ADHD and Hypersensitivity
People with ADHD are often characterized as being overly sensitive.
In fact, a high proportion of individuals with ADHD experience hypersensitivity. If you have ADHD, you may be aware that you have strong emotional reactions to things that other people seem to take little notice of. These strong, over-the-top emotions can occur in both positive and negative situations. You may feel physically hypersensitive to all sorts of stimuli, including:
- Loud and sudden noises
- Bright lights
- Too many people in a relatively small space (e.g. an elevator)
- Intense odors
- Itchy or tight fabrics
But this has a neurobiological basis. The ADHD brain may have a hard time filtering out extraneous information. Instead, it processes everything, soaking up even minor environmental stimuli like a sponge. Thus it takes less stimulation to become overloaded. This can lead to a sense of “stimulus overwhelm” and the strong emotions that accompany it.
The Symptoms of Hypersensitivity
The symptoms of hypersensitivity can be both emotional and physical, including:
- Emotional outbursts
- Mood fluctuations
- Low threshold for frustration
Tips for Managing Hypersensitivity
Here are some recommendations to help you cope with your hypersensitivity.
- Respect your sensitivity – Don’t make yourself do things that you know will be difficult. To the degree possible, choose situations that suit your temperament. Give yourself more time to process the events of the day. Before you overload yourself by going out in the evening, take a few minutes to consider if you can handle more stimulation or you’ve reached your limit for the day.
- Pause and reflect – When you feel yourself reacting strongly in a situation, pause for reflection and take some deep breaths to calm down. Analyze the situation and re-evaluate it rather than just reacting to it.
- Screen it out – To avoid sensory overload and anxiety, always have earplugs and a headset with you to block out noise.
- Avoid he crowds – If crowds and noise are problems, find venues that are quieter and less populated.
- Reduce extraneous stimulation. Say ‘no’ nicely to things that have overwhelmed you in the past, that you don’t have to do or just don’t want to do. Identify your limits and implement them when you’re overwhelmed.
- Make sure you’ve had enough sleep: Rest or take a nap before facing a situation that will be highly stimulating or after an intense one to regroup.
- Practice relaxation techniques – Meditate or do some yoga to strengthen your ability to cope with day-to-day challenges by practicing feeling calm and learning how to recreate this sensation when you need it.
- Work out – Build regular exercise into your life.
- Take some vitamin “N” – Take some time to be in nature – e.g., a walk in a forests or a park. Research has shown this can have a beneficial and calming effect.
While hypersensitivity and heightened emotions can feel like a burden at times. Experimenting with various treatments, tips, and coping tools can help you manage your hypersensitivity and let you enjoy a better quality of life.