May 15, 2022

People who experience anxiety often find it helpful to tune into their senses. A common strategy is to notice and name things you can see, hear, feel, and smell.

When my anxiety is brought on by sensory overload, though, that strategy is the exact opposite of helpful. I’m already overly aware of all the things, and feel an urge to escape them.

Rather than drawing attention to new facts about my environment, what I find most helpful when I’m anxious is to reflect on known facts. Sometimes I even ask my boyfriend, “Can you please tell me something I already know?”

It can be as simple as the day of the week, the existence of a favorite object, a trait about myself, or a recent event. What’s important is that I’m observing it inside my memory, not outside my body.

Maybe it’s because sensory overload makes me suddenly feel like nothing is secure, predictable, or known. Reminding myself what I do know gives me solid ground to stand on.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.