Daily ADHD: How to Cope with Sensory Overload in Public


It’s hardly breaking news that modern life can feel overwhelming. You are bombarded with input from every direction — all vying for your attention. Perhaps the biggest culprit is that rectangular device that seems to be surgically attached to our hands. If you’re not looking at your smartphone, you’re likely thinking about it. If you’re not thinking about it, don’t worry… a notification or alert will soon draw your attention.

If you live with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), this kind of sensory experience can be triggered by far less obvious factors. From food textures to the brightness of light, you can be left feeling agitated and depleted.

What is Sensory Overload?

When any (or all) of your five senses become overstimulated, you are experiencing sensory overload. You may feel like you want to shut down. You might want to scream. Signs and symptoms vary but here are some common threads:

  • Loss of focus
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Anxiety (and sometimes panic attacks)
  • Feeling stressed and exhausted
  • Feeling as if you are unable to ignore the source of overload

How Sensory Overload Impacts ADHD on a Daily Basis

Whether you struggle with Inattentive, Hyperactive, or Combined ADHD, sensory overload is not unusual. Researchers are still debating the connection but have shown it exists. One possible cause lies in the common ADHD symptom of difficulty paying attention. If you are not feeling connected to your surroundings, it’s easier for overload to enter the equation. It could be something as simple as a scratchy shirt that sets the cycle in motion. Whatever the cause, people with ADHD are more prone to developing anxiety when feeling overwhelmed.

How to Cope with Sensory Overload in Public

Strictly speaking, there is no “treatment” specifically for ADHD-related sensory overload. Whatever treatment you’re getting for ADHD will help in the long run. For short-term coping, you may wish to create a routine of preparation and communication.


Before you find yourself in an unpleasant situation, plan in advance. A good place to start is to start a journal. Keep track of what triggers you. Identify signs and symptoms. Monitor what you did to relieve the situation. Once you understand your patterns, it can be easier to avoid possible triggers.

In cases when you’re already in public when the overload hits, your advance preparation can help. Recognize where you can go to escape the sensory onslaught. Do this for any public location that you regularly frequent. For example, when in a loud social setting, position yourself near the exit. This makes it easier for you to leave if you need to — without drawing too much attention to yourself.


Let friends, family, co-workers, etc. know about your ADHD. Ask them for help and support. This saves you from having to explain things on the spot why a strong smell or bright light feels is challenging. If they know about you in advance, it won’t be a big deal if you ask them to, say, lower the music.


Even in the current times, you will find yourself out in public at times. One of the best ways to feel ready for unexpected sensory input is practicing daily self-care. This includes healthy choices related to sleep, diet, physical activity, and stress management.

Bonus: All of the above suggestions will also help you better manage your ADHD.

The More You Know

Issues related to your emotional health are not simple. They are made more understandable when you have the help of a guide. Weekly therapy sessions can serve as a training ground for sensory preparation. This path of empowerment begins with a free consultation. Please read more about ADD and ADHD Counseling for Adults and let’s connect to talk about it today.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*