What is Sensory Overload with Anxiety?

Sensory overload and anxiety are closely linked mental health conditions. When a person is already feeling anxious or overwhelmed, they may be more vulnerable to experiencing sensory overload in certain situations. Similarly, experiencing sensory overload can trigger feelings of anxiety.

There are various causes of sensory overload, as well as underlying conditions that can make a person more sensitive to it. However, there are several ways to manage this sensitivity and prevent becoming overwhelmed. 

What is sensory overload? 

Sensory overload occurs when a person's five senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) receive more information than their brain can process. This can cause the brain to enter a state of fight, flight, or freeze in response to what feels like a crisis, leading to feelings of unsafety or panic.

Sensory overload can be triggered by a variety of situations, sounds, or sights, and what triggers it can vary from person to person. Some examples of situations that can trigger sensory overload include: 

  • Loud noises or music
  • Crowded places
  • Emotionally intense individuals or groups
  • Sudden changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature or light
  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Heavy traffic
  • Tactile triggers, such as uncomfortable clothing
  • Strong smells

What are the symptoms of sensory overload?

Sensory overload is more than just feeling annoyed by certain inputs. It's a sense of overwhelm or overstimulation that can feel unmanageable in the moment. People with this condition may experience different triggers and symptoms. Some signs of a sensory overload reaction can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tantrums in children
  • Physical discomfort
  • The urge to cover your ears and eyes to block out input
  • Stress, fear, or panic
  • High levels of excitement or feeling "wound up" 
  • Desire to escape the situation that's triggering the sensory overload

Children may respond to sensory overload with a tantrum or meltdown, which caregivers may mistake for misbehavior. Understanding the source of a child's overwhelm can help differentiate between stress induced by sensory overload and anxiety, versus a behavior problem.

Which conditions are related to sensory overload?

Sensory overload is often associated with several other conditions. Here are a few examples:


Neurodivergent individuals are particularly susceptible to sensory overload. People with autism spectrum disorders often feel overwhelmed by situations that involve a lot of sensory input. Although the exact cause is unknown, some research suggests that gradually exposing children with autism to potentially triggering situations and stimuli can help them learn to manage and avoid sensory overload.


Studies indicate that nearly two-thirds of children with ADHD have other conditions, with oppositional defiant disorder and anxiety being the most common. People with ADHD often struggle to concentrate and interpret sensory input, which leads to potential sensory overload and anxiety.

PTSD and Generalized Anxiety

People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or both may experience sensory overload in intense situations. Sometimes, it's triggered by something specific. For example, a combat veteran may be easily overwhelmed by a fireworks show's sounds and flashing lights. On the other hand, people with severe social anxiety might find it challenging to cope with a crowded stadium due to excessive sensory inputs, causing them to feel more anxious and overwhelmed.

How to manage sensory overload with anxiety?

Experiencing sensory overload with anxiety can be disruptive, but there are ways to prevent it or manage the triggers. You can live a healthy life by implementing these methods.

Speak to your healthcare providers

 If you're struggling with mental health, your healthcare provider can assist you in finding appropriate resources by recommending therapy sessions that address your specific concerns. Furthermore, your healthcare provider can also discuss medication options that may benefit you. Depending on factors such as age, triggers, and coexisting conditions, your healthcare provider may suggest anti-anxiety medication or an antidepressant.


Therapy is a valuable resource that extends its benefits to individuals of all age groups. It offers a supportive environment where people can address anxiety and a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges. Through therapy, individuals gain effective tools to manage anxiety, a deeper understanding of themselves, and the ability to navigate challenging circumstances with resilience and confidence.


Ensuring you get enough rest, eat nutritious foods, and stay hydrated can greatly benefit you when facing unexpected or overwhelming situations. Additionally, practicing meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing can help you calm down and manage feelings of anxiety.

Outlook for sensory overload with anxiety

Someone with sensory overload can live a healthy life with the support of medical and mental health professionals and the development of self-care techniques. Further, identifying and managing any other accompanying conditions can help reduce stress reactions to sensory overload responses. Although some situations can be triggering, individuals may manage them with medication and support from loved ones.