Sensory Overload: Why the Holidays Make Some Some People Sick

Dr. Stacy Livingston

With the festive season upon us, workplaces and families anticipate celebration and joy. However, for some, the holidays can bring unexpected challenges at work and home such as feeling sick, unfocused, overly tired, or emotionally unbalanced. Often we think this is caused by an irregular schedule or tiredness—or good, old-fashioned, holiday stress. But surprisingly, it can also be linked to hidden triggers lurking in decorations and treats.

Understanding Sensory Triggers

The sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays can be overwhelming for individuals with sensory sensitivities. Christmas trees, scented candles, twinkling lights, and strong-smelling food can trigger anxiety, behavioral changes, and meltdowns, impacting personal and professional interactions. There are some very unexpected culprits that can wreak havoc on sensitive bodies, and these triggers are more prevalent during the holiday season and could be making some office parties inhospitable for employees with these sensitivities. A few of these unexpected culprits are:

Creating a Safer Workplace Celebration

Here are some tips to creating a safe space for celebration:

  • Opt for unscented alternatives: Ditch scented candles and consider non-aromatic diffusers.
  • Embrace alternative decorations: Choose hypoallergenic artificial trees or minimalistic decorations to enhance ambiance without sensory overload.
  • Provide a quiet space: Create a calming haven with noise-canceling headphones or calming music for individuals seeking respite before returning to the celebrations.

Festive Feasting without the Fuss: Avoiding Dietary Hiccups

While we love to indulge in delicious holiday treats, certain ingredients can inadvertently disrupt well-being, and make some of us feel sick fast. Gluten, dairy, artificial additives, and even natural substances like salicylates found in herbs, spices, and fruits can trigger discomfort and behavioral changes, hindering social interactions and impacting focus.

Here is a cheat sheet to help identify the hidden players that could be making employees sick without realizing it:

  • Artificial additives: Junk food and festive treats often contain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, leading to fatigue and decreased productivity as well as long-term health conditions.
  • Salicylates: This natural plant compound found in fruits, vegetables, and spices can trigger hyperactivity, irritability, and behavioral issues in sensitive individuals, affecting communication and collaboration.
  • Food sensitivities: Gluten and dairy can contribute to digestive problems and discomfort, hindering teamwork and focus.

The holiday spirit does not have to be diminished due to food sensitivities, there are ways to continue planning for a joyful feast! The holidays should be full of good food, regardless of dietary restrictions. Here are a few ways to get started avoiding food triggers:

  • Discuss dietary restrictions: Open communication with your staff helps cater to different needs and prevents disruption to planned activities.
  • Embrace healthy substitutions: Provide gluten-free and dairy-free treats with natural ingredients.
  • Limit high-salicylate foods: Opt for low-salicylate alternatives or modifications to be available for those who are sensitive, to improve overall well-being.


Navigating the holidays with sensory and dietary sensitivities can be challenging. By fostering open communication with those around you, understanding triggers, and creating a supportive environment to keep everyone healthy, workplaces can create a joyful and rich festive season for everyone.


Nourishing Hope

Medicine Net

Web Md

Banner Health

Markham Integrative Medicine


Harvard Business Review

This article was originally published in Certainty News.

Dr. Livingston enjoys taking care of patients from the mild to the wild. He is the doctor for you, if you have been to other places and told there was nothing that could be done for your or told “It’s all in your head”. He accepts all types of cases including workers compensation, auto accident and personal injury cases. He believes chiropractic can help everyone add life to their years and get them back to doing what they love.

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