Behavioral Symptoms

Hyperactivity: Anxiety Cause and Symptom

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Hyperactivity: Anxiety Cause and Symptom

Hyperactivity is caused by a feeling of needing to be active. Often it's described as feeling an extra rush of unused energy that you feel the desire to use.

It's like what happens when you put brand new batteries in a children's toy - the toy, flush with new energy, works better and more actively than it did when the batteries were fading. Except in this case it's as though you're putting in more powerful batteries than the toy is made for.

Being "hyper" is a common symptom of a variety of conditions. Even happiness can make one hyper. But it may also be a symptom of anxiety, and in some cases can actually cause anxiety itself.

Recognizing Hyperactivity as a Problem

Hyperactivity is a subjective feeling, so it's not always clear that it's a problem on its own. Some people simply feel more active. Others feel a compulsion to be incredibly active and "hyper" in a way that is extremely disruptive.

Focus first on your anxiety, not on your hyperactivity. If controlling your anxiety stops your hyperactivity, then it's clear that it was a problem.

Anxiety Creating Hyperactivity

Anxiety can absolutely cause hyperactivity. Now, anxiety cannot cause ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That is a separate disorder that we will discuss later in the article. But anxiety can absolutely create a feeling of needing to move and be active.

One of the clear reasons is because anxiety rushes the body with adrenaline, which is the body's way of creating extra energy. That adrenaline is normally released to keep you safe from harm - for example, getting the kind of energy you need to run away from a predator.

But since with anxiety there are no predators, it can make the body feel anxious and fidgety, as though you absolutely need to move and do something. For some people, hyperactivity may actually become its own coping mechanism, where the person tries to complete multiple projects at once or engage in activities so that they no longer have to think about their stresses. It can actually be fairly effective, although too much and the person can feel drained or overwhelmed.

Note: Hyperactivity is not the same as mania, which is common in bipolar disorder. Mania involves extreme elation and disjointed thinking, which is a separate condition.

Physical Hyperactivity

One of the reasons the term "hyperactivity" is complicated is because not all hyperactivity is a feeling. In some cases, it can be a body part that appears overactive, or the person does behaviors that are indicative of excess body activity.

For example, fidgeting in one's seat or chair - something that is extremely common with anxiety - is considered hyperactivity, and it relates back to the adrenaline and the way the body copes with stress The difference is that the person may not realize they're doing it. Same thing with walking around. Walking is actually a great tool for stress, and the need to walk may relate to your body telling you that you're anxious.

Furthermore, hyperactivity is used to describe body parts that are overactive. In fact, the release of adrenaline from your glands is known as a "hyperactive gland," so one might say that all anxiety is the result of hyperactivity in some sense. Not all medical terms have such clear definitions because they're used to describe different scenarios, but many "Hyperactive" issues relate to anxiety.

ADHD Creating Anxiety

While anxiety can cause these feelings of hyperactivity, it is not the same as ADHD. ADHD is a disorder where an individual is hyperactive due to a "need" rather than as a coping mechanism for stress.

Many children appear to suffer from ADHD - though it may be misdiagnosed since children always have natural energy - but some adults go on to have ADHD as well. ADHD can actually cause anxiety itself, because the condition can lead to a general unease that may develop into anxiety symptoms.

Reducing Anxiety Hyperactivity

If you believe that you're suffering from ADHD, talk to your doctor first. ADHD and anxiety are not the same condition, so they would require different treatments.

But note that anxiety really does create hyperactivity of its own - in many different ways. And remember, not all hyperactivity is "bad." Walking around when you're anxious is actually a great coping tool. Adrenaline really does make your body need to move, and so actually getting up and moving isn't necessarily a problem.

Yet clearly it's also a sign that your anxiety has gotten out of control, so it's in your best interests to do whatever it takes to stop your anxiety from continuing.

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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