Sensory overload


Prior to the accident, sensory overload is something I experienced, although I didn’t really understand what it was. Since the accident, it impacts my every day. So. Much.

For those who don’t understand sensory overload, here’s the best way I can describe it: You know that feeling you get when more than one person is trying to talk to you at once? Well, with sensory overload (at least in my case), each individual sound–from a car driving by, to the floor creaking, to someone speaking–is like a voice demanding my attention. Bright lights, strong scents, the touch of a hand. Every single thing the body can sense is demanding full attention, at the same time.

With both my concussion and panic attacks, this culminates in what feels like the brightest light suddenly flashing inside my head and I know I need to immediately flee and get somewhere quiet and dark.

While this impacts all creatives, it has particular difficulties for those of us who need to be on computers. The brightness of a screen and tapping of the keys can make getting work done difficult, if not impossible. But I’ve found it is possible to get my brain to calm the fuck down so I can keep working, or at least keep it from a total freak out.

Make sure all needs are met

It’s so strange, but every single sensation just adds to my overwhelmed brain. That includes feeling a full bladder and empty belly. When I start feeling sensory overload coming on, I head to the bathroom, grab a drink of water and then find a healthy snack.


After this, the best thing to do for me is find a dark, still place. One of my nephews has autism and when he’s feeling overwhelmed, he ducks into his bedroom closet where he’s got soft pillows to relax on.

This might sound counterintuitive, but I find putting on a podcast that has no sound effects or music to be super helpful. When the brain is overwhelmed, a shout from outside or pop from an appliance can have me skittering and shaking in bed. But expected sounds–like the voices of folks from my favourite podcasts–don’t have quite the same effect.


Unsuccessfully avoiding sensory overload at the last Half Moon Market in Winnipeg.

Wear shades

Sometimes you can’t just stop life and cut the sensations driving your brain over the edge. So, if you’ve gotta get up and life, wear sunglasses. If you do this in public, people are going to oh-so-annoyingly accuse you of being drunk, high or hungover. But it’s better than being blasted out by bright lights.

Get headphones

Having headphones on will help cut out some of the unexpected noise that can push me over the edge. They’re not so necessary at home, but if I’m in a car with multiple people who are having conversations or am walking down the street, you can bet I’ve got something over my ears, feeding me the sweet, sweet sounds of Guys We Fucked.

Dim the lights

Working through sensory overload isn’t a thing, but sometimes work has to get done. Between breaks to calm my brain, I make sure all lights are dim. This might mean throwing a sheet over a bright lightbulb, lighting the room with soft night light or turning down the brightness on my computer and phone screens.


If you experience sensory overload, how do you describe it to people? I’m very curious about this! And what do you do to take care of the situation? Comment below or head over to my Facebook page to join other conversations like this.



3 thoughts on “Sensory overload

  1. Blake Alexander Downing

    It sounds dramatic, but for me, sensory overload ranges from how you described it to the feeling of drowning or suffocating in sensory input. When it’s bad, sometimes my mind shuts down almost completely and suddenly everything, including everything I do, starts going in super-slow-motion. A coworker once described me as looking like a deer in headlights when I was in this state.

    I got myself a pair of molded earplugs and ear defenders, since I mostly have issues with sound. I don’t really have problems with light at all, and only ‘heavy’ smells cause problems for me.

    • You don’t sound dramatic. It’s an awful and terrifying feeling. Dealing with that at work sounds so rough. I’m sorry you have to experience that ❤

      Ear plugs are a great idea! I need to grab some.

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