Sensory Overload Anxiety: Coping for Highly Sensitive People
Sensory overload anxiety can be a real problem for highly sensitive people (HSP). While not all highly sensitive people face intense anxiety, it’s common for highly sensitive people to experience sensory overload anxiety from common, everyday occurrences. But with the right anxiety coping skills, we can better prepare and cope with the challenges of living as a highly sensitive person with anxiety.
Why Sensory Overload Anxiety Affects Highly Sensitive People
Being highly sensitive is a double-edged sword. We may be more creative and empathic, but we also may have extremely active minds and feel everything. I know I feel everything—all the time.
As a highly sensitive person, you’re more attuned to your senses and the surrounding world. You may be more sensitive to noise, smells, sights, and even your own internal physical experience. When we absorb the stimulation around us, we can easily experience sensory overload anxiety. Sensory overload activates the body’s stress response and may lead to anxious thoughts and physical reactions to anxiety.
But while the propensity to absorb so much has its challenges, we can tap into the strength of our sensitivity with the right tools.
How to Cope with Sensory Overload Anxiety
1. Know your triggers. One of the greatest strengths you possess as a highly sensitive person is your ability to sense what negatively affects you. Write a list of your triggers (What Is an Anxiety Trigger?).
2. Practice self-care. Take care of yourself and cope ahead for situations that you know could to lead to sensory overload anxiety. If I have a large party to attend, I take time to recharge my batteries and center myself starting weeks before the event.
3. Practice mindfulness. One simple way to do this is to do a quick body scan to notice where you feel most calm and grounded in your body. Then, as you enter into a stimulating environment, you have a resource within that you can tune into to calm your sensory experience (An Anxiety Relief Exercise That Uses Your Body as a Resource).
4. Find the middle path. It’s important to find a balance. I find that if I spend too much time in quiet places, I’m even more overwhelmed by my senses later. But I also don’t believe in forcing yourself into frenetic environments. Despite my distaste for loud places where I can’t hear others speak, I love dancing and live music. This is a great middle ground for me because I can be in a loud place while still enjoying myself.
5. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself. Refrain from staying for too long. I recall a time when I was in India 10 years ago. As you may imagine, sensory overload happens easily in India. One day I was at the end of my rope as 12 people tried to get me to come to their shop. I had a total meltdown. At that point, I desperately need a little break from my travels to center and ground myself.
6. Be kind to yourself. Practice patience and compassion. Remember that along with the challenges of being highly sensitive to our environments, high sensitivity comes with many gifts.
What do you do to cope with sensory overload anxiety? I’d love to hear from other highly sensitive people out there.
Renzi, M. (2018, February 7). Sensory Overload Anxiety: Coping for Highly Sensitive People, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2018/02/sensory-overload-anxiety-how-highly-sensitive-people-can-cope
Author: Melissa Renzi
Most of these suggestions are impossible. I have Fibromyalgia so once pain kicks in that causes anxiety then the grandkids - constantly talking and kids tv shows. I can’t excuse myself when I’m around them. I can’t be mindful when I have them and frankly there is no balance.
Hi Linda, I can appreciate that not everyone has the freedom to simply separate at any given time. But this is why the self-care, mindfulness, and self-compassion skills are so important to cultivate in the little bit of time we have awayfrom stimulating settings. If we practice even just a little, we can often cope better in stimulating circumstances.
One of the big reasons I’ve decided not to get married or have kids is because kids are loud for no reason and having sex sounds like sensory overload. I often have meltdowns when around small kids for too long.
Aaron, I certainly understand where you're coming from and it's part of why I don't have kids myself. I like them, but it feels overwhelming in many ways. It's good you know yourself. Although at the same time, relationships are important so I believe we always want to be finding the balance and not be isolating ourselves too much.
Very well put Melissa. You don't know how good it feels to hear the both of you talk about kids. I never met anyone that has felt or thought the way I do. I love kids and I Love my nieces and nephews to pieces. I'm a proud Aunt! But the feeling of being easily overwhelmed and the sensory overload would cook me -every time. Anytime I would say this to someone I would get a confused look and definitely something unheard of. Then I would question myself, "is there something wrong with me?" I would question my own abilities of being a parent. While I am trying to figure this out this is truly refreshing and helpful to know I'm not alone. FINALLY! Someone gets me. Thank you!