Sensory Overload: Reigning In Emotions Using DBT

I went on a beautiful walk with my boyfriend today. It wasn't very warm out, but we were dressed for it.  I enjoyed the feeling of moving, since I'm trying to be less sedentary and more active. I enjoyed the sights and sounds.  At one point though, I began to notice that I felt disconnected - I was experiencing dissociation.  It felt like my physical body was still making the movements of walking, and I felt the gravel surface beneath my walking shoes, but my mind was somewhere else entirely. I felt separated, and not whole.

The state I was in felt kind of strange. I tried to redirect to my breath and the feeling beneath my feet, but neither were really grounding me, and I was becoming anxious.  All the while, my boyfriend had no idea that this was going on. (I don't know if you're like me, but when I feel like I am "freaking out" on the inside, I worry and assume that others can see it on the outside...interestingly, rarely is this the case.)

I wondered why this was happening. There were so many pleasant things coming in through all of my senses, that I wondered how I could be feeling distressed. And then my answer came: too much stimulation at once. Even though it was positive, I am learning as I progress through DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), that my nervous system may be a bit more sensitive and heightened than others' might be, and I can experience "sensory overload," if you will.



I decided to reign in my emotions using DBT skills. I became mindful. I focused, as best as I could, on one sense at a time. I allowed my eyes to focus only a few feet ahead at a time, looking at details of branches on trees and new spring blossoms.

I then focused on the sound of the water crashing against the rocks. Occasionally a car would drive by, and I'd need to integrate that sound into my mindfulness practice. At some points, I had to radically accept that more than one thing was successfully getting my attention at once. Noticing that, describing it, and radically accepting it were still all in alignment with my mindfulness practice.

And, you know what? I felt better. I continued on and finished the walk that I intended for myself, and it was enjoyable. I guess you could say that I also used the "[be] effective" skill.  All in all, yet again, using DBT skills helped me significantly and aided me in preventing a crisis reaction.



Thanks for reading.

More soon.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I took my girls to Chuck E Cheese this past weekend and it was utter hell. Every moment was sensory overload HELL. THanks for this. I understand now it was causing me to dissociate and freak out. your site is quickly becoming my favorite website.

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