Navigating sensory overload: The ‘Over & Out’ strategy

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By Marieta du Toit, Director, Sensory Coach, Workshop Facilitator at Sensory Intelligence Consulting

In the whirlwind of modern life, with work deadlines, relentless digital communication, and now year-end functions, many experience what I call the ‘end-of-the-year syndrome’.

This state of mind, often manifested as sensory overload, leads to feelings of being overwhelmed, disconnected, and intolerant of social interactions. It’s a common experience across different sensory thresholds, affecting those who struggle with too much sensory input and those who seek extra stimulation alike.

At Sensory Intelligence, we use the analogy of a tree to explain sensory thresholds and how they impact your needs and behaviour. Individuals with low sensory thresholds are the roots of the Sensory Tree. They find themselves distracted and overwhelmed by too much sensory stimuli, leading to potential shutdown or burnout. Bright lights, crowds, and noise can trigger a fight-flight-freeze response, driving a need for isolation. Conversely, people with high sensory thresholds, represented by the tree’s leaves, also face overwhelming social demands in today’s interconnected world but are more comfortable with sensory stimuli. The individuals with medium sensory thresholds, the trunks of the tree, experience overload as they are natural mediators, often not taking their own needs into account.

In response to these challenges, we propose the ‘Over & Out’ break. This concept is about pressing life’s pause button, allowing our nervous system to recuperate without the need to explain or feel guilty about prioritising well-being.

Here are some ways to embrace the ‘Over & Out’ approach:

  • Spend time outside: And while you are out there, appreciate the beauty of nature by observing plants, flowers, animals, butterflies, etc. Smell the roses, and jasmine, and lavender. Swing in a hammock. Walk barefoot, allowing the grass to tickle your feet.
  • Time out: Allow yourself time in a calm space with no human or electronic interference.
  • Keep quiet: Listen to the sound of the ocean, your favourite music, or absolutely nothing.
  • Go to bed: Allow your body and nervous system enough time to rest during the night. If you are lucky enough, take that afternoon nap!
  • Have a cup of tea: Soothe your body from the inside out.
  • Get some exercise: Movement is our number one self-regulating strategy.
  • Go for a massage: The effects of deep pressure have been researched for many years – it is a wonderful tool to help calm your nervous system in stressful times.
  • Put your phone or tablet down: Take a proper social interaction break. This will free up your senses to experience the magnificent world around you.

Remember, it is important to occasionally call for an ‘Over & Out’ break. By allowing yourself these moments, you not only avoid sensory overload but also nurture your overall well-being in a demanding world.