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  • Writer's pictureCoach Elizabeth Brink

Managing Sensory Overload

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

It’s common for neurodivergent folks to experience hypersensitivity to sensory input. A lot of us don’t see it as a sensitivity until we’re older, and then we chalk it up to aging.

  • Do you hear the clock ticking next door?

  • Does your mood downshift when you’re in a loud crowd?

  • Do you turn off the radio in the car (or pause the tv even if you’re not watching it) when someone is talking to you?

  • Is the sound of someone chewing the worst sound ever?

  • Do you sleep with white noise?

I also can’t work or read with dialogue around me. For me, nearly all the senses are impacted, but it varies by person.

I can feel the tiniest pinch in muscle I didn’t know existed.

I've always noticed the room temperature and am often swinging from hot to cold.

I cannot handle being tickled or light touch massage.

If someone burns popcorn I will post signs outlawing popcorn.

Don’t even get me started on using scented lotion on airplanes.

It's difficult to drive if there are a lot of headlights in the oncoming lane.

I get motion sick easily.

The list is endless.

My senses are very alert most of the time, especially when I’m tired.

I get cranky and snippy when I’m in sensory overload, and often need to nap for my body and mind to fully reset.

Sensory overload in motherhood threw me for a loop.

Confession: I never want to do bedtime on my own with the kids. It requires so much management and sensory input, I usually get sweaty and battle my inner tantrum so it doesn’t spill on them.

I’ve felt a lot of shame over this because often this is the time of day my littles need connection with me.

In theory, I want to give that to them, but in practice, I can only do it if they do what I say. That’s a very real tension for mamas who easily get overwhelmed.

I’m thankful I have a supportive partner, but I know many of you don’t. I want you to hear me say this: beautifully peaceful and loving bedtime routines do not make you a good parent.

If this is a hard part of your day, what can you do to make it easier for you?

Managing our overwhelm and outbursts is what’s best for our kids.

I spent time with other people’s kiddos my whole life. My mom ran a daycare in our home and yet, I wasn’t prepared for how my nervous system would respond to my children.

Here are a few things that help me regulate on hard days:

  • Earplugs I can still hear the kids, but it’s muffled and helps my nerves to settle when sound is agitating.

  • Get Outside Something about fresh air, even in “bad” weather, fills my body with calm. In many ways, it reconnects me to my body, which is often a big issue in overwhelm.

  • Hydrate and Snack I don’t always notice how thirsty or hungry I am, because I’m running around putting out fires.

  • Television I especially like Esme & Roy on PBS and Daniel Tiger, but there are also a lot of narrated storybook videos on Prime and YouTube that are soothing.

  • Sensory Rest I learned about this from Dr. Dalton-Smith and it is a game-changer. Depriving all my senses of input for a few minutes is helpful when I feel like snapping. Earplugs and a closet are perfect for making space for sensory rest.

Reflection Questions

  1. What sensory sensitivities do you notice in your day?

  2. What do you do to adapt and avoid overwhelm?

  3. What do you do to soothe your nervous system?

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