Sensory Overload, Anxiety, and ADHD

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

originally written for and published on

At Your “Max”

We’ve all experienced an emotional outburst at some point or another in life. Whether you were frustrated with your kids, partner, work, or just had a case of a really ‘bad day,’ there comes a point when even the most regulated adult meets his “max”. Whether your outburst is yelling at your kids, putting yourself in a “time out” or leaving, or something more physical like banging your fist on the table, your emotional response is likely the culmination of things not going according to plan, kids not listening, or just the problematic logistics of daily life.

Imagine a different set of circumstances that contribute to your feelings of being overwhelmed. Where, the environment surrounding you adds a level of complexity that your central nervous system is working hard to process. Flashing lights, noisy rooms, crowded spaces, people accidentally touching or brushing up against you, strange smells. All environments provide different sensory stimuli that may or may not affect you. For people who struggle with sensory processing, these circumstances are another part of daily life, interactions, and activities that need to be managed or else they can compound and result in meeting a different kind of “max” -- sensory overload.

Sensory Thresholds and Sensory Overload

Think of that “max” that we all have before we lose it - for people with sensory processing difficulties, anxiety, autism, or ADHD, it’s the amount of sensory information you can handle before it all becomes “too much.” Clinically speaking, we refer to this maximum point as a “threshold” of response. How much sensory input it takes to reach your threshold depends on your individual sensory profile, whether you over-respond or under-respond to sensory information.