Firstly, remember that there is a positive side to being sensitive, so it’s not just a disorder but in some ways a positive attribute.
I have observed that all of my senses seem to be extra sensitive. However, I have also noticed that with each sense I seem to be very sensitive to positive feelings;
i) touch. When I get tense I can sometimes completely relieve the tension simply by touching my face. I also get a real sense of release by putting small pieces of grass in my ears. I love the feel of the wind and feel that it is my constant, dependable companion that will always console me. However, after it blew a piece of wood onto my car the other day, damaging the driver’s door, I reevaluated this sentimentality!
ii) sound. I love music, and find a sense of release in making music
iii) movement – I love cycling and feeling the sense of movement.
iv) vision – simply walking through the city and seeing relatively mundane buildings, the sky , people after my senses being starved by sitting in an office is a great feeling.
v) social interaction – it can be stressful but it can be wonderful as well.
I’m not sure how much this sensitivity is related to being high on the ‘Open to Experience’ personality dimension. I prefer to create experiences rather than passively observing them or being told what to do. Maybe it is also related to introversion – (google the Big Five Personality Traits, ‘OCEAN’, to read about this stuff).
Dealing with over-sensitivity
- Do things gradually
So far I have learnt that is best to gradually change your sensory input – though I know that this is not always possible. I find it difficult to get into a swimming pool because of the coldness of the water, so what I do now is have a shower first so that my body gets used to the sensation of water, then I enter the pool and first wet my arms and then my back. The converse of this is that I find it difficult getting out of a warm bath, so I let the water out whilst still sitting in the bath and this seems to help.
In the morning I find it useful to gradually get used to the light and before going to bed I enjoy winding down my sensory input gradually.
Shades are useful for dealing with fluorescent lights, though I’m open to suggestions here because currently I am having to use sunglasses which are too dark. I find that if I am in a very fluorescent environment as long as I don’t look directly at the lights or at pieces of white paper I can normally avoid migraines. The best option is to sit near a window and to avoid being directly under the sharp glare of the lights.
If I go to a gig I always bring some moulded earplugs, as much to protect my hearing as to avoid the unpleasantness of the noise. I have begun experimenting with exposure therapy here as well because I think that the sensitivity to stimuli can lead to a fear of the stimuli which can create a vicious circle. I am experimenting with exposing myself to random noises and movements because I think that if I deliberately choose to experience these phenomena then the sense of control and habituation should reduce the layer of anxiety that can exacerbate the distress associated with the experience.
I find that with noise the main problem is more sudden changes in volume, rather than loud noise per se, because when I was younger and went to nightclubs I had no problem with the volume level but I don’t think I’ve ever liked sudden loud noises.
What causes sensitivity to sound?
There are a number of factors that can cause sensitivity to sound. These are the main contenders – migraine/tinnitus/anxiety/head injury/being musical. Apparently there are some treatments that audiologists offer to help with this problem. I saw an audiologist in Harley Street who confirmed that I didn’t have hyperacusis which is a particularly severe kind of sensitivity to sound. Head injury can cause sensitivity to sound because it affects concentration and the ability to filter out extraneous sounds, anxiety can make hearing more acute as part of the fight or flight reflex, migraineurs have a generally increased sensitivity and tinnitus – which apparently is very common to the point of almost being normal – seems to be part of a general sensitisation within the brain to sound. I have heard anecdotally that musicians are prone to being sensitive to sound.
This is all on the premise that sensitivity to sound is pathological. We do live in quite an unnatural environment with poor acoustics caused by artificial surfaces, however I guess that cavemen would have had poor acoustics within their caves.
Dr Elaine Aron has written a book called the Highly Sensitive Person.