ADHD Adults

Buzzing, Chewing, Itching: What Overstimulates You?

Sensory overload hits ADHD brains often — and hard. For those with sensory processing sensitivities, sounds, textures, and smells are more than annoyances; they actually hurt.

Do you avoid hugs? Or do you crave deep-tissue pressure? Do you flee from busy, crowded parties, bars, and football games? Or are you wiggling and jiggling all day long? Are amusement-park rides your worst nightmare? Or do your friends call you Evel Knievel? Do you find that you are a little clumsy getting dressed? Or a lot clumsy?These sometimes contradictory symptoms are all signs of sensory processing problems. Flossing your teeth. Parallel parking. Picking out clothes. These everyday tasks are challenging for people with SPD.Do you have low stamina? Struggle with self-esteem? Are your relationships with others rocky? How about paying attention, even when you’re keenly interested in what you’re thinking or talking about? All of these could be characteristics of a person with ADHD, SPD, or a combination of the two. Keep reading to learn more.
Do you avoid hugs? Or do you crave deep-tissue pressure? Do you flee from busy, crowded parties, bars, and football games? Or are you wiggling and jiggling all day long? Are amusement-park rides your worst nightmare? Or do your friends call you Evel Knievel? Do you find that you are a little clumsy getting dressed? Or a lot clumsy?These sometimes contradictory symptoms are all signs of sensory processing problems. Flossing your teeth. Parallel parking. Picking out clothes. These everyday tasks are challenging for people with SPD.Do you have low stamina? Struggle with self-esteem? Are your relationships with others rocky? How about paying attention, even when you’re keenly interested in what you’re thinking or talking about? All of these could be characteristics of a person with ADHD, SPD, or a combination of the two. Keep reading to learn more.

Sensory overload — that explosive phenomenon that’s sparked when the senses take in more information than the brain can process — may befall anyone. But for neurodivergent people, heightened sensitivity may trigger an avalanche of sensory information and a greater chance of overstimulation.

Here, women with ADHD share their experiences with sensory overload — its causes, fixes, and feelings. Do you have your own sensory overload story? Share it in the comments section below.

“Sounds like people belching, audible yawning, people chewing food, and squishy sounds when people vigorously wash their hands with lots of soap irritate me to the point of having to leave the room — or hoping they will. Explaining it to them helps when I have an open, honest relationship with them.” — An ADDitude Reader

“Grocery shopping always made me feel physically ill and I needed to lie down and sleep for hours after every shopping trip. I felt completely overwhelmed and like I was no longer in my body. Wearing a mask actually helped due to reduced smells and irritation in my nose! Shopping during quiet times such as during the work week has also made a big difference.” — An ADDitude Reader

“The world overwhelms me on the daily. My worst sensory reaction is that I can’t listen to chewing, especially my husband’s chewing. I can’t avoid my husband!” — Beth, Colorado

[Symptom Test: Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults]

Clothing tags and seams are my mortal enemies. On good days, they’re a slight annoyance. On bad days, it feels like they’ve come alive with tiny needles for fingers, incessantly poking at me, causing repeated stings.” — An ADDitude Reader

“All my life, I have been unable to think when there are a series of loud noises (tapping, loud talking, shouting, construction sounds). It goes well beyond not liking the noise; it renders me almost frantic with anxiety and incapable of completing thoughts. Now that I am on ADHD medication, I find that the noises do not bother me nearly as much as they did before.” — An ADDitude Reader

“The light of the sun has always made me seek cover. Most of my childhood pictures show my eyes squinted and my face contorted. I always seek shade, usually multiple layers. Bright sun on my skin feels uncomfortable and I have always gotten overheated, to the point of feeling sick, very easily.” — An ADDitude Reader

[Download: Sensory Issues: SPD Symptoms, Triggers, and Types]

“Too many sounds or loud sounds are hard for me. Especially when there is ‘white noise’ already happening. My brain overloads and I can’t focus on anything. I feel totally overwhelmed and essentially shut down. I try to keep earplugs nearby.” — An ADDitude Reader

“As the day gets hotter, I start to sweat and the fans get turned up. Being overly hot and sweaty is over stimulating for me. Too much background or white noise is also overstimulating. To fight the overload, I keep an ice pack or CoolTie on my neck, and use noise-canceling headphones.” — An ADDitude Reader

Sounds seem to overstimulate me the most frequently and easily. It feels like the sounds are physically pushing me into a corner and squishing me. Usually, the solution is to leave the area.” — An ADDitude Reader

Social anxiety has also become a byproduct of managing hyper-sensitivity. I cope better by imagining a personal ‘energy and sensitivity’ meter. How much energy do I have today and how sensitive am I feeling? I try to acknowledge and soothe my senses by drinking hot tea or putting a soft blanket on my shoulders while I work.” — An ADDitude Reader

Sensory Overload and ADHD: Next Steps


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