Sensory processing challenges and anxiety

By Peg Rosen

Expert reviewed by Keri Wilmot

People with sensory processing challenges often feel anxious. That’s because they can’t control every aspect of their daily lives. Something can pop up that makes them extremely uncomfortable. Bright lights. Loud noises. Strong smells. All of these can create stress — and sensory overload. 

Most people have no trouble organizing the information they get from their senses. But kids and adults with sensory processing challenges struggle with it.

Some may be much more sensitive to things like sounds, sights, textures, flavors, and smells. They may try to avoid sensory input they can’t tolerate.

Other people may be less sensitive to these things. For example, they may seek out — or not notice — strong flavors, flashing lights, or loud music.

Some people are both oversensitive to some things and undersensitive to others.

Anxiety is more common in people who are oversensitive. They often worry about what lies ahead. Sources of stress may include:

  • Trips to places they know to be noisy or crowded, like the mall
  • New places that they might find intolerable
  • Feeling unprepared or worrying that something unexpected may happen 

Learn more about sensory overload and anxiety — and how to help.

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