The world can be an extremely loud place. For some Neurodiverse people who suffer from SPD (Sensory Processing Difficulties), it can be even louder. Especially if they struggle with sound sensitivity.
You can either be Hypersensitive (Over-sensitive) or Hyposensitive (Under-sensitive) to your senses. This can change depending on the situation and how you are feeling at the time.
This blog is going to try to explain what it’s like living with Hypersensitivity to sound.
Most of the time when I’m out and about I have my noise-cancelling headphones on. I’m listening to a super awesome playlist on Spotify or one of my audiobooks on Audible. This is partly to keep myself distracted but mostly it’s a coping mechanism that I’ve created to help me deal with all the noise that comes with the world. Between babies crying, people talking, cars beeping and driving loudly and the basic hustle and bustle of everyday life… I can get overwhelmed very quickly and this can lead to meltdowns. It got to a point where the world was so overwhelming that I couldn’t go outside.
Now, having sound-cancelling headphones are great but they aren’t always suitable for every situation. For example, if I’m at a fancy dinner or working at the bar on the weekends. Then I can’t really wear them. Instead I tend to use Vibes which are fantastic, discreet earplugs which instead of cancelling out all sound, cancel the top and bottom frequencies to bring everything down to a “normal” level.
In terms of what sensory aid I choose to help, it usually comes down to how the world sounds with them on. I find ear defenders quite difficult to deal with because they have a lot of cupping noise surrounding my ears and that just adds to my noise sensitivity. I need defenders which just mute the sound without giving me an alternate sound to worry about.
Now something interesting that happens with being hypersensitive to sound –
What do I mean by that?
I can deal with certain loud noises and not with others, certain pitches and sounds will set me off while others won’t.
A good example of this is a restaurant – for the most part, I can’t sit in restaurants without some sort of sensory aid to help me. Between the music, the clinking of cutlery (oh god I HATE the sound of cutlery), the talking and the hustle and bustle around me, I need to escape. The way I get around this is going to eat by myself, putting on my headphones and reading a book. Let’s compare that to my favourite pastime, going to concerts. When I’m at a concert, it allows me to break free and get lost in a moment. I need to take it all in, so I don’t wear my ear defenders or Vibes (unless it’s usually loud), I don’t care about the people around me or how busy it is, I just manage to get lost.
Something that happens often in loud environments is that I can differentiate the sounds around me. If I am in a place with lots of people talking I will focus on their conversations rather than the one I am having with the person in front of me and will often get distracted by music and other surrounding noises.
Well, as hinted at above, it mostly comes down to comfort, If I am comfortable then I am more likely to be able to navigate the soundscapes of everyday life in a more effective manner than if I’m uncomfortable. If I’ve had a bad day or I haven’t slept well then I find it a lot harder to live in the same world as neurotypical people.
On a good day, while the sound and noise of the world might bother me, I can control my emotions and have coping mechanisms in place so that I don’t have a meltdown. But on a bad day, more often than not, these coping mechanisms won’t work.
This is a hard question because what helps some people might not help others, but I’ll give you my top coping mechanisms for when the sound gets too much.
My first tip is the most obvious – use ear defenders/sound-cancelling headphones/sound cancelling earplugs. While these are only situational coping aids they can really help you reduce the stress of going out to everyday life where everything is really loud.
Important: Only use sound cancelling devices when needed as they can harm hearing in the long term, especially with children. See the article below for more details:
When you enter a room, you usually try to find out where the exit and bathrooms are right? Well, use this method to help with sound sensitivity too. A good strategy is to try and find out beforehand if there are quiet spaces where you can take a break if need be. Most places will be open to letting you know if you call beforehand if there are none, then regular trips to the bathroom can really help for this.
If the sound is making you overwhelmed, try to engage your sense of smell with an odour than you find calming. Maybe spray a scarf with your favourite scent. This will help you manage your senses and remain in a state where you are able to function in that situation.
I’m going, to be frank here, but most people probably aren’t away of SPD. Talking to them can do a lot to make them more aware of what triggers your sound sensitivity. I know that it can be embarrassing or nerve-racking because you’re not sure of how they’ll react. But in my experience, most people will be understanding and try to help you.
This is a slightly controversial point, but it worked for me. Introduce yourself to environments in small steps. For example, if you want to go out to dinner for the first time in your life. You should try going to a restaurant when it’s not too busy instead of when it’s packed. The first time, sit with your ear defenders on and eat, if you feel comfortable, try the next time without your ear defenders. Then you do it when it’s busy and it will help you get used to the sensory environment of the restaurant.
As you can probably tell from this blog, living with sound sensitivity can be a very difficult task. If affects every part of your life, from work to friends to leisure time. I hope that this blog has given you some great tips on how to deal with sound hypersensitivity in your everyday life and will make your life easier and more manageable.
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