The modern world can be a hectic, noisy, and fast-paced place to navigate.

This can be especially true for people with certain conditions that make dealing with overwhelming situations tricky. Those with sensory processing issues often struggle to handle everything life throws at them.

This happens because people who have problems with sensory processing worry about not being in full control of every part of their lives. Loud noises, for example, might make them nervous, or strong smells could leave them uncomfortable. This is not just when they’re out of the house; intense sensory overload is just as likely to pop up at home. The net result is a feeling of deep anxiety due to their senses being flooded with information.

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Sensory overload anxiety – an overview

As the above shows, sensory overload anxiety is a condition that can greatly impact daily life. People with this ailment find it overly stressful to deal with a large amount of stimulus provided by their senses, which they then must process.

This overstimulation of one or more of their senses means there is far too much for the brain to process at any time. Due to this, feelings of anxiety or being out of control can occur. In addition, people with this condition can often worry about their senses being overstimulated in daily life or by a certain task/situation. This can lead to feelings of stress around their senses being bombarded or how they will be able to handle it.

While the majority of people have no problem organizing data received from their senses, this isn’t the case for those with sensory overload anxiety. The sheer amount of information provided can leave them feeling unable to cope. It’s important to note that this condition can affect both children and adults.

Causes of sensory overload anxiety can vary

Although the general condition has the same root causes, how it presents itself can differ between people. Some can be more sensitive to sounds, while it might be noise, taste, textures, or visual stimuli for others. For those with this condition, it can be common for them to avoid sensory input, which makes them anxious.

Sensory overload anxiety is more likely to present itself in those who are oversensitive. This is because they become too keyed into the world around them and overreact to the information their senses provide.

What can trigger sensory overload anxiety attacks?

While being overly sensitive to the world around you is the general reason behind this condition, there are often specific things that can trigger feelings of worry. This can include:

  • Trips to noisy places, such as a shopping mall or music concert
  • Being in unfamiliar situations
  • Being in situations which you feel unprepared for
  • New people, new activities, or new locations
  • Worrying that something unexpected could occur
  • Loud hand dryers in a public restroom
  • A bar that has multiple TVs on, all showing different channels
  • Getting dressed each morning

While the above is not an exhaustive list of everything which can trigger sensory overload anxiety, it does give an idea of those which might.

Real-world examples of sensory overload anxiety

The above shows certain reasons why sensory overload could occur. But how might this pan out in real life? Below are a few in-depth examples of how anxiety around sensory overload might work practically.

A teenager missing a friend’s birthday party

One good example is a teenager missing out on their friend’s birthday party. If the teenager in question is oversensitive to noise, they may worry about loud music being played at the party or the noise a large group of guests could make. Due to this, they may refuse to go to the party and end up missing out on the fun.

An adult failing to connect at a family gathering

Common anxiety disorders in adults are widely seen now. Worrying about their senses being overloaded and unable to handle the amount of stimulus provided is important to mention.

One example is an adult attending a family get-together but standing apart from everyone, as they are oversensitive to touch. By standing apart, they hope no one will hug them and trigger their feelings of anxiety.

Sensory overload at the pool

A young child who is oversensitive to smells may struggle at a public swimming pool. This could be due to the chemicals put in the water to make it safe, which sometimes have a strong smell. Due to this, they could panic when entering the pool and experience feelings of stress.

How do you know it is sensory overload anxiety?

While this condition is easy to understand, it’s not always so simple to tell if you/someone you know is showing signs of a sensory issue. For example, if you feel worried about getting dressed in the mornings, this could be because you are overly sensitive to clothing. On the other hand, it could be down to you hating your job and not wanting to go to work.

But how can you tell if you or someone you know has a genuine sensory processing issue? One thing to note is that issues with sensory overload are rarely limited to one thing. In addition, timing is another clue to pick up on. In our example above, it could be a sensory overload issue if you dread getting dressed every morning. If it’s only on workdays, the anxiety may be down to issues with your job.

How can you help those with sensory overload anxiety?

If you know someone with sensory processing issues that cause anxiety, it’s natural to want to help them. The tips below are a good place to start:

  • Learn the common signs of anxiety across different ages
  • Research strategies to use at home for sensory processing problems
  • Take notes on what is happening and talk to a healthcare professional
  • Learn how to avoid or deal with external situations which could cause anxiety
  • Prepare for situations that could trigger an attack

Sensory overload anxiety – conclusion

This condition can make daily life seem a struggle for those who experience it. With a good understanding of it, though, and the right strategies to manage it, it doesn’t have to make life miserable.