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.
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.
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.
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

[Take This Test: Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults]

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

[Download This Free Resource: Are Your Senses in Overdrive?]

A woman with hypersensitivity cuts the irritating tag out of her pants.
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.
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.
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.
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."

[Get This Free Resource: Everything You Need to Know About CBT]

10 Comments & Reviews

  1. Sometimes I just can’t stand certain clothes. I can wear them most days but sometimes I’ll put on certain things and they feel too tight, too restrictive and I have to take them off. Skinny jeans sometimes do it, I sometimes put them on and one leg feels tighter than the other. It feels really bizarre and weird.

    Since I was a small child I haven’t been able to stand anything round my neck. I used to grab at my clothing saying ‘too tight, too tight,’ and get undressed. My Mum said I’d drive her to distraction trying to dress me. I still now can’t have anything resting on my windpipe.

    My parents tv speakers at a certain level make a buzzing noise. I seem to be the only one who notices it, but it drives me crazy. It’s as if it’s reverberating in my ears. Also loud noises hurt my ears, or many loud noises at once are overwhelming.

    Light makes my eyes water, bright days or even light days I have to wear sunglasses or all I do is squint the whole time.

    Sometimes touch, especially a surprise touch or when I’m trying to concentrate is really irritating. My Mum will sometimes go to kiss me out of the blue and I’ll move away, or she’ll go to touch me or my hair and it feels really weird. But I’m a very touchy feely person on my own terms, I love hugs.

    1. Becca,
      👕I also have the same feeling with having clothes, scarves, turtlenecks aroud my neck. I cannot handle it. Feels like someone is literally choking me. T-shirts, sweaters or blouses must be a cotton or rayon blend, button down or v-neck. I cannot wear wool or synthetic fabrics (nylon, acrylic).

      👖Hey, at least you do skinny jeans. I could never, my legs and bum would be claustrophobic. I don’t wear form fitting clothes anymore. I find pictures, flowing skirts and blouses and then have my seamstress who makes them for me.👗

      My Mom said when I was little I didn’t like clothes. She would put them on, I would take them off. It was challenging for her when we’d go to the department store and I’d wander off, she’d find me in a corner, all my clothes off and I’d be taking a nap on them.

      🚨🚥I also cannot be in a room very long with flourescent lighting. I get a headache and irritated with people and noises. Must leave and take breaks, go outside for the natural light.

      📈📉📊🖊Sometimes in meetings, people repeatedly click their pen tops, drives me nuts.

      🐕I need to walk my dog on side streets, not the 4 or 6 lane streets. Too much noise to break through. The noise is irritating and I get anxiety.

      Rarely take the elevator, always the stairs. Not so many people so close to me.

      Can’t handle perfume, men’s colognes or those stupid fragrance wall plugs.

      I’m not a fan of any make up around my eyes, eye shadow, mascara, eye liner, brows. Feels like cement.

      My hubbie says I’m the Idiosyricies Queen. Yes, I am.😃


  3. Oh wow, I’ve always HATED the sound of ticking clocks and dripping water for as long as I can remember. There was a clock in my grandma’s house that I had to take the batteries out of whenever I visited because the sound made me so upset.

    Loud noises also bother me a lot…I live in New York City. So I’m always wearing my noise canceling headphones without sound on most of the time to muffle the noise of the trains and people.

    Sunglasses are a must.

  4. Regarding CBT therapy, finding someone skilled in CBT that’s relevant to your particular issues is extremely challenging. Everyone talks about the benefits of CBT, and every therapist I’ve ever seen references it as within their skill set, but I have yet to find a therapist that actually practices it. Even the books I’ve read on it talk a lot of about the benefits of CBT, but don’t actually teach any of it’s methods. Anyone else finding the same?

    Thanks for your help.

  5. Don’t accept what seems to me an ‘all in your mind’ concept if it doesn’t fit.

    For example, perfumes are designed to be volatile, persistent and affect other people by causing a response in their olfactory receptors.

    Unfortunately, the response I have is not “nice perfume!”; it’s an allergic inflammatory response. For some scents (e.g. artificial Freesia) I can taste it, get sinus inflammation and a nasty claw-out-my-sinuses headache within five minutes. Look up “chemically sensitive”. For the artificial Freesia scent, look up “nerve gas”.

    Then, because the wearer can’t smell the scent any more after wearing it for a long time, they apparently bathe in it.

    I carry an inconspicuous pocket charcoal filter mask from ICanBreathe.com (my only connection is happy customer) so I can e.g. stay at plays or other public events.

  6. @greg.gagne There is an (older, ’70s sexist, HORRIBLE title but LOTS of useful information) CBT seminar on DVD (library likely has it) “Self-Discipline and Emotional Control” by Dr. Tom Miller that may have what you are looking for. A lot like the way Jim Carrey might do a seminar: very lively and gets loud and emphatic at times, to make it more memorable.

  7. I can’t wear shoes and socks together for long without feeling like my feet are suffocating! Most of the time I wear shoes I can slip off easily, without socks if possible. If I wear socks and say, sneakers, I am very soon removing them and putting the shoes back on without socks. This has actually worsened as I’ve gotten older.

    I’m also a super-picky eater. A lot of foods just taste horrible to me. Anything with tomatoes, vinegar, basically any sauce except chocolate, spices, garlic, etc. I eat hamburgers plain, basically everything plain.

  8. Sounds – reverberations bother me. There have been a couple of guys on the radio with really deep voices and I change the station when they come on. And my husband just bought a surround sound thing for the TV and if there are deep sounds on I put on headphones to block it out.

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