Symptom Tests

[Self-Test] Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?

Emotional hyperarousal is common among children and adults with ADHD — but its symptoms of intense, quickly shifting emotions are rarely recognized by clinicians or included in diagnostic tests. Use this self-test to determine if you may be experiencing symptoms of emotional hyperarousal, and bring the results to a medical professional to explore your treatment options.

What Is Emotional Hyperarousal? What Does It Look Like in People with ADHD?

The physical hyperactivity so often associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — jumping on the couch, barreling across the playground, or talking without a pause for 10 minutes straight — is far from universal. In fact, this external symptom occurs in only one quarter of children and 5 percent of adults with the condition. The vast majority of people with ADHD instead experience hyperactivity as an internal feeling of hyperarousal — they can’t turn off their whirring, overactive brains. This symptom often manifests as extreme emotions, a condition known as emotional hyperarousal.

People with emotional hyperarousal have passionate thoughts, reactions, and feelings that are more intense than those of the average person. In other words, their highs are higher and their lows are lower — which means people with ADHD often experience both happiness and criticism more powerfully than everyone else. This can make them appear overly sensitive and be off-putting to those around them — which, in turn, can do deep, long-term damage to their self-esteem.

Most clinicians are trained to recognize the intense emotions that come with mood disorders, yet they are wholly unfamiliar with the emotional symptoms of ADHD — particularly emotional hyperarousal. Take the results of this self-test to your doctor to discuss your emotional symptoms and a treatment plan that can help.

Do you feel like you can’t relax, even on weekends and vacation?

Do you feel like you can’t rid your brain of a certain thought or idea when you want to?

Do you feel like you’re thinking about 5 things at once?

Do you feel like you experience emotions differently — more intensely, more suddenly, more unpredictably — than the people around you?

Do you have meltdowns or blow-ups, or have to be "talked off the ledge" when you are overwhelmed by your emotional responses? Do others "walk on eggshells” around you?

Do those around you complain that they can’t understand your reactions, or can’t “keep up” with your ever-changing emotions?

Do you experience low self-esteem as a result of your hyperactive emotions?

Do you struggle to fall asleep because you can’t get comfortable or stop thoughts that bounce from one concern and worry to another?

Are you unaware of how physically active you are (bouncing your leg, fidgeting, drumming your fingers, etc.)?

Do you feel especially sensitive to rejection, teasing, criticism, or the perception that you have failed or fallen short?

When you experience feelings of extreme happiness, anger, or sadness, do you feel like your emotions flare up out of nowhere — and then resolve themselves just as quickly?

Do you not see your mood shifts coming and get "blindsided" by your own emotions?

Do you feel (or have you been told directly) that your intense emotions make you “weird” or “different?”

As an adult, do you feel like a child who is "faking" being a real adult due to your uncontrolled emotions?

When attempting to do something quiet and mindless, like watching a TV show with your family, do you find yourself getting up, fiddling with your phone, or doing anything other than focusing on the TV?

Before being diagnosed with ADHD, were you told you might have a mood disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or borderline character disorder?

Have your strong and uncontrolled mood shifts damaged personal relationships or career prospects?

(Optional) Would you like to receive your Emotional Hyperarousal symptom test results — plus more helpful resources — via email from ADDitude?

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Emotional Hyperarousal in Adults: Next Steps

1. Take This Test: Do I Have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?
2. Take This Test: Symptoms of ADHD in Women
3. Learn More: The 3 Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks
4. Download: 15 Ways to Disarm (and Understand) ADHD Emotions
5. Take This Test: OCD in Adults
6. Read the ADDitude eBook “9 Conditions Often Diagnosed with ADHD”