Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload

I’ve been speaking with others that live with Multiple Sclerosis, or a similar illness… about certain things that we deal with frequently; that isn’t really spoken about as “main topics” for the disease in question.

Recently, I seem to be having some sort of an issue when I’m out in public with a lot going on around me. For example, I’ve been having issues at the grocery store a bit more than usual. It probably doesn’t help that it’s hot outside… but if I go to the store and it is packed full and there is a lot going on all around me, I seem to get ‘overloaded’ and get confused a bit more easily… lose train of thought, sense of direction, etc.

Trying to plan to avoid crowds

I plan out the trip before I go by the way. I get everything organized and planned; I have my grocery list ready and I have a plan. I usually plan to go when it’s not busy but I can’t predict the future… and I seem to have bad luck recently when going out and about. I end up finishing up at the grocery store, forgetting A LOT of things that were written down right in front of me. Why is that?

I had to think back and analyze on what happened, why I got lost… I came to the conclusion that I got sidetracked. There were people everywhere; I couldn’t even get in to certain aisles. I also get overheated easily, so then I’m to the point that I’m overwhelmed, getting confused, getting overheated…. Causes so much frustration that I just want to hurry up and get out of there.

Losing track of conversations

This doesn’t just apply to the grocery store; I was just giving an example. If I go to a friends house that is having a party/event…depending on how many people are there, I get overwhelmed very easily. If I’m trying to hold a conversation I will lose my train of thought more frequently, because of the all the surrounding sounds and people talking, and too much going on at once. It’s almost like a ‘buzz’ of sound that’s going on around you.

Not everyone understands

Literally the other night I was at the softball fields because my husband was playing a game, and I was talking with a friend of mine… she is telling me something and we were really close to the dugout, so there was a lot of chatter there too, so I couldn’t even comprehend what she was saying. Once we moved away from the noise, I asked her to repeat herself, cause I didn’t catch ANYTHING. She of course understood, but not everyone does in these situations.

Too much activity can cause a migraine

I’m sure I look a bit crazy to those who don’t understand… or that I’m scatter brained. But it seems that ever since I was diagnosed with MS, I can’t have too much going on at once. It will give me a headache/migraine, because I’m getting overloaded with way too many outside factors at once. It makes me exhausted as well, if I get overwhelmed… I just want to take a nap.

I’ve noticed, as well as close family/friends, that I do much better when communicating with others with less background noise/activity. It took me a while to put what I was going through into words… and I came up with Sensory Overload.

It’s a lesser known symptom

This issue isn’t something that I was aware of and/or prepared for when dealing with MS. There are so many things that we go through that aren’t on the ‘symptom list’. They aren’t fully detailed and explain to you scenarios of what’s going to happen when certain things happen, etc.

So for those of you who see someone with MS or an invisible illness, they might be having issues like this… You might need to remind them of what you were discussing, or see if they want to step outside with you. Suggest moving to a less ‘active’ area so help them regain their thought process and sanity.

Sometimes I have to step outside

I can’t tell you how many times I have to go to my room, or step outside… while I’m at home. I have two young boys, husband and father-in-law in the same house. It gets to be too much and I just have to separate myself, because it can cause some anxiety issues for me as well.

I love being around other people and socializing, but I have to change up how I’m going to go about things. Know that I’m not TRYING to be anti-social as well. I just need time to get myself back together from the sensory overload… It can be confusing with too much going on, then frustrating because we can’t handle multiple things going on at one time.

We push ourselves enough

And for those of you who have a loved one that has gone through this or something similar… PLEASE do not make them feel bad for it. We are already hard enough on ourselves and we try to push ourselves as much as we can as it is. We got things taken from us due to MS. We are trying to keep our lives as ‘normal’ as possible on top of everything else we are going through.

xoxo

Ashley Ringstaff

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (30)
  • DawnW
    7 months ago

    I totally agree. I am a single mom, have a 9 &19 year old son, have a 22 yr old daughter, and a 4 yr old grand daughter. The boys live with me and when the other 2 come over with my daughter’s fiancé, I just want to scream, “SHUT UP,” sometimes. Instead, I just go outside for a while to calm my brain down. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one with sensory overload!!!

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    7 months ago

    Oh wow! Talk about a house full. And you aren’t the only one that wants to scream SHUT UP to everyone surrounding you just to give you a break from the ‘chaos’.

    While it’s not chaos to them, it is in our heads… and they will never fully understand it. I also find little places to go ‘hide’ to get a few minutes to myself. Recently I’ve been locking myself in the bathroom. 🙂

  • Shollay836
    12 months ago

    This happens to me if more than one person tries to talk to me at the same time, I feel like I cant handle it!

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    11 months ago

    Shollay836,

    That’s the worst. I feel like it happens to be at my dinner table a lot. I now tune them out, and don’t respond when asked a direct question. WHOOPS.

    I had to explain to them that less is more when it comes to people talking at the same time. 🙂

    xoxo
    Ashley Ringstaff

  • Pam
    1 year ago

    Thank you for articulating this! I’m sharing this article with my family and friends. I’ve tried to explain what it’s like now, but your article does it better than I can. I just texted my friend who is coming from out of town to attend 2 parties with me because the anxiety of going alone and dealing with all the conversations is overwhelming. She’s great at conversation and knows when I’ve hit the wall and it’s time to leave. I’m lucky, my family also understands when I have to go outside because the multiple conversations (typically social and political with our family being very passionate and on opposite sides of the coin) become too much, too loud, too…everything and I need a breather, or I go take a nap on my parents bed. It’s not something you’re prepared for with this diagnosis, I can pretty much ignore the physical symptoms, its the mental ones that scare and frustrate me.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    12 months ago

    Hi pavery! I’m glad the article resonated with you and will allow you to share some of your experience with your family. There are also several awesome videos on YouTube that I have used to explain my ASD spectrum kids’ sensitivities to people who think they are overreacting. When you really think about it, we are being bombarded all day long and it can be truly draining and even debilitating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We’re glad you’re here! -Warmly, Donna (MultipleSclerosis.net)

  • dianne
    1 year ago

    I didn’t know this was an MS symptom…I have it too. I have been so overloaded before that after I’ve gotten my buggy loaded with groceries but then I’ve had to just walk out because I could handle the checkout line.

    I also get this anytime I’m around too many people at the same time.

    I also get the migraine type headaches.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    7 months ago

    Girl! You just explained me. My grocery store just recently started doing the ‘curbside’ pick-up so I’m taking FULL advantage of that.

  • ElizabethS
    1 year ago

    I’m at a point where I can’t read a lot of what others say because it’s part of my emotional overload at the moment. So I’ll just. commenct on the article with the risk of being redundant. Or at risk of saying what everyone else did. (That was a joke. I’ve never posted. Thought I’d let you know, just in case : ) ). I am so overwhelmed by so much and things like grocery shopping and such have fallen on my!roommr. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for years and lately the anxiety has taken center stage. I
    have never experir anything like it. It’s paralyzing. I’ve had MS for 23 years and am so doing better than I wthought I would be at this point, that I tend not to think of the MS as being a factor in my longer term health issues. I don’t think I want to.

    But reading this, I’ m actually relieved MS could play a part. I couldn’t figure out how I could go from someone who hated being alone to someone who asks her roommate to stay a little later at work because she (I) am not ready for conversation. Or only wanting to go to lunch with people, not parties or events because iit’s too much. My mom died in February 400 miles away and going up to be with her and dealing with 7 siblings and all that ensued for the next couple of weeks self me on an MS path I still haven’t been able to veer from. The sensory overload is a chicken and egg thing. I think. And a vicious cycle,to pull out all the cliches — expressions I:be grown to dletest when I hear them. Oy. Everything with my mom totally put me on overload, and in triggered a bunch of physical things I haven’t expanded in years. Eitherr that triggered the overload again or it hadn’t gone away. Doesn’t matter. My therapist and I had talked this summer about the irony that I coluld be diagnosed with Agoraphobia. No one from my past would ever have believed that! I never stayed home. Now so much is overwhelming.

    Kind if rambled, there. It happens when I’ m by myself all day M-F with I only the cats to talk to. Talking on the phone is also a major sensory overload situation for me — often because with cell phones the other person is usually distracted with doing other things besides just talking to me. I am exhausted when I get off the phone and incredibly anxious if it was call to keep!in touch with someone. Sometimes I wish phones still had cords. We could actually allow ourselves to vvisit then. This is not a world designed to accommodate sensory overload!

    I think I’ve used up all my posting space for NY entire lifetime. I have savored the last 9 hours it has taken my brain to process and write this. Kidding!

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hey! Totally understand where you’re coming from. I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s passing though. I didn’t have to deal with siblings, I’m an only child… but I have a house full now… so I feel like it’s payback in a sense.

  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    Ok, update on grocery shopping. I was feeling good on Friday, so I went to a busy store for 10 items. I should know my limitations, lol, but not only did I get my 10items but I tried to use the self checkout! Bad move. I did ok til it came time to weigh my produce. I was so proud, I knew how to punch in the numbers, but I forgot to put the veggies on the scale and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then, I needed cash back, but almost left it in the machine. The, as I went to leave the cashier checked my cart and I had forgotten to pay for an item. I need an emoji for mortification.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    Oh man! I’ve done the complete ‘blank’ thing before, of thought process…. like “What was I supposed to be doing?”

    So sorry you went through that. I have done self check out before but I don’t like it ….

    xoxo
    Ashley

  • Gay W.
    1 year ago

    Malls are out of the equation! When we go to the grocery store, I push the cart and my husbands loads it up. That’s the only way I can keep grounded because I have to steer and not have to look at the shelves.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    Oh I’m so not ready for Christmas shopping.
    I do most of it online, but there are times that I might need tape, or wrapping paper etc. 🙁 I haven’t been to the mall in a LONG time. I can’t even remember when.

  • 1o02yi
    1 year ago

    Thank you, Ashley! I didn’t even know what to call this on my disability insurance forms, but it is one of my most disabling symptom in day-to-day life. And it is also one of he most difficult for other people to understand. ALL the thing you listed happen to me regularly. I have noticed that I seem to undergo the same physiological process when I get overheated and when my senses get overloaded. The actual physical/emotional/cognitive response (meltdown) is almost identical. Unfortunately, this symptom ends up being isolating since I need someone who is willing to look out for me in busy places (like grocery stores or airports or schools), and I don’t always have someone who is willing to do that just because “I can’t deal”. Thanks for shedding light on this! It’s nice to know I’m not alone 🙂

  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    I can so identify with the need for someone to watch out for me in busy places. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    Glad to help out. Sorry you also have to deal with it though.

    Hope all is well. xoxo

  • potter
    1 year ago

    Bingo! This is exactly the way I feel, I don’t get the migraines from sensory overload but I do get migraines from weather fronts moving. We have a family dinner tomorrow night at a noisy restaurant, I have decided to sit next to my husband and just talk to him. The rest of the family can’t hear very well so I am going to keep my stress level down and not even try. Potter

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    7 months ago

    That’s understandable. I tend to try and sit closest to the people that I know I will converse with when I’m at a large gathering… so that I don’t have to try to talk over or listen over other conversations.

  • clsuhre
    1 year ago

    Another upsetting thing under the “sensory overload” tab is too much stuff. We like the local Tex-Mex restaurant on Friday night. But a margarita for everybody, plus a glass of water for everyone; a bowl of chips; the bowl of queso; four little dishes of salsa (one for everybody); a pile of extra napkins; the table tent advertising the drink specials; the paper litter from straw wrappers and cutlery packets; a dish of lime wedges for drinks… My poor husband is not allowed to order fajitas if there are four of us at dinner, because fajitas come with too many dishes! Some Fridays are “bring your screeching children” nights – I wish I knew which days, because I’d pick a different restaurant. When my tablemates get into a discussion about the virtues of Marvel comics versus DC, I just shut down and can’t wait to leave. My strategy? I endure, and have some much-needed private and quiet time in bed when I get home.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    Soooo… do we go to the same restaurant? lol
    I have an obsession w/ Tex-Mex… and deal w/ the same.

    At dinner friends/family think i’m not paying attention, but I’m just zoned out almost, because it’s an overload to my system.

  • Julie
    1 year ago

    An MS’ers best friend…. Grocery stores that have pick up service.
    Grocery stores make me crazy! Between the crowds of people, the overhead music and announcements, the fluorescent lights and the screaming kids I go into sensory overload. If I have to pick up a couple of things I run to the local small grocery but everything else I go online, click click click on what I want, go to the store, they even bring it out to me and put it in my car!! OMG I’m in love with this new online service! No more hoping and praying there is a handicap spot because by the time I walk all over the store my legs are made of rubber. Most of the larger chains have this service, it’s a blessing.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    They are FINALLY doing this at my store! My husband usually goes to the stores these days anyway, thank goodness.. But i’m super happy about the pick-up option!

  • ladeeempress
    1 year ago

    I honestly did not realize this was an MS thing. You are SO right.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    I didn’t either, but then I spoke to others w/ MS – and a light bulb went off.

  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    Aashley, you hit the nail on the head. Sensory overload is one of my most disabling symptom, in that it is one that makes me modify my choices of what to do I. My daily life.

    For instance, with grocery shopping, I only go into my small local grocery store with a list when I need groceries. Once every 2 weeks, I order them online from the larger store but I avoid going in there. It is just too much going on at once. If I try to go there and forget something at one end of the store, it just takes too much effort to go back and get it. Not to mention having to put away 2 weeks worth of groceries. I will pay the $10 for this service gladly.

    As for socializing, I choose my activities carefully. I avoid large crowds or social activities too many days in a row. I have many older friends who are retired and have an activity planned every day of the week, They don’t understand why I can’t join them.

    Her is an example. A few weeks ago, one of my friend’s 53 year old son died suddenly. So on Monday, I went to the funeral home for a few hours. Tuesday was the funeral and a day that our local department store was having a one day sale that I had planned for a long time to go to. I don’t go to stores much. So I decided to go to the store and not the funeral. As soon as I walked in the store, I ran into a friend who had gone to the funeral and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner with her and a few other friends after shopping. I said no. So on that one day, I did not go to a funeral or out to dinner because I knew it would just be too much.

    I could go on..but I feel like I am having a pity party if I do.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friends son.

    Thank you for reading the article and sharing your thoughts and tips.

    Hope you’re doing well. xoxo
    Ashley

  • DonnaFA moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Nancy! We’re so sorry for the loss of your friend’s son. Not a pity party at all, we thank you for sharing some valuable experience and tips with the community! The grocery pick-up and delivery option is offered by most groceries and is a huge help. My dad, who has COPD and asbestosis, and is now pretty much housebound, uses it & it has been a Godsend for him & my step-mom. Thanks so much for sharing and being part of the community. -Warmly, Donna (MultipleSclerosis.net team)

  • Polifax
    1 year ago

    Hi. I am not sure that I would have labeled it sensory overload but I experience these symptoms a lot. Drives my family crazy. The other day I was so proud I basically went to the store just for eggs. I had a written list, a phone backup list and my husband. So I remembered the eggs. Unfortunately I dropped them while trying to put them in the fridge lol. The best thing/test I have done for my MS was I got a Neurotrax/Cognitive testing done by a Neuropsychologist. My Neuro ordered it and the insurance (medicare) paid for it. At the beginning she asked me what issues I thought I was having (forgetting items, not comprehending conversations, not comprehending books with too much detail, inability to concentrate with background noise, not being able to remember driving directions to places I have been going for years, crying in frustration, getting quite irritable when anyone interrupts me because heck if I know what I was in the process of doing or saying, and I have left the stove/sink on and flooded the kitchen twice). Then came the tests. They were frustrating, fun and fascinating. But let me tell you I am sooo glad I went. They actually have certain tests that they have data specific to other people WITH MS with my age and similar education levels. Also they have imbedded questions and tasks that show whether a person is giving their best effort or malingering. The results? She sent me like an 8 page report and called me to go over the results. All of the issues I had listed tied in with the test results. One area I flunked in lol she labeled as “your memory is subject to interference”. So if I get distracted, interrupted or too much going on around me I get like wiped clean. She also told me I am now basically not able to multitask. I know that this doesn’t fix anything, but my family is now a bit more understanding and I am a little easier on myself.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing your insight on this subject.
    I can completely relate to many things that you wrote about.

    xoxo

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