Whats your Threshold?

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We all have our limits.

When I got married, one of the things I found the most difficult to get used to was sleeping next to my husband. It could be 12pm and I still wouldn't be asleep. Not because I was stressed or fighting pain, but because my husband was breathing too loud! Yes, you read right not snoring, but breathing! Many people said I would ‘get used to it’, but 7 years later I still have not. 

Making sense of it all

I am auditory sensitive and without a pair of ear plugs, I can often not fall asleep. It's like having a super power of sensitive hearing. While I can easily listen in on quiet conversations in the next room, I also quickly get overwhelmed if there is too much ‘busy’ noise.

Sounds that others can block out like the ticking of a clock, tend to catch my attention. Everyone has their own sensory limits. Having more insight into them can assist you to not only focus and avoid being overwhelmed. It can also assist in managing your energy levels or spoon usage.

Think of the sensory input (i.e. The ticking clock) being a like a dripping tap. Your sensory intake (your brain receiving stimulation messages from your ears) would be a bucket catching the drops. Your sensory threshold (feeling overwhelmed) the brim of the bucket. Some of us have smaller buckets then others, therefore our thresholds could be reached quicker.  Each one of us is unique and has different size buckets. Each sense also has its own bucket so while someone may have a small bucket for the noise / auditory stimulation you might have a bigger bucket for smell or taste. This was explained to me by one of my colleagues, which I then adapted to fit this post.

People with high threshold levels can tolerate more sensory input, but also crave more input to feel satisfied. Low threshold levels would cause you to feel overwhelmed quicker.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages. People with higher thresholds will be more adventurous, but might miss details. Individuals with low thresholds would like routine, are more meticulous but can also be seen as boring. It is an individual scale.

Most of us know what pushes our limits.  Whether it is a crowded shopping mall, the labels in your clothes, flashing lights, the burning of incense or the textures of some foods. Sometimes we have to deal with these sensations and sometimes we can avoid them. When you are unaware of what pushes your buttons or how to avoid being overwhelmed, your spoon expenditure increases. This can also affect your sleep, concentration, impulsivity and emotions. 

'Sensory Intelligence' as described by Dr A. Lombard is your ability to understand the ways you react to sensory input and how to cope with it. Simply explained this means knowing how to stop your bucket, no matter what size, from overflowing. There are three basic ways of doing this:

1)    Avoid

If you know that polar-neck jerseys make you feel like you are choking, return the jersey that your mother in law bought for you. If you don't like light touch and therefore crowds of people fill your bucket, don't go shopping on Black Friday!

Think of the situations that you find stressful. What sensory input could you avoid to help feel more regulated?

2)    Anticipate

This is when you know that you will be in a situation that could overwhelm you, but you cannot avoid it.  For example a family function. It is recommended that you anticipate the event and prepare yourself (and your senses) for the onslaught. You could do this by listening to some calming classical music on the drive over. Knowing how long you will stay and who will be there are the cognitive preparation details that will also assist you. Having a period where you can then calm down after is also essential. This could be having a bath or doing a short meditation once you're home.

3)    Adapt

As adults, we are relatively good at avoiding or anticipating. However, some situations I.e. Getting caught in a traffic jam cannot always be predicted or avoided.

Because these are your senses, you also have to take responsibility for them. This is twofold. Both communication with others on your current levels and doing something personally about it. While I can ask my sister to turn her music down, I can't ask my husband to stop breathing. So it's earplugs to the rescue! In the case of the traffic jam, deep breathing or chewing gum could assist you.

Ultimately, I feel that it links back to being mindful. Being aware and curious about what fills your bucket and what you can actively do to prevent an overflow.

For more information, you can buy various books on this topic or complete a sensory profile yourself, or contact an OT!

Check out this clip for more information: Are you a highly sensitive person 


  1. I loved this. I relate this to me knowing my triggers and managing them. For example, I can't tolerate cold water... so no swimming for me or I'll be down for the next three days.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this post! My husband jokes with me that I can only swim in bath water!

  2. I did see crowds which might cover my in laws? OK not really there are only 6 of them, maybe it is the in law thing but it is a serious trigger.

    I love your post, it is good advice all around.

    1. He he he 😊 Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Love this. I'm extremely sensitive! My husband's breathing is also a problem many nights, and has been the 7+ years we've been living together! I've also had to send him to another floor and behind a closed door because he was eating an apple.
    It's very frustrating sometimes, especially since adults don't take kindly to being asked to chew with their mouths shut!!!
    I like the bucket analogy! I may need to steal it...


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