We all know life hacks make hard things easy, and one of the biggest challenges I can think of is sensory overload.

Sensory overload is a symptom of sensory processing disorder, which makes you hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, smell and taste. That means your brain is a bit slow and easily confused when it comes to sorting out what’s going on around you.

Most, but not all, people with a sensory processing disorder are on the Autistic Spectrum, like me. Sensory overload is when your usually slow brain has so much to sort, it just stops processing your environment. Normal amounts of light suddenly seem blinding, you can hear all the sounds your brain usually kindly ignores for you – at full volume, and you can feel every tiny thing happening on and under your skin.

I have an added bonus of my brain getting confused, so light can scream and sound has shape to it (it’s called synesthesia, it’s a little frustrating). So when you are stressed, you might feel a bit overwhelmed with bright lights and loud noises, but with a sensory processing disorder, you were already overwhelmed before you got stressed, so the end result could be totally losing it.

When you can get so distracted you can’t function, these tips can be life savers. But you don’t have to be prone to sitting on the floor screaming that the lights are trying to kill you to make use of these tricks. Who likes itchy clothing tags anyway?

These hints are split into two articles. This first one has a few tips to keep calm in any sensory environment.

Light sensitivity

The problem: Sometimes artificial and natural lighting can get annoying or overwhelming, but you can’t do without it, unless you’re nocturnal.

The solution: Get glasses. Unlike sunglasses, which stay at one, funny-looking shade, and look weird when you wear them all the time, these are just ordinary glasses that can adjust their tint based on UV, and it’s amazing how much real and artificial light they block. If you don’t need glasses to see, you can get them without prescription. They are something of an investment, but you will not regret it. It’s also great because now I really like the comforting pressure on my face (you do get used to it really quickly).

Itchy labels

The problem: Clothing labels can ruin any experience, and stop you from buying things you like. If you rip them off, you end up with a stub that can often be even worse.

The solution: Use an unpicker from a sewing shop (or you might have one at home) to sever the stitches holding the label in place. It’s as if it was never there. Alternatively, use something else that can slip under, like very fine scissors, or nail care equipment.

Keeping calm

The problem: Rhythmical movements are calming. That’s why Autistic people rock or hand flap, people in mental hospitals often rock, some people jiggle their legs while concentrating, and why stress balls exist and are awesome. Pity most of those things are unacceptable in public.

The solution: Always carry one thing that calms you. It could be a necklace, a stress ball on a key chain, anything. I have a fleecy with metal endings on the cords which I like to spin and play with. You could also wear your hair in a style you can fiddle with, like a plait. Or maybe there is a material that you like to rub between your fingers (I had Cuddlies when I was little, they were just baby flannels Mum cut up into palm-sized squares for me. Then I lost them all). These are calming things, but they don’t look weird! And of course, leg jiggling is usually okay too.

I’ll see you next time for more tips in certain situations, and some advice for those without sensory issues…