Sensory Processing, Sensory Sensitivity and Anxiety


Increasingly research is showing that the way we process sensory input often dictates our personality, choices of occupation and can be used to support wellbeing, increased productivity and reduce work absence, by ensuring the person’s sensory needs are met in the work environment – hence why Google and other big IT companies have sensory-rich equipment including slides, fish tanks and other creative sensory environments, access to water sports and outdoor activities for its employees.

There are strategies a person may be able to use to capitalise on their skills, and some to help manage sensory sensitivity, which is likely to help reduce stress. There is emerging research to show the effect of sensory sensitivity on a person’s wellbeing which are copied below.

Research is showing that people with a low sensory threshold for detecting sensory events when compared with others causes them to detect and respond to more stimuli than most people, increasing the effort of participation in particular situations. The need for order and routine has been associated with people who have Avoiding and Sensitivity patterns. (Reich and Williams 2003)

Setting routines in place is a strategy for managing unpredictable sensory input; set patterns of activity might serve to provide familiar and predictable sensory experiences, thus reducing the cognitive and emotional load and minimising behaviours related to negative affect.

Individuals who are sensory sensitive may feel stressed and with behaviour and feelings sometimes including avoiding situations, high levels of stress (assessments we have done so far suggests that perhaps for young people it is this stress from having their sensory system responding too quickly to sensory input that trigger’s anxiety) sometimes fear, jitteriness and it can include feelings of irritability and what others perceive as nervousness; the negative impact of too much sensation all the time eventually becoming annoying, with an inability to stay calm, and with a decrease in some enjoyment of experiences and optimal engagement in different situations.

These feelings of feeling constantly bombarded by sound, light, texture and smells may benefit from strategies including mental preparation – such as anticipation and cognitive strategies including choice of activity or organisation of the environment – to reduce the cognitive and emotional burden that the person experiences when dealing with the unpleasantness of sensations in their environment (Kinnealey et al 1995).

compiled by Kath Smith OT 2012