The morning after Diwali, as I sat down for a quiet breakfast, I felt contented and consumed. While there was relief that the rituals and celebration had gone well, I felt exhausted and tired. I realised that I was not just physically tired because of the late nights and rigorous cleaning routines that I had followed over the past few days, but I was also consumed by the overstimulation that my senses had received during this time.
Sensory overload is a term used to describe the overstimulation that one or more of our senses receive from the environment. Garishly lit malls with loudspeakers competing with one another to announce bargain schemes and shopping bonanzas, noise and chaos on streets caused by traffic jams, overcrowded marketplaces, bursting of crackers, hectic socialising and loud parties, exchanging too much information or meeting too many people in a short period of time can all become sources of overstimulation.
Neha and her friends partied frequently. They were regulars at a disco which played loud music and had a dance floor lit with bright strobe lights. They often returned from such parties in the wee hours of the morning. For Neha the next day was always difficult to get through. With very little sleep and unable to study, she was irritable and unproductive the whole day. For Sumit, browsing on the Internet, and checking the phone for messages and alerts from friends was almost an obsession. He too suffered from sensory overload. Temper tantrums, poor tolerance for human relations and an inability to concentrate on work became frequent symptoms. If Neha and Sumit continued like this, their symptoms could become more pronounced and interfere with their daily living.
Sensory overload is considered a sensory disorder with symptoms like irritability, over excitation, difficulty in focusing or sometimes a complete shutdown. The condition can last for a few minutes or much longer. Sensory overload can occur in any of the senses: seeing, hearing, smell or touch. It is essential for people who suffer from such a condition to find ways of calming themselves. The easiest way to do so is to cut yourself off from the source of over stimulation.
Taking a break, calming oneself with rest, sleep, soft music, essential oil massages or exercise have been found to be effective in relieving the symptoms. Prolonged overstimulation can cause more severe symptoms and may manifest in physical conditions likes headaches and backaches.
We all have different thresholds and tolerance levels for stimulation without showing signs of breakdown. Recognising this threshold and then shutting oneself off from the source of the overload is important. If you have friends or siblings who spend a lot of time in activities where they may be over exposed to stimulation, alert them or watch out for signs that suggest they may be suffering from this overload. It is important for each of us to know how much is enough.