ADD Overview IV: Hyperarousal

Hyperarousal: a cognitive “idle” set too high!

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Fourth article in a 5-Part Series

Another darling Phillip Martin illustration!

Have you ever had a car that seemed to want to drive itself?

You know, like when you’re stopped at a traffic light on a perfectly flat road you have to keep your foot on the break pedal or the car will move forward, even if you don’t touch the accelerator?

And heaven help us all if you DO touch the accelerator!

That’s what mechanics call an “idle set too high.”  

That darn car is set
too darn ready to respond!

Fortunately, any half decent mechanic can quickly and easily recalibrate your car.

UNfortunately, even the best doctor in the entire universe can’t recalibrate your brain.  But YOU can.  That’s part of what the articles on this site are designed to help you do.

BUT FIRST you must become aware of what you’re facing.

The first step on the road to change is making the unconscious conscious.

  • We start by “rounding up the usual suspects” and naming them.
  • When we name unconscious behaviors, they immediately begin to lose their power.
  • We can’t change anything we can’t identify and NAME.

I use “ADD” to include AD/HD etc. Check out What’s in a Name for why.

Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.

Hyperarousal – what does it look like in action?

Emotional Hyperarousal

•  Over-sensitivity
•  Over-reactivity
•  Frequent feelings of disappointment, regret or guilt
•  Rapidly shifting moods
•  Difficulty controlling anger
•  Hot temper – temper tantrums
•  Episodic explosiveness
(in extreme cases, may include spousal and/or child abuse)
•  Unexplained irritability or frustration over seemingly minor  matters
•  Unexplained emotional negativity
•  Recurring depressive episodes

Physical Hyperarousal

•  Sexual impulsivity or “promiscuity”
•  Substance abuse or addiction
•  Eating disorders
•  Sleep Struggles and Disorders
•  Impulse buying
•  Feelings of restlessness or excessive activity
•  Fidgeting
•  Need for frequent breaks and/or pacing
(in situations where remaining in seat is expected)
•  Difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly
•  Strongly drawn to  “party animal” behavior
•  Feeling “driven”  as if  by a motor
•  Impatience – or difficulty waiting
•  Accident prone
•  Carelessly “clumsy” (bumping into table corners, etc.)
•  In children, temper tantrums may include hitting, biting, kicking
•  In adults, temper tantrums may include breaking things, door-slamming, screaming, overt “silent treatments” etc.

Verbal Hyperarousal

•  Talking excessively (too much, too loud, too fast)
•  Difficulty NOT talking
(in situations where remaining silent is expected)
•  Blurting out answers before questions have been completed
•  Butting in – comments to others engaged in activities or conversations
where there has been no invitation to participate
•  “Talking back”  to television or radio broadcasts (dialoguing)
•  Tactless (If it’s on their minds it’s out of their mouths)
•  Verbalizing thoughts they didn’t intend to say aloud
•  Verbal breakthough thinking

Cognitive Hyperarousal

• “Boggle
•  Cognitive shutdown in reaction to sensory overwhelm
•  Anxiety
•  Thoughts racing through the mind causing disorganization
•  Low frustration tolerance

The articles you will find here on explore the above symptoms further, offer brain-based explanations about why they’re happening, and give you a more than a few ideas about how to improve your functioning so that you can Learn to drive the very brain you were born with – even if it’s taken a few hits in the meantime!™

Keep coming back – and leave questions, aha!s or a few of YOUR tips and tricks
in the comments section at the bottom of each page.


As always,
if you want notification of new articles – in a particular series or category, or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too) STRICT No Spam Policy

If you’d like some one-on-one (or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), click the E-me link <—here (or on the menubar at the top of every page) and I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)


Articles in the ADD Overview series:

ADD Overview 101
ADD Overview II: Identifying Traits
ADD Overview III: Associated Features
ADD Overview IV: Hyperarousal
ADD Overview V: Red Flag Warnings

Related Articles Here on

 Articles in the Attention series:

Articles in the Executive Functioning series:

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

3 Responses to ADD Overview IV: Hyperarousal

  1. andy wolmer says:

    I feel like I have known you for years


  2. jeg700 says:

    Sensory Processing Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder, Hypersensitive, Hyperwhatever, they all mean pretty much the same thing; in addition to ADD/ADHD there is yet another disorder to link to you, SPD…perhaps we could have business-type cards made with letters added after our names i.e. jeg700 ADd,SPd? Would we be taken more seriously or would it be considered “self-deprecating” humour?:)


    • Yep! The difference between some of the terms is merely that of degree of impairment and the primary focus of the championing group.

      Sadly, after 20 years of non-stop ADD advocacy, I no longer believe that ANYTHING we could put on business cards or brochures or websites or FOREHEADS would make a difference to closed minds who already have an opinion sans research!! (We’d probably need t-shirts anyway – just to have room for them all.) Thanks for stopping by — keep in touch! I will too. Maybe if we BOTH set an intention to do so, ONE of us might actually remember to do it [lol]


And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

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