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You worry too much! You’re too sensitive!

By Rick Green.

Emotionally Sensitive ADHD, Upset Man pulls hair

Upset man pulls his hair

Many adults who have ADHD, myself included, don’t feel that their emotions are a problem. We don’t feel we are overly sensitive, anxious, moody, mercurial, easily upset, or quick to anger.

But talk to our friends and family. See what they say. (Awkward clearing of throat.)

After interviewing a lot of ADHD specialists for our videos, I’ve discovered that yes, we can be overly-sensitive. Touchy. Easily alarmed. Prone to panic. Worry warts. (OMG! That’s terrible!!!)

ADHD isn’t just a problem managing focus. It’s a problem with managing everything.

Gradually I began to see that I too was overly sensitive. To criticism. To bullying. To anger. To… anything upsetting. Seeing this about myself was absolutely mortifying!!!  (Whereas someone without ADHD would probably have been a bit surprised and said, “Yeah, I suppose that’s true.”)

No Not Neurotic  ADHD Meme

When I was younger I never saw myself as a worrier.  Cautious? Sure. Thoughtful? Good at planning ahead? Yes. But overly emotional? Never!

No, I was prudent and sensible, reacting appropriately to a scary, unpredictable world where at any moment I could lose my job, lose a loved one, or be turned into a lump of charcoal by a sneak attack from the Russians! (Who said the 60’s were about love, peace, and understanding?)

Certainly no one would have seen it as a sign that my Pre-Frontal Cortex was easily overwhelmed.

At most they’d claim, “You’re too sensitive.” Or, “Don’t worry about it.” (Right? And how do I do that.)

Or, my favorite, “It’s just a movie. No one really died. No one actually had an alien burst out of their chest and eat everyone. It’s special effects.” I know it’s just a movie. My short-term memory isn’t great, but I do recall buying a ticket and some popcorn.

What I couldn’t understand why was how anyone could find pleasure reading horror stories. For five years I hosted a TV series about alternative fiction called Prisoners of Gravity, that celebrated comics, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In all those years I never read one ‘horror novel.’ Other members of the production team did. Thank goodness.

Fretting? Fearful? No, just cautious.

I didn’t like horror or feeling scared. But I didn’t see myself as overly anxious.

When I was on a two lane road, with oncoming traffic, I was a smart ‘defensive driver’ who anticipated that every oncoming car might blow a tire and swerve into me. I was surprised to learn most people didn’t focus on that possibility.

How reckless of them!

Sure, I could see my mom was a worry wart. But me? Never!!!

If pressed, I might have admitted that, yes, I did have a bit of an imagination. But I would have explained this was a real gift because it meant I could plan for any possible emergency by imagining every possible way that anything and everything could go wrong.

Growing up in Toronto in the 60’s there were no earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, wars, gun crime, drug wars, famines, civil war, terrorists, or alien invasions. But I’d seen all those things in movies and on TV so I worried about them.

Being the good Boy Scout that I was, I’d learned to ‘be prepared.’

A Gift and a Curse

A runaway imagination served me well writing comedy. Being able to come up with complex physical gags for The Red Green Show was easy. I can picture how it would look, and how it would work.

And yet, that same ability to visualize hilarious stunts allowed me to imagine all kinds of horrible things when my kids were out and hadn’t called home and weren’t answering their cell phones. (I can’t even begin to describe the scary scenarios that would haunt me, or I’ll spend the next two days thinking about them.)ADHD Meme

After I was diagnosed with ADHD I still didn’t make the connection. I could see how this disorder made it difficult for me to manage my schedule, workload, commitments, time, finances, and even my family obligations. But it was only as we interviewed more and more experts for our videos that the idea that this could be a real problem with managing ones feelings, a problem with overreacting, and even being super sensitive to physical sensations—noisy places, bright lights, strong smells, or large crowds.

We cover all of this in our video on ADHD & Emotional Sensitivity. Or rather a dozen experts cover it, explaining the reasons, the triggers, and the solutions to emotional sensitivity.

How Can I Stay Calm?

One of the strategies I’ve used, which coach and trainer Barbara Luther talks about in the video, is avoiding scary movies. If it’s got guns and violence, cruelty or people being sadistic, I’m not watching it.

Rather than try and become numb, or less sensitive, I’ve learned to avoid the stuff that triggers me. It’s a simple strategy.

So I’m happy to talk about a whole bunch of subjects. But I’ve got nothing to say when talk turns to Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or Walking Dead. (Which I’m sure are great shows. Just not for me.)

More recently I’ve stopped reading people’s comments on FB. (Except on the TotallyADD page.) I’ve blocked a lot of people. Far less needless stress.

And yes, I do read your comments here.

Turn It Down, or Turn It Off

And for physical sensitivities? If an ADHD conference is noisy I find a quiet corner to chat. If a restaurant has banks of TV screens I sit facing the other way. Or I avoid the restaurant completely. Spicy food? I’m getting more adventurous. Shirts with itchy tags? I cut em off. Wool? I avoid it completely. The video has many more strategies, and I’m sure you’ve developed your own ways of coping, consciously or not.

I mention this only because I assumed that dialing down my emotions, managing my over-sensitivity would involve meditation, coaching, aversion therapy, or living in a cave, when in fact there are simple ways to create calm.

By clicking “Unfollow”, or choosing an uplifting documentary over a slasher flick, or catching myself before one awful thought, one “What if…” spins out of control into an frightening but totally imaginary catastrophe I avoid the possibility of upset completely.

How about you? Do your emotions get the best of you? And have you found ways to manage them? Or perhaps even turn them to your advantage?

Best,

Rick
Rick Green Adult ADHD

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8 Responses to “You worry too much! You’re too sensitive!”

  1. keizn33 says:

    Good morning Rick

    I have discovered your blog and Website last night while researching for my own blog. My daughter and I have started a blog to do the same as you are doing, reach out to people that have been diagnosed with ADHD. My daughter is 12 and was diagnosed 2 years ago, Grade 5. She has started grade 7 and has started new medication, and still has not gotten the hang of everything. She gets over whelmed and quick to anger. I read this to her last night and she was literally screaming “Thats me mom, OMG”
    So thank you for this blog. She is seeing that 1, there are others like her and 2 that she can reach out to others, from a child’s point of view and tell people that it does get better, or at least manageable.
    I would like to thank you myself. I have watched my nephew struggle and be pushed through the education system (Nova Scotia) and now my daughter is starting the same journey. I see that my persistence to have adaptations in place for her are helping, but she will make it through if she has an outlet for her creativity and teachers that understand what she has and that it isn’t her being lazy and not putting her best effort into everything.
    Thanks so much

    Julia
    Nova Scotia

  2. james9 says:

    Best way I’ve found for making sure my emotions don’t get the better or me, after medication, is mindfulness.

    Meditation. Almost as good as medication. And free. And no stigma or people telling me it’s dangerous or whatever. The doubters just think its flakey. Which is fine.

  3. Rick says:

    Thanks for the kind words Jewelle! I’ll check out Tom Brown’s new book. I loved his last one Smart But Stuck.

    Alexandre (UtterNutter) as for how to get tested, that is a challenge, finding someone who can properly diagnose it. There may be be a Learning Disability Association in your area. This very morning I’m giving a talk to a huge gathering of people from many different LD Groups. 350 people. They have resources for students but they may be able to help.

    I’d also Google search Specific Learning Difficulty (Dyspraxia) and keep researching and reading. Diagnosing these issues is so tricky. Simply diagnosing ADHD is tricky and since most of us have a second issue, and 40% or so have a three or more diagnosis going on, it’s doubly difficult.

    The information you need, or a person who can help you, is out there, I’m sure. It’s a matter of searching until you find them.

  4. Jewelle says:

    Love the topic. I think my high sensitivity dampened some of my impulsivity bc of the greater pause-to-check response associated with high sensitivity (HS) making it harder to see the ADD, and I also think HS intensifies my ADD bc of the finer processing and tendency toward rumination tied to HS, there is a dynamic interplay between the two sometimes ‘conscientiousness’ rules my world, other times ‘squirreliness’ does… I like Elaine Aron’s work on HS at hsperson.com, the self-tests are helpful but she doesn’t address ADHD, at least the last time I checked. I too avoid scary stuff, too over-stimulating and not my cup of tea. Homeopathic tinctures help as needed, I like Fields of Flowers by Energetix to chill and take the edge off anger, Rescue Calm is another formula. Lately I use tapping (not sure how effective) and I do my own form of CBT writing digital pop ups of quotes and concepts I want to integrate. The key is controlling when they pop up as to not be too overwhelming. I too limit FB to just groups of topical interest. I think too much cable news is my Achilles Heel and I think it can affect me more than I know. Tom Brown PhD has a new (pricey) book called Outside the Box on the topic of how emotion ties to a host of executive aspects including motivation. Hopefully he can give a summary of that work on Totally ADD. 🙂

  5. utternutter says:

    This is a lovely page! So very me. I’m very frustrated as I was diagnosed with a Specific Learning Difficulty (Dyspraxia) years ago by a Dyspraxia psychologist but didn’t fit the usual patter (hence Dyspraxia in brackets) but he never suggested trying another route and I was clueless about SpLDs. I’ve done a lot of reading over the years and came nearly 100% on an ADHD test. (I’m 55 years old).

    My 17-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism by a charity, which assess free of charge, but the assessor won’t assess me as she says I know too much about SpLDs and it would skew the results. I understand that, but I’m so frustrated about my inadequate assessment. I’m a stickler for detail and get frustrated when things aren’t just so, so I’m flustered here! Plus, it would help my employer if I could get another assessment. Can you advise where I can go?

    Alexandra

  6. IanFromBarrie says:

    Too sensitive??!! I’m shocked, offended, hurt … and like that. Stopping and thinking before you go with your first emotional reaction has always seemed like a great idea. About 5 minutes after it would have been useful, that is. I used to teach stress management. Like so many of the helpful suggestions, those techniques are ones I know, but let slip. Habits, I need to develop habits to cope with emotional reactions. Take a breath, that’s the ticket. Thanks, Rick

  7. kshea says:

    I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 40s, and I didn’t realize the majority of people didn’t think the same way as me or suffer from lightning fast thoughts that are always just there. You touched on so many things that I can relate to, the driving, the over active imagination creating scenarios of doom, avoidance of horror. When I was a teen I would go to concerts and spend the whole time there worrying about train delays, towing of cars, fires. I never enjoyed the events and never once did a mob wreck my car while we were inside at the show lol.

  8. raph009 says:

    I never actually questionned that my reactions might be linked to ADHD. I just assumed that people were just uninvolved with everything and that they didn’t care about anything. I never understood why people said I was overreacting to stuff. I just ended up avoiding a lot of the unimportant things that made me upset and worry. Now, a lot of things makes more sense! Thank you! 🙂

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