Are you overwhelmed when there are several things competing for you attention?
- the television in another room
- tablet sounds
- neighbor doing yard work
- your fingers tapping on the keyboard
- chewing sounds
- the microwave is running
- the washing machine just buzzed
- kids squabbling
- the dog is whining
- the mail truck driving by
- the list really does go on and on and on…
Do you find yourself getting irritable and snapping during these times? Are you wondering why it seems easier for other parents to cope with the chaos of having a household of child(ren) noises?
Furthermore are your other senses also easily overwhelmed?
- you don’t love kids clinging to you
- you are bothered by ill fitting or unexpected clothing sensations
- you don’t like sticky things
- you find certain types of food textures to be creepy
- strong smells are nauseating
- you are visually overwhelmed by clutter
- When your child is asking repetitive questions
- Wild play (flailing limbs, jumping or running)
If you are answering yes to many of those questions, you may be a highly sensitive person to sensory experiences. This does not mean that you have a sensory processing disorder; this isn’t meant for self-diagnosis. If you feel that you have intense reactions to the above stimuli, you may want to speak to an occupational therapist or your primary care provider. Being sensory sensitive, means that you are more sensitive than the average person to sensory stimuli. Specifically, it is known as sensory defensiveness. Sensory defensiveness is defined as having an anxious reaction to non-noxious sensory stimuli. In other words, a person is sensory defensive if he/she has a negative reaction to sensory input that is typically considered either positive or at least neutral.
Symptoms of being sensory overwhelmed
- Loosing temper
- You get “touched out”
- You need alone time
- You feel as if you’re going to “explode” from pressure
- You feel like you need to “hide” from your kids
If you are finding that your reactions are met with statements like “why does that bother you”, “that really shouldn’t bother you”, or “I barely even notice it, how is it such a big deal to you“, then you might be experiencing sensory defensiveness. The good news is that there is hope! Here are some suggestions that might help you:
- Desensitization – work on relaxation techniques while exposing yourself to some of the upsetting stimuli as referenced above. This could include playing with sensory fidgets if tactile issues are primary, walking barefoot outdoors, letting your hands be dirty for a few minutes before washing them, using relaxation breathing while noticing multiple sounds.
- Coping – wear noise dampening earbuds to block out some of the less intense noises. (I personally like Loop noise dampening earbuds). It’s especially helpful to use them in the later hours of the day as whining increases and your nerves are more frayed. With noise dampening earbuds you will be able to hear them if they need you while still having your bubble.
- Speak up! You can teach your children about your boundaries and what sorts of things you would prefer them to do in other rooms. You can teach them to turn the volume down or turn off noise producing devices when they are finished so there are not several going at once. You can inform your family and friends not to purchase noisy toys for you kids as well! You can also speak to your family members/spouse about your needs and asking them to understand if you need a break (including a break from them).
- Prioritize your down/alone time. Be sure that someone relieves you and you go for a walk to clear your mind, you can lock the doors during a shower, you can enforce quiet time for all members of your home to be in their rooms once or twice per day (be consistent about this as it will take time for everyone to adjust).
- Figure out your triggers. Instead of trying to tell yourself to “suck it up” or that you must be “crazy”, be kinder with your self talk and remember that you aren’t the only person who experiences sensory overwhelm! Honor your needs enough to figure out your triggers and work to solve them.
- Get outside (yes, even with the kids) and mindfully turn your attention toward any nature you can see (a rock, a blade of grass, the sky, a bird, etc).
- Decrease the caffeine, seriously, it only adds to the anxiety.
- Consult with professionals: occupational therapy, speech therapy, mindfulness based therapies and cognitive behavioral therapy can all be useful tools for sensory issues. If the symptoms are interfering greatly with your quality of life, you may want to investigate the help of a pro!