The Invisible Struggle Sensory Overload in the Workplace


As a seasoned occupational therapist and Author, I have devoted my career to bringing light to the unseen challenges many people face. Today, we will navigate the largely unexplored territory of sensory overload in the workplace.

Sensory Overload - A Silent Distraction

Sensory overload is a condition where one or more of the body's senses experiences overstimulation from the environment. For adults dealing with sensory processing issues, the workplace can become a battlefield of invisible challenges. The ceaseless chatter, the buzzing of fluorescent lights, and the varying smells wafting from the cafeteria are just a few examples of the sensory inputs that can trigger an overload, leading to a considerable dip in productivity and overall well-being.


Take the example of Emma, a corporate executive. Emma finds herself overwhelmed by different overlapping sounds like people talking over each other, the humming of her computer, or the coffee machine whirring. Bright lights, especially after long hours staring at her screen, make her unusually fatigued. Crowded meetings are particularly draining. This sensory overload makes it difficult for Emma to control her emotions and focus on her work, as there is simply too much to take in.

The Impact on Professional Life

Situations like Emma's are more common than one might think. Like Emma, many professionals are wrestling with similar challenges. They are talented, dedicated individuals whose productivity and peace of mind are affected by sensory overload.

Strategies for Managing Sensory Overload at Work

Personal Adjustments

People like Emma develop personal strategies over time to help manage their sensory triggers. Going to the gym before work helps set up the sensory systems for a more successful day of processing sensory input. Using noise-cancelling headphones to block out certain sounds, scheduling demanding tasks for quieter hours, or taking frequent breaks from the screen can be part of a personal strategy to cope.

Environmental Changes

Small changes in the work environment can also make a significant difference. Opting for natural light over harsh fluorescents, creating designated quiet zones, or allowing flexible work schedules are just a few options.


Role of Employers

Employers play a crucial role in facilitating a sensory-friendly workplace. By fostering an open dialogue about sensory challenges, employers can encourage employees to share their concerns without fear of being misunderstood or judged. Sensory processing training can also help create a more inclusive and empathetic work culture.


Seeking Professional Help

While personal strategies and supportive employers can help manage sensory overload, professional help from occupational therapists can also be invaluable. As a seasoned occupational therapist, I've seen firsthand how discovering each individual's unique sensory thumbprint can help us create personalised sensory diets and workspace adjustments that can enhance comfort and productivity at work.


In Conclusion

The struggles with sensory overload in the workplace might be invisible, but they are very real. By shining a light on these issues, we can create a work culture that acknowledges, understands, and addresses these challenges. Everyone deserves a work environment where they can thrive, not just survive.


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