What’s Happening When I Feel Overwhelmed?

By Susan Guio, LCSW

Sensory Overload

What’s going on when you feel overwhelmed, when you reel from loud noises, when lights give you headaches and you melt down over seemingly “nothing”?  This is the experience of being sensory sensitive. This can happen from the stressors in everyday life or you may be living or working in a volatile or dangerous situation that causes you to feel too much. The solution your mind and body takes in these situations is simple. You shut down or avoid feeling. This takes care of the immediate problem of feeling overwhelmed.

What happens to children born with overly sensitive nervous systems and children who experience trauma is that their maturity is hindered. They do not know to process what they experience. They don’t trust what they feel, which is connected to making mature choices. They lose their foundation.

Coping with Sensory Overload

Sensory processing is the ability to trust what you experience. Your impressions of life are taken in by what you sense. What you feel, hear, smell, taste, and see. You are a sensuous being built to thrive in the pleasures of sensation. Humans are born wanting to feel loved, to be heard, to be seen, to be fed, and connect to the smell of their mother. As a newborn you recognized your mother by smell and taste.

You are sensory being first and foremost. You filter life through your senses as you become aware of what you like and what you don’t. What feels good and what doesn’t. Your senses are your internal compass and foundation. Instinctively, you trust your “gut” feeling.

Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske write in their book “Raising a Sensory Smart Child”:

  • People with sensory issues have difficulty figuring out what is going on inside and outside of their bodies and there is no guarantee that the sensory information in accurate.
  • If the sensory is delayed in development, people don’t rely on senses to give them accurate information and thus don’t know to behave in response to sensory stimulation or translate the message of the feeling state. Thus, have trouble in learning and behaving appropriately.
  • A child with sensory processing delays usually has maladaptive responses to everyday situations, consistently shows behaviors that are not age appropriate and inconsistence responses.

The Good News

Teaching a child or an adult to engage and trust their sensory is doable since it reconnects to the natural state of how to grow and be happy.  Sensory processing therapy helps regulate reactive responses to stimulus. Clients feel calmer, safer and in more control. Children especially respond to sensory processing treatments as they have not had years of being disconnected.

Sensory processing provides a foundation to assist treatment for Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficient Disorder, Asperger’s, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Trauma, Anxiety, Depression, and life’s challenges.

About the Author: