How to Deal with Sensory Overload

How to Deal with Sensory Overload

Through the Fog

Do you struggle with sensory overload? I struggle with bright lights, the assault of loud noises, and any kind of motion that kickstarts my vertigo. Sensory overload is a painful struggle.

For example, exposure to strong odors gives me headaches and nausea. For that reason, I have to be careful about what kinds of cleaners, laundry detergents, and soaps I use. I enjoy products with a lemony scent or other light fragrance. I haven’t been able to wear perfume in years, nor can I be in the same room with someone wearing strong perfume or cologne for very long. I tend to use natural products because the smells are not overpowering. I really like Melaleuca cleaning products for that reason.

When I’m with a group of people, even my family, constant interaction exhausts me. I love the time I spend with loved ones, but after about three hours I just need to lie down and be alone. I call that relational overload. I consider myself to be an “extroverted introvert,” but fibro has diminished the extroverted side of my personality. That’s an emotional burden I could not have anticipated before my diagnosis.

When in a public setting that feels overwhelming, it helps just to step outside and get some fresh air, or go into another room to give my overstimulated mind and body a chance to relax. When my son got married a year ago, I knew it was time to go home just three hours into the event. I had reached my social and emotional limit. I missed the dancing and cake-cutting, but my son understood. I felt like I accomplished a lot just by being there.

Temperature is another overload trigger. If I get too warm, I get nauseous and weak. If I get too cold, my pain increases and it’s difficult to move around. Summer is my favorite time of year. I love flowers, the smell of freshly mown grass, and singing birds. What I don’t love are humidity and high temperatures. The winter is beautiful when it snows, but because of the incredible cold, I tend to hibernate. I’m less likely to schedule any appointments during the coldest months.

Here are some tips that might help you with sensory overload:

  1. Open windows to disperse strong odors.
  2. Using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones for help with loud noises.
  3. Avoid piping hot or extremely cold water.
  4. Get a smart lightbulb so you can adjust the color and intensity of the light.
  5. Find natural cleaning products with a fresh, mild smell.

It’s helpful to know your specific triggers and address them in the best way for you. It’s OK if others don’t understand — it’s not about them. This is all part of a good self-care plan. 

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Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.

4 comments

  1. Joseph Bryan says:

    WOW i never thought that my Fibro was why i always got to feeling sick if i was out in the heat for more than 15 or 20 minutes. Great information, Thank you Robin !!

  2. Lindsey Murphy says:

    How do you deal with strong smells from other people? I work in a crowded office and on more then one occasion have run into someone wearing too much perfume sitting near me. Sometimes I can work elsewhere for the day or part of the day but that’s not always an option. It’s a sensitive subject. How do you tell a person you’re wearing too much perfume? Just because you can’t smell it doesn’t mean others can’t. I have thought about bringing the idea to my VP about implementing a fragrance free policy. That also poses other issues in my line of work but Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is something you can get disability for. It is real, I just have trouble dealing with it when it comes to other people.

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