus.

But it’s all a bit of an unknown as to why it happens…

It is not completely clear what causes this disorder. There is evidence that such factors as Premature Birth, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Autism, PTSD, ADHD and Brain Injury due to head trauma, can contribute to the start of hypersensitivity to stimuli.

Recent research shows that the part of the brain called the Thalamus might be involved in this hypersensitivity. The Thalamus, located in the middle of the brain, is a kind of relay station for all the sensory information that is relayed via the eyes, ears and other sensory organs. If the thalamus is damaged, it may disrupt the brain’s ability to sort out and integrate all the sensory information coming into the brain.

Well, I’m not aware that any of these relate to me and, indeed, a search of the internet does seem to show most people with this issue being linked to Autism.

However, as I said before, it does make me irritable when it does happen, so please bear in mind the following…

It is important to keep in mind that people with this condition are not deliberately behaving badly when they over react to something. This is not something they are choosing to do and would happily change it if they could.

It doesn’t help that I work in a noisy, open-plan office. In the past one solution is to be put in earphones – sometimes I play music but sometimes just putting them in my ears is enough. Reducing the overlapping noises and voices with some music is sufficient. I think one of the reasons I suffer from this is that I find it hard to switch off from my senses – particularly sight and sound. As a result I end up listening to everything and watching everything (not that you’d know, I’m very good at doing this without looking like it!). My brain is always very active and this is just part of it.

Sadly, in the last year, my area has “banned” headphone wearing as it looks “unprofessional”. Since then our desks have been moved nearer together and I’m in an even more open area, so this isn’t getting any better for me!

Meantime I’ve broken my own recent rule and bought into a crowdfunded product – this one is for discrete earbuds that help block out sound! They work well and bring a quick solution when the noise begins to get too much for me.

3 responses

  1. Chris Artiss avatar
    Chris Artiss

    I just thought you’d like to know that I suffer from that as well, but until you mentioned it, I hadn’t realised there was a name for it.

    To be honest, I thought it was possibly to do with my hearing. I can’t stand being in a noisy environment – school, as you mentioned, crowded restaurant, etc., where there is too much background noise.

    Is it hereditary?

    1. Not that I’m aware but very little is known about it in general. It’s certainly possible!

  2. […] Not designed for sleeping in but when you need to shut out the sound around you in normal life. As I suffer from sensory overload, this can be particularly useful in noisy […]

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