Loud noises, bright lights, flashy colors, busy streets, long train rides, large squares, crowded restaurants, cold weather, warm weather, shouting, car alarms, fireworks, and busy classrooms. I could continue making a list for hours and I’d still not get close to writing about all the things that can cause sensory overload. And I’m still one of the lucky ones.
Sensory overload is a concept where a person’s senses get overwhelmed by the things that happen around them. Anyone can experience this to a degree, as the brain tries to process all of the information that the senses pick up on. A healthy brain that works properly is able to decide which bits of information are important and which aren’t. An autistic brain, amongst other reasons, will sometimes look at all of the incoming information and decide that it’s all equally important. So it will try to process all of it. The loud noises, the bright lights, the flashy colors, the people and everything else. That takes a lot of energy. Now imagine your brain constantly does that, without you even realizing sometimes. It has no filter in what information it processes and what it ignores. This is what it’s like to deal with sensory overload.
Now I want to put an asterisk here. *. Mental health issues and things like sensory overload can be very different from person to person. I’m not trying to generalize here by any means, I’m just sharing my personal experiences with sensory overload.
I don’t get the kind of sensory overload that people think of when they hear the term often. The complete shutting down of all functions and going into a full blown panic attack. I’ve had that before, but due to my mental health steadily getting more and more stable (relatively speaking, let’s not get too optimistic) it’s been a while since I’ve had a panic attack like that. Let me tell you though, panic attacks are terrifying. It’s like your brain is working at full speed yet not producing any useful thoughts. So it’s a vicious circle that gets worse until you escape the situation you’re in. Then you can start to calm down again, at least in my case.
I developed a phrase to focus. I’m sure this isn’t anything unique, but it helps me, and I urge anyone dealing with panic attacks to do something similar. I say to myself; “think about this logically.” It’s a dumb phrase with no real meaning, but it helps me focus on the moment and in trying to understand that phrase and repeating it, it will help me calm down and start actually thinking as opposed to just processing useless information. It’s worked for me and I hope it works for others too.
Now there’s another kind of sensory overload that I still deal with on a daily basis and will likely end up having to deal with for the rest of my life. It’s a more minor case, arguably, but it’s ever present. If your brain tries to process all the information it sees, it takes a lot of energy. Neurons firing at high speeds take a toll on the body. I think that could also be why some people lose so much weight from stress. That’s not something I researched though, so don’t take it as any more than a random thought. I’m an expert on nothing that isn’t my own experience. This creates a situation where I’m tired a lot. I’m tired as I’m writing this and it’s not even 11 pm. Not to mention I took a nap after work today to refuel a little bit. After 10+ years of therapy I think this milder version of sensory overload is going to be one of my main problems throughout life. I just lose energy at a crazy pace and have no way of refueling it. It’s why a full time job is too much to handle, and why I panic in social situations. And for anyone suffering from similar issues I do want to put out this ray of hope. It gets better with practice. For me it took a lot of therapy and growth as a person, but as you learn where your boundaries lay, you can start working on pushing those forwards.
To bring it back to anime, my favorite subject, I’ve always loved shonen shows. In the show I’m currently watching they say the phrase “here and now, surpass your limits” a lot. The show in question is called Black Clover, and I can say for a fact that the manga is awesome in its silliness. The reason I love this saying so much is because I feel like it’s both ridiculous yet grounded. We all have our limits, but if we never try to surpass them we won’t grow as people. And growing as people is a wonderful thing. It takes courage and it’s mighty impressive. Just because you can’t do something today, doesn’t mean you still can’t do it a week, year or ten years from now. As long as you refuse to give up you will get better at the things you work on.
Sensory overload is a real issue and it can be really hard to cope with it, but never give up because even in moments where you stop believing in yourself, know that I still believe in you 100%. Whatever goal you set for yourself, you can do it. Even if it takes a lifetime to overcome them, mental health issues can go fuck themselves.
Thanks for reading, I appreciate it greatly!