Feelings—A Sensory Tracking Device For An Overstimulated World

Feelings are our sensory feedback system. They provide us with vital information that we need to take care of ourselves and keep ourselves on track. But we’re trapped in a blizzard of ever increasing stimuli.

The sensory pressures many of us are exposed to on a daily basis are enough to kill a cage full of lab rats. Sensory overload is becoming a way of life—but are our biological systems designed for this kind of sensory terrorism?

Overstimulation Affects Sensory Processing

Over stimulation occurs when exposure to sensory experiences is too overwhelming for our nervous systems to successfully process.

Picture a busy street, shopping mall or club where the smell of exhaust fumes, smoke, perfume, sweat, food and ‘fresheners’ compete for air space;voices talking, singing or shouting, screaming children, car engines revving, horns blaring, sirens wailing, the crescendo of jet engines, electronic screeches, burps and beeps, mobile ring tones, the drone of television commentaries and public address systems, deafening music, being pummeled, jostled and pushed in a crowd; the visual impact of blinking lights, rapid video sound bites, speeding vehicles, billboard advertisements, a chaotic kaleidoscope of colors, movement and flashing lights, people dancing or running or vehicles roaring by in a blur.

A relentless flood of sensory experiences like these overwhelming our nervous systems can lead to sensory shut down, angry outbursts or irrational behavior, because we cannot efficiently process this level of conflicting stimuli.

Media And Social Stress Add To Overstimulation

Added to this, the daily news media’s drip feed of tragedy and chaos, destruction, deprivation or looming disasters create a palpable level of mass anxiety.

Now pile more bricks onto this relentless load—intense personal challenges like job loss, financial debt, divorce, abuse, disease or death of a loved one. Add the burden of personal trauma, loss or low self esteem and we have a recipe for emotional disaster. We are creating a culture dominated by stress, tension, and fear—a response pattern characterized by high frequency brain waves termed beta waves. We are functioning on high alert all the time. Our senses are in danger of disintegrating in a sea of excess stimulation, while our emotions become mired in confusion, pain and powerlessness.

No wonder many of us have lost contact with our feelings—a vital feedback system.

Because it’s a way of life, these pressures are incremental and cumulative. They build up over time until we’re caught in a spiral of emotional turbulence—or shut down. And since our feedback system has been disabled, we don’t realize how deeply we’ve been sucked into this destructive vortex.

The advertising media then swamps us with a smorgasbord of chemical quick fixes, to further shut down our sensory alarm system! Unsurprisingly, when greeted with the traditional how are you—we respond robotically, fine—even if we’re in the middle of a meltdown or have succumbed to emotional paralysis!

The truth is many of us no longer know how we feel. We’ve just resigned ourselves to being victims of our environment.

In the next installment of this blog we’ll talk about Reconnecting with your Feelings.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I think that it is SO important to give yourself permission to modify your surroundings – whenever possible – to avoid overstimulation, if you know that the effects are going to be tough to manage.

    I’m visiting a state that I used to live in, and the other night I met a group of friends at a VERY noisy restaurant. Had to yell to “talk” and could barely hear myself think. Was so wired by end of evening (4 hours there) that I barely managed 3 hours of sleep that night – WITH a sleep aid.

    Tonight, I’m visiting another group of friends and one suggested meeting at a restaurant that is known for it’s GREAT food, but also to be very loud, and I asked if we could go someplace quieter so that we could really catch up with each other. Fortunately, someone in the group suggested getting carry-out and meeting at her house! I am SO glad that I spoke up, and I didn’t even have to be “pushy” about it!

    • Maria says

      Hi Elly,

      Thanks for stopping by! I love how you handled the situation. Often we are expected to just fit in and so can be uncomfortable socially from the start. You have put your creativity to good use. Congratulations.

      All the best,
      Maria

  2. says

    I think the younger you are and the more exposure you have to over stimulus, the less noticeable it becomes and the more stimulus you need when you want to be entertained. It’s like the violent video game epidemic. Kids playing those games become desensitized to violence.

    • Maria says

      Hi Paige,

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      I think you are right that all the noise and stimulus can seem natural, like the air you breathe if that is what you have been acclimated to. I happen to be reading Bill Plotkin’s work on soul centric living including personal development. Young people need to engage with nature to develop their capacities as empathetic and creative beings. Those skills are not something that you gain from video games. I agree with you that it is an epidemic and a serious one. I worry about young children today.

      All the best,
      Maria

  3. says

    I agree. It is possible to try and center yourself away from the over stimulated aspects of the world. Take a break- do something for yourself to decompress and relax. You have to make an effort but from what I read here, it is worth it.

    • Maria says

      Hi Robin,

      It is definitely worth it and very necessary for HSPs. Our current culture has the most extreme stimulation levels of any culture to date to my knowledge. For HSPs, it is important to remember that it is not them, it is the situation. Frequent breaks make the overstimulation more manageable.

      All the best,
      Maria

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