Saturday, December 28, 2013


  • Do you cut your skin until it bleeds or pull your hair until it comes out? 
  • Do you have low muscle tone that makes moving seem an effort?
If so, your cutting or hair pulling may not be psychiatric but physical -- a result of sensory processing disorder (SPD). 

Cutting your skin or pulling out your hair is considered a psychiatric disorder whose purpose is to distract you from intense emotional pain. Apparently it does so by releasing endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, rapidly reducing tension. Some have described the feeling afterwards as a “calm, bad feeling.” 

But cutting or pulling serves another purpose:  it helps you get in touch with your body. For this reason, cutting is common with people with sensory processing disorder (SPD). 

Those with SPD tend to either feel things to intensely and are hypersensitive, or feel too little and are under-sensitive to sensation and experience sensory deprivation.  Cutting, pulling, skin-picking etc. is basically a self-stimming behavior that calms the body by regulating internal sensory input. Why choose this route to self-regulate? Hands, scalp, and face have many nerve endings. And though it might seem counter-intuitive to seek sensation if you experience things too intensely, the body in overload will go into a state of numbness for protection – the same as it does when traumatized. A sudden wham of sensation where you have the most nerve endings will snap you out of the deadness.

Those with SPD who are under-sensitive to sensation are especially likely to use cutting etc. for self-stimming. Under-sensitivity typically goes hand in hand with having low muscle tone (think non-muscular, fleshy or floppy) and poor body awareness, which puts you at high risk for depression. Under severe emotional turmoil, you may feel emotionally frozen and cut off from your body. Cutting your skin or pulling out your hair provides intense skin sensation and pressure that helps you re-connect with your body and know you are alive and okay.

Cutting may also give you an increased sense of mastery and control for those who feel out of control and powerless to change their circumstances or experiences – an all too common mindset of those with SPD and especially for those who have suffered the dysfunction for their whole lives. 

Of course, there are better ways to get in touch with your body. Deep pressure touch, as in a bear hug or massage increases body awareness as does “heavy work” – exercise that heavily engages the joints and muscles, like uphill biking, working out with weights, or carrying heavy groceries or your child.
For more information, see Uptight & Off Center

Monday, December 23, 2013

Is It Bipolar Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

  • Have you been diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

  • Are you hypersensitive to noise, bright light, odors and light touch?

If you answered yes to both questions, your hypersensitivity may be driving your depression and bouts of mania and you appear bipolar, a psychiatric mood disorder. 
If you are acutely hypersensitive to sensation, a condition called sensory defensiveness, sensory overload can cause impulsive, frantic, aggressive, and even violent behavior and make you appear manic. When you cannot escape the overload, you shut down and appear depressed. At the severe level especially, you vacillate from meltdown (mania) to shutdown (depression).

Or you may have bipolar disorder that is exacerbated by sensory issues. For instance, auditory processing problems are common in bipolar disorder, as is oversensitivity to smell, taste, texture, types of touch, and movement. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

SPD & Space Related Phobias

Do you experience any of the following? 

  • Claustrophobia
  • Fear of flying
  • Fear heights, enclosed spaces or wide open vistas
  • Fear falling, especially on uneven surfaces
  • Dislike bending upside down or having your head backward
  • Dislike rapid, sudden or rotating movements

 If so, think twice before you run to a psychiatrist to get Zoloft or Xanax. These space related fears are less likely to come from fearful thoughts running through your head than from hypersensitivity to movement or gravitational insecurity, a severe reaction to change in head position, especially sudden
Gravitational insecurity results from an overloaded balance system (the vestibular system located in the inner ear) trying to process too many sensations at once and creates dizziness, vertigo, light-headedness, or nausea. It creates as well fear and anxiety as the slightest movement registers in the brain as “Falling!” Everyday activities like bending forward to change a sheet, bending backward to get your hair washed or turning your head while driving can feel traumatic. Unsteady on your feet, you are also accident prone, further increasing spatial insecurity and fear.
 Such fears can start with or escalate to panic attack as vestibular dysfunction involves the same symptoms as panic attack: 

  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Vertigo
  • Depersonalization
  • Floating sensations
  • Imbalance
  • Falling
  • Nausea