ADHD and Women: When Your Senses Are Extra Sensitive
Psychotherapist Terry Matlen thought she was losing her hearing. Every time she’d talk on the phone, she couldn’t hear what the other person was saying if other sounds were present. Even a quiet TV and a loved one talking hampered her hearing.
But when she went to get tested, she actually learned that she has better hearing than most people her age.
Matlen, like many women with ADHD, is especially sensitive to stimuli. Women who have the inattentive type of ADHD tend to have a difficult time tuning out noise (any extraneous sounds), hearing sounds that no one else seems to hear, writes Matlen, also an ADHD coach, in her newest book The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus and Get More Done.
Not surprisingly, loud noises are especially problematic. “Traffic sounds, like trucks, motorcycles, and bad exhaust pipes, can make a woman with ADHD feel like she’s in the middle of a combat zone,” Matlen writes.
Indoor noise is just as bad. This can include the humming of appliances, such as the air conditioner, fridge and computer at home, or the copy machine and conversations at work.
Women with ADHD also might be overwhelmed visually. One of Matlen’s clients felt queasy in rooms with fluorescent lights; claustrophobic and overwhelmed in movie theaters because of the big screens; and uncomfortable in grocery stores with all the products and patterns on the shelves.
Plus, some women with ADHD have tactile sensitivity and certain clothes are problematic. Wearing tight-fitting clothes may feel suffocating. Wearing wool may trigger a rash. In fact, almost every woman Matlen has talked to has expressed disdain for wool, spandex and polyester.
Thankfully, making small adjustments can help tremendously. In The Queen of Distraction Matlen stresses the importance of practicing self-care and advocating for what you need. You don’t have to be uncomfortable.
Here are helpful tips for reducing noise and navigating other sensitivities from Matlen’s book:
- Go to smaller stores and boutiques.
- Buy things from catalogues or online.
- Wear earplugs or headphones with soft music if you’re going to the mall (or even the movies, just in case).
- Sit at the quietest booth or table at restaurants.
- Say no to loud and noisy situations, if you know you’re going to be miserable. “At a big party, seek out one or two people and find a quieter spot off to a corner, in another room, or outside.”
- Buy a white noise machine or play nature sounds on your computer in noisy hotels or offices.
- Wear sunglasses outside or inside, if bright light bothers you.
- Replace fluorescent bulbs with full-spectrum lightbulbs.
- Use floor and table lamps for softer lighting.
- Cover up the page you’re reading with paper, so your eyes don’t jump all over the page.
- Look for soft fabrics, such as fleece, 100 percent cotton and jersey. Some stores that specialize in soft clothing even have a rating system from 1 to 3 according to softness. Matlen includes a list on her website ADDconsults.com.
- Wear comfortable, over-sized sweats at home. Matlen wears men’s T-shirts, because they’re fuller and tend to be softer. (She also generally buys clothes a size larger.)
- Wear underwear and socks inside out if seams bother you.
- Remove labels and tags with a seam ripper or use no-sew hemming tape to tack them down.
- Use nonscented, gentle laundry detergent.
Matlen also suggested checking out these books, which address hypersensitivities in general: Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World by Sharon Heller, Ph.D, and The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
What sensitivities do you have? Pay attention to what triggers your sensitivities, and create a plan to reduce or eliminate them. As Matlen writes, “Life is too short to spend it being uncomfortable!”
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). ADHD and Women: When Your Senses Are Extra Sensitive. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/adhd-and-women-when-your-senses-are-extra-sensitive/