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.

Drawing of a girl experiencing sensory overload

Sensory Overload – Markers

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.

Buy My Book

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 thoughts on “Surviving Sensory Overload

  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.