I would like to start this post by clarifying that I am in no way a mental health professional, and I haven't actually done much official research on this topic. As with anything related to mental health, these issues affect everyone differently. My goal in this post is simply to discuss, openly and in a casual setting, my own personal experiences with sensory overload in relation to anxiety.
We all know Wikipedia has an oh so fabulous reputation for reliability, right? Ok not really, but in relation to my experience with it they do have a pretty solid definition of sensory overload:
"Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body's senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. There are many environmental elements that affect an individual. Examples of these elements are urbanization, crowding, noise, mass media, technology, and the explosive growth of information."
I have talked about various layers of my anxiety before, but one layer I haven't brought up yet is my experience with sensory overload. For a lot of people with anxiety this very well could be a separate issue, or even a nonexistent one. And there are also sensory processing disorders that are common in children with autism and other mental illnesses, but that isn't what I am talking about here.
What I'm describing feels similar to having a panic attack, but there are a couple slight differences. When I'm anxious and start to experience sensory overload, it's similar to a panic attack in the sense that I can't breathe, I can't focus, and the world seems to start violently spinning on its axis. However instead of everything seeming to disappear around me like it does during a panic attack, it becomes amplified. Sounds, vibrations, people, it's as if someone turned the world up to max volume and I can't get out.
Now obviously there are a variety of senses and other environmental factors that can be overstimulated in a situation like this, but for me these are the worst:
When every single sound around me feels like it's been magnified. That guy clapping sounds like he's beating on a drum that's ten feet tall. I can hear every individual note in that song that's blaring from the stereo. And I guarantee if there's the sound of a TV playing over anything, I'm going to lose it. And you know, you probably don't hear it, but there is a leak in that pipe right there and it sounds like a freaking hurricane.
Way too much information.
Sometimes when I start getting too much information all at once, I just shut down. You'll know it's happening because when you're talking my hands will start shaking, I'll start breathing really fast, then all of a sudden I'll just scream hold on and close my eyes. Trust me, I'm the last person you want ordering food at a restaurant for a large group of people. This also applies if too many people are talking to me or around me, all at once. If you see me totally check out of a group conversation and go into another mental universe, it's probably because too many people are talking.
Any and all vibrations feel like an earthquake. That light breeze coming from the air vent in the ceiling feels like it's a blizzard blowing me down the side of a mountain. And seriously don't touch my arm because it will feel like you just punched me, and I can't promise I won't punch you back.
Way too much technology.
For me this happens when I'm having anxiety or a panic attack and my phone starts blowing up like I'm Nicole Kidman or something. Suddenly I've got 15 emails, 5 missed calls, a friend request from some girl I met once in college 7 years ago, 4 new Tinder messages even though I haven't been on Tinder in 8 months, oh and 55 texts in a group chat that let's be honest I'll never read. Ok... maybe it was just a few texts and some social media notifications. But that's what it feels like, okay? The "do not disturb" feature is my best friend.
By this point most of you are probably thinking, what the hell is this girl talking about? That's ok, but I hope a few of you can relate. When I got the idea for this post I understood that it probably wouldn't be the most universal of all the anxiety related things I write. But I do feel like it is important to share because it is part of my journey. And hopefully a few of you reading this will feel a little less alone. Whether your experience is similar to mine, or totally different, we're all in this together.
As always, thanks for reading.