Christmas is coming and the season is full of parties and events that are so fun and exciting and... well, draining. It's not that I don't love each and every one of them, it's just that I feel like I ran a marathon afterwards.
And I'm married to an extrovert who wants to see everyone we possibly can, and trying to explain sensory overload to an extrovert is near enough impossible. They just don't get it.
I mean, I think everyone has it at some point, and I imagine if I dumped my husband in the middle of a war zone he'd probably be a little more bothered by loud noises and bright lights, and shouting people, but failing that, it's hard to describe feeling like everything is too loud, too bright, too.... much.
Sensory overload can lead to making silly mistakes, like forgetting how to shower correctly (yeah, that has legitimately happened more than once); but being proactive in managing stress can really help.
Firstly, there is no single 'right way' to manage stress works for everyone, but here are some of my absolute favourites that I thought others might benefit from too. You don't have to be autistic to feel overwhelmed, so if you ever feel like the world is too much, why not give some of these a try:
1. Get under water
Genuinely, there is science to this. Getting your full face underwater rapidly slows your heart beat and reduces your blood pressure - it's a reflex. The body recognises it's being submerged and tries to conserve oxygen, which in turn reduces your physical stress.
If all you can do is put your face in a bowl of water, that's fine, but personally I love to swim. You're weightless, you can't hear much under there, it's just beautiful.
If you can't get to a pool or a lake, then a bath!
Snorkelling is actually my favourite holiday activity and I would love to retire somewhere warm enough that I get to do that on a regularly basis one day.
2. Day dream for 10 minutes
It's a bit like meditation, but with less pressure to get rid of intrusive thoughts. Choose something positive you want to think about or imagine something great that might be coming in the future; a holiday, a promotion, a dream house, a beautiful park... whatever you love, just imagine it and let your mind wander thinking about all the fantastic details.
Some very creative people have wonderful vision boards, but mine is in my head. I've literally painted every room in my dream house and chosen the furniture, but I redecorate it regularly when I need some time out.
Or try remembering a time when you felt really happy. Replay the scenario in your head, see what you saw and feel what you felt. Enjoy thinking and not doing for a while.
4. Get a Massage
There's different types of massage, and I love a sports massage after BJJ to keep my body strong and injury free, but this is a different type of massage.
An aromatherapy massage where you get to just close your eyes and not talk. If you have a willing partner, great! Otherwise just book yourself a massage, bring your favourite oils and ask the therapist to use them. Most are happy to do that, especially when they realise that you brought doTERRA with you ;-)
5. Familiar repetitive movement
I'm sure it's very frustrating for others to be around a piano player who appears to be stuck in a loop, so that's why I play my keyboard and put on my headphones. I know others who enjoy baking when stressed, and when we really get down to it, it's the mixing, kneading etc... familiar repetitive movements.
If you have a hobby like knitting or crochet, you know what I mean. Being able to mindlessly work through the same motion again and again is therapeutic.
Chewing gum can also work. I love the Slim n Sassy gum which has uplifting grapefruit and lemon essential oils in it, plus peppermint which helps me to focus on flavour/scent and ground myself in the present.
6. Deep Breathing Exercises
In through your nose and out through your nose. I know others who suggest out through your mouth, but after listening to Dr Doug Rider explain the science of breathing to me I'm thoroughly convinced that we were made to breathe through our noses - in AND out.
Make sure you are lying comfortably, or sitting up so that your diaphragm isn't being squashed. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for 7 and breath out for 8.
Try to make your counting slower and slower.
Your breathing really does affect your capacity to cope with day to day things. Don't believe me?
Try this experiment:
Sit facing a partner and maintain eye contact through the whole experiment.
Take turns for 1 minute each.
When it is your turn, you need to breathe in deeply, then only let half the breath out before you breathe in again and keep going so that you breathe in more than out for the entire minute.
Repeat the second time, but reversing, so that you breath out for longer than you breath in.
Notice that even without telling your partner what was going to happen, they found it harder to maintain eye contact with you whilst breathing in more than out. Notice how you felt, more panicked maybe? A little claustrophobic?
Your physical body affects your mental/emotional stress levels.
7. Put the kettle on...
Did I miss anything?
What are your favourite ways to manage overwhelm?