Being a highly sensitive person isn't always about anxiety and emotions. Sometimes, if your senses are overwhelmed more often than not, it could be due to a
sensory processing disorder. These disorders are largely misunderstood, but the symptoms are pretty distinctive. Sensory processing disorder, or SPD, takes place in the nervous system, rather than the mind. "Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is described as the nervous system’s inability to properly organize and prioritize the sensory input we receive from the world around us," Diana Fitts, occupational therapist, and the founder of The Sensory Toolbox, tells Bustle. "An individual with SPD can get easily overwhelmed, as their brain is trying to attend to a lot of sensory input all at once. Think about how natural it is for most of us to have a conversation with a friend in a coffee shop. While our brains can tune out the surrounding music and background noise, someone with sensory processing disorder cannot. All of those sounds are competing for attention in their brains, which can lead to anxiety and meltdowns." So sometimes, sensitivity is more than just a preference.
Sensory processing disorder is often
associated with autism, but not everyone with autism has SPD and not everyone with SPD has autism. And for everyone, working with sensory processing issues can help with daily life.
Here are 10 things that, if you're especially sensitive to, are actually signs of a sensory processing disorder.
Having Your Hair Cut Bothers You
For many people, getting your hair cut is just another thing to add to the to-do list. For those with sensory processing disorder, a haircut or a shave can be a much more stressful event.
"Some people cannot bear the feeling of having their hair cut, and this is especially problematic with close cuts and use of razors,"
Dr. Ceppie Merry, a practicing physician with a PhD in pharmacology, tells Bustle. "The vibration from the razor stimulates both the sensation of touch and sound and is very difficult to process for some people." If you have particular difficulty with this, you may want to consult with your doctor.
Your Clothes Labels Annoy You
Clothing labels can be an annoyance for anyone. But for those with a sensory processing disorder, this annoyance is almost impossible to overcome.
"Some people hate clothes labels," Dr. Merry says. "Most of us just block out the feeling of clothes labels. People with sensory processing disorders have heightened awareness of the label and can't take their attention off it." If you absolutely cannot get your mind off of an annoying sensation like a label, then you may want to talk to your doctor about the issue.
Loud Noises Are Disturbing
Sometimes loud noises can be almost debilitating. If, however, even a movie theater can be too much for you, sensory processing disorder could be the culprit.
"Some people cannot bear loud noises and will find ways to block out noise," Dr. Merry says. "[...] Luckily nowadays many cinemas offer special viewings with reduced sound and lighting for people with sensory processing disorders." Finding these theaters, as well as an occupational therapist or doctor you can trust, may help you find some relief.
New Cleaning Smells Bother You
If you're more overwhelmed than others about small changes in the environment, especially in terms of smell and touch, then even a newly-cleaned room can be distressing to you.
"I have many clients with SPD who cannot tolerate coming to my counseling clinic in the 24 hours after the office has been professionally cleaned because of tactile and olfactory sensitivity," licensed professional counselor
Rose Reif, MS, CRC, BS-TMH, tells Bustle. "Even though the cleaner uses scent-free products, my clients' can smell and feel the cleaning products in the environment, and are overwhelmed by them." This level of sensitivity is likely a sign you may want to seek professional help.
Small Changes To Your Environment Can Upset You
Almost everyone has felt "off" at one point or another, but if small changes to your environment actually throw you off to the point of stress, then you may have SPD.
"I once had a client with SPD who was visibly upset during a counseling session, and I suspected that something in the environment was 'off' for her," Reif says. "I asked if this was the case, and she said 'sorry, your new trashcan is just really distracting me.' [...] My client's visual sensitivity was such that this prevented her from being able to focus on our our session." Therapy may be worthwhile if little distractions like this affect your everyday life.
You Need To Touch Things To Relax
Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko/Shutterstock
If you, even in adulthood, have carried with you a desire to touch certain materials or objects in order to self-soothe, then you may be experiencing a symptom of sensory processing disorder.
"A frequent desire to touch textures or fabrics, even when it’s inappropriate to do so, can be a sign of a sensory processing disorder," therapist
Adina Mahalli, MSW, tells Bustle. "The need to touch materials indicates a hyposensitivity to sensory input." While tactile stimulation is not a problem on its own, you may want to find ways to treat it if it impacts your daily life.
You Can Hear Background Noises Others Can't
People with sensory processing disorder may hear things others don't notice, or have trouble not focusing on certain sounds.
"If you can hear background noises that other people don’t hear, you could be suffering from a sensory processing disorder," Mahalli says. "Someone with a sensory processing disorder can often hear and get distracted by noises that others would just consider white noise." If you find yourself complaining about a sound others aren't bothered by, that might be worth noting.
You're Especially Uncoordinated
Not all sensory processing disorders are experienced solely internally. Sometimes things that seem like "
being clumsy" or being uncoordinated can be symptoms of dyspraxia, a sensory processing disorder.
"Someone who is severely uncoordinated might suffer from a sensory processing disorder," Mahalli says. "Often described as the ‘sixth sense’, proprioception is your ability to sense your body position and self-movement. A lack of this awareness could be a sign of sensory processing disorder." If these symptoms sound like you, then the idea that your brain and body have a bit of a disconnect may not be imagined.
You Can Feel Your Body Move More Than Others
Proprioception, the sense of self-movement and body position, is an important factor in sensory processing processing disorders. If you are hyper-aware of your body's movements, this sense may be askew for you.
"Many of my clients are high-level professionals who secretly wear compression clothing under their business-casual wear, because their SPD causes them to be proprioception seeking," Reif says. If this sounds like you, you may want to talk to your doctor about sensory processing.
Picky eating as an adult isn't always a personality trait. Sometimes, it can be known as
Selective Eating Disorder. Other times, it could be a sensory processing response.
"A common sign of sensory processing disorder is picky eating," Fitts says. "Foods with strong flavors and interesting textures can overwhelm the sensory system, making them unpleasant. As such, people with sensory processing disorder may eat a limited diet of only a few foods." If your picky eating is due to your heightened sensory responses to certain foods, then it may be a sign of an underlying sensory processing issue.
Sensory processing disorders aren't all alike. They also aren't always associated with other disorders, so sometimes they may be misunderstood. Dealing with hyper-sensitivity, however, doesn't have to be an issue you bear forever. Many doctors, psychotherapists, and occupational therapists can be there to help.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.