Sensory Hangover

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This post explains what an earth a sensory hangover is. Before you read this: it has nothing to do with drinking / alcohol consumption! 🚫

A sensory hangover is a term I’ve started to use (in my head!) to describe the state in which I am left in after being in an overwhelming place, environment, scenario, etc. The sensory hangover begins on instant return to my house – I can get emotional and feel totally overwhelmed and stressed out.

An example: I was invited to my friends 21st birthday party. It was at her house and it was a surprise birthday party. I hate surprises. I felt awful and sick and spaced out for the first part of the evening while my friend wasn’t even at the party but I managed to hang out with two other girls I knew. Then when my friend came in the room I had to ready myself for everyone shouting ‘SURPRISE!’ super loud, with much clapping, hugging, kissing and music accompanying it all. It was all too much and I made my excuses and left relatively early in the evening. I then got home and cried. A lot. My parents were understanding but I just couldn’t hold my emotions in and I felt completely weird for the rest of the evening and most of the next day. It took a real chunk of my energy out of me and I was left unable to process everything and all messy inside my head.

Now I try to be way more conscious of where I go, for how long, and what will be there that could affect me. I say no more often now (although I have the FOMO: fear of missing out) I know it’s for the better and I am way way happier not going and having a chilled night in. Sound is a huge issue for me and can really quickly bring on a sensory hangover – I feel physically drained and unable to process or compute what people are saying in noisy situations that I just prefer to remove myself from them entirely. 🏃

The sensory hangover can then move on a bit and I have episodes of intense OCD where I will feel the urge to clean obsessively (whether it’s myself or my bedroom or another room in the house). This keeps me busy/distracted/occupied which I find helpful – I really enjoy tidying my room and putting things away every few days.

So…to put it simply: a sensory hangover describes the physically tired, mentally drained and totally spaced out feeling I have after an overwhelming social interaction. 💥(The feeling of a sensory hangover will come over me immediately after an overwhelming thing and can last from a few minutes to even a day in length which = not cool)

Have you ever experienced a sensory ( / autistic-type / call it whatever suits you!) hangover?

10 thoughts on “Sensory Hangover

  1. Thanks for posting this! Would you mind if I refer to your awesome, candid post about Sensory Hangover in a post of mine about children dealing with the same issue? It would really be helpful for parents and educators to hear about what is going on for the kids after large and overwhelming activities. Children cannot articulate what they are going through like you are able to, and it is awesome insight!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment! Of course you can that would be absolutely fine. I’m glad you think it would be helpful for others out there – especially as children struggle to put how they feel into words.

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  2. Oh! I was *just* thinking about posting about this. I think most introverts feel something similar to this, but it’s more pronounced for us SPDers. I tend to call it a “social hangover” because public spaces/gatherings usually come with the most stimuli that overwhelm me. Thanks for writing about this!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. I’ll have to share it with my teenage son, who lives with SPD and a few other things. The closest thing I’ve had, which seems quite similar, has been when my son was still in public school and every morning became a battle of me trying to get him to go to school. Some mornings weren’t too bad, and some were horrendous. I’d force him into the car and drive him, having to force him out of the car. As soon as he walked into the school, I’d fall apart in my car in the parking lot or the minute I got home, bawling. And I’d be wiped out for the rest of the day – completely spent. Emotionally wrung out and exhausted.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment and to hear you’ll share my post with your son. When I read about your son struggling to get into school each morning it reminded me of myself when I was at school. I was also forced into school each morning and would get very upset when it was time to leave my parents. It’s so difficult to explain how hard the school environment can be for us sensory beings but you are doing so well supporting your son. I’m sorry to hear that you get upset in the car – I really do understand how it can wipe you out so quickly. I hope things are better now 🙂

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  4. I get this all the time. Sometimes I’m depressed as well for days afterward. Like right now, it’s been an overstimulating weekend, and when it was all over late yesterday afternoon, I fell into a deep depression, which I’m still in at the moment. Can barely think straight.

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  5. Thank you so much for this!! This completely explains what is going on in my head right now. I’m autistic with SPD (although I’ve lived most of my life not knowing I was either). I went to hear some live music last night by an artist who has always played fairly quiet acoustic sets when I have seen them in the past. I couldn’t find my special ‘noise filter’ ear plugs (which are amazing, and actually let me comfortably go to shows even when they are loud, they cut out a bunch of the volume and all of the high frequencies that make my brain hurt) and thought my noise-cancelling headphones would be enough. Wrong. Had to go stand outside before the show even started because music was too loud and lights kept shining in my eyes. Went in just as the show started and lasted barely ten minutes. Noise-cancelling headphones overloaded and produced horrible distortion, but too loud without them on. Found the quietest part of the bar, and it didn’t matter, my brain had gone tilt. Had to leave. Was in pain (and tears) by the time I got home and almost melted down on the tube ride home. Still feel like my brain hurts today. Spent a bunch of time searching for information on how long sensory overload can affect someone for and yours was the first piece I found which actually explained my experience. I’m definitely worrying less now that I know still feeling this way the next day isn’t just me.

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    1. Hi Daniel – thanks so much for leaving a comment on my blog, it means a lot. It’s lovely to hear that I’ve been able to explain something that you can really relate to. I think it’s great that you challenged yourself to go out and listen to some live music (I know how scary it can be) I’m sorry to hear it was super loud and that none of your normal coping mechanisms helped in this situation. I too would have headed for the quietest place at the venue – you did all the tricks and tips in order to try and regulate your body in an overwhelming situation, just this time it didn’t quite work out…and that’s okay! So sorry to hear you were close to a meltdown but you had done so well to even push yourself to go in the first place – you should be proud of your efforts. Ugh I hate that when waking up and feeling like your brain is still trying to process everything and you have to wait for that sense of overload to pass 😦 It’s definitely a natural thing to experience if you are autistic/sensory and it’s not something you should ever punish yourself for or feel negatively about. It just takes us that little bit longer to calm down and process things and I’m glad you are now worrying less. Thanks again 🙂

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