Hypersensitivity

All the Feelings, All the Time

ADHD seems to exacerbate and exaggerate everything — especially our senses. If you taste, smell, or hear in extremes, you’re not alone. Here are common ADHD hypersensitivities — and expert recommendations for dialing them down.

Woman with ADHD is stressed at work because she is hypersensitive.
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The Truth About Hypersensitivity

How is it that other people brush off the little annoyances that drive us crazy — like bright lights, grating sounds, and scratchy clothing? Ever been told you’re "too sensitive" when you just can’t stand a dripping faucet for one more second? Don’t worry — it's totally normal. A lot of the time, hypersensitivity goes hand in hand with ADHD. Here's what your fellow people with ADHD had to say about what bugs them the most!

A clothing tag can be maddening for a hypersensitive adult with ADHD.
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Tactile Sensitivities

"Clothing tags are pure evil." – Denise Coles Padget

"I used to have to take my jewelry off on bad days because it made me feel confined and it would be all I could think about." – Molly St. Cyr

"My dental hygienist made fun of me today for having a sensitive mouth. She called me weird. I think I'll ask for a different lady." – Melinda Mims Buell

"Can't stand lotion on the palms of my hands." – Emily Froelich

A woman with hypersensitivity covers her head with a pillow.
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Auditory Sensitivities

"Repetitive sounds like ticking clocks, dripping taps. Ugh." – Tracy Tebow Davies

"Loud noises without a doubt! My kids can scare me out of my skin if I'm not paying attention." – Lisa DeBree Tucker

"People chewing with their freaking mouths open." – Ramon Magana Lemus

"Eating utensils scraping the plate...makes my teeth want to crumble and fall out." – Lisa Taylor

A woman with hypersensitivity stands over a bathroom sink.
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Olfactory Sensitivities

"Perfume smells, especially flowery and berry smells!" – Carmen Patterson

"Hate the smell of petrol." – Andrea

"Perfume, spray deodorants, hairspray, diesel fume, petrol fume, natural gas fumes, body odor, bad breath." – Katrina Dowd

"Scents...especially vanilla candles!" – Jodi Reinhart

A man with hypersensitivity covers his eyes.
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Visual Sensitivities

"Flickering lights send me over the edge — make me feel nauseous, headaches." – Melissa Price

"Halogen lights on emergency vehicles = instant migraine." – Tina Renea Bealmear-Brown

"Leg wiggling!" – Zoe Sophia Sohns

"Sunglasses are a must all year 'round."– Emily Froelich

A busy street that can be very overwhelming for a person with hypersensitivity.
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Claustrophobic Sensitivities

"Crowded places and elevators with more than four people in them. Makes me want to break and run." – Jan Melton Davis

"I cannot tell you how many times I have left the grocery store leaving the nearly full cart behind because I was overwhelmed by all the 'stuff' in the store." – Erin Foley-Machnik

"People too close to my bubble." – Heather DeMaio Teles

"Anyone touching my hair!" – Evelyn Plaksin

Young woman performing yoga pose in living room to dull her hypersensitivity.
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How to Manage Sensitivities

Sharon Heller, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist who specializes in sensory processing issues like hypersensitivity, says taking a holistic "whole body" healing approach can help us manage hypersensitivities. A good treatment plan, she says, includes regular exercise, calming practices like yoga or meditation, and proper nutrition.

A woman with hypersensitivity cuts the irritating tag out of her pants.
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Address Each Sensitivity Alone

“Each sensitivity, be it emotional or physical, must be addressed on its own merits,” says ADHD expert Zoe Kessler. This means treating the problem at the source. So, says Kessler, "if tags in your shirts drive you crazy, cut off the tags or buy tagless shirts!”

People with hypersensitivity in a cafe.
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Advocate for Yourself

Don't be ashamed of or bashful about your sensitivities, says Kessler. “Ask for the radio and TV to be turned down in public areas — your wish may not be granted, but you can ask. Failing that, we can move to a different table or a quieter area. We can take a ‘timeout’ when feeling overstimulated at a public event” — without beating ourselves up for being 'too sensitive.'"

A therapist works with two children to help them manage hypersensitivity.
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Exploit the Positives

You can take it even further, says Kessler, by making each hypersensitivity work in your favor. Emotionally sensitive? This likely means you’re extra intuitive and highly empathetic, and would be successful working with animals, children, or as a therapist. Sensitive to sounds? Someone with extra-intense hearing could become an excellent musician or recording engineer if trained to exploit this "superpower."

Woman having a conversation with her therapist about hypersensitivity.
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When Is Therapy An Option?

If your hypersensitivity is interfering with your ability to function in your daily life, consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Heller agrees and says, "If you've been hypersensitive for a long time — and especially from infancy on — you may also experience anxiety, which may require therapy."