Our five senses—sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—allow us to be able to communicate with the world, engage in everyday activities, and build meaningful relationships. Many of us take the ease of processing information through our senses for granted.
Unfortunately, some people experience overwhelming feelings when their senses are triggered or stimulated, causing hurdles in their day to day lives. This is called sensory processing disorder. Keep reading to learn more about sensory overload, as well as the skills that can be implemented in order to cope with sensory processing disorder.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information, also known as stimuli. Many people with SPD struggle with being overly sensitive to stimuli in their environment.
Common over-stimuli that tend to trigger individuals with SPD may include bright lights, loud sounds, certain textures of foods, too many people in a small space, and certain textiles touching the skin.
Like many things, the symptoms of SPD exist on a spectrum. The overwhelming side effects look different for everyone, but may manifest into both emotional and physical responses, including:
- Stress or anxiety
- Panic Attacks
- Paralyzing confusion
- Intrusive thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Physically recoiling
Some people experience an overload of senses in waves, while others may feel completely lost in their environment. The side effects of sensory processing disorder can be debilitating, so learning and developing coping skills enables individuals with SPD to live their life to its fullest potential!
Coping Skills for Adults with Sensory Processing Disorder
Coping with sensory processing disorder looks different for each individual. It’s not one size fits all—what works for some, may not work for others. Look into the following coping skills and treatment options to find the best solution for you!
- Identify your triggers
Knowing and understanding your triggers can be immensely helpful. Being able to identify them allows you to avoid certain situations in which your sensory overload may come into fruition.
Monitor your natural reactions to your sensory environment. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Do I get overwhelmed in a certain location?
- Do specific sounds trigger me?
- Does lighting affect me?
- What sensations trigger my overwhelming feelings?
By asking yourself these questions, you may be able to identify a pattern of triggers. From there, you can plan for future scenarios that involve interacting with those stimuli.
- Control the controllable
After identifying your triggers, make sensory changes in your life that you can directly control.
For example, if certain textiles against your skin is a common trigger of yours, there are changes that you can personally make to reduce the risk of sensory overload. In this case, ensure that all of your clothes, towels, and bedding are made of fabrics that cater to your needs.
- Sleep well
Believe it or not, sleep is an important part of managing sensory overload. Getting quality sleep helps us to process all of the information that we take in during the day. Lack of sleep can throw off our balance, deregulate our bodies, and make dealing with the effects of SPD much more difficult. Creating and sticking to a healthy sleep schedule can do wonders for those who experience sensory overload.
- Engage in physical exercise
Much like ensuring quality sleep, regular physical activity is a healthy practice that improves the way in which your brain processes stimuli. Exercise is proven to increase endorphins, relieve stress, and improve concentration—all of which are great ways to reduce symptoms of sensory overload!
- Reduce stimuli in the world
The stimuli that exist in public places are, unfortunately, out of your control. But, there are ways in which you can reduce certain triggers—such as excessive noise—from the external environment and lower the risk of a sensory overload-induced panic.
If excessive noise is a trigger for you, you can wear noise-canceling headphones in public places that you know will be overstimulating. Products such as Vibes earplugs are available to filter specific frequencies and reduce harsh noises.
- Manage overstimulation
If you struggle with sensory processing disorder, overstimulation is almost inevitable. In these times of discomfort, it’s extremely beneficial to understand the actions you can take to manage these feelings, calm yourself down, and regroup.
In the midst of sensory overload, calmness can seem close to impossible. Practicing breathing techniques on a regular basis can help reduce the overwhelming experience as it happens.
Breathing exercises such as box breathing can train your body to relax and slow down. Regularly practicing these exercises builds resilience to feeling overwhelmed. So, the next time you’re in public and you feel the side effects of overstimulation, find a safe, quiet space to breathe.
- Sensory Integration Therapy
Official treatment for sensory processing disorder is called Sensory Integration Therapy (SI)—led by a trained therapist. SI engages one’s stimuli in a controlled environment, reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed. This allows one to develop coping skills when faced with certain stimuli. Through this therapy, coping becomes a regular, natural response to that stimuli.
During SI, the therapist might design a “sensory diet,” which is a treatment plan consisting of different activities that address the individual’s sensory needs. This is either done with individualized calming techniques, or by gradually increasing the levels of exposure to uncomfortable sensory sensations, which leads to the development of coping skills.
These seven coping skills can help those who struggle with overstimulation feel more comfortable and confident in their everyday lives. With that being said, if you or a loved one has been experiencing the effects and symptoms of sensory processing disorder, please consult your doctor or licensed therapist for proper treatment.
Revel in Comfort at Covey
At Covey, we know that everyone experiences the world differently. As a non-profit organization that provides services for adults with disabilities, we understand that some people need adaptations to feel more comfortable.
No two participants are the same. That’s why we believe in providing customized care for each individual with our respite care services. Whether it’s long-term or short-term, our knowledgeable, compassionate staff are here to assist with every participant’s needs. Our services include behavioral management, personal case assistance, and more!
In addition to respite care, Covey also offers educational skill building that allows adults with disabilities to develop their daily skills, build confidence, and engage in the community. Our Covey Connects events, such as gardening, cooking, and bowling, empower individuals to go out of their comfort zone and seek out new opportunities for growth!