Why take LSD when I can go to the mall?

Ms. Sensory Over-Stimulation goes shopping

Written by Trish

I was considering going to a monastery.  Not for a visit but to stay.  I felt it was my only alternative to psychiatric medication and I didn’t want to take the meds.  I told myself I was done with them during my last depression.

This time was different though.  The amount of sensory over-stimulation I was feeling was impairing my life greatly:

  • I couldn’t use the Internet because it was at a time when everyone was putting flashy advertisements on their sites and they would cause me to go into an anxiety attack;
  • I couldn’t read before bed because I would experience hallucinations once I turned out the lights;
  • I would get anxiety attacks from taking long drives because my eyes were trying to take in everything that was passing by;
  • Watching TV made me so uncomfortable and nauseous that I had to turn it off, especially with “reality” TV where they used a lot of handheld cameras;
  • Walking in the forest and trying to take in the view in front of me of all the trees and greenery would cause me to see double;
  • I thought we were going to have to get rid of our Siamese cat because every time he cried, the sound would be so piercing that I wanted to run away or kill him.

Places like stores and malls–lots of stuff in small spaces–were quite the experience.  I would walk in and suddenly my eyesight would become very acute.  Then my visual perception would shift and it was like everything within my visual range was reaching toward me.  As I was trying to adjust to the messages my sight was sending to my brain, I would suddenly become very aware of moving objects such as people, escalators, and carts, and they would distract me and I would lose mental focus.  All the while, my anxiety was increasing which heightened my senses even more and it would then sound like someone had turned up the music in the store.  It was all I could do to keep myself from grimacing and putting my fingers in my ears.  My sense of smell would also become very acute and the smells of baked goods mixed with perfume, or the smell of new clothes would cause my anxiety to increase further.  By this time I would spend what energy I had left to try and concentrate on what I was shopping for so I could get out of there.  Next,  I would notice that my vertigo and the sensation of me floating had increased and everything would appear to be gently spinning or moving as if masked by the heat radiating off a smoldering highway.  Then, if I was really over-stimulated, I would experience gruesome visions of my body on the floor of the store.  Suddenly I would become hyper-vigilant to every sensation going on in my body to measure it as a sign of sudden loss of consciousness.  Well in my world, every sensation is pretty much a sign of that!

I imagine that this experience must sound like a bad trip on LSD.

Ah to live in a world that is growing smaller because of our over-consumption of stuff.  And not just plain old stuff; stuff that’s shiny and rings and beeps, blinks loads of data for us to ingest–any time, anywhere; messages of shoulds and have-to-haves and ideals; and allowing us to communicate at all times because we need to be connected to everyone and everything.

So I didn’t leave the house often and I didn’t do much.  It was then that I realized I had created that monastery in my own home.

But the question in the back of my mind during all this time was what was the over-stimulation doing to my body?  I knew that each time I felt over-stimulated and anxious (one is always there with the other), my nervous system was over-aroused and that meant other bodily functions were being compromised.  Now a constant worrier about the strength and reliability of my body, this terrified me.

Did I seriously want to live my life this way?  I decided that more than anything I wanted to be able to leave my house and interact with people one-on-one again.

I went on an anti-psychotic and slowly over a course of two years, I was able to increase my tolerance to computers and busy places for short periods of time.  Noises didn’t bother me as much and I was better able to tolerate strong smells.  I was now able to expect which situations and when I would become over-stimulated and make the choice to engage in the situation or not.  However, the anti-psychotic had a high risk of causing diabetes and I had most of the side effects including the rare ones.  It was now impairing some of my bodily functions.

It was then that my psychiatrist and I decided it was time for me to come off the anti-psychotic.  It was not meant to be taken for long periods of time.  So that’s what I did; over the course of 8 months I slowly reduced my dose (I am very sensitive to medication)  from 1.5mg to .25mg at which point I ran into trouble.  I began experiencing regular sensory over-stimulation again, hyper-vigilance to my bodily sensations always evaluating for signs of terminal illness, and gruesome visions of my death.

It wasn’t all bad.  My body had come back on-line again and I was no longer experiencing the side effects from the drug.  Now, more in a position to be a compassionate observer, I noticed core fears that had been masked by the higher doses of the anti-psychotic.

So that brings me to today: I am terrified that the over-stimulation is slowly killing me and I am terrified of dying.  Though I cannot control how much stimuli my senses process, when I experience overload regularly I am not merely logging it mentally as data to be better informed, I am assessing it to determine if it will harm me or not.  I am in survival mode, as is my nervous system.

So I have gone back up a little on the dosage of my anti-psychotic and though I am much more limited during my day and in my outings, I am learning to live with the current circumstances.  It is about listening to my body when it starts to feel over-stimulated and taking myself out of that environment.  There are times when I won’t be able to do that and that’s okay.  For now I just make my outings short and sweet.

With as much patience and self-love as I can muster, I will begin to process the core fears related to my survival on all levels.  I will do this through therapy, inner-work, trying to stay open to my experience, and self-hypnosis, with the aim of strengthening my faith and trust that everything is as it should be.  I expect that I will always be highly sensitive to sensory over-stimulation, and my hope is over time I will become comfortable enough again to pursue my passions and my need for face-to-face interaction a few more hours per day.

What I do know for sure is that I still need to be on an anti-psychotic to interact with the world in any form.  For that, I am grateful for the meds.

What has been your experience with sensory over-stimulation?  I would really like to hear from others who have similar experiences.


Cartoon credit: Trish Hurtubise


Trish HurtubiseHi. I’m Trish Hurtubise…the founder, curator and an editor for Mental Health Talk. I love serving those who are relegated to the shadows by society by giving them a platform to share their voice and be seen and heard… hence my passion for working with all the wonderful people who have shared their stories and wisdom on MHT.

You may view all posts by me here.

Much love to you.

Like this story? Subscribe to receive each story via email

Post navigation


  • Supporter

    Thank you for sharing.

    I have to admit that my anxiety is not that bad. The last few times I had minor attacks were at the airport while boarding airplanes. Walking down the catwalk towards the plane and looking down at the carpet was all it took. The carpet was so busy with small patterns and multiple colors that it felt like is it was alive and moving. The wind outside didn’t help as it made everything sway a little. That is when everything was about to get grey. Lucky for me, I wasn’t stuck on the catwalk and got to my seat quickly where I was able to take an Ativan to help relax for the flight. I either try to board first or at the last minute to avoid waiting in a lineup of people moving nowhere as this makes things worse.

    I am generally not a bad flyer but it only took this carpet to through me off. Pretty to some… over stimulating to others!

    • Trish

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I know those crazy carpets really get to me too!

      • Matt Ryan

        Hello Trish , I was scanning the net just now looking for stories just like your own . On how people learn to cope and survive with sensory overload .
        I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia back in 1994 , and also live with symptoms similar to ptsd .
        My situation in life arose via the pathway of lsd experimentation . in 1992 I took so much lsd that my trip did not end for a full year , and then at that time in 93 to 94 it morphed into the schizophrenic symptoms and phenomena . The transition was and is still hard to really take apart . One of my current symptoms now , is continual sensitivity to sound , movement and vibration . You can imagine and understand how living in a busy city really gives you no rest . I have to maintain my mental grip attentively . As daily symptoms of skitz , along with the sensory overload , can often lead to full relapse . I did spend six months studying meditation in a Buddhist school . It has made a giant difference in my life . With practice in mindfulness training . I work at being aware of when the over stimuli or the hallucinations or other phenomena arise . When so , I work to remind myself of what is , truly is , and what is perceived , that tho perceived , is not . Illusions are many . In mind , in self . Mental health conditions will effect ones reality , just as hyper sensitivity . Causing continual challenge in creating a “normal” day to day . I can say that once I let go of the illusion of needing a “normal” day , that things have begun to improve . What is normal , is simply what is currently the most active situation , normal may not be a good thing sometimes . So working on mindfulness and being attentive to reactions to stimuli , and working to as you said , ” creating your , what I will call , sanctuary ” at home and in the long view , within your own mind and spirit . I do not think I always get it right . But I always try . But some days are harder than others . Do you have specific situations that cause the overstimulation to arise more than others ? It feels for me that sometimes when I am focused and intent on something , if I get shocked out of it by an aggressive sound , ” I completely understand the thoughts of danger to self tho it may not be there ” , sometimes when I am shook out of my calm . It feels like the whole lsd trip is starting all over again .
        In which case I need to retreat to the basement to watch my fishtank , or to my workshop to work on a wood carving . Tools and aids are important in helping me overcome daily obstacle . It is frustrating as well to feel that you always have to defend or prove that your struggling while so many seem oblivious to the situation . And I agree with you . There really are to many bells and whistles out there , to many noisy distractions . Sometimes I feel like people like us , are like the canary in the coal mines . We may be aware of a very real danger to society , that most may not be able yet to pick up on . Perhaps we are the normal ones ? Have you ever considered that ? When you look at the suffering in the world , sometimes I feel like I am not mentally ill , but sane , and in which case , maintaining sanity in an insane world makes you feel crazy !

        • Trish

          Wow, Matt, thank you so much for commenting. I have to say that I am with you all the points you’ve made. I too have found that using an observational perspective (what I call my Observer) when I enter a delusional state has helped me immensely to function in reality as well as understand the meaning and/or purpose of the delusion in the first place. This has taken the dis-ease out of this experience for me as well as other “psychotic” or “schiz” experiences that are part of my life. I no longer go by any of the labels I have been subjected too for the purpose of diagnosing and medicating me, but have accepted that what I experience is part of “normal” human existence. Insanity has been around as long as sanity… insanity tends to be stigmatized because of fear and sanity tends to be overrated… in my opinion.

          My sensory overload has lessened quite a bit since I wrote this post. I believe this has to do with working through trauma via energy work in which my triggers are now more something I notice versus me going into full flight or fight and needing to be hyper-aware of my environment. With that said, I still over-stimulate where there is too much stimuli and I too believe that in this regard, we are the canary in the coal mines. That my constitution doesn’t jive with the world in which we are creating. And that others have become so numb to this discomfort that they don’t even notice how that much stimuli has a negative effect on them.

          I have since moved to a large woodlot in rural Ontario that is now my sanctuary and go into town when it is only necessary. I choose when I overstimulate and deal with it then.

          In 2018, I am looking to explore different perspectives on mental illness that re-humanize what we experience… through blog posts, interviews and perhaps a podcast. If you’re interested in participating, I’d love to connect with you and exchange emails. If that works for you, please contact me here and we’ll keep in touch: http://mentalhealthtalk.info/contact-me/.

          Much love,

  • over stimulated

    reading your words are like reading my own thoughts and experiences- i will share whatever you are interested in, i have that many experiences and thoughts and plans and things on my need to do list that i could talk to you for hours, apart from the fact that i get bored or distracted easily and loose my train of thought…
    i hope you dont mind me asking, but i need some advice, i have recently been diagnosed with emotionaly unstable personality (bpd) and i have also recently changed my working environment not through my own choice but i have no choice about it… i have gone from having an office to myself; to an office with several other people, who all use it at the same time, and i am finding the constant noise and mess is making me feel like my head is going to explode and i dont know whether talking to my boss about it may just change their view of me as a capable memeber of staff-how can i explain this to them without sounding mad?!

    • Trish

      Thank you for sharing your experience–it is nice to know there are others who overstimulate like I do. I have a lot of compassion for how it effects your life.

      As for advice on your work situation, I am not in a position to know how you should explain things to your boss, because I don’t know your whole situation and because I am afraid that I would steer you into a situation you don’t want. I just don’t have any experience in this.

      I do suggest becoming really informed about what your rights are in the workplace and how confidentiality would work in this situation. Then you will be better able to make your decision, I think.

      Maybe a note from your doctor would help if you do decide to tell your boss.

      Do you have the option to work from home sometimes?

      Do you have the option to put headphones on to listen to music that does not overstimulate you? How about earplugs?

      I hope this is helpful.

      Much love to you,

  • Paul Winkler

    I just came across this post by accident. Sorry for the very delayed comment!

    I have certainly experienced this response to being at the mall; particularly very large malls with lots of noise and visual cues. Try the mirror aisle at West Edmonton Mall, with the sound of fountains from the floor below!
    The worst was when I was a kid at the fair, going through the “midway” where all the hawkers and games were. What a dreadful time! One time when I was a teen, I wandered through there whilst on LSD. The hallucinogen actually helped smooth out the sensory overload on that one occasion, so that during the entire period that I was under the influence, my overload was about the same. But otherwise I cannot deal with that sort of nonsense; I really do not like any malls, nor any large fairs, nor any environments that cause this kind of confusion and distress, to this day (I’m 59 now). Oddly enough, I am now being treated for bipolar, but I have no idea if my antipsychotics would help with this sensory thing – I still avoid uncomfortable surroundings.

    • Trish

      Hi Paul

      Thank you for your comment–better late than never!

      And thank you for sharing your experiences. Again, it is nice to know that I am not alone.

      That’s interesting about your LSD experience.

      I grew up as a sensitive child (consider myself an HSP) and it is very common to have sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) when you are an HSP. However once I experienced trauma, my sensitivity went into overdrive and now I am on the extreme end of the spectrum.

      It is also a common symptom of PTSD–the senses continually feeding stimuli to the brain for it to analyze if it is a threat to my survival. I no longer have a filter to say “that chair is of no importance to me” before my brain gets to the analyzing stage. So spending the day in a familiar environment is easier for me but I still overstimulate because there are always some things that are dynamic ((like when I surf the Internet, or watch videos, or experience something stressful). But crazy places like malls and such… forget it! I do go but not for long and I feel awful afterwards.

      How do you know when you have sensory overloaded? What happens physically/mentally?

  • renee

    Hi Trish

    I’m a psychiatric nurse. I’m reading your posts because I’m trying to get some insight into how my patients feel. You’re very articulate and have help me understand people better. I work in emergency mental health right now so most of the time the patients I see are in crisis and unable to explain how they are feeling at the moment. I’m a self diagnosed shopaholic. I enjoy going to the mall but I feel as tho many more people are going to be experiencing sensory overload. The music is way to loud in the stores, even louder in the main area, the food court has several TV’s blaring music so loud you can’t talk to the person sitting across from you and if that person is a teenager they don’t talk anyway they just text. This current generation has grown up with fast moving images and loud everything. I feel that maybe instead of coming up with new medications we should be trying to lower the sensory overload for EVERYONE. I hope someday we can solve All mental health issues. Good luck in the future and keep writing. I’m sure you have helped many people.

    • Trish

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment Renee and your kind words.

      I do believe sensory overload impacts everyone on some level. I have learned that it is not only people with mental health issues but people who are highly sensitive (15-20% of the population) and of course, people with autism.

      I have done some research into how people with autism address sensory overload and they do what is called “stimming” (more info: http://autism.about.com/od/autismterms/a/stimming.htm) and I find that it helps me to manage the overload at times.

      I watched a recent interview with Temple Grandin and she feels the medical research around autism should now be focusing on medications to help reduce sensory overload–I guess because society doesn’t seem to want to slow down when it comes to bombarding us with stimuli. That kind of medication may really help those who are so crippled by it that they are unable to function in society.

      But as you said, I think the best solution would be to lower the amount of overload we experience in a day. That is what I do when I am overstimulated–when I can control the environment. Even just start small with taking TVs out of waiting rooms and lowering the volume of the music in malls.

      Again thanks for stopping by and sharing your input.


  • Andrea Lea

    I have a 10 year old daughter who I believe is suffering from sensory overload. When we visit shopping centres she become very upset, dizzy, faint, sweats and complains over the bright lights. this has also happened at theatres and cinemas. She is starting to miss out on nice activities and I worry as she gets older she will avoid social situations because of this. I am questioning if she suffers from Autism or if it is just sensory overload. It pains me to see her so distressed in what should be pleasant environments. From a small baby she has hated shopping centres.

    • Trish

      Hi Andrea. Autism is a consideration and so is high sensitivity. I find that I do need to deprive my senses everyday by taking 2 hours every night to be in a room with blackout curtains and plugs in my ears. This helps me to sleep better, which is critical to help with sensory overload, and reduces my agitation and keeps me balanced to be able to handle the next day. This may be extreme for a young girl but it is recommend that people who are highly sensitive do not engage in stimulating activities an hour before bed. The more grounded your daughter is, the more she will be able to handle the stimuli. It is when she is upset or anxious that it will hit her the hardest. I do find that most overloading activities can be reduced to something tolerable based on the amount of time exposed to the activity. If I want to watch a movie, I do it in hour chunks on a small TV screen at home. Theaters and cinemas are so extreme to me. I am also most prone to sensory overload at the end of the day so I plan for my most stimulating activities to be in the early afternoon or morning. But I am an adult and have come to accept these limitations and work within them. I can understand how it would be hard for a 10 year old.

      Much love,

  • xingxing

    Hi Trish,

    I share these problems as well, some very normal social surroundings, or even my gf watching TV can overload my nervous system in a way that just feels terrible. It’s usually much much worse with stress / anxiety / depression. Lately I feel no symptoms of anxiety or depression, I actually found a lot of peace and motivation lately, however shortly after that period of “peace” began these over-stimulation issues actually got worse instead of better. Looking at the computer for more than 30 seconds gives me a headache. I have to wear sunglasses all day and night, and sometimes when I’m sleeping I’m woken up by sensations of bright light in my eyes when in reality it’s pitch black in the house. I hear sounds that I’ve never even noticed before, like electronics clicking on and off, or people living several apartments down the hall. It’s really terrible. I’m in line for a barrage of neurological tests, but I don’t expect any of them to come up with anything. Almost any time I’ve gone to the doctor, or had any medical issue the doctors came up short, and a change of lifestyle fixed it for me. Like I said I actually feel at peace with everything recently, I’m exercising daily, I even WANT to be working but I can’t do it in any meaningful stretch of time because of the eye pain of using the computer.

    The problem is I totally despise taking drugs (they haven’t prescibed anything logical to this date anyway). I don’t even like alcohol. I don’t see many things which can be changed this time. I even had the same exact thought as you to go to a monastery in hopes that it would be quieter!

    Ironically I’m using the computer which causes me pain to try find some kind of answer to what is going on.

    Don’t know what else to say, feel your pain!

    • Trish

      Thank you so much for sharing this xingxing. Your story really made me, and I’m sure others who read these comments, feel less alone.

      What I found that helps me tremendously, is cutting myself off from all stimulation for 2-3 hours before I go to bed. I lie in a comfortable position in comfy clothes in a pitch black room with ear plugs — as sensory deprived as I can get. This helps me to maintain my quality of life and I am recharged enough by this to be able to survive in the overstimulating world another day.

      I too have a hard time working for stretches of time on the computer or in environments that are really noisy, full of people, fluorescent lights, etc. So I have become self-employed as an assistant whereby I only work for 2 hours at a time per day and no more than 5 hours per week per client. This is not even a part time position because I need my downtime, but it does help me feel good about working again. I also am very specific about who I work with and the environments I work in if I go on-site which, because I have chosen to work with healers, and new age shop owners, and yoga studio owners, their environments are always serene.

      Much love,

  • Melissa

    I’m so glad I found this. It brings a calmness to me just knowing that you all exist and experience these things as well. No one I know would understand and would probably think I am crazy. I’ve had this all my life but especially now it is so much worse because I’ve been going to university and living with a parent who had a stroke and was diagnosed with dementia. I really don’t want to take any medications, but sometimes it gets so bad that I lose almost all control over myself when I have a break down or anxiety/panic attack. I still go to stores and the mall sometimes but as soon as I get that feeling of anxiety I know I need to head for the exit. My vision starts bothering me first, from the lighting and constant movement all around, then I get dizzy and just feel like I’m a zombie and not all there. The theatre just started to bother me too, so I won’t be going back. I also see horrible images or thoughts but not of myself, of other people. Though I’ve always been able to see these extremely vivid images like a movie when I close my eyes, just depends on my mood if its rated G or R. Whenever I’m around other people I can literally feel them sucking the energy out of me until I feel like passing out, even if I really enjoy and want to be around these people. If you experience anxiety attacks, do you experience them when something is giving you terrible anxiety at that moment? Mine never happen like that. I may feel terrible or even break down crying in an anxious situation but attacks always happen to me when I’m relaxing. I’ll be watching Netflix usually, trying to forget about stress and anxiety and all of a sudden I get this feeling of doom that I can’t control, and it just starts building up and up. I sit up and try to slow my breathing but I have no control. I start rocking back and forth just to try and calm myself and counting to 100 over and over. My hands start shaking and I’m cold and hot at the same time and just feel scared.. and it eventually fades away, after time. I’m really afraid of what this is doing to my mind and body too. I don’t want to live like this. I’ve been watching shows about monks living in monsteries so it made me laugh when you mentioned that. I just want to run into the forest and live alone with my dog peacefully for the rest of my life.. I’m sorry you guys are all experiencing similar things, but I’m glad you are out there and sharing it.

    • Trish

      Thank you so much for sharing your story Melissa. I feel your pain as well and the constant urge to be alone somewhere deep in the wild where everything is so much more calm and peaceful.

      I have experienced anxiety and visions when I relax. What it came down to for me in the beginning was being put on meds and though they helped to ground me, they are not what I considered helped with the anxiety and gruesome visions. For me, it was working through trauma in my childhood. I’m not talking about physical or sexual trauma… but more about images, feelings, sounds, people being angry or harsh with me, people telling me to be someone I’m not…stuff that had a lot of sensory stimulation… because I am sensitive I took these in and internalized them and they created deep wounds within me, so when experiencing something similar later on in life that probably seems benign to an outsider, I would trigger and go into an anxiety attack or get flashbacks that would elaborate on the images that disturbed me.

      I work through these trauma’s using energy work — specifically matrix reimprinting which is an advance form of EFT/tapping — but I encourage you to explore different energy modalities and find the one that fits for you… if you wish to try this. I also highly recommend homeopathy which has helped me greatly with dealing with past trauma.

      I can say my sensory overload has improved a little but the greatest improvement comes by not longer getting the anxiety attacks or flashbacks which in turn, makes me less stimulated.

      Much love,

  • Chewie

    I suffered a severe nervous breakdown in November 2014 and I smoked a lot of weed in 2014 because I was anxious and depressed. My mental breakdown made me extremely paranoid and thought people were trying to kill me. I was really high the night of my breakdown and thought people were after me. I thought I was going to die.

    In December 2014, I thought people were going to kill me 24/7. The only peace I had was when I slept. Other than sleep, I always thought someone was going to harm me. Everyone around me in stores and anywhere I went I thought they were going to do something to me. I thought the cartel was after me and a lot more. For an example, I thought gangs were after me ane more. I thought anyone I saw on the street or in public was going to hurt me.

    I saw a psychiatrist and he gave me an anti psychotic and the paranoia went away after a month or two. For 6 months I wasn’t working or going to school and and I was depressed on and off, severely anxious and worrying all the time. I saw this psychiatrist for 8 months then he got sick in August 2015 and I had to find a new doctor.

    I found a new doctor but they wouldn’t help me that much because I was taking 3 anti psychotics. I first saw them in the end of September in 2015. Now, going back to July 2015, I wanted to try weed again so I did. I smoked 3 times. I was over 6 months sober and my paranoia came back twice a week for 4 months. It would happen at school and work. I had to drop my classes and leave work because of depression, anxiety and paranoia. I joined this mental health program for 7 weeks and my depression went away, my paranoia went down to 1 time every 8 days or so because this psych in the program increased my medicine.

    I haven’t been paranoid since December 18th. I started experiencing over stimulation and I didn’t really know what it was until now. It doesn’t happen everyday. It happens randomly. I get anxious when I go out in public. For an example, when I go to really crowded stores or the mall. It was a lot worse back in December but now it’s gotten better.

    Yesterday I saw Deadpool(a violent movie)in theaters and I felt weird about these kids in front of me in the row below me. Idk. I just felt weirded out and anxious. Later on in the movie I got pretty scared because there was a part about putting someone under a load of stress and that over stimulated me more. I started thinking to myself, “omg, what if that happened to me?” Just my brain thinking irrationally. I left the theater when the movie was finished and the movie was pretty violent. Crowds were starting to upset me. It was crowded because it was Valentine’s Day and all the movies were getting out at the same time. I went in the bathroom and I was anxious and worried about my bathroom stall not locking. I thought someone was going to come in to the stall. I then went outside and this guy was dropping his friend off and he looked suspicious to me and his exhaust on his car sounded really loud because he took it off. He sped down the street making so much noise and that bothered me. I went to this store to get pizza with my dad. I stayed in the car, I was anxious and scared about people going around my dad’s car. My dad drove me home after and the music in his car was on pretty loud and I lowered it a couple times and he kept turning it up. It made me mad because he started to laugh and I told him it bothered me so he turned it off.

    Last night I was just pretty anxious, a little scared and I went to bed early because the fear and overstimulation sucked a lot of energy out of me. Today I saw my therapist and they said it was over stimulation not paranoia. Maybe an emotional flashback. Idk. It wasn’t fun though.

    • Trish

      Thank you Chewie for taking the time to leave a comment explaining what you are going through. I have also found that anxiety increases the overstim and the overstim increases the anxiety. If you think about your eyes taking in that much info, especially in crowds and watching a movie on a big screen, and you are prone to overstim, I can see why you ended up so anxious.

      In my experience, the way to live with it is to limit the amount of stimulation I am subject too. I watch movies on my iphone. I always have a set of ear plugs in my purse which I use when I am in the car with my dad and he won’t turn down the music! I also use them when I am in a crowded waiting room that has a TV blaring. I take two hours every night to lie in my bed with my blackout curtains and my ear plugs and this helps a lot — sensory deprivation at its best.

      Addressing ways to manage the anxiety has also helped. For me that has been CBT, breathwork, and energy work to process through the various traumas (things I would flashback to — like you did) so that they don’t have the hold on me as they once did.

      I take an anti psychotic as well which helps to manage the overstim.

      Again, thank you for sharing your story as I am sure others who read your comment will feel less alone. I wish you all the best and stop by anytime to let us know how it’s going.

      Much love,

  • Euphony

    My sensory overload of sorts is mainly just bright lights and sounds, and even my sensitivity varies on a daily basis depending on what has happened which is frustrating because it makes it hard to gauge when enoughs enough. Though visual only comes in when I wear my glasses everything becomes even brighter, sharper, clearer and I notice more objects, this gets bad pretty quickly so I only wear my glasses if I have to drive.

    This entire year has been the most stressful yet because I moved out of my parents house with a roommate. We also share a bedroom and I have a cat and she decided to adopt one. I also work as a teaching assistant.

    I didn’t realize just how sensitive I really was until this occurred because my parents house has always been quiet, TV never louder than 20 if even on(which is less than 4x a week if not month) no lights on till the sun set and lights that were on were medium brightness yellow lights and then at 8.30pm all lights went off except a dim yellow light in the dining room and all lights out at 10pm. The florescent kitchen lights only ever were on to cook dinner which was just mildly annoying with the brightness and the hum, mostly the hum. I went to school with a hat to shade my eyes and wore it in class I never hung out with anyone after school and avoided malls like the plage unless i knew what i was getting where it was and i couldn’t get it cheaper anywhere else. No one in my parents house played music outloud only through earphones or if my parents watched a movie tyat was loud it was in their room with the door shut. I have a tablet with a blue light filter and settings on dimmist possible same with my phone

    When I moved out i never new how loud just a person could be, she’s constantly doing something, constantly trying to tslk to me while im clearly doing something, playing tye tv above 20 while playing on her laptop, her phones constantly buzzing, ringing, pinging. She laughs too loudly her bed squeaks everytike she moves her cat meows too often too loudly i can hear him even with the bedroom door, my cat is thankfully and mercifully a quiet one, kitchen light constantly on with its stupid hum and headache inducing light it also makes me very wired and can’t fall asleep at night. I can handle my job just fine provided tgat i get an hour or two or little to no noise or light which is next to impossible at home these days.

    2 weeks ago I finally had a meltdown. At work a coworker quit so I was left with a teaching assistant who didn’t do her job( the teacher i work with has a class of 35 3-6 yr olds and the ratio is 1 adult to 13 children so she has two teaching assistants) so i had to watch all those kids at lunch when the teacher left for lunch and i almost got to point of a shutdown essentially because all tjose kids were talking, screaming and telling me so and so did this to me all at once and i couldn’t hear them they sll sounded all at tye same volume and i almost shutdown which is just me pretty much unvoluntarily blocking out everything and just not thinking or doing anything, which i barely managed to keep myself from doing for longer than maybe a minute. An experience like that I need a break or I wouldn’t function.
    So I get home turn all the lights off, pull all the blinds close and put on a sweep white noise generator, piled 8 blankets up on the bed and got under them all(I really like the weight of it), I started to feel better but then my roommate came home. First thing she does is kitchen light which okay is not too bad its just a small crack of light under the door. Then she comes into the bedroom “Are you okay?” she asks and her voice is just i wanted to scream. I tell her im fine just tired and stressed. So she goes out to the living room and closes tye bedroom door. Then she turns the tv on and plays on her laptop. I can hear the tv over my sweep white noise and the door closed. I try turning the noise generator up to not hear the Tv but the volume that cancels out the TV is too much but the tv sound is too much I can’t leave my room because the light is too much lesving my apartment is not an option when im like thst so now it just turns into this cycle of desperately trying to find something that’s not too much but cancels out the TV and it’s not working and im just getting more and more upset and I’m starting to feel trapped i eventually just wore myself mentally enough to just sleep but that bar for tolerance is not as low as it used to be anymore and I’m just hoping for a complete day or two without my roommate to just reset the tolerance bar.

    I will say I am diagnosed with ADHD and OCD, so some of the sensory overload can be attributed to the ADHD since paying attention to everything means everything is marked as important but you can’t prioritize what to do because everything you notice is important and thus by noticing everything you get nothing done because it’s too much because everything is important and relevant there’s little to no filter or you focus so singularly on one thing everything else ceases to exist and suddenly its 5am in the morning when last you saw it was 2pm. My attention or ability to focus is either set to floodlight(I see everything, everything is relevant) or laser pointer(only can see this one thing nothing else exists), whereas most people have a flash light. And I can’t even regulate when it’s floodlight and when it’s laser pointer which is frustrating and that’s not including the neverending restlessness and boredom and constant need for motion even when I need to recuperate from too much. Which is when it’s the worse because sometimes I need a little to stimulation time period but I’m bored out of my mind and I feel like I need to run a mile and hike a mountain and blast music but the minute a light turns on its too much but I still need to do something but I can’t because it’d be too much and thus a neverending cycle begins.

    Sorry if tge paragraphs look like walls of text

    • Trish

      Thank you for sharing your story. I feel for you living in an environment where you do not have much opportunity to get away from everything that stimulates your senses.

      Much love,

  • xingxing

    Not sure if I mentioned this but since I get email updates it reminded me to mention it… My symptoms turned out to be lyme disease and 2 coinfections… maybe some other people with this problem should get tested? After the correct antibiotic therapies those symptoms are gone.

    • Trish

      Thanks, xingxing for letting us know!

  • Lindsey

    I read through this and absolutely 100% feel the same way you do. I realized too late I married a non HSP man, though he is a wonderful man he doesn’t live the way I would so I find myself in uncomfortable situations more than I’d like. I want to tell you I am not into telling others to take drugs, but I can say that my life has substantially improved since I started using cannabis. I live in a legal state so it is easy for me to get the proper dose/strain and method. It helps but not completely. I also take a very small amount of lamictil 75mg/day and since I started using cannabis I don’t need my xanax anymore, the MMJ works faster and better in my opinion. There are almost no side effects (except for feeling a little bit good, once medical tolerance has been reached).

    • Trish

      Thank you, Lindsey, for taking the time to comment and sharing a bit about your journey.

      Much love,

  • S B

    Most days are ok, and I am good to go, wherever. But, I never know when exactly, seemingly out of the blue, or I’ll sometimes feel a building up of things in a small way, I’ll wake up or day and I’ll be overstimulated and I know that if I try to continue onward like normal that it can turn to disaster. My experience is much like you describe at times, I got stuck in a store once, could not finish shopping really, just bought a few things and felt like any moment I was gonna hit the floor, dizzy, felt dazzled, too much noise. I had to sit on a bench up front and wait while people were looking at me strange until I could find the energy to go sit in my car and wait for it to pass, but it didn’t right away, so I had to call my significant other and have him leave his job and get a ride to come drive me home as I could not at that point. It feels like motion sickness I had in cars as a kid, only worse. Things like too hot or too cold, windy outside, storms, too much light/sound, noise, people, strong smells, air pressure changes esp. when hot/stuffy. And sometimes the panic attack part won’t manifest until later, when I think that I’ve done pretty well, and the stimulus stops.

    • Trish

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us, S B.

  • Matt

    These issues with overstimulation are the result of chronic infections in the body and brain . Herpes family viruses are the most common .

    The infections cause histamine/glutamate problems resulting from viral infection of the gi system and liver or a direct result of the infection in the brain, overstimulation is a common symptom of viral encephalitis .

  • Luke Elms

    You know, Trish, I have the very same set of symptoms as the ones to which the psychiatric community would refer as “sensory overload”. The biggest difference between you and me, however, is that my sensory overload is less severe than you said yours was in this article. I like the illustration of sensory overload that you put on this web page; for me, it describes what sensory overload is quite accurately.

    • Trish

      Thank you, Luke, for your kind words. My sensory overload has actually improved since I wrote this article. I believe it is mainly due to me processing through trauma. Before I used to take in EVERYTHING as a way to check for threats. Now I’m not as hypervigilant. And also do my best to avoid situations where this is going to be a lot of stimuli which means I don’t go to the mall (at all! Yay for the internet!), shop when the store is just opening and there is less activity, go out to restaurants during the “early-bird” hour, go see a band in an intimate setting… and if I do sensory overload, I do my best to clear my schedule the next day so I can be quiet and alone.

      Much love,

  • Holly

    I would love some feedback on what could be going on with me! My drs ( I’ve had 2nd opinions) are stumped and attribute it to anxiety/depression, just wondering if this ovserstimulation, the severity that it happens can honsestly be from anxiety/depression. Feed back would be appreciated or private email if you want to communicate further. Here goes….
    16 months ago I quit taking Ativan for my anxiety disorder. I have generalized anxiety, always worrying about my health, kids health etc. absolutely nothing I’ve experienced since being off Ativan. Since coming off meds my overstimulation/sensory overload is getting worse. At times it’s so bad even coming out of my bedroom is too stimulating. If I go into s store it floods my senses and I can’t think, concentrate I get irritable and have to get out. I don’t get shaky, increased heart rate etc it’s all just awful feelings in my brain that are indescribable. Then I have to come home and lay in my quiet room to recoup my brain. My “original” anxiety is pretty much out the window because of this overstimaultion I don’t worry about other things. Sometimes even driving to and from taking my kids to school can be too much. It’s like my brain feels so weird having to take it all in and it’s all just too much. I don’t go to stores much and when I do it’s in and out. Even then the second I enter the store it’s an instant overload of brights and looking at others like how are they walking around so calm. Can anxiety/depression honestly do this to a person? Also at times even people in my house and having to talk to others can be too much.

    • Trish

      Hi Holly. Yes, I have similar symptoms though they have been better since I wrote this post 8 years ago. Also, I am in the process of tapering off my benzo and the overstimulation does get worse as part of the withdrawal. I have read and heard from people that it can take years to get over a benzo once you have stopped taking it.

      My theory — and please know I am not a mental health professional — is the nervous system is in hyper arousal and we take on so much of our surroundings because everything is perceived as a threat. We have no filter and we overstimulate. I’m also wondering how is your startle response? Do you jump about 10 feet in the air every time you hear a noise? In my experience, that’s indicative of a hyper aroused nervous system.

      It has been crucial for me to take as much time at the end of the day as I need in a dark room with earplugs and no interruptions. That has improved my quality of life immensely.

      I have also worked on processing through past developmental trauma using energy work. I specifically use Matrix Reimprinting but I would also recommend homeopathy. Therefore, I am not as prone to triggering and going into fight or flight.

      I also suggest doing things to soothe your nervous system: lying in corpse pose; taking lemon balm tincture (you want a high quality one like Vimergy), taking a high quality magnesium glycinate supplement (has to be glycinate because not all magnesiums are created equal is this regard… I take Pure), engaging in activities you love, soothing music, being in nature, etc. Anything to engage the parasympathetic nervous system.

      I still overstimulate in big box stores or really anywhere with a lot of stuff. The feeling I get is something I have habitualized myself to, so it is expected and not as scary.

      I also don’t do well with lots of people and noise and such. But that is also part of my introverted nature. Do you consider yourself an introvert?

      I hope some of this is helpful.


Leave a Reply

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