One of the symptoms that blurs the lines between PTSD and TBI, traumatic brain injury, is sensory overload. My daughter shares different articles about TBI since that is her challenge. I recognize the symptoms as something I experience with PTSD/CPTSD.
Here is the link to the Mighty: https://themighty.com/2016/02/people-explain-what-sensory-overload-feels-like/
I first discovered my intense dislike of some sounds when my children were toddlers and every toy rattled, clicked or binged in some way. One night I took every toy they owned and cut out the rattles, clipped off the clickers and if I couldn’t silence them civilly, I gave them way. Our church nursery was astounded by the array of toys I donated. I didn’t know at the time about sensory overload.
I look back now and recognize that some of my worse melt downs were preceded by a sensory overload.
I also learned from my counselor that with PTSD/CPTSD I can have memory overload AKA brain dump and emotional flooding which is the same as emotional overload. Either the memories or the emotions come faster than the brain can process them. I liken it to getting on the freeway going the wrong direction. Everything is coming at me super fast and disaster seems eminent and unstoppable. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory scene called the Tunnel of Terror is fairly effective description of sensory/memory/emotional overload. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB401RfGMlM Weirdly enough saying out load, “Stop it now,” actually can help. My counselors have noticed that I was spiraling into overload and talked me through it.
What to do? What to do?
First make sure you are actually safe. Sometimes the body/mind/emotions go hog wild when they sense what is perceived as a very real danger. Safety first.
Grounding….this is a quick powerful technique that can be done anywhere, alone or in a group. Quick version: name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can taste and one thing you can smell. I only allow one smell thing since odors can be powerful triggers with a direct link to the amygdala. Or I keep an aroma therapy bottle in my purse that I know is safe smell. These can be mixed up any way you want, the key of course is breaking yourself to the present.
Self talk – practice a self talk script that you can tell yourself when overwhelming overload is occurring. I actually keep the script in my purse. Rehearse it when calm so that when overload happens it can break through the barrage attacking my mind.
Cuddle a blanket or stuff animal or a furry friend aka dog, cat, horse, whatever your pet is or watch your fish. Focusing on one thing helps slow down the clamoring in the mind.
When events like this happen this is a good time to contact someone on your Swim Buddy list. A known safe person that already prearranged as a contact person. Overload whether it is sensory, memory or emotional is difficult. Do not make yourself suffer alone. This is a time to reach out to a safe person. My counselor actually allowed me to email and on rare occasions to call an emergency number. I worked hard at keeping these to a minimum. However, looking back at the huge number of email exchanges over the years, I actually used email more often than I thought. My counselor did not always answer. We agreed on that in advance. Contact with a safe person assured me that the overload really was all in my head and I can keep it there.
Scientist are showing with MRIs that PTSD/CPTSD are indeed a brain injury. Using TBI as a search word helps find more links with coping suggestions.
Steps to help prevent overload, prepare when venturing into known problematic situations. Take someone with me into known problems. Avoid certain activities if possible. Take healing at a slow enough pace that the brain and emotions can keep up with the processing of information.
Watch marine animals can be very relaxing. They actually have an app for this. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/top-iphone-android-apps