Hypersensitivity can occur during bipolar depressive or manic episodes.
While NOT everyone diagnosed with bipolar disorder experiences hypersensitivity, this condition, which is significantly lacking in research, typically occurs during bipolar manic episodes when everything the person is thinking and feeling becomes amplified.
Hypersensitivity can mean that you find that harsh artificial lights set you on edge or odors that usually don’t bother you are forcing you to leave the room. Some people even report that their hands are extremely sensitive, while others feel like they are constantly on the alert for “perceived” threats.1
Bipolar and Hypersensitivity
Hypersensitivity is not a biological condition. Instead, it is defined as a coping style or an unofficial symptom that many people experience during mania. It refers to how you handle the annoyance: Are you able to become bothered, but then let it go and move on or does the stimulus bother you to the extent that you perseverate on it and have difficulty controlling your emotional reaction?
It is often confused with being “highly sensitive” or HSP (highly sensitive person/people), which is a biological condition. The primary noticeable difference between the conditions is that highly sensitive people are constantly bothered by certain stimuli, while hypersensitivity can come and go with your changing moods.
If you are already coping with bipolar disorder symptoms the addition of external stimuli can be too much to handle at times. Intense feelings of rage, frustration or even pain are common, and coping with this on top of depression or mania can be overwhelming.
Bipolar hypersensitivity can take many forms, but the most common studied is Hyperacusis, an aversion to loud noise.
Hyperacusis and Bipolar Disorder
The American Psychiatric Association recognized Hyperacusis in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed.” Hyperacusis can be caused by many conditions that may include bipolar disorder. It occurs when there is a neurological error, causing the brain to have a negative reaction to loud or jarring noises.
Often this can be too much to handle and all you can think about is avoiding or escaping the situation. This is when your anxiety takes over and you forget every one of your coping mechanisms. Whether this occurs during a manic or depressive episode, it is usually overwhelming and the accompanying reaction is intense.
Though researchers haven’t identified an exact cause or positively linked it to bipolar disorder, some of the triggers thought to be associated with Hyperacusis include,
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise
- Certain medical conditions
- Some medications
It is important to note that Hyperacusis is NOT the same as Misophonia. Suffers of Misophonia have an extreme negative reaction to ONLY a specific noise, not loud sounds in general.2
Living with Bipolar Disorder and Noise Sensitivity
Whether your noise sensitivity occurs during mania or depression, it can be painful. While escaping to a quiet, safe place will probably be at the top of your list, it is not always possible.
You can’t let your condition control your life. You still have responsibilities, even if the loud noises are making it impossible to concentrate and focus.
Instead of letting your emotions take over, which rarely turns out positive, here are 5 ways to help you cope with your hypersensitivity to noise.
Recognize your hypersensitivity
It’s okay if loud noises make you anxious. This is the first step in coping with your hypersensitivity. The additional stress you are putting on yourself, worrying about your sensitivity, is only making the situation worse. Accept the situation and remind yourself that you are facing the problem, instead of just reacting to it.
Always be prepared
Your therapist, counselor, friends and family are part of your support group. Use them to help you work out a plan so you are prepared the next time loud noises start to become unbearable. If you do need to leave and take some time alone, don’t feel embarrassed. Chances are it is better than staying, and potentially losing control.
Know what your triggers are
Everyone’s triggers are different. If you don’t know what yours are, it will be impossible to avoid potentially problematic situations or find effective solutions. Some that I have found to be helpful when loud noises become too much are,
- Wearing noise-cancelling earbuds
- Installing a white noise app on my smartphone
Some people have also mentioned that listening to something that they enjoy can help them block out the annoying noise. A white noise machine can also take the place of the app.
Check your current mood
As soon as you start to feel bothered by loud noise, check your current mood. How you respond will depend on your mood, and determine your best course of action.
Identify the source
Simply identifying the source of the aggravating noise can help you keep your emotions under control. If it is a scenario where you can remove yourself from the situation or possibly slip on a pair of headphones, then this is definitely the course to take. When the sounds are caused by another person, the first thing to ask yourself is if it is being done intentionally to bother others. Chances are the answer is “no,” and just taking a few seconds to realize this can be enough for you to regain at least some control.
Find a “quiet zone”
You should already have a “quiet zone” identified at home. This is a safe place, free from noise, where you can breathe and work at regaining control. It is also a good idea to have a few places around the neighborhood where you can find this same quiet, alone time. Some of my favorites include libraries and secluded parks. Places of worship can also be a quiet sanctuary.
Refocus your attention
It’s hard to refocus your attention when loud noises are causing pain, but it can help you keep control. Your support group can help and try to divert your attention, but if they’re not around, concentrate on thinking about something that you enjoy. Sometimes just trying to focus is enough to make you stop thinking about the loud noise for a few minutes.
Living with Bipolar and Noise Sensitivity
For some people hypersensitivity comes with their bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have to control their lives.
Remember to use your coping techniques, take advantage of your support group and work out a plan of action with your therapist. Being prepared is the best way to deal with hypersensitivity, and bipolar disorder. If your anxiety does take over or you lose control of your emotions, don’t be too hard on yourself. No one is perfect.