Have you heard of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)? Many people with ADHD also have RSD which means they are more sensitive to things like smell, touch, taste and sound – even criticism.
This type of response can be both a blessing and a curse. While none of us want to be immune to the excitement of the world around us, being “extra” can be overwhelming for many people. Imagine being in a big city and being bombarded by every sound around you: Every car zooming by, every honk of the horn, every snippet of music blaring from a car window would feel heavy, stressful and suffocating. For highly sensitive people and/or those with RSD, the world can literally be unbearable at times.
What is RSD?
According to WebMD:
“When you have ADHD, your nervous system overreacts to things from the outside world. Any sense of rejection can set off your stress response and cause an emotional reaction that’s much more extreme than usual.”
Because people with ADHD often perceive ideas, situations and experiences differently, it can be frustrating for them to not “jive” with others who are in the same situation. What they perceive as reality is often not the reality of those around them. Add RSD to ADHD and life can become extremely debilitating and frustrating for someone already sensitive to criticism.
While some may be able to slough off small doses of negative feedback or criticism, those with rejection sensitivity dysphoria feel negativity more deeply and often have a very difficult time sloughing it off (if ever) or feel the presence of that criticism weighing on their shoulders for a long period of time.
The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
I’ve written about HSPs before. While I’m not a psychologist, social worker or counselor, I have researched and written a great deal about mental health and ADHD. I can see that there are many links between the two mental health facets.
If you are interested in the life of a highly sensitive person, I’m a fan of Dr. Elaine Aron and her HSP blog/site and resources. Please check it out if you wish – there is a tremendous amount of useful information available on her site.
Of course, there are good things about being sensitive to the world around you. While others might not notice a beautiful sunset, a favourite song playing in the background, a tiny animal hiding in tree or the way someone reacts in a crowd, those who are highly sensitive are more astute and will take note.
How Can We Help Those with RSD?
For both RSD and HSP, the following things may help:
- Medicine – Some children, teens and adults use pharmaceuticals which can be helpful. See an MD, psychologist or psychiatrist for more information.
- Yoga – Practicing yoga and meditation are highly encouraged for everyone. Both practices can relax the body and mind and make us more serene and resilient.
- Talk therapy – Speaking with a social worker or psychologist can be extremely rewarding if the right connections are made. Ask for referrals from guidance counselors, doctors, friends or neighbours. If possible, see the specialist first for an informal chat to see if you (or your child) and he or she hit it off. Even if the specialist is licensed, experienced and professional, he or she may not be the right fit for your family.
- Proper sleep and rest – I may sound like broken record here but regular, sound, healthy sleep is key to managing one’s life in a productive and positive way. If you or your child is exhausted, managing stress and criticism is going to be that much harder.
- Exercise – Like sleep, daily exercise (whether it’s running, ballet, yoga, hiking, biking, karate, gymnastics, dancing or something else) is critical to a healthy, happy life. We may not always feel like it, but getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day is important for our and our children’s mental and physical well-being.
Do you or your child have RSD or HSP? I’d love to hear about your stresses and successes managing these complex challenges. Feel free to write to me or comment here.