Hyperactivity / Impulsivity

What is it?

  • With ADHD executive functioning differences, the brain has a different ability to regulate self-action. This is what leads to impulsivity and hyperactivity. The brain’s ability to pause between the thought and action, known as response inhibition, is different, which can lead to impulsive actions and a sense of restlessness.
  • Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist and specialist in ADHD, describes this element of the ADHD brain as a Ferrari with bicycle breaks.
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity are often understood to be associated with risky decision-making or a constant need to be on the move. They are also linked to the ADHD experience of hypersensitivity to emotions – the feeling of being quick to irritation, highly sensitive to others’ needs, and a sense that emotions can be overwhelming.
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity have also been shown to be related to ADHDers’ sense of adventure, spontaneity, entrepreneurship, and creativity.
  • Like all ADHD traits, there are many strengths of impulsivity and hyperactivity, as well as challenges that can come with them. It might be helpful to think about the different types of Minds that are proposed by a type of psychological intervention called Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, as connecting with our Minds can help us learn strategies for supporting our impulsivity and hyperactivity.
    • Logical Mind: A state of mind that is based on facts, reason, and logic. Emotions are not taken into consideration – looking at things analytically. Can be good for planning, researching, making decisions, analysing, control, grounding, learning skills.
    • Emotional Mind: A state of mind during which our emotions influence our behaviour and thoughts. In the emotional mind, it can be hard to access the logical mind and we can act impulsively. Can be good for passion, motivation, creativity, empathy, adapting, relationships, and communication.
    • Wise Mind: A state of mind that combines both the logical mind and the emotional mind. We respect and listen to both, which can help us to pause when we are feeling excessively restless and before we make an impulsive action. Can be good for communicating, making decisions, responding to events and situations, relationships, and balance.


What can I do about it?

  • The Wise Mind feels different for everyone. Some people will experience it as a gut feeling in their belly, sometimes people can find it by connecting to their breath or getting a sense that they’ve stepped back from a situation and take a pause. It might be helpful to start to connect with what the Wise Mind feels like for you – you could try to take a few days and set an alarm for the same time each day. How are you experiencing the moment? Observe your thoughts and emotions. Don’t judge them as right or wrong, just observe and describe it by writing it down. At the end of the day, do you see a pattern? Have you learned anything about yourself? No matter what the experience you had, allow yourself to let go of all that happened. Let go of the judgments. Be in the moment.
  • Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to help support impulsivity and hyperactivity. This is because with mindfulness, the brain is learning to come off autopilot and take a pause by returning to the present moment. With mindfulness, we learn to notice our feelings, reactions, thoughts, and any sensations happening in our body. Observe what is happening without any judgement or criticism. Happify have a very helpful video on how mindfulness is helpful, which you can view by clicking on this link to YouTube *here*. You might like to use our Mindful Breaks as part of your mindfulness practices.
  • Approach your experiences with curiosity and compassion. If you experience your impulsivity or hyperactivity in a way that’s difficult or challenging, you can investigate it like a curious and kind scientist. Ask yourself: ‘What is this reaction trying to tell me?’ or ‘What do I need right now?/What did I need in that moment?’ These reflections should be caring and compassionate, as if you were talking to your friend.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed or distressed, you can remember STOP so you can proceed mindfully and intentionally:
    • Stop and pause.
    • Take a step back, walk away and take a deep breath.
    • Observe & notice your surroundings and how you feel
    • Proceed mindfully – what can you do?
  • Stress can increase hyperactivity and impulsivity. You might be having a tough time at work or at home and it is affecting your symptoms. Make sure to treat yourself with kindness and give yourself time to relax and de-stress. The HSE run a stress control class that you might find helpful. You can find out more information about this programme by clicking this link *here*.