Six Powerful Ways to Regulate ADHD and Intense Emotions
When you live with ADHD you may feel your emotions more strongly and react to them more immediately and more intensely. You may be experiencing challenges managing your emotions that are wearing down your ability to concentrate and problem-solve.
For the ADHD brain, highs can be experienced as higher, and low’s experienced as lower than in a more neurotypical brain. Strengths, such as creativity and humor, can have a hand in spirited and exciting adventures. At the same time, emotions, like anger, or irritability can be difficult to overcome and be tough on relationships.
Emotions and The ADHD Brain
Stress is also a major factor influencing emotion management. When we’re stressed or triggered, our brain releases stress hormones so we can react quickly to danger. These stress hormones literally flood our brains, so that we can react quickly to danger, overpowering our ability to respond in a calm and composed way.
In a neurotypical brain, the frontal lobe releases neurotransmitters that act like a gateway, filtering out released stress hormones so we can regulate ourselves when confronting a stressful situation.
In the ADHD brain, this neurotransmitter gateway isn’t operating effectively, which gives rise to problems regulating and an opening of the floodgates for emotional outbursts. That being so, kids and adults with ADHD experience passionate thoughts and reactions that are more powerful than others.
Here are six powerful ways to regulate intense emotions so you can problem-solve and have more peace when you live with ADHD.
ADHD can lead to impulsive thinking, where one may latch onto the first thing that comes to mind, making it difficult to see different perspectives. When overwhelmed with multiple thoughts and ideas, it makes it tough to problem-solve.
When you're intensely involved with a feeling, ask yourself:
• What's another way of looking at this?
• What’s really true about this?
• What’s the story I’m telling myself?
• What are some other options?
When going into a stressful situation, prepare how to respond to what someone may say or do. If there is a sensitive topic that might be discussed, prepare in advance how you can respond.
When preparing for a new or stressful activity, stop and think beyond the immediate to make sure you have everything you need.
• You're going on a job interview and you're excited and nervous. Pause and think, and make sure you have everything you need, such as your wallet, keys, resume, directions, and a full tank of gas.
• Prepare some general scripts for sensitive topics that may be triggering. Talk them through with someone close to you.
Assume Best Intentions
Assume the person you’re reacting to is doing their best, especially when you’re reacting to people who you know and who are close to you.
• Perhaps your child or partner is having a bad day. Assume their best intentions and try not to take things personally or react defensively.
• Don't take responsibility for what others do. What people say and do has to do with them and is usually not about you.
• Ask yourself, “I wonder….” to help you move to a position of problem-solving. (I wonder what happened in school today, I wonder what happened at work today, I wonder why this is hard for them).
Managing stress through self-care has a cascading effect on emotional regulation.
• Take care of yourself by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy foods.
• Practice healthy boundaries, such as saying no so that you don't overcommit.
When you are burdened by emotion in the heat of the moment, “press pause” by taking a physical or mental break. Walk it off and don't be afraid to tell the people you're with that you need to take five. People will respect that you're taking care of yourself.
• What happens in your body when you’re feeling emotionally triggered?
• What are the cues that you need to press pause?
• If you can't remove yourself physically, think about something that cools you down, such as a special place where you feel relaxed.
• If you need to take a break, it can be helpful to schedule a time you’ll return to the matter at hand so you don’t leave yourself (or the person you’re with) hanging for further discussion.
Own Up to Your Reactions
Recognize and manage your strong feelings. Explain what you really meant, apologize, and take ownership. When you acknowledge you have strong reactions to situations, you are choosing steps towards making changes that work for you.
• Have conversations with those who are close to you, such as family, close friends, and colleagues that you may initially react strongly to situations.
• What do you need when you’re emotionally triggered?
• What needs can you communicate to people close to you? In advance? In the moment?
• What worked for you in the past?
• What obstacles got in your way?
• What strategies you are willing to experiment with now?
To sum up, when you live with ADHD you may feel your emotions more strongly and react to them more immediately and more intensely. To regulate your emotions when you live with ADHD:
Assume Best Intentions
Own Up to Your Reactions
Dr. Thomas Brown , Smart But Stuck: Emotions in Kids and Adults with ADHD.
Ari Tuckman, PsyD, Understand Your Brain, Get More Done, the ADHD Workbook.
PS. Need support regulating your emotions?
Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we’ll set up a plan so you can start problem-solving with more peace and calm!
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