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ADHD and Everyday Impatience

One of the things I noticed when I first tried ADHD meds was a difference in my reaction to everyday situations that required waiting.

Standing in line at the grocery store, navigating a crowded sidewalk, or listening to your friend finish their train of thought in conversation – these might not seem like moments that would provoke a mental health epiphany, but I really was struck by how differently my brain responded to these situations.

ImpatientOn meds: “OK, I’m waiting for X to happen.”

Off meds: “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up.”

In its natural state, my brain simply anticipates that whatever the next it’s expecting to happen is, that thing should happen now. On meds, my brain eases up and is a little more accepting that things will happen whenever they happen.

I’m calling this “everyday impatience” because it expresses itself most clearly in little day-to-day tasks. I end up doing things a little too fast because my brain expects that it should be able to move on to whatever’s next immediately.

Sometimes this symptom can be annoying for other people. I think it’s part of the reason people with ADHD have a tendency to interrupt others in conversation.

Other times, it’s not such a big problem. For example, whether I’m on meds or not, I still have to wait in line at the grocery store. But I think the difference in how my brain reacts to that situation on vs. off meds is an interesting barometer for my ADHD symptoms.

Speaking of the ADHD brain, some psychologists have actually looked at how the ADHD brain responds to waiting and found some interesting patterns.

Interestingly, one study found that when people without ADHD are forced to wait for something, activity in a specific part of the brain, the right amygdala, tends to decrease over time. For people with ADHD, the opposite is true – the longer they wait, the more activity in that region on the brain increases. On top of that, how much activity in that part of the brain increases is correlated with delay aversion, a tendency to prefer getting smaller rewards sooner rather than larger rewards later.

So what do these findings mean? According to the researchers: “These results support the notion of an exacerbated negative emotional state during the anticipation and processing of delay in ADHD.”

Now, I can tell you that I’ve never related more strongly to such a technical-sounding sentence in my life! I’ve been calling it “everyday impatience,” but I think “an exacerbated negative emotional state during the anticipation and processing of delay” fits the bill quite nicely!

Do you have trouble waiting? Are you a little lacking on the virtue of patience? Do you have too much activity in your right amygdala when experiencing delays? Please share your perspective below!

Image: Flickr/Maciej Wisniewski

ADHD and Everyday Impatience

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). ADHD and Everyday Impatience. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 13, 2018, from


Last updated: 22 Sep 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Sep 2017
Published on All rights reserved.