ADHD Emotions

Navigating Emotional Dysregulation in ADHD

People with ADHD often struggle with emotional dysregulation, which can manifest as intense reactions to everyday stressors, difficulty calming down, and sudden mood shifts. Understanding and strategies for managing these intense emotions are key to overcoming this challenge.

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Written by

Tayler Hackett

Mental Health Writer and ADHD Expert
In this Article
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Managing ADHD and Emotions Simultaneously

After an ADHD diagnosis, you might feel intense emotions of anger, doubt, confusion, or sadness. Most of the respondents in our ADHD interview often express their heightened emotions briefly after being diagnosed with ADHD. Some people have an outburst of tears or intense frustration after a mental health professional officially labels their experiences as ADHD. But, interestingly, many people feel relieved after having their confirmation. After all, some adults with recent ADHD diagnoses might have already known what they are up against. The diagnosis can finally allow them to move a step forward into managing their well-being.

ADHD can have a huge impact on our emotions

One of the things that can be greatly affected, especially if you are unaware of your ADHD symptoms, is your emotions. When your ADHD brain is suddenly faced with unfamiliar situations that can be uncomfortable at times, there's a high probability that you'll respond to it differently because you cannot control certain emotions well. 😭

ADHD can make it difficult to manage anger

Imagine being confronted by your boss about something you failed to do, what will be your initial reaction? And how do you manage emotions when they are running high due to the conflict? Might be difficult, right? 😵 If you are someone with ADHD, you might find yourself feeling defensive or getting angry easily in this kind of situation. Some may even have temper outbursts and feel a sense of impulsivity and storm out of the room. 

For neurotypical brains, handling such situations calmly and resolving things right away can be easy. But for many adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, things may go the other way.

ADHD can makes us incredibly excited

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Understanding emotional dysregulation because of our ADHD brain is very important in managing and resolving conflicts. Emotional dysregulation is defined as "the impaired ability to adequately modulate emotions". This may occur when the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for inhibition and self-control, is not functioning optimally. As it is, ADHD can have a very big part in handling our behavior, especially when it comes to our emotional response to difficult situations, because it may result in weaker prefrontal cortex.

ADHD and Anxiety can also co-occur

Many adults with ADHD experience intense emotional reactivity to difficult situations because they can't seem to control or manage their emotions well. The emotional regulation of some people with ADHD can sometimes be affected by its symptoms, too. Emotional dysregulation affects our executive functioning, which are the cognitive processes that help us plan, organize, and complete tasks. This can result in problems with decision-making, memory recall, and managing time. All of these difficulties can lead to further emotional distress. 😨 

ADHD can give sensitivity to Rejection

Strong emotions can sometimes be overwhelming, and it can be hard to cope with them. Before we try to understand how we can successfully manage both ADHD and emotions, let's dive deeper and know the relationship between several ADHD symptoms and our emotional state.

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms to Look Out After

Some symptoms of ADHD can directly affect how we process our emotions. Urges due to impulsivity can make us too excited to do something that we initially want. Heightened emotions, such as anger, can also manifest if we are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. These symptoms can be a hindrance in trying to manage our emotions because it can be difficult to concentrate on what we are trying to do.

People with ADHD tend to experience emotions strongly

These are some of the ADHD-related things that can make it hard for us to regulate our emotions:

  • Some adults with ADHD can often get easily discouraged because of criticisms and judgments thrown at them. Other people oftentimes try to single out the distinct characteristics that ADHD manifests in textbooks. But in reality, stereotypes of ADHD aren't always absolute and it can differ from one person to another. Nevertheless, destructive criticisms and judgment can result in unpleasant emotions
  • We often have low frustration tolerance because we have the tendency to please people by masking our ADHD symptoms. When we hear some negative feedback or people constantly bring up our ADHD traits or diagnosis, it can be difficult to manage our emotions because we tend to internalize everything. We sometimes also dwell on things too much that can result in anxiety and depression.
  • Our self-esteem can also be affected because we often doubt our capabilities. We tend to see ourselves in a negative light and we may be hard on ourselves. This can trigger some emotional reactions, such as feeling down and hopeless.
  • Some individuals with ADHD are more likely to experience meltdowns when they think everything around them doesn't make sense anymore. Our feelings of not belonging, isolation, and being misunderstood can cause us to feel very frustrated. Once we reach our breaking point, it can be hard to think rationally and we might lash out at the people around us.

Our difficulties and challenges in handling our emotional regulation can be burdensome, especially if our ADHD symptoms aggravate it. It's important to be conscious of how our symptoms can potentially affect our emotions, so that we can learn how to manage them better.

Effects of Emotion Dysregulation on Physical and Mental Health

When Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Emotional Dysregulation aren't managed well, it can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health. 🥺 Intense emotion can reflect on how we live our lives. It can either improve or worsen the quality of our relationships, work performance, and social interactions. Here are some of the ways that unmanaged emotions can affect our physical and mental health.

Managing emotions and ADHD can have an impact on our physical and mental health

Physical Health

  • Pale and dry looking skin
  • Headaches and muscle tension
  • Problems with sleep, such as insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or exhaustion

Mental Health

  • Comorbidities, such as anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and depression
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Impulsive and risky behavior
  • Difficulty in focusing and paying attention
  • Isolation and social awkwardness

If these intense emotional symptoms are often disregarded and not given proper attention, it can further lead to more complicated problems, like chronic stress. Chronic stress can then trigger some physical health problems, including heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and immunity issues. It's important to be mindful of the early signs and symptoms of unmanaged emotions so that we can prevent them from worsening. It can also reflect on our mental health and produce more complexities such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Managing Emotions Effectively with ADHD

How do we manage the symptoms of ADHD and prevent other disorders from developing because of our difficulty in handling our emotions? Ultimately, it is still important to have your doctor give advice, diagnosis, or treatment. But, there are also things that we can do on our own to help us manage our emotions better.

1. Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions. ❤️ The first step is always awareness. When we are more aware of how we feel, it can become easier for us to find ways to deal with our emotions.

2. Avoid making decisions when you're feeling emotional. When we're angry, sad, or anxious, it's difficult to think rationally. It's better to take a step back and wait until you've calmed down before deciding on anything.

3. Learn how to cope with stress in healthy ways. When we're stressed, our ADHD symptoms tend to worsen. 👌 It's important to find healthy coping mechanisms, like exercise, journaling, or talking to a friend.

4. Find an outlet for your emotions. Suppressing our emotions can lead to them coming out in destructive ways. It's better to find an outlet where you can safely express how you feel. This can be in a form of art, writing, or even taking long walks.

5. Seek professional help. If you feel like you're struggling to deal with your emotions, don't hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can help you understand your emotions better and give you tools on how to manage them in a healthy way.

And always remember, you got this!  💪

Things to remember about ADHD and Emotions

ADHD and Emotions FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why does ADHD affect the way we handle our emotions?

Reports say ADHD is associated with a weaker prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that handles our emotions. Moreover, some ADHD-related things and symptoms can also affect our emotions. 

What ADHD-related things and symptoms trigger emotional dysregulation? 

Some of the things and symptoms that can affect the way we handle our feelings are negative criticisms, the desire to mask our symptoms to “fit in,” and not being able to accomplish things due to some ADHD symptoms, like forgetfulness and difficulty in planning and organizing. 

Are there ways for us to better manage our feelings? 

Yes! The first step is to understand your emotions well - what makes you tick and how do you typically respond. When you successfully do this first step, it will help you get away from the trigger, calm down, or redirect your focus. 

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