Some travel destinations can overwhelm the senses. Yet, sensory overload can be unhealthy, here’s what you can do.
Close your eyes. Imagine you are in a traffic jam in your own town. Is it orderly? Imagine it otherwise; one huge free for all. Cars going in either direction in either lane, incessant honking, drivers making impossible U-turns.
Now add the following: monkeys. Street dogs and cows calmly interweaving with the traffic. No one really seems bothered. Kids perform tricks to collect tips from drivers and persistent vendors go from car to car to in hopes of making a sale.
The streets are lined with what seems like endless vendors and their shanty shops; all sorts of products, colors, smells, and foods of all kinds. Don’t forget the incessant honking; it’s always there. The air is also thick with pollution. Sometimes you’ll smell raw sewage, trash heaps, decaying animals, feces, incense from shop keepers, food being cooked, spices for sell.
You just imagine, you can probably find it available for the smelling!
This (and so much more) is everyday life in many of the mega-cities of India and the rest of the world. I grew up in a small farming-town in California. So, coming to New Delhi took me completely by surprise.
Here, the food is packed with spices. All the colors are bold and plentiful. The people are very expressive. Markets and festivals explode with life.
After a few months here, I now understand that many travelers’ share the same challenges with sensory overload.
- Difficulty focusing
- Fatigue, long periods of malaise
- Anxiety, Fear, Stress and Depression
- Restlessness, difficulty sleeping
If you already have some issues with anxiety, PTSD or ADHD, the environment of a mega-tropolis may aggravate your condition. So what can be done to minimize the effects of travelers’ sensory overload? Remember, try the easy and smallest solutions first:
First, reduce the external stimuli:
- Wear ear plugs as you walk around town. Alternatively,wear your music ear buds but don’t play any music (but watch for traffic)! This is my favorite technique
- You could try playing some music of your choice or download a White-Noise app and listen to something tranquil as you walk around the hustle-and-bustle.
- When riding an Uber or a Taxi, throw your shades on and close your eyes. Breathe. Relax.
- Combine errands to maximize your outings. Only go outdoors when you have to
- Focus on few items as you go about your day; don’t try to soak it all in, all the time
- Know your limits and before you get there, take a little break. Sneak away into a quiet café, a fancy hotel lobby, to the bathroom, a location at school/work where you can be alone.
How to make it better once you got it
- Find a balance and set your limits
- If you got a long commute and then work, don’t fill your after work hours with pesky errands, at least not every day. Try taking a few hours off here and there to get errands done.
- Pay for convenience: there are so many pick-up and delivery services! Use them. Laundry, dry cleaning, groceries, food delivery are some of my favorites.
- Take time to recover and develop coping techniques
- Know how much time you need to recover and know what helps you best to recover: is it hitting the gym, doing yoga, meditation, dancing,reading in bed, practicing a sport….? Know yourself and do what it takes to make you happy and healthy.
- Take a longer break: bathroom, vacation, go home
- Need a small escape when it’s all starting to feel too much…. escape to the bathroom, and hopefully it’s clean enough to practice deep breathing…. chill…
- Plan a vacation to places that are different than your given mega-city; somewhere tranquil.
- In the worst case, plan a trip home. Marvel your family and friends with your strange tales of distant places. Maybe their amazement will help you to appreciate your adventure for what it is: an amazing opportunity that few people get to experience. Hopefully, you’ll return to your adventure and ready to boldly move on!
I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever dealt with sensory overload? What was your experience like and what worked or didn’t work?