Did you know people with ADHD may have hypersensitivity? Things like noise, touch, light, and movement can all make daily activities more of a challenge.
If you live with ADHD, your brain may have a hard time filtering out unnecessary information. Your brain processes everything, soaking up stimuli like a sponge — including things that others might ignore.
A crowded venue, a loud barking dog, or an itchy shirt can all be overstimulating. This sensory overload can result in headaches, rashes, angry outbursts, and self-isolation in order to avoid triggers.
Many of us don’t realize, though, that alongside the hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity, people with ADHD may experience sensitivity to their environment. And this is totally understandable.
Although hypersensitivity can be overwhelming, there are ways to successfully treat and manage the symptoms. Medication, therapy, and self-care strategies may help you decrease the effects of hypersensitivity.
Hyper empathy syndrome (HSP) and sensory sensitivity — aka hypersensitivity — are neurobiological-based symptoms. It means that physical and emotional stimuli may feel overwhelming at times.
If you have hypersensitivity, you may be reactive to:
- loud and sudden noises
- bright lights
- too many people
- intense odors
- itchy or tight fabric
You may be sensitive to sounds, like the repetitive clicking of a pen or a ticking clock. Or maybe loud noises are more triggering, like kids playing, people chewing loudly, or the unexpected bark of a dog.
Touch aversion can result from tags on your clothes, the feel of beauty products on your skin, or the sensation of jewelry that’s too tight against your body.
Light and visual sensitivities can include flickering lights, repetitive movements, and even sunshine. Smells of perfumes, gasoline, and other strong odors can become overwhelming to those living with hypersensitivity.
Instances of claustrophobia, like being in an elevator or in a large crowd, can prove too much and result in an emotional or physical response.
With hypersensitivity, the overwhelming influx of sensations can produce an array of symptoms.
- emotional outbursts
- mood fluctuations
- low tolerance for frustration
If you think of the brain as a sink, information typically drips slowly down the faucet and is filtered on the way. For those living with ADHD, the faucet is turned all the way up to the highest setting.
In essence, a brain with ADHD floods your system with details. Every sensation is felt, every noise is heard, and everything within eyesight rushes into the brain because of the inability to filter out all the extras.
Hypersensitivity can be managed through:
Certain medications may increase focus and help balance the physical and emotional reactions to stimuli.
Research in 2017 suggests that exercise is an effective tool for managing ADHD symptoms.
This might be because dopamine — a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain released during exercise — can help relax the overactive areas of the brain that manage concentration, balance, judgment, and impulse control.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically focuses on a person’s thoughts and behaviors. This can help change your overall patterns, as well as modify the reactions and feelings you have toward certain situations.
Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can have a positive impact on your mental well-being. While research on meditation for ADHD is mixed (and more is necessary), it may help improve ADHD symptoms.
It could help with ADHD because mindfulness-based interventions can calm the sympathetic nervous system. Mindfulness may also help you:
- cultivate inner calm
- improve emotional awareness
- decrease impulsivity
- lessen emotional reactions
A diet of nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods can help manage blood sugar levels, which may help regulate emotions.
Inadequate sleep can reduce the brain’s ability to regulate emotions and sensations.
At least 7–8 hours of sleep a night may make ADHD and hypersensitivity easier to manage.
There are many ways to manage ADHD and hypersensitivity. Besides traditional methods of therapy and medication, you may want to try a few simple tips to manage hypersensitivity:
Give yourself space
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, give yourself space to process the things that are creating discomfort. Go outside and take a walk, or find a quiet place to journal about your feelings.
Set good boundaries
Let others know what your needs are. Set boundaries and make requests, like relocating a meet-up or making plans in a smaller venue.
These small but mighty changes may help decrease your sense of overwhelm.
Try new routines
Shop in smaller stores or during off-peak hours, experiment with different fabrics for your clothing, or use noise-canceling headphones during situations that are loud and overwhelming.
Adjusting your daily routine, along with more mainstream treatments like medication and therapy, may help minimize the grasp that hypersensitivity has on your life.
Adjust your expectations
If you live with ADHD, your brain may work a little differently — and that’s perfectly OK.
Make sure to create reasonable expectations of yourself. Don’t try to do too much all at once. Expect that sometimes things will feel overwhelming, but you’re strong enough to handle it.
Living with ADHD and hypersensitivity can feel overwhelming at times.
If we avoid the things that trigger our sensitivities, we can feel isolated. And if we keep experiencing sensory overload out in the world, it can create confusion among those closest to us (not to mention discomfort for us).
With the right treatments, tips, and coping tools, hypersensitivity can be managed.
You may want to reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in ADHD. Ask them about the right method of therapy for you, and whether medication is a good idea.
Prioritize your personal well-being by getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Consider practicing meditation and mindfulness to increase emotional awareness.
If you or someone you love is living with ADHD and hypersensitivity, you’re not alone. You can check out some more information on treating and managing hypersensitivity:
- 10 Tips for Highly Sensitive People
- Coping with Heightened Emotions When You Have ADHD
- Mindfulness Skills Useful in Addressing ADHD
These books may also help: