Until recent years, I never heard anything about people acknowledging being overwhelmed or overloaded, especially not in reference to emotions or sensory processing. I think the first time I heard of sensory overload was in reference to an autistic child. I know those who are autistic probably have a completely different level of sensory overload compared to those of us who are not autistic, but we all process sensory information differently and therefore it affects us differently. Sensory overload isn’t something that only affects our autistic population, it is something that can affect anybody.
Ever since first hearing about sensory overload, I opened my mind to learning more. I learned that not only can people be overloaded with sensory information, but we can also be overloaded from everyday emotions and environments. Some people never get overloaded and others easily do. Empaths are people who tend to be affected by sensory and emotion overload. For me, yes, my emotions absolutely get overloaded, but my sensory overload comes in the form of being overstimulated by entirely way too much going on around me for long periods of time.
I think it is important to point out that sensory and emotion overload does not outwardly look like what you see in movies or TV shows. While there may be some truth to what is conveyed, that is not typical for everybody. For instance, I do not have outbursts when I’m overloaded. I get stressed. My perfectionistic tendencies become more forefront to how I go about my tasks or activities. My need for being on time (read: no less than 10 minutes early) is exaggerated. I get short and snippy. I need shit put away in their damn places and why the hell is it still sitting on the f*ing counter after two days?! Then it might get to the point that I just break down crying. While this is my typical escalation path, each and every other person most likely has some other reaction to overload.
There is not one singular way for every single person to overcome sensory or emotion overload. The method that works for one will not work for others. The method that works this minute in this situation will potentially not work in the next moment in the next situation. For me, quiet time by myself helps. Sometimes all I can get it an extended trip to the bathroom or a longer than usual shower, but it is worth it. Most times, if I can take a couple of hours by myself, I recharge quite well. Driving by myself is extremely helpful, so I might volunteer to go to the store for something or go on a coffee run. When I hit my highest limits of overload, I need a few days to myself. To help with my day-to-day maintenance, I need one to two hours of quiet time in the morning by myself.
I have finally gotten to where I will take care of myself enough to request and even demand these situations so I can reduce and remove the overload from my life. I still battle with feeling guilty about it, especially when we have family over or when we are visiting family. This is something that I will be working on overcoming for quite some time. The point is that I finally do it for me and put myself first.
I didn’t go through therapy or any official diagnosis to get to this point. Some people need that assistance, some do not. I do not feel that my overload is to the point that I need medication for professional intervention. I learned tips and processes to overcome the overload the same way I learned that there was a perfectly normal explanation for these feelings I couldn’t explain: through research and personal growth. It has worked for me, but it might not be enough for you. Please, if you are unable to find relief through any process you try, seek out help from someone else, including a therapist. There is no reason any of us should suffer in silence. Being overloaded shouldn’t be an accepted normal living state. Find peace and methods to help you return to that peace. It is worth diving into the unknown and messy arena.