The Best Headphones for Highly Sensitive & Neurodivergent People

Restful Life
4 min read

Having sensory sensitivities as a highly sensitive or neurovdivergent person can be incredibly overwhelming.

It’s hard to describe to other people how much you feel everything.

Pleasure, pain, sound, smell, emotions, temperature, texture and fatigue are all experienced acutely. Often to the point where you can no longer compartmentalise and you become flooded and overstimulated.

Noisy commutes, crowded environments with cluttered sound, and overlapping conversations can be some of the most draining stimuli of all.

And with so much noise in the world, managing your sensory input is a full time job.

That’s why active noise-cancelling headphones are one of the best self care tools a neurodivergent person can have.

How Noise Cancelling Headphones Work

Headphones that cover the ears can help block a lot of sound. But active noise cancelling headphones block external sound completely.

This is because a small battery powers a very subtle low hum, that cancels out background noise.

Here’s how.

All sound travels in waves. Including noise. And noise-cancellation is based on the principle of wave phase cancellation.

Waves that are 180 degrees out of phase, or inverted from one another cancel out when added together.

It’s like adding 1 to -1 and ending up with zero.

Equation with wavy lines & a flat line demonstrating how wave phase cancellation works

Inside noise-cancelling headphones are a small microphone, a processor and a speaker.

The microphone hears the background noise, the processor inverts the noise signal to create “anti-noise”, and then adds it to your headphones’ speaker.

By the time this sound reaches your ear? The background noise is reduced to almost silence. And all you hear is music.

Illustration of sound waves, a speaker and an ear demonstrating how noise cancelling headphones work

You don’t really hear the hum of the “anti-noise” sound wave created by the headphones. You simply notice that the outside world is much, much quieter.

Here’s why noise-cancelling headphones are the best headphones for HSP & ND

1. Your commute will be quieter

Noise-cancelling headphones help you block out all the loud, overwhelming, distracting, conflicting sounds of an urban environment. Which means you have less noise to process.

Less processing means your nervous system won’t become overwhelmed as quickly as it would without headphones. You’ll arrive at work more energised, and arrive home less drained.

2. You’ll be able to rest

Woman sitting on a couch with headphones on and her eyes closed, smiling

Noise-cancelling headphones are particularly good for people with sound sensitivity because they block out annoying drones like plane engines. When you’re travelling for a long time, especially long haul flights, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones will be a life saver.

You’ll be processing less background noise, and letting your brain and nervous system get a well needed rest.

3. You’ll be less distracted

By not being distracted by all the sounds around you, you’ll be able to concentrate better with any task you’re doing. Or alternatively, you can relax into a quiet, contemplative atmosphere and drown out any conflicting conversations or irritating noises.

Instead of having to crank the volume on your device (which damages your ears), you can soften into the cocoon of your own enjoyment.

4. You can experience the meditones effect

Meditones® help you produce calm brain waves effortlessly. However you can only experience their full effect when you hear them with headphones.

This is because meditones aren’t processed in the brain like normal sound. When you use headphones, the left and right hemispheres of the brain work in unison to create calm brain waves. Similar to ones you produce during relaxation and sleep.

[Illustration of a person wearing headphones listening to Theta meditones at 4 Hz]

Meditones stimulate the whole brain to function at an optimal calm state. But if you listen to them in speakers, you can move your head around and cancel out the therapeutic meditones effect.

Combined with ambient music, meditones are the perfect tool for quickly calming down. The technical term for meditones is binaural beats and their results are completely backed by science.

But all you need to remember is that they make you calm without you having to do a thing. Just listen with headphones, and the meditones effect occurs naturally and easily.

Ready to invest in your own noise-cancelling headphones? Here are some tips for when you’re ready to buy

  • Do your research. There are a lot of brands who create active noise-cancelling headphones. Check which brands are in your budget. Read reviews and decide which features are the most important to you.
  • Try before you buy. Bring your audio device (phone, iPod, iPad) to the store and try several headphones using your own music. Brands will often have testing stations that play their own sound. However, you’ll get a much better idea of how the headphones sound if you use music you listen to often.
  • They aren’t a magic pill. Noise-cancelling headphones are a real lifesaver in a lot of situations. However, even the best headphones aren’t a substitute for consistent self-care; having good boundaries; and learning to become a calmer person.