How to overcome Travelers’ Sensory Overload in 2 easy steps

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
  • Irritability
  • 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:

Noise

  • 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.

Visual

  • 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

Take Breaks

  • 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?

Feeling SAD? Recognizing it and working through Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder

My experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder and what to do about it

My first ever out of the country job was in France. I was super excited to leave the familiar shores of sunny California to go bask in the glory of the Old World haute-couture. August and September were great, October was surprisingly wearisome and by December I didn’t want to get out of bed.

Some days I had a super light teaching load: two or three hours on certain days. First of all, I’m surprised I got out of bed; I waited until the latest moment possible to do so. I’d teach the classes as normal and then I’d return to my room. I felt as if I had worked a 12-hour shift picking strawberries. Dead tired, I went straight back to bed and slept so much. On the bright side, I had excellent skin that winter from so much sleep.

“You’re SAD”, an American friend from French class told me very matter of factly as if my situation were so obvious.

“No, I don’t think I am. I’m don’t feel sad at all; quite happy actually. I’m just always exhausted,” I replied.

I had no idea

As you can see, I had no idea what she was talking about–Seasonal Affective Disorder. When the season changes from summer to fall and winter, obviously there’s less sunlight per day. In some locations, it’s cloudy and grey ALL day. France and Germany were this way, and for me, as a Mexican who grew up in California, my body was not having it!

Furthermore, let’s say you’re a super hero and these trivial things don’t get you down. Great! But it might affect a lot of the people in your town or the locals you interact with.

You’ll be like “Hey man, want to go watch a movie? Grab a beer?”

Your German buddy will be like “Neeee. Bin müüüde.” [No, I’m tired]

Wake me up when the winter ends

It was surprising what a big change there was in the society as a whole; like the people took on the same temperament as the weather, dark and dreary. But then spring comes around WAAH-BAM 180 reversal!

Mmmm….Spring time, me gusta 🙂

Suddenly everyone is nice again and frolicking in the park, taking pictures of the first flowers to bloom, and vagrants go back to drinking outside the metro stations rather than being cooped up inside. Aww, Europe.

Now that I have more seasoning on me as a traveler, I’d like to make others aware of the overall challenges that changes in weather, altitude, and location might have on your body. I’d recommend that you:

  • Start your research early
  • Join a chat or read blogs about your destination far in advance of you going
    • This will help you to uncover challenges others have had that you might not have thought of. Don’t let these boards scare you away, however!
  • Talk to your doctor about your travel plans and stock up early on any recommended meds or supplements

Now, what should you do to ward off seasonal affective disorder?

It really depends on how early you’ve detected the issue and where you are geographically. It’s a game changer if you’ve let the disorder go on for too long, and you have another 10 months on your contract for the awesome gig in Siberia. Is it worth the money? Can you go somewhere sunnier or back home?

Last year, I worked in the Pacific Northwest of the US, known for bleak skies and depression for a whopping 9 months of the year. It’s no joke.

This time, I was so ready for SAD. Remember, I’m not a doctor. But I’ll share with you some ideas of what you can do:

The Game Plan
  • Start taking Vitamin D towards the end of summer and don’t stop til next summer!
  • Before fall comes around, commit to a gym or other physical activity:
    • CrossFit is great because you’ll have a team that expects you to show up and everyone supports each other.
    • Hot Yoga is great because you’ll have a hot room to escape from the winter. And the benefits for your mind and body help combat SAD.
  • Happy Lamps: get one for your office or home. Some people swear by them.
  • Keep happy by staying in the company of people who make you feel good or doing the things that make you feel good.
    • Don’t give up your hobbies because it rains a little (or in their case a lot).
  • Eat your greens and be as healthy as possible.
    • I even had a little Pre-Workout mix before going to work or when I started to feel sluggish. Maybe look for another supplement to kick you into high gear when needed. Something legal and healthy, preferably.
  • Check local events for occasions like: Puppies in the park/plaza or Hug Fests. In Portland, Oregon, they even have a sad festival where they bring out giant UV lights where people can do yoga in front of them. Hopefully the area you’re in has a sponsored event aimed to help the community through the long winter
  • Get specialized help
    • You’ll have to start early with this because most professionals are booked out for a long time!
    • It can be a counselor, therapist, mental health specialist or doctor.

When I was living in Germany, the wait time for a counselor was so long! I was already going crazy, so I had to find someone. I found the help of a business/career counselor who thought he was helping me find a better job, but actually it was a great service just to vent and bounce ideas off each other and help me to keep thinking positively.

Think Positive, Be Positive

So, the advice here is to look for ways to be flexible and find alternative solutions.

Lastly, be sure to know whether your problem is just temporary sluggishness because of the weather and is not something more serious like depression. If there’s way more going on in your situation than the common SAD, definitely enlist the help of a professional; time is of the essence!

Is SAD maybe mixed up with a little homesickness? Click here to read my article about missing home.

Moving away a bit from talk of seasonal affective disorder, I diagnosed a new phenomenon here in India which I coined, as a pun on SAD, sensory overload disorder. More on SOD very soon!

Let me know, fellow travelers, if you’ve ever been SAD or SOD?

I wish you all happy and safe travels.

Pack them bags and ¡Vámonos!