Sensory Overload Illustration with Markers

Surviving Sensory Overload

The hardest part about having Sensory Processing Disorder is never knowing when sensory overload might occur.  There are certain environments I know will create anxiety and stress for me, and I avoid them as much as I can. But there are other times when a whirlwind of sensory input might assault me suddenly and without warning. The result is a seemingly random meltdown (at least to innocent bystanders, or to my mother who usually gets frantic text messages from me).

When I get overwhelmed, my brain immediately goes into survival mode. If I have no control over the bombarding stimuli, then my heart races at full panic mode until I’m able to escape. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that there’s no real threat, or that the sounds wouldn’t bother a “normal” person. It still hurts. I guess my brain has a mind of its own.

I recently discovered that if I get involved in a project, like drawing or painting,  I can cope with a LOT more sensory input than usual. My focus is so intense when I draw that the world just melts away…along with my anxiety, doubt and pain.

Imagine this: every sound in your room is amplified by 1000 times. Included are sounds you might not otherwise notice, like the refrigerator running, the furnace coming off and on, a dog barking, your neighbors working in the yard and a TV mumbling from another room in the house. Each sound swirls around together into a nonsensical mess and then bombards you with an intensity and vibrancy that it makes you feel delirious. You don’t just hear the sounds, you FEEL them at a very physical and emotional level. Then you become so confused you find it impossible to think straight.

I drew this picture while I was experiencing sensory overload to try and give you an idea of how it makes me feel.

If you have SPD, or know someone who does, and you’ve discovered activities or tricks that help you cope during a meltdown, please leave me a comment. Thanks!

Art posted on and my social networks are ©Copyright Jennifer Allison. They should not be used without prior written permission.


  1. Before I was diagnosed with SPD I learned that I could block out overwhelming input by reading. So whenever I finished work early in class I always had a book handy. Nowadays I can read on my Kindle app at social events if necessary without it being considered socially innappropriate. I am a teenager now and do some self-therapy. It has helped a lot! If you haven’t tried therapy or at least the Wilbarger brushing protocol and a sensory diet that you make according to your needs, you definitely should.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I definitely like the brushing technique. In fact, I wish I had a robot to scratch my arms, legs and feet all the time. haha

    Reading seems to help me too, but there are times my mind races around a lot and its hard to focus. However, when I do get focused on a task like art, or reading, I tend to stay in my zone for many hours at a time, which allows me to be extremely productive. This is a real benefit whenever I have a “safe” place to study or get work done.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you’ll connect with me by subscribing to my email or following me on social media. Those links are on the right side of this page. I love talking to other people who can relate to how it feels to have SPD.

  3. Dear Jennifer

    I try to get funds for a research project about SPD and I would like to use your drawing, the one here above, on the first slide of my presentation.
    If you want more information about my proposal, I will be glad to send it to you.

    Do I get permission for this?

    Thank you,
    S Verwaaijen

  4. Hi Jennifer, I am a pediatric OT working with kids in a preschool setting. I was wondering if I could get permission to use your image above; Sensory Overload. I will put the title of your art piece and website link under the photo. I would be using your artwork in a power point presentation that is an in-service to preschool teachers about sensory integration. Thank you for your time and amazing insight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s