Sensory overload – what is it and what are the symptoms of overstimulation?

Sensory overload - what is it and what are the symptoms of overstimulation?

Sensory overload is quite common. It concerns not only children, but also adults, but it affects city dwellers more often than rural residents. Check what it is and how to deal with overstimulation.

  • How does sensory overload happen?
  • Symptoms of overstimulation
  • Sensory overload and other diseases and disorders
  • How to deal with sensory overload?

Sensory overload (called overstimulation) is a condition in which the brain receives too many different stimuli at once, for example, sight, sound, taste, smell or touch, and is unable to process them. This condition may accompany somatic diseases or occur spontaneously in response to specific events or situations.

How does sensory overload happen?

According to scientists, abnormalities in the functioning of the so-called sensory gate are responsible for the formation of sensory overload. This term is used to describe the mechanism that “filters” information reaching the nervous system. When the “system” begins to refuse to obey, the brain processes data from the outside, which under “normal” conditions would be ignored.

It is worth noting that overstimulation affects residents of urban areas more often than people living in small towns or in rural areas. In large cities we are dealing with more traffic and noise pollution. These factors, as shown by research conducted since the early 1970s, are conducive to sensory overload.

Symptoms of overstimulation

Scientists pay attention to signs such as: irritability, anxiety, a strong need to silence or eliminate certain stimuli, for example by covering the eyes or plugging the ears, overstimulation or disorders in cognitive functioning and concentration.

Sensory overload is very often accompanied by physical symptoms. An overstimulated person often suffers from migraines. He may also experience many other ailments. These include, among others: accelerated heart rate, excessive sweating, tightness in the chest, nausea, tremors and muscle pain, as well as very high fatigue (sometimes even exhaustion).

Sensory overload and other diseases and disorders

Sensory overload often occurs in the course of various diseases and disorders. It often appears in the clinical picture of health problems such as:

  • Autism spectrum – people affected by it are particularly susceptible to overstimulation. They have trouble with adaptive response to signals coming from the environment. They are also characterized by very high sensory sensitivity. They can be disturbed not only by loud noises or bright lights, but also by certain flavors, textures of food or fabrics.

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – people with this disorder find it difficult to process external stimuli, regulate emotions, and adapt to changes in the immediate environment. All these factors contribute to the occurrence of sensory overload.

  • Anxiety disorders – the constant feeling of threat and the stress associated with it makes the individual more sensitive to various sensory experiences. Overstimulation can occur together with other symptoms or independently.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – develops under the influence of traumatic experiences. It causes extreme anxiety and stress. The person experiencing them is in a state of constant vigilance, which means that he is overly sensitive to all stimuli coming from the outside. This can lead to sensory overload, especially when there is a lot going on around you.

  • Fibromyalgia – sensory overload is strongly associated with this disease. Its causes are not yet well understood, but scientists believe that hypersensitivity to external stimuli may be the underlying cause of the disease. Patients feel pain more than healthy people. The same is usually also the case with other sensations (visual, tactile, etc.).

How to deal with sensory overload?

Above all, avoid environments with a lot of stimuli. Avoid staying in crowded rooms. Look for less traveled places. Give up activity when you feel tired or irritable and give yourself time to rest. Don’t be afraid to talk about your emotions. If possible, spend a lot of time in nature. The proximity of nature calms you down and helps you find your inner balance. If you often struggle with sensory overload, seek help from a professional. Contact a psychologist or psychotherapist.


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