Overload occurs when someone experiences too much sensory stimulation, like a computer trying to process too much data and overheating. Here’s how to help someone who is experiencing sensory overload.

  1. Recognise the onset of overload

Overload can show up in different ways for different people. They may look like they are having a panic attack, shutting down, or having a tantrum. If you are aware of their condition, it may be safer to assume overload, rather than strange and wilful misbehaviour.

  • During a relaxed time, ask the person what the signs of sensory overload are for them.
  • Many autistic people use different repetitive mannerisms to help calm themselves and cope with sensory overload.
  • If they appear to have lost certain abilities, such as becoming unable to speak, this is often a sign of severe overload.
  1. Reduce or remove all noise immediately

If possible, turn off all noise, including TV, music, radio, computer, etc., or offer to guide them to a quieter place.

  1. Do not touch or crowd them

Many people with sensory processing issues are hypersensitive to touch, as this can worsen the overload. Sometimes tight bear hugs with deep pressure can help people feel better. Offer to give them a tight hug, but don’t take it personally if they decline.

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  1. Don’t talk more than necessary

Ask them questions if you need to, in order to help them, but don’t try to get them to talk or change the subject. Speech is sensory input, can be too much of an effort, and can increase the overload.

  1. If they have a jacket, they may want to put it on and put the hood up

This helps to reduce stimulation, and many people find the weight of a thick jacket comforting. A heavy blanket can also help in a similar way.

  1. Don’t overreact to aggression

In rare cases, overloaded people become physically or verbally aggressive. Don’t take this personally. Their fight-or-flight response has been activated and they aren’t thinking clearly.

  • Most often physical aggression occurs from panic because someone tried to touch or  restrain them, or block their escape.
  • It is rare for someone experiencing sensory overload to actually cause serious harm. They don’t actually want to hurt you, just escape from the situation.
  1. Listen to the person

They know themselves and their overload. If they can tell you what they need to calm down, pay attention. Individual people have individual strategies. If their attempt to calm down involves behaviour that looks bizarre, such as rocking or flapping hands, don’t interfere.

  1. Afterwards, they will often be tired and more susceptible to overload for a while

It can take hours or days for someone to recover fully from an episode of sensory overload. If you can, try to reduce stress occurring later on as well. Alone time is the best way to recover.

Finally …

Occupational therapy can help reduce sensory sensitivities and therefore lessen overload over time. It’s better if people are treated as early as possible, and by a therapist who is experienced in dealing with sensory processing issues.


While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.