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Sensory overload in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Sunday 5 January 2014


From's Adrienne Dellwo:



Sensory Overload in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Adrienne Dellwo
January 1, 2014

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by your environment? Does it send you into a panic attack or make you disoriented? That's a common part of both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Back when my fibromyalgia was worse, I had huge problems with this. Grocery stores often made me want to run screaming - to the point that just walking in the door could trigger anxiety. I worked in a TV newsroom, which is one of the noisiest and chaotic environments I've ever seen. Phones ring constantly. A dozen TVs and radios play around the room all the time, on top of multiple police scanners. I used to thrive on that. Then, this illness hit and an ordinary day at work became a massive symptom trigger.

Even with fibro mostly in remission, this symptom is still a problem for me, but at a much lower level. Still, I had to skip out on a family holiday get-together because of it.

Here's what happened: We had a lot of people in a small space. It was hot from the hostess baking all day. Then, someone decided the TV needed to be on. Loud. So everyone was trying to talk over the TV, which meant the watchers couldn't hear and turned up the volume, which made people talk louder, etc. It got to the point that I couldn't focus on a conversation or keep my train of thought. I felt my anxiety level creeping up and before long, I had to get out of there.

While my husband gathered the kids and our things, I went outside where it was cool and quiet and cried for a few minutes, then got myself calmed down enough to go in and say good-bye.

What I Could Have Done Better

I can tell I'm out of practice when it comes to managing this symptom. I didn't have my calming supplements (theanine and DHEA) in my purse. I let myself get too wound up before taking a break from the situation. If I'd slipped outside 20 minutes earlier, it probably would have helped a lot. (In a different setting, I would have asked for the TV to be turned down. However, because of the people involved, I knew that wasn't going to happen.)

What I can do better next year is host this annual event myself. It'll mean more work for me, but I'm well enough to do it (as long as my husband and kids help and I schedule some downtime before and after). I refuse to have a TV on the main floor of my house, so TV watchers won't be competing for the same space as the rest of us. We'll have more room, and I can have more control over the temperature.

That option isn't realistic for many of us with these conditions, I know, so more useful advice is to make sure you're prepared to go into a potentially overwhelming situation, escape now and then to allow your nervous system to calm down, and limit your overall time there. Sometimes, it might be better not to go - but, of course, sometimes you have to.

To learn more about sensory overload, why we get it, and how to live with it, see:

Do you have problems with this symptom? What situations tend to set it off? What helps? Leave your comments here!


Photo © Henrik Sorenson/Getty Images


The above originally appeared here.


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