How to Manage Sensory Overload in Adults

Defining Sensory Overload in Adults

Sensory overload refers to an instance where an individual’s senses are taking in more than their brain can process. This can be an overwhelming experience and cause panic or anxiety. It is commonly experienced by autistic people or people with an anxiety disorder or ADHD. However, it can be experienced by anyone, with or without a specific diagnosis. 

Sensory overload can be an overwhelming experience at any age. While many people experience sensory overload for the first time in childhood, sometimes it doesn’t occur until adulthood. Or, people who have experienced sensory overload throughout their lives may not have a full understanding of what they are experiencing until they reach adulthood and are more able to examine the experience. In this article, we will delve into effective strategies and practical tips to help manage sensory overload in adults and navigate these challenging moments.

What Causes Sensory Overload in Adults?

Before understanding how to recognize and manage sensory overload, it’s essential to understand the causes. Some of the common causes of sensory overload include:

  • Crowded and loud spaces, such as a party, festival, or social event
  • Being stuck in traffic
  • Emotionally intense people or groups
  • Visually overstimulating environments, such as a messy kitchen
  • Loud noises, such as a concert or a crying child
  • Uncomfortable textures such as itchy clothing


Generally sensory overload is usually caused by one or more of your senses being overwhelmed. This could be anything from a strong smell to overpowering visuals. This is what differentiates sensory overload from a more general sense of overwhelm. Overwhelm can be caused by many emotional factors, but sensory overload occurs due to a sensory experience.

Recognize Sensory Overload

For adults who experience sensory overload, it’s helpful to develop self-awareness of what the symptoms feel like to you. Identify your triggers and understand the signs that indicate you might be approaching a state of sensory overload. By understanding your own sensory sensitivities, you can proactively implement strategies to prevent overload or cope with it more effectively.

Common symptoms of sensory overload in adults include:

  • Feeling anxious, stressed, or irritable
  • Faster heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Feeling physically uncomfortable
  • Wanting to leave the room
  • Wanting to cover your eyes or ears to block out stimuli
  • Dissociation (a feeling of being separate from your body or environment)
  • Emotionally shutting down, needing to be alone

Create or Locate a Safe Space

Establishing a safe and calming environment can help to stop the feeling of sensory overload. Identify spaces where you feel most comfortable and use them as retreats during overwhelming situations. Safe spaces can include quiet rooms or using noise-canceling headphones.

Practice Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness and relaxation exercises can be effective strategies for managing sensory overload. These techniques can initiate feelings of calm through breathwork or focusing the mind. Exercises such as deep breathing, box breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation help calm the nervous system and reduce the impact of overwhelming sensory stimuli.

Utilize Sensory Aids

If you find sensory aids helpful, consider incorporating them into your daily life. Items such as fidget spinners, weighted blankets, or sensory-friendly textures can provide comfort and help regulate sensory input. Experiment with different aids to discover what works best for you in different situations. Keeping sensory-friendly items nearby, such as a weighted blanket at home or a fidget spinner in your backpack or purse, can ensure that you have a helpful coping tool available when you feel sensory overload coming on.

Establish Routines

Predictability may help avoid sensory overload. Developing a daily routine can create a sense of structure and stability, reducing the chances of unexpected triggers. Routines provide a framework for navigating the day with a greater sense of control. Try creating a routine that brings comfort and reassurance into your day and if possible, helps you avoid overwhelming stimuli. A few examples of this could be:

  • Leaving for school or work early to avoid bad traffic.
  • Choosing a calming place to eat lunch each day
  • Incorporating sensory aids into your routine
  • Choosing a time each day to complete mindfulness exercises
  • Avoiding the busiest areas on your commute

Communicate Honestly

Open and honest communication with friends, family, or colleagues can be so beneficial. Many people may not have a previous understanding of what sensory overload is. Educate those around you about your sensory sensitivities and let them know how they can support you. Having a support network that understands and respects your needs can make a significant difference in managing sensory overload. Making plans with loved ones can become much easier when everyone is aware of what activities or places will be the most comfortable to you.

Take Breaks and Set Boundaries

Know your limits and be proactive in setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is easier said than done, but practice makes perfect! Letting others know that you need a break or need to avoid a certain situation can help you avoid triggers, and can help the people in your life understand how to care for you better. Taking breaks during busy or overwhelming situations allows you to recharge and prevent sensory overload. Communicate your need for breaks and prioritize self-care to maintain your overall well-being.

Use Technology To Your Advantage

Leverage technology to help with sensory overload. Apps designed for mindfulness and meditation, devices like noise-canceling headphones, and ambient sound generators can help create a more sensory-friendly environment. Try exploring technology that aligns with your preferences and enhances your ability to manage sensory overload.


Managing sensory overload in adults is a personal endeavor, and finding the right strategies may require some trial and error. By combining self-awareness, proactive communication, and practical tools, individuals can develop helpful coping mechanisms to navigate overstimulating environments more effectively. Hopefully, with the right coping tools, you can prioritize your sensory needs and take the necessary steps to create a more manageable and comfortable experience.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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