Here in Michigan, I smell the scent of summer creeping in. I cannot wait to get outside again and drink up the sun, fresh air, and resume my jogging. But wait—what’s that I hear? Leaf blowers. Muscle car engines revving up. Neighborhood kids screaming on their swings waiting for the family pool to open—oh no!
Yes, I have ADHD and hypersensitivities. That means that what others might enjoy may overwhelm my nervous system: loud voices, the TV or radio, even at low levels, certain clothes fabrics and fit, most herbs, etc.
Read this month’s featured article about The Highly Sensitive Person and the connection between that and ADHD.
Plus, check out this podcast/webinar at ADDitude Magazine on “Why Are You So Sensitive? Understand How Sensory Processing Sensitivity Affects the ADHD Brain.” (Details below).
It’s all here, so keep reading!
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Stay safe. Stay well.
Are You Hypersensitive and Totally Misunderstood?
I just cracked open (well, clicked on my Kindle) and began reading a book I’ve heard about for years but never read:
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
If you’ve been following me and my work, you know that I have a special interest in ADHD and hypersensitivities— they seem to go hand in hand, which is why I never bothered to read this book: I thought I already knew about this topic.
But Dr. Aron digs even deeper; she calls those of us who are hypersensitive, Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP). We know there is a syndrome or condition called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), but so far from my reading, Aron suggests that SPD isn’t the same thing in that the brain has difficulty organizing and processing sensory stimuli, whereas HSP is a trait, not a disorder. I will find out more as I continue to read. I’ll also be curious to see if she discusses the connection with ADHD.
Dr. Aron’s website offers an online self-test and I scored 25 out of 27 which means, well, I’m over the top sensitive! Though I’m generally not a huge fan of online screening tests, because so many conditions share symptoms and because these generally are not scientifically based, you may want to check it out, regardless, because I found it very interesting and revealing: https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/
What I love about this book—at least the first 30 pages or so I’ve read so far—is how she shares that she, too, is an HSP and really does “get” our sensitivities. She normalizes it in that she explains how it can be a positive trait; we tend to be compassionate, kind, curious, more aware of our surroundings, and much more. It makes sense, then, that HSPs are drawn to the arts and helping professions. We are sensitive to the needs of others around us.
But, we do pay a price. We get overwhelmed easily. We retreat. We shut down. And we are often misunderstood. How many of you were told growing up- and even now- that you’re just too sensitive? How I hate, hate, hate hearing that! You, too?
15-20% of the population can be described as HSP. That’s nice to know, but it also means that up to 85% are not, which leads to being misunderstood. Or, worse.
‘I think it also explains why so many with ADHD and hypersensitivities are dealing with anxiety and depression. ‘
You’re bombarded daily with stimuli. You get overwhelmed. Your brain is already disorganized, but your innate hypersensitivity only exaggerates the situation. You get flustered. Your ADHD symptoms intensify because now you’re dealing with anxiety over daily living.
As I’ve written in my book, and I’m predicting that Dr. Aron discusses this as well, it’s essential to find ways to calm yourself down and to choose situations that speak to your strengths. For example, if you’re not a fan of noise and commotion, don’t force yourself to accept invitations to activities that are sensory painful.
Don’t allow guilt to wash over you if you’re asked to do things that hurt your sensitive body and mind and you gently decline. Ask yourself: why do you keep saying yes? Isn’t it time to take care of YOU? Celebrate the positives. Don’t ignore the negatives but take care of them.
Here are some things I have difficulties with:
- Clocks ticking
- Walking barefoot
- The smell of breakfast cooking when I’m not quite awake
- Phones ringing
- Speaker phones!
- Too many people moving around near me (i.e malls)
- Scary or intense movies
- …and many, many more
What makes your skin crawl or hurts your sensitive ears, etc.? Please share in the comment section below.
Terry’s Top Picks
(Yes, that’s me)
On the topic of hypersensitivities, read this article I wrote a while back: “Terry Matlen’s Top 15 Sensory Nightmares.” And, there’s a terrific webinar/podcast over at ADDitude online that I think you’ll find helpful: “Why Are You So Sensitive? Understand How Sensory Processing Sensitivity Affects the ADHD Brain.”
See? You’re not alone!
ADHD Top Hits
Helpful Products for the Highly Sensitive
A terrific book that explains hypersensitivities:
Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight
The Queen of Distraction, has a chapter dedicated to this topic.My book,
Vibes Reusable High Fidelity Earplugs
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I bought Dr. Aron’s book as well. It is on kindle and I tend to buy too many books at once and try to read them all. I am only on page 32.
I hate to work, study, write, take tests when it is “completely quiet”. It is never completely quiet! Every noise becomes a distraction. I have to have other kinds of noise going on to focus.
Others: shoes, the “pea” in the bed, thirst, tags, clasps, socks, clothes around my neck. The list could go on.
Thank you for this article. I believe I fit most of the HSP criteria, too. “Things” (that, for other people seem to be “normal”) bother me a LOT.
Too much sound; loud music; most vocal music; people moving around when I am trying to read, study, write, concentrate or THINK–I mean, just people in the area, in the same house I’m in (unless I’m in a place where I can close a door and be assurred it won’t be pushed open suddenly.
Most of the time, bright lights don’t bother me. Certain food textures bother me (but I LIKE seasoned foods!).
Unlike one of the characteristics in the HSP book, I am (generally) NOT soft-spoken. As a kid (with undiagnosed ADHD), I was often reprimanded by teachers for “talking too much”. Another difference from myself and the HSP descriptors: I often know I’m very over-stimulated (especially by evening activities with other people, but I find myself feeling “too hyper” to easily sleep. I may be tired, but I’m over-wound-up too much to sleep easily. I have a tendency to stay up very late and then fall into bed, utterly exhausted. (My ADHD affects my sense of time, and my sleep-wake cycle is “off” most of the time.)
Despite those few exceptions, I resonate deeply with much of what describes the HSP person. Sensory stimuli seem to always hit me full-on. I LIKE experiencing the word so vividly, so intensely–but it’s also very exhausting!
Laura- thanks for your comments. Aron also talks about sensory SEEKING HSP folks which kind of describes you: living life intensely but then crashing from the sensory overload. Thanks for sharing!
Rachel, yes!! I have so many hypersensitivities as well. Here’s a few other articles I wrote on the topic: https://addconsults.com/adhd-and-hypersensitivities-2/ , https://addconsults.com/terrys-top-15-sensory-nightmares/ .