Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Why Do I Freak Out About Cotton Wool/Nails On Chalkboards?

Why Do I Freak Out About Cotton Wool/Nails On Chalkboards?

The Debrief: Nails down a chalkboard? Cotton wool? Flumps? We've all got stuff that makes us cringe.

Nails on a chalkboard. Cotton wall balls. Dried poster paint on paper (just me?). There are certain things that make certain people cringe out for seemingly no reason at all, but what’s actually happening in your brain when you take that cotton pad out of the bag? And why do you get that weird, almost painful, shiver up and down your spine? 

What is it?

Sensory Processing Disorder is when the sensory processes in your brain don’t get organised into the appropriate responses. It’s really common in those with Asperger’s or Autism, and is often found in children with special needs as they're acclimatising to this new world of textures and materials. If you’ve got neither Autism nor Asperger’s, and aren’t a child with special needs, but freak out a bit when you hold chalk, you’ve still technically got a tiny, tiny neurological imbalance. There’s hardly any research done on isolated tactile sensitivity, also known as tactile defensiveness, also known as ‘I’m totally fine until someone rubs a chalkboard with their bare hand’ but it’s pretty much universally recognised as a common and benign form of mental disorder. Like how not being able to get out of bed until the time is a ‘proper time’ (If a mate of mine wakes up at 7.03am, she can’t leave the bed until 7.05am), or freaking out if your shoes aren’t in order is technically a tiny hint of OCD. But it doesn’t mean you have obsessive compulsive disorder, just that you’re leaning towards it a little more than those who DGAF. Don’t worry though - if you can’t deal with astro turf, that doesn’t mean you're ill. It’s only if it starts taking over your life that you need to worry. 

Why do certain sounds freak me out? 

It's still a bit of a mystery. While there has been a lot of research into nails down a chalkboard - not a lot has been done for those who can’t stand the sound of sandpaper rubbing together, for example. With the classic chalkboard, some have speculated it replicates the sound of teeth being ground down and, evolutionarily speaking, we need to preserve our teeth to eat food (obviously) which is why we freak out. Or it sounds like bones breaking. Or, even more simply, it sounds like the nails are going to come off - which makes sense as to why this would then freak us out. With other sounds, they’re more often than not linked to a physiological issue - the nerves in your ears may be overexcited or you might have hyperacusis (where loud noises in general hurt your ears) - or, alternatively, they remind you subconsciously of something really painful. Sandpaper, for example, might make you subconsciously think of having your skin sandpapered down. Sorry, that’s gross. But makes sense as to why you’d cringe from it. 

What can I do to stop it?

You can’t really. Soz. There's a lot of help available if you're unable to cope with your life due to sensory overload, but if it’s just one or two textures or sounds that you can’t handle, then that’s fairly normal. If there becomes more and more that you’re unable to deal with until you’re getting freaked out by your own duvet, then it’s a good idea to go see your doctor who can refer you to a specialist. Like with a lot of slight neurological tics, they can grow without you realising and are able to be controlled with the right toolbox. As I mentioned before, everything is totally fine unless you are unable to live your life. Then go get help immediately. 

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

Illustration: Laura Heckford 

Tags: Ask An Adult