How to deal with sensory overload in social situations?

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BassMan_720
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29 May 2011, 11:55 pm

I’ve only known about my AS for nine months and am trying to get my head around some of my issues.

I went for a meal with my wife and kids. When we arrived at the restaurant it was quiet but it quickly filled up. The restaurant became very busy and was fairly loud, with lots of different conversations, piped music, etc. For the first time in my life, I became aware of sensory overload. Previously I would have zoned out and hid in my phone or found something to allow me to isolate myself from the background noise.

Being on my best social behaviour, I persevered and tried to continue take part in the conversation. I found I was totally unable to understand anything that was being said. I heard words but they did not make any sense to me. It was very much like listening to the teacher from Peanuts. My hearing kept homing in on the voice of a guy on the next table. Often he was all I could hear. I wasn’t even eavesdropping, because he was a local guy and I don’t speak Cantonese. I was so stressed that I had a strong urge to get up and leave. I stuck things out until after the peak time and the restaurant eventually started to quieten down. There must be a certain threshold background noise level for me, because I started to understand the conversation again and felt less stressed. The peak time was hell though.

Does anybody have a technique for overcoming this issue? Hiding or leaving a situation is no longer an option for me.



iheartmegahitt
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29 May 2011, 11:58 pm

Have you tried listening to music? I mean even if you have a CD player and a few CDs... you could use music to help with those overloads. I get them to if I'm in a big crowd of people so I usually hug my Axel plushie, put my hood over my head have my music to calm me from the extra stimuli I can't handle.

Though, the plushie thing probably would be awkward for you... so music is something that you could try if you have headphones and either a CD player or an ipod or something. I have an Ipod nano that clips to my hoodies so its quite handy for me.


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Verdandi
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30 May 2011, 12:46 am

One thing that helps me a bit is a stim toy. I have this small cheap party favor bracelet that has an interesting texture and is all stretchy, so I can focus on that to regulate other things. It's not 100% perfect, but it kept me together on a Greyhound for about 100 miles both ways.



Moopants
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30 May 2011, 3:42 am

You're Still the same person you were before dx, why not employ the same coping mechanisms as before?

A diagnosis doesn't just turn on symptoms an ifit worked before dx why not after?



BassMan_720
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30 May 2011, 6:26 am

Thanks for the helpful advice. I am sorry if I have misled anybody. I do not have a formal DX. I realised I had AS after discovering my 10 year old daughter had AS.

Moopants wrote:
You're Still the same person you were before dx, why not employ the same coping mechanisms as before?

A diagnosis doesn't just turn on symptoms an ifit worked before dx why not after?


Moopants: you have hit the nail on the head. However, as a bit of background, I realise what a pain I have been to my family over the years and I do have to change. My previous, natural coping strategy would have been to shut down and isolate myself from the situation. I would find something to turn my mind to, like surf the net on my phone, listen to music or concentrate on work or my latest obsession. I would not have noticed the overload and not considered my behaviour unusual. I now know that my natural behaviour is not acceptable to my family and considered rude. so, I have to find some way to continue to interact with them.

This is the first time that I have become aware that I suffer from sensory overload. It has happened before but I have not put a lable on it and had no reason to know that others were not affected in the same way. It was really weird. I could hear my family speaking but it was just noise that blended into the background. If I could understand Cantonese, I could have joined in with the conversation with the bloke on the next table, who I could hear as clear as day. I do not know why I homed onto this particular guy’s voice, I am not even sure if he was speaking any more loudly than anybody else. My family did not notice him so I suspect not.

I could continue to interact with my family but only if they specifically made me aware that I was part of the conversation and deliberately repeated what they wanted me to hear. They must have found this annoying: I certainly did. So, I need to find a way of coping with sensory overload without excluding myself. There must be a way?



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30 May 2011, 7:18 am

This is a difficult one, and I sympathise. I was always aware that I used my iPhone to isolate myself when overloaded, and although I realise that this could be perceived as rude I have never had this pointed out to me.

Diagnosis doesn't change who we are, it just helps us to understand ourselves better. In my case, it helped me to understand why I seek the isolation of my iPhone so much and what I can do to prevent it.

Which means now I find easier to say to my husband: "I really don't like xxxx restaurant because it is too dark/too noisy/too busy ... can we go somewhere else instead please?"

The result is we usually go to quieter places now, which I enjoy a lot more; and my husband also understands that I'm not being intentionally rude when I do play with my iPhone.

My other coping strategy, which has not changed, is to go seek the quietness of a toilet cubicle for a few minutes ...


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one-A-N
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30 May 2011, 7:20 am

Quote:
This is the first time that I have become aware that I suffer from sensory overload. It has happened before but I have not put a lable on it and had no reason to know that others were not affected in the same way. It was really weird.


I can kind of relate to that. I was diagnosed last year with AS in my mid-50s. I began to notice things about myself that I hadn't noticed before - or that I had never connected with AS. And my psychologist told me things about my body language and presentation that I had never been aware of (e.g. do you know how soft or loud you appear to other people? I didn't.)

One thing I noticed was walking through crowded, busy arcades. I walk through them quickly and tensely, I realise now - kind of rushing to get through it as quickly as possible. If the crowd thins out, I am calmer and less tense. I do find all those people, moving in every direction, overloads my senses. And I am sensitive to sounds, fluorescent lights, smells. I knew about some of these, but didn't draw the connections between them all (sensory sensitivity, AS).

It was the same when I discovered that other people shared my weird sensitivity to particular sounds. I began to observe myself and discovered how much effort I was putting into defending myself from unpleasant sounds.

I suspect that you become more self-conscious, more self-observant, when you realise that you have a particular condition, and you start noticing aspects of the condition in many circumstances where previously you just didn't pay attention. This is a well-known phenomenon: you meet someone with an unusual name, and then you start to notice that name in lots of other places where you had never noticed it before.

Anyway, my psychologist gave me a stim toy a few weeks ago: a golfball-sized squeezy rubber ball, not too soft. I can hold it in the palm of my hand and keep it squeezed, so that I feel the deep pressure on my palm - almost like someone holding my hand and squeezing it. Or I can squeeze it rhythmically to relieve stress. If I focus my attention on the pressure in my hand, it can be very calming.



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08 May 2012, 12:26 pm

BassMan_720 wrote:
Does anybody have a technique for overcoming this issue? Hiding or leaving a situation is no longer an option for me.


No - I struggle with similar issues at dinners in restaurants. In 'peak hours' nothing can solve it. However, I find that ear plugs can help a lot with my ability to filter away irrelevant background noise and chatter, and focus on a conversation of choice (the 'cocktail party effect') when a place is moderately noisy.

Standard skin coloured foam ear plugs work well for me. I cut them shorter so they don't stick out of the ears and aren't noticeable (I am a female with half-long hair - helps too to hide ear plugs:-)

I struggle with chatter and background noise because I have poor ability to filter noise out and separate conversations. It all get mixed up, overwhelming and sometimes painful. It requires hard concentration to listen to a conversation with ear plugs in noisy surroundings but, unlike with no ear plugs, it is possible to concentrate. Once I manage to 'lock on' to the person's voice, then I can somewhat filter away the other voices... which is what I can't do when I am not wearing ear plugs.

(this doesn't work in all situations)



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08 May 2012, 1:15 pm

I don't think I get sensory overload. I just get so shy in social situations that I feel all awkward and don't know where to put myself, and constantly thinking that everybody in the whole place are paying attention to what I'm doing and watching me the whole time and judging everything I do. But I know that is irrational thinking, but I still can't stop worrying about it. I have to calm down by looking around at everyone and proving to myself that nobody else is even noticing me (except for the people who I'm with, but even they're not watching me every second).

Not sure if this is sensory overload or not but I find myself getting really irritated when in a crowded room with my family, ie in my grandmother's living-room where sometimes all my family tend to all pile round at week-ends. I now tend to avoid going down there at week-ends and just see my grandmother in the week where it can just be us two, or perhaps one or two other relatives, but not everyone at the same time.
By irritable I mean I get annoyed at certain noises when everybody's all in one room, like people yawning and making that annoying sound when they yawn, and then somebody (like my mum) starts having a sneezing fit, and she doesn't just do one or two like most people do, she does about 20 all in a row and doesn't know when to stop, and this agitates me for some reason. I think I just got something into my head and now each time she starts I get into a panic and my blood starts boiling before I can even control it, and when my blood starts boiling then I cannot just sit there calmly, I've got to let everyone know how I'm feeling and evacuate the room. And then there are other things that annoy me, like when I'm trying to sit quietly and write in my writing pad what I bring along with me and people keep asking me pointless questions, like, ''did you like your cake, Jo?'' or something, and I can't always be bothered to keep answering ''yes''. I know it's polite but I can't always be bothered with being asked questions with the same predictable answer. So I end up getting irritated and snappy.


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RobotGreenAlien2
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08 May 2012, 8:11 pm

You can limit you sensory imput by blocking you ears or spacing out like you used to do but there isn't anything that will help you hear the conversation. I can half lipread, or make educated guesses between that and the little bits I can hear.



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08 May 2012, 8:52 pm

My iPod and ear buds are pretty much surgically attached to my hips and I usually break those out when there is too much noise. Often I will put one ear bud in and listen to my music with that ear, while listening to my friends/family with the other, but I know not a lot of people can do that.

Another thing that helps me, though often I forget, is to bring something with a nice texture that I can stick in my pocket and rub with my fingers if I need too. This sounds weird, but I often bring a plastic spoon with me. Something about the bowl shape of the head, the smoothness of the plastic, and the sharp edges, provides me with plenty of stuff to focus on when I'm stressed, though I've learned not to actually take it out of my pocket, or even worse, to stick it in my mouth like I used to do. Got some strange looks with that one :lol:



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08 May 2012, 8:59 pm

I generally either get really quiet, or I excuse myself from the situation for a little bit.



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08 May 2012, 9:04 pm

I think that your natural behavior is totally acceptable, and your family should have consideration for your sensory issues to accept your need to shut down or get away for awhile. I find that playing a computer game on my iPad or on a phone helps reset my brain, but I don't know if I can even do that in the hazardous environment, or if I have to flee the scene to recover elsewhere.



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09 May 2012, 2:11 am

I have not read the replies. From the OP it sounds like the same sort of problem I have, I have some strategies with that have been effective wtih dealing with the underlying problem. If you are interested PM me on the weekend and I will give you more info.


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09 May 2012, 5:43 am

I get sensory overload when too many conversations are going on at the same time. Two days ago I had a bit of a meltdown when three people downstairs (I live in supported housing) were all talking loudly at the same time.

I usually get out of the situation, listen to music on noise-cancelling headphones, or do slow breathing. They don't totally help but they do assist in preventing a full-blown meltdown.


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