Sensory Overload ≠ Meltdown

A couple of weeks ago I had what I would have previously called a meltdown. I was overwhelmed and went into a lower level of functioning where I was having a hard time functioning at all. I would swing between being “okay”, deep crying, and blankly staring into the abyss. When I would try working, my brain would spiral into being unhappy, not knowing (metaphorically) who I was anymore, feeling like the world is falling apart and there is nothing I can do about it.

Although I did try/did complete some work during the two days of this “meltdown”, it was not much nor of good quality. When I did step away I tried my usual “go-to” resets of standing in the shower and watching wholesome movies that make me cry, but unfortunately, neither of those would work enough to get me back into or close to my normal. So, for two days I did the bare minimum at work; I was only active for maybe a couple of hours each day, primarily just going to required meetings which luckily did not require much, if any, mental capacity.

In much of my life (both personal and professional), I am often described as optimistic, providing positivity, and “lighting up” a room.” But during these two days it was like the figurative bucket that I pull from which creates the aforementioned energy/way of being, was nearly empty; it felt like I physically had nothing to pull from. After those two days of barely functioning, I returned to work on Friday feeling much more myself; I was productive and able to hold normal conversations.

The following week I met with my therapist and explained to her what I was calling a “meltdown.” And she explained that even though it may feel like a meltdown to me, that term has a legitimate definition in mental health literature and practices where an individual experiences nearly if not complete loss of control over their behavior/actions. What Dr. Gia explained was that I was likely experiencing sensory overload where my brain simply could not handle any more stimulation and that I was likely heading into what is called a shutdown where the brain’s only focus becomes basic functioning. By listening to my body I was able to give it the rest and recovery it needed before fully entering into shutdown mode.

If you can, start paying attention to and listening to your body. If your body is telling you that it needs a sensory break take it because continuously pushing yourself to the brink of overwhelm will only make returning to an effective functioning state more difficult. As always though, this is easier said than done. The first step is taking the time to learn your body and how it communicates.

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