Covid + Sensory Overload
Excerpts from email communication between Selma and Rae:
All images by Selma:
Selma: I'd been experiencing sensory overload on start of the pandemic- feeling the need to accept people's phone/video calls as I would want the same if I called them. But I'm learning to limit it where possible and am doing the alternatives to indulge senses instead. I have collected a bundle of different fabric textures from my mum's spare rags from sewing people's clothes and touch them first thing in the morning and last thing,
Rae: I am interested in your strategy to manage your sensory overload - can you tell me anymore about this touching of the fabrics in the morning and evening - how does that help? Is it because it is soothing and reassuring? Is this something that you know helps people with SO or did you discover it yourself (ie do you think it would help other people?).
Selma: ‘Is it because it is soothing and reassuring?’ no, it's actually the opposite, it needs to be stimulating yet NOT overpowering. In the past I would confuse sensory overload with anxiety and try to find ways to relax and found it to be ineffective. The symptoms of sensory overload for me are mainly cold sweats, nervousness, confusion, anger, inability to listen or be talked at, and very short fuse. i.e. i may visit/ call a good friend if i'm feeling lonely yet want them to be gone within seconds of making contact. If I speak to anybody i come across contradictory and agitated. I cannot listen to anything where I feel I'm being talked at i.e. a study lecture, documentary, someone explaining something etc
So instead i resort to ways that 'stimulate' the senses in order to match the hyperactivity of the overload. as my senses are too activated to respond to anything soothing or relaxing. for example:
-I generally find a warm/hot shower relaxing but on experiencing s.overload this is too passive- so i take a tepid/cool shower to stimulate, wake up and bring me present.
- where camomile and lavender are relaxing they're ineffective for me following s.overload. instead, orange blossom, mandarin, and sniffing soil and clay help ground me. Equally- eucalyptus, peppermint or menthol are ineffective as they swing me the other way and are too powerful and over-stimulating. so it seems to be about finding the sweeet spot/ fine balance between the two
- where I respond to relaxing music well when i'm stressed, here the sound of strong instrument being played, or live singing work. whereas relaxing music frustrates me even further
- for sight: where candles would help, here the colour orange or yellow work. I have a pair of orange trainers I sometimes put on just for this purpose
These are things i've discovered myself. i learned to accept that sensory overload can be a real thing for some- while reading more about aspergers. Before i used to put it down to anxiety. I never quite got round to reading what other people do to manage it as I already found my own ways.
I do think it would help others understand the nuances between relaxing-moderately, stimulating, and over stimulating outlets.
And at the risk of information overload...
here are some links that explore some of the themes in the blog post if you want to find out more:
On Sensory Difference:
On Sensory Processing
On Sensory Integration Disfunction and work:
On dealing with fear - useful to everyone at the moment: