Sensory overload is when one or more of your body’s senses becomes hyperstimulated. This can happen when your body receives information from the environment from your senses and it overwhelms you.
To try to relate, imagine you are with your family at a resort. It is just you and your family. The pool is empty, the beach is empty, and the restaurants are empty. The next day is a holiday weekend and buses start pouring in with young adults on spring break. The pools and beaches are packed with loud music, yelling, and splashing. There are no empty places for your family to sit by the pool. You decide to go out to eat. With all the additional people, there is an hour-long wait time for the restaurant. You can hear utensils scraping and banging on the plates, the patrons are talking so loudly you can’t hear what the waitress is asking you. Suddenly you begin to feel overwhelmed. You begin to have a stomach ache. When you leave the restaurant, people are bumping into you because even walking on the sidewalk is too crowded. Your headache increases from all the noise, your frustration tolerance has decreased and you become more agitated. Your heart rate increases and you feel stressed. This is an example of how your sensory system becomes overwhelmed.
How Sensory Anxiety Differs From Regular Anxiety
Sensory Overload is when your brain displays difficulty interpreting and processing sensory input. Your brain will begin to go into a flight or fight response. Anxiety is defined as intense and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and feeling fatigued are all signs of anxiety.
Although their definitions are different, the two are closely intertwined and can impact one another. Sensory Overload can lead to anxiety and anxiety can impact sensory overload.
From children diagnosed on the spectrum to people suffering from post-traumatic stress, both have anxiety and sensory processing disorders.
When your brain sends messages that are confusing because they are not interpreting information appropriately, you begin to feel fear and worry which can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea to even fatigue. When someone suffers from anxiety, they worry about things in their environment, causing them to have a heightened response towards sensory stimuli. Whichever came first, it is important to acknowledge and address these issues as they impact one's daily life skills.
When a child is diagnosed with sensory concerns, reach out to a Pediatric Occupational Therapist to assist with helping your child develop a better functioning system. A child with anxiety would benefit from receiving Occupational Therapy as well, however, one should also seek a Psychiatrist who specializes in children with sensory processing disorders. Studies have shown that medication alone will not help your child alleviate their sensory concerns. You must make sure you address the sensory concerns to help your child feel safe and aware of their environment.
How To Avoid Sensory Meltdowns In Kids
Understanding the underlying causes of a child suffering from anxiety and/or sensory processing disorders is crucial to helping them come up with compensatory and calming techniques to help them through the stressor. When they feel more in control of an out-of-control situation, they are able to cope and be successful. Then they are more likely to attempt the activity again. The brain will register this new information and decrease the fight or flight system.
By communicating with your child, and providing a safe loving environment, you can help your child feel confident to effectively deal with their anxiety and sensory processing concerns. This will allow them to gain the strategies and tools they will need to become successful and independent.