How do you deal with sensory overload in a situation where you can’t leave?
Based on context, I think you’re probably asking about being overloaded at a large noisy seder.
There might be more options for leaving and taking a break than you might realize. I’m going to discuss those, then some thoughts on how to deal with it if leaving isn’t an option.
Some options for taking breaks:
Helping in the kitchen
- At seders, there are often (not always) things going on in the kitchen that people would welcome help with
- If you find doing stuff in the kitchen less overloading than being at the table, excusing yourself to go help might be a socially acceptable way to take a break
- Some examples of things people might welcome help with:
- Cutting vegetables
- Serving soup
- Bringing out other things
- Washing dishes
Playing with the kids:
- At a lot of seders, there are little kids who kind of run in and out
- If these are kids you know, or they’re related to you, it may be socially acceptable for you to take breaks and play with the kids
- This depends on the culture of your family or community; it’s fairly common for it to be socially acceptable, but it’s not universal
Pretending you have to go to the bathroom:
- At a long seder, most people will excuse themselves to use the bathroom at least once
- If you take a break for about that amount of time, that’s what people will assume you were doing
- (You can also actually go to the bathroom even if you don’t need to use it - bathrooms can sometimes be a good place to take a break from sensory overload since people will usually leave you alone for a few minutes if you’re in the bathroom)
Options if you can’t take breaks or taking breaks doesn’t help enough:
- Sometimes sensory overload is caused as much by disorientation as by sensations
- One way to become more oriented is to think through in advance what’s likely to happen
- If you feel like stuff is more predictable, it’s likely to be less overwhelming and sensory stuff might be easier to manage
- If this is a seder you’ve been to before, it might help think about what usually happens. Who will be there? How do they usually act? Who will ask the four questions?
- It also might be a good idea to look through the hagaddah. Here’s one online.
- If you’re feeling overloaded during the seder, it’s worth considering the possibility that you have become disoriented
- If you look through the haggadah, figure out where you are in the seder, and how much is left, it might help you to become more oriented and less overloaded
- It may also help to use a visual schedule, which shows you at a glance what to expect and in what order. Here’s one you can print, organized by cup.
Using solid objects to ground yourself:
- If you’ve become really overloaded or disoriented, sometimes grabbing hold of something solid can help a lot
- If you’re at a seder, the most readily available solid thing is likely to be the table
- If there’s someone present you trust who is ok with it, holding someone’s hand can help a lot too in ramping down overload
Sit in a less overloading place in the room:
- Sitting on the edge of the room is likely to be less overloading than sitting in the middle
- Sitting on the end or near the end of a table is likely to be less overloading than sitting between several people
- Sitting near the door is likely to be less overloading (especially if you get overloaded from feeling trapped)
- If there are florescent lights in the room, it helps to pay attention to whether one of them is flickering
- If you’re already overwhelmed going into the room, you might not notice right away, even though it will bother you later. If flickering lights bother you, it’s worth making a point of checking to see if the light is flickering when you decide where to sit
- If the room is likely to be very loud, you might be more comfortable if you use ear plugs. You can get disposable ones for cheap at a pharmacy
- Some people can stop overload by moving in certain ways
- Most people can at least mitigate it a little
- Rocking back and forth can help a lot (and it’s not that weird in a lot of Jewish settings, particularly if there are a lot of religious people present.)
- If you have stim toys that usually work for you, it might be a good idea to bring them
- If you’re worried about stigma, it might work better to use different things
- (That said, if a room is crowded and noisy and overloading, it’s very likely that no one is actually looking at you)
- If you wear rings or bracelets, you can play with them
- You can also play with the silverware if the seder isn’t extremely formal. You probably won’t be the only one.
- You can also stim with the haggadah. (by holding it in your hands, flipping the pages, looking through it, or even reading it.)
- If you have a water bottle with a stem you can chew the stem
- (You can also eat stuff as a way of getting to chew to reduce overload. If you do that with stuff like celery rather than stuff like chicken it’s less likely to make you uncomfortably full)
- You might be able to bring seder-themed stim toys to use, particularly if you bring enough to share. (For instance, if you bring out plastic frogs for the ten plagues, probably no one will think twice about you continuing to play with them)
Participating actively also might help to handle overload:
- Sometimes it can be less overloading to participate in something than to be passively present while something is happening
- This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for a lot of people
- For instance, if people are singing loud songs and it’s overloading, you might be more physically comfortable if you sing the songs too
- (This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for some people)
- If it’s a big seder and people are going on and on and you’re overloaded, ignoring what’s going on and reading the haggadah might work. (In that setting, you’re probably not going to be the only one doing that.)
- Asking questions and arguing might be less overloading than being in the room while other people are doing that
Talking to people might also be an option:
- If social anxiety is contributing to overload, having successful conversations might help
- Here’s a post about how to have conversations at family gatherings (which is broadly applicable for other settings too)
- Here’s a post about how to deal with people who pick fights (post was written for someone who asked about Christmas; it’s also applicable to any holiday gathering)
- If you’re a student and you’re going to a communal seder at a college, this post on identifying common interests among students might help
tl;dr Passover seders can be really overloading. Scroll up for some ideas about how to deal with that.
Tip for stimming - dollar stores usually sell packages of small rubber frogs. My aunt used to scatter them on the table when we arrived for the Seder, and everyone would play with them throughout the evening - kids and adults alike!
Another tip for integrating stimming into the Seder is plague bags. I’ve been doing these for the past two years with my Hebrew school students, and are a great way to get kids involved in the Seder while sneaking in some stimming material for yourself. In this year’s plague bag, I used sunglasses to be darkness, which might help with bright lights, and squares of bubble wrap to represent boils (who can resist popping bubble wrap?). Last year’s bag had little flea and grasshopper finger puppets, which also make for good stimming. And both bags have said rubber frogs, and one has spiders made of the same material.
Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. Feel free to reblog if it speaks to you for any reason.
A lot of seders are boring, but the haggadah itself is interesting.
One way to deal with boring seders is to ignore the boring conversation and read the interesting parts of the haggadah.
Unfortunately, a lot of haggadahs are printed in ways that make the content seem boring. Cheap haggadot tend to have really lousy translations that make it seem incomprehensible.
Understanding the interestingness of the haggadah can require some context. If you get a haggadah with good commentary, the story is likely to seem much more interesting.
One way to find good commentary is to go to a bookstore, flip through some different haggadot, and see which ones look interesting to you. If you bring a good haggadah, you might be more interested — and might be able to make the conversation more interesting for others as well. Haggadot.com also has some things that might help.
Another thing you can do is find supplements and alternative texts. A lot of organizations, movements, and even fandoms have them. For instance, Keshet has a whole collection of LGBTQ haggadot you can print, and here’s a Hamilton Haggadah. If you search for “[group/movement/fandom you care about] haggadah” you will most likely find something.
(Speaking of additions, here’s the original story of where the orange on the seder plate came from.)
(My other organization, Anachnu is actually working on a disability commentary, but it’s not out yet this year.)
Whatever text you’re using, here’s an approach to asking questions that are interesting to you.
Tl;dr Seders are often boring. The haggadah itself is interesting, especially with good commentary. Scroll up for thoughts on getting access to the good parts.
Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than my posts usually are. Feel free to reblog it if it speaks to you.
Seders are supposed to be about asking questions, but that doesn’t always happen in practice. (For any number of reasons.)
Here’s one way to look for questions to ask about the seder. You can look at any piece of it and ask:
- What is this doing in the haggadah?
- What does it have to do with the Exodus from Egypt?
- What does it have to do with the world the rabbis were living in?
- What does this have to do with the world we’re living in?
And if you’d like some examples, here are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about:
What’s the deal with dayenu?
- There’s a whole long list of things that we seem to be saying “It would have been enough” about.
- Which ones make sense to you? Which ones don’t? Why?
- Why do you think we say all of these things?
- Is there anything you think belongs on the list that isn’t there?
What’s the deal with the four sons/daughters/children?
- Why are we even talking about this here? Why talk about this rather than details of the story of leaving Egypt?
- What do you think of the categories? Do these seem like real types of people or types of responses to you?
- What examples can you think of?
Regarding the “one who does not know how to ask”:
- What are some reasons that some Jews aren’t able to ask their questions at the seder?
- What could be done about that?
- Which questions do you have that you aren’t able to ask? (Or aren’t yet able to ask).
- What might make it possible to ask them?
What does freedom mean this year?
- Some parts of the haggadah say that we used to be slaves, and that we are now free.
- Other parts say that we are still slaves, and that we hope to be liberated.
- What does this mean to you? Why do you think the haggadah says both?
- Do you think that there are ways in which we are both free and unfree?
- What liberation are we still hoping for?
Why do we open by making promises we can’t keep?
- The beginning of the story part (maggid) opens with ha lakhma anya (this is the bread of affliction.
- As part of this, we say “let all who are hungry come and eat” and “let all who are in need come and offer the Passover sacrifice”.
- We know that people are hungry who we’re not really inviting to eat, and that we’re not going to offer the Passover sacrifice at this meal.
- What’s the point of saying this?
(And actually, wearing my other hat, I’m involved in a weekly Twitter parsha discussion). This week (Thursday 7:30 EDT April) we’re going to be discussing seder-related questions instead of parsha questions.
Tl;dr Passover Seders are supposed to be about questions. Scroll up for an approach to looking for questions, and some of the questions I’ve been asking.
This is a visual schedule for a traditional Passover seder. If you find seders confusing, overwhelming, or boring, it might help them to make more sense.