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.