3 tips to help with sensory overload during the holidays

Rather than avoiding all holiday engagements (although if you want to do that, we won’t judge!), here are some tips for coping with sensory overload

Happy holidays one and all! How are you intending to celebrate? Big parties or low-key intimate dinners? If the idea of attending family, friend or work obligations over the holiday period is filling you with dread, then you’re not alone. It can be a tough time for anyone – neurodivergent or not. Sensory overload from all the noise, flashy lights and crowds can be especially tough for people with autism, ADHD, PTSD or other health conditions such as MS or fibromyalgia.  


And just as people have different sensory overload triggers (sometimes called sensory processing disorder), sensory overload itself manifests itself in different ways. Although tantrums tend to be a more common childhood reaction, adults can also find themselves caught on a wave of emotion when overstimulated – perhaps finding release in tears or another emotion. Anxiety, muscle tension, difficulty in focusing on things and even blocking eyes or ears are other possible reactions to sensory overload. So rather than avoiding all holiday engagements (although if you want to do that, we won’t judge!), here are some tips for coping with sensory overload.

Crowds and noise can be common triggers of sensory overload. Photo © by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

  1. Know your triggers. Is it noise? Flashing lights? Large crowds or even something tactile like the feel of wool that triggers you? By knowing what is likely to provoke sensory overload in you, you’re more likely to be able to deal with it. – Speak to the host of the event in the days leading up to it to see if music can be turned down or flashing lights set to steady, for example. – Wearing sunglasses indoors may garner some comments but they could be your perfect ally when you know that controlling lights will be an issue. – Plan your outfit ahead of time to make sure the material is comfortable and isn’t going to cause you problems. – Take a small bottle of lavender or other favourite scent that can be sprayed around you if smells are a trigger. – Invest in a small stress ball or wrist band that can keep your hands busy when you feel your anxiety rising. – Chewing gum can also be great for those moments when things get a bit much.
  2. Look after yourself. Trying to stick to your usual routine as much as possible will stand you in good stead for coping with the holidays. It’s traditionally the time for copious amounts of sugary food, drinks and late nights. But that’s a dangerous combination for anyone, and especially those prone to sensory overload. So try to get at least eight hours of sleep and limit your sugar intact. Of course it’s tempting to follow the crowd as they knock back glass after glass of champagne, mulled wine or beer. However this will only dehydrate you, negatively effect your sleep and the resulting hangover will not be pretty! So try to limit your alcohol intake and drink a ton of water too.
  3. Tap into your ikigai to help you feel grounded. This is related to looking after yourself too – making sure that you’re honest with yourself and really think about what you like doing. What do you value in your daily life? Who are your community? Finding a greater sense of purpose in your life will not only help your mental health but, studies show, your physical health will benefit too. 

Unfortunately sometimes, even with all the best planning and preparation, sensory overload still happens. Don’t feel embarrassed if you have to make an excuse and stand outside in the quiet for a bit. Or even decide to leave early. No one should feel pressure to stay in a situation which makes them feel uncomfortable. If you need any help with the issues raised, why not reach out for a free 30-minute discover call? And to hear more from the zunzun, sign up to our newsletter.

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