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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Sensory Overload, Tension and Stress

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 19th 2011

Sensory Overload, Tension and Stress E. Mail Question, This is a sample from a reader:

"I'm trying to figure out why I get so irritated by the noise around me these days.

I have a co-worker who is constantly chewing on ice and I can't stand the sound of it. She then starts eating chips or whatever and she rattles the paper and the whole time I'm thinking, 'Will you please hurry up and get done so you can stop all the paper rattling?'

As I sit and listen to this on a daily basis, I feel like I'm going to explode at any minute. Sometimes I have to get up and leave the room before I say something I'll regret later.

Also, I can't deal with the conversations going on around me. It's usually 2 or 3 people talking, but, it seems like it's a million people and I just want quiet.

How do I stop getting so irritated by all this crap?"

Do you sometimes experience tension headaches, irritability, intolerance to others and what they are saying, high blood pressure, neck spasms, back aches and mild depression? For many people these distressing symptoms are caused or worsened by the assault on our sensory organs and nervous systems of all of these stimuli. These overwhelming stimuli come from:

1. Crisscrossing fields of microwave, radio, television, and electronic transmissions.

2. Noise, traffic pollution, loud and blasting music, such as from kids driving cars and playing loud Rap music accompanied by pounding sounds, and constant television that no one at home turns off.

3. Bombardments of news, all types of new information and endless advertising.

4. The pressure to produce more, be more efficient and deal with fierce economic competition.

5. The fear of unemployment and financial ruin.

6. The epidemic of drug abuse among younger and younger kids while drug cartels and drug wars dominate the headlines.

7. Threats of terrorism and war.

8. A high rate of divorce and the problems faced by people in their private lives.

Another way of saying this is that we are submerged in a sea of over-stimulation. and in a sea of over-stimulation. This is taking a toll on our health, psychological well being and our ability to remain calm, patient and balanced.

This is what the sample E.Mail writer is complaining about. She sometimes feels like she is about to explode at any moment.

From time to time all of us feel that way. We tend to handle this inner pressure by drinking, using drugs, engaging in road rage, over eating and wasting time fuming over things we cannot control.

Does this sound very gloomy and are we helpless before all of this stimuli? It may seem that way but it's not true because there are many things we can do to mitigate the effects the effects of these annoying forces.

First, it's important to become aware of what is happening to do something about it. It's amazing that people are either not aware of all the competing noises and environmental pressures or they deny that it can have a negative effect on their well being.

After denial ends and awareness sets in there are many things to help ourselves. For instance, the woman who wrote the E.Mail might be able to bring her Ipod to work, plug ear phones in and listen to quiet and soothing music while she works. Of course, this depends on her being allowed to do this. However, there are other things that she and all of us can do:

1. Guided-imagery is a proven method to reduce stress by utilizing our ability to use imagination and visualization to increase wellness.

2. It is now known that meditation is a powerful method that has a calming effect on the nervous system and is even used in reducing depression and anxiety.

3. Mindfulness living uses meditation but is part of a larger context in learning how to live at the moment while tuning out disturbing stimuli while appreciating what is pleasant and healthy.

4. As part of this is the importance of using nature to our benefit. Recent research shows how walking in a park or forest helps us reduce stress and feel better.

5. Physical exercise has multiple benefits in keeping weight off while promoting a sense of well being after the exercise session is finished.

6. All of this depends on eating a healthy diet. Green, yellow leafy vegetables, fruits and nuts and fish and more add to physical and emotional health.

7. There is nothing more helpful than using your lunch hour and coffee breaks at work to relax and get your mind off of pressure. Use your evenings and vacations to engage in activities that take you far away from problems and put you into a state of relaxation.

8. Turn off the television and loud music. Too many programs, including those on such channels as Discovery, Science and History, convince viewers that the world is about to end. This gloom and doom programming may increase numbers of viewers but can only increase depression and anxiety about things that might happen ten thousand or more years from now. I don't plan to be around that long. Do you?

There is no feeling worse than helplessness. The fact is that there are all of things and more that can be done. We are not helpless.

I direct all of you Dr. Elisha Goldstein,, who is expert in all of this. Read his articles and learn more about how to live better.

Your questions and comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD



Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Seriously......... - Cathy - Sep 19th 2011

Seriously, I can identify with that person who wrote the email.  When I worked inprocessing many people a day, we had 2 people that seemed to always being eating and one ate Doritos and had that red stuff on her fingers and then licked them.  I worked there 8 months and moved on to something else.  That place was such a mess that they brought in a special person with a program about managing stress and demanded we go on our work time.  Well, I am not much for demands and since I went but just stared at the person presenting the program, I did not have to go anymore.  We had maybe 20% of the people that needed to be counseled about unacceptable behavior and it was wrong to expect 80% to try to learn to deal with them!  You cannot tell people to turn off all the stimulation of electronics because they are addicted to the noise.  People cannot stand the silence.  How many people spend time in total silence in a day? On the computer, radio on in the car, TV on until they fall asleep, alarm wakes with music/news, etc.   I limit my internet use, have shut off the cable TV and don't pay attention to the news because I am tired of bad news and especially that which really has no bearing on my life.  If it is something I can do something about, I'll get involved but if not, what's the use of my paying attention to it.  Also, if the world would end next year, I see it as a blessing.  I was hoping for more time but we never know how much time we have anyway.  These are the worst of times.  I have never seen so many selfish people, abusive people and one is hard-pressed to find good news these days.  What can you do?  Focus on the "Golden Rule" and if everyone did that......Basically you have to focus on being the kind of person that you want others to be like, that it all begins with "you".  Practice "random acts of kindness".  Give praise where praise is do but also call them out on behaviors that are unacceptable - balance is needed in that area.  You cannot just stick your head in the sand and hum to yourself or something because that makes you feel powerless and miserable and the misery will break you.  Stand up for what is right!  I just refuse to pretend that everything is alright when it is not.

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