ADHD and Emotions: Why Do I Overreact?

A question for the adult with ADHD: Do you really hate when things change?  Are you like me, emotionally sensitive?  Oversensitive?  Prone to overreact?  Outbursts of panic or anger?   Once you finally figure something out, are you hugely upset when it gets changed, discontinued, or is only available in the “new and improved” version? 

 “Ugh, I have to learn how to use the newest version of this software?” 

“Oh no!  There’s a line up!   And a 20 minute wait!” 

Or, “What, make rice crispy squares in a different way?  Why?!”

Instantly I’m a crabby two-year old, or a miserable old coot.   “I just want the software to do what it used to do.”  And then I want to be able to comfort myself with a nice rice crispy square!  Or three. 

When there is change, my instant and automatic reaction is “Why?!” even if it is an improvement, which it almost always is.


Even just hearing about a change that I didn’t ask for is upsetting.  And to be honest, I never ask for anything to change.  Which is why my wardrobe is ‘timeless’.  Timeless being circa 1978. 

Just to be clear, like most adults with ADHD, I do love new things, novelty, experimenting… but only when I choose it.

Don’t you dread software updates?  Our energy and enthusiasm, which can be mercurial at the best of times, wilts.  “Oh great, another mystery I have to unravel?!”  My mom would have said I was in a snit, or a tizzy.  Sweet, but it doesn’t do justice to the sudden riptide of negative emotion sucking me under.  Sometimes for an hour or much longer.

That’s the problem with being “hyper-sensitive” and “over-reacting”.  It’s one thing to feel things; good or bad, but when my reaction is way out of proportion, and takes me out of the game of life, it’s a problem.  And one I’ve worked on. 


As I work on this, what’s most surprising has been the discovery that yes, I can tone down my emotional reactions.  Sure, that first nano-second of “Uh oh!  Danger!  Red Alert!” is impossible to avoid.  Adults with ADHD are prone to anger, it’s how our brains are wired.

You’ve heard of the “Flight or Fight” response?  It’s a survival tool.  Long before incoming information from our five senses reach the logical part of the brain, the Pre-Frontal Cortex, it goes through a very nervous alarm system called the Amygdala.  (By the way, these are both parts of the brain implicated in ADHD.)

It’s the moments after my initial, subconscious, or pre-conscious reaction, the shock and alarm and “What?!  Seriously?!” which lasts a second or two, where I can catch myself and notice that my body is reacting.  Not always.  But more often.  I’m getting better at it.  I’m able to notice that I’m flushed, upset, my heart rate rising, starting to panic, anger is erupting… these seconds are critical. 

My budding over-reaction can be nipped it in the bud.   That’s the moment to take a deep breath.  Or three. 

While I’m taking those deep breaths, I tell myself things like, ‘It’s never as bad as it seems.  Listen.  Wait and see.  It’s not the end of the world.  It never is.  This may actually be a good thing.  And someone else can deal with it.”  Maybe the new version of the software is actually much better.  The company didn’t spend millions updating it to make it harder to use.

Maybe chocolate chips will improve the rice crispy squares.


To be clear, I don’t want to become insensitive, unfeeling, or robotic.  I’m just tired of “over-reacting.”  It inevitably costs me : energy, motivation, and even my credibility, both personal and professional.

How about you?  Do you tend to overreact?  Do folks complain, You’re way to sensitive.  And how does over-reacting affect your life? 

This is such a hot-button topic, let’s take a break, calm down, take a few deep breaths and some rice crispy squares, and in my next blog, I’ll get into how to manage emotions and feelings without suppressing, denying, or becoming numb. 

Sorry?  What?  You don’t like rice crispy squares?

OH MY GAAAAWDDD!  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!  I CAN’T EVEN, I MEAN, SERIOUSLY!  WHAT THE…  (Deep breath…. And another… And one more…)

So, what snacks do you prefer?”



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  1. Avatar
    pdreywood September 8, 2019 at 6:24 am

    Understanding that this aversion to change is part of ADD’s territory is half the battle won. Anger isn’t obvious when you direct it at yourself. Pre-diagnosis, I recall going long periods with what I dubbed a ‘negative charge’ and arguing with myself that there was no reason to feel this way but, of course, that did no good at all. Neither did a few rounds of anti-depressants through those years but once this little beastie had a name put to it, we could start to move forward. I learned to ‘de-personalize’ the emotion so I could look at the event that caused it and tell myself “What’s the big deal? No lives are at stake”. That was pretty successful at calming the beast until I got a job where lives were at stake. This is tougher, but once you figure out there’s a valid reason for the anger, or panic, you’re in a good position to address it. The way I figure, anger is energy. You can either dissipate it, turn it inward (not so great), or use it. The next challenge is whether you are using this power for good or for evil but if you’ve managed to steer it to this point, you can likely see what the outcome to your actions will be. I haven’t mastered this strategy-far from it-but just having a plan of action to turn to is a tremendous relief and has given me the feeling of having a bit more control over how I live my life. But chocolate chips in rice krispie treats? That’s just wrong.

  2. Avatar

    Such a great share, Pdreywood!
    It is amazing to depersonalize it, as you say, to understand there is a reason the other person is upset, angry, suspicious, or acting prickly. People do things for a reason, and the standard, “Oh, he must be crazy…” or “She’s just nuts…” or “Those people are idiots…” doesn’t serve them or you. It’s just easier than taking a moment to find out what’s going on for the other person. It feels safer and simpler to just write people off, but you learn nothing, develop no insight, and, if it goes on long enough, becomes your default position on everyone and everything that rankles. Which leaves you friendless.
    I wrote ‘alone and friendless’ but you probably won’t be alone. You’ll be surrounded by a small circle of people who do the same thing. And then minute you’re not there, guess who is being dismissed and demolished.
    You mention being in a job where lives are at stake. That’s common with ADHD. I’m giving a talk soon to Paramedic Association’s annual conference, after a Paramedic heard me talk about “Invisible Disabilities” at the Invictus Games in Toronto, and came up afterwards to talk about his own ADHD and how common it is among First Responders.
    At some point I’d love to talk to Fire Fighters, Police groups, the military, and groups who work in “high-stimulation” fields.
    And I agree, chocolate chips are for cookies. For krispie treats, I’d be willing to consider some bits of pretzel.

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