21 People Describe What Sensory Overload Feels Like

By: Melissa McGlensey

Sensory overload happens when too much sensory stimulus is occurring at once — it can be triggered by a crowded room, a TV turned up too loud, strong aromas, fluorescent lighting — or a hundred other things. It’s often associated with certain diagnoses like autism, sensory processing disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, although anyone can experience it.

Sensory overload can be overwhelming, scary and exhausting, and may require a person to separate him or herself from a situation, perform a calming ritual or in some cases, melt down. It’s a hard experience to understand unless you’ve felt it. So, we asked our readers who’ve experienced sensory overload to describe what it’s like.

This is what they had to say:

1. “Do you remember the movie ‘Bruce Almighty’? He was receiving prayer requests by hearing them in his head as they occurred, hundreds at a time. They became jumbled, and he became frustrated and couldn’t make sense of any of them. Sensory overload is like that. Everything is coming at me at once, but it seems I’m the only one noticing. I can hear my heartbeat, I can feel the heat of the lamps, I can’t function. I’m frozen, stuck. It usually takes a shock to get me back from this, like a touch if I’m not being touched, or a change of environment or cold water on my skin.” — Meredith Lime

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2. “Sometimes it just feels like you need everything around you to pause… It’s like a bunch of things occurring while a bunch of other things are approaching at the same time — like a spinning room.” — TwoMlln Thghts AndCntg

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