ADHD Meltdowns Are Not Temper Tantrums: Here’s Why
Those of us with ADHD that are prone to outbursts are often misunderstood.
When you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, outbursts can become a regular struggle and is something many people label as a 'temper tantrum'. 😔
I'm here to tell you that it's much deeper than that, and it's important to recognize that children and adults with ADHD are prone to emotional dysregulation overwhelm. This dysregulation can make it difficult to manage their emotional state when faced with stress. These intense feelings can stem from the nature of ADHD and the years of feeling misunderstood and unsupported by our environment.
A state of overwhelm can also lead to these emotional outbursts due to a deficit in executive functioning. 😫 During these episodes, individuals may feel completely out of control and struggle to think clearly.
In this article, we'll unpack what ADHD meltdowns look like, what can trigger them, and how we can manage them when they happen. 💙
What Is A Meltdown? Isn’t It More Of A Child’s Behavior?
Meltdowns are not exclusive to children; adults with ADHD can experience them too. They manifest as intense episodes of emotional dysregulation and impulsivity triggered by overwhelming, stressful events.
In our day-to-day lives, living with ADHD can bring unique challenges, including potential judgment and misconceptions from others. 😔 Our environment can sometimes push us to our limits, making us feel overwhelmed and setting the stage for emotions to take over.
For instance, distractions and difficulty meeting expectations can heighten anxiety and self-doubt, eventually leading to a meltdown. Meltdowns are not simply losing control—it's an experience that varies from person to person. They can involve explosive outbursts, extreme frustration, or even shutting down and withdrawing.
When I have a meltdown, it's usually due to having too many intense emotions combined with sensory triggers. For example, if I am stressed about an upcoming deadline, and my neighbor starts blasting music with a heavy bass, I'm more vulnerable to having a meltdown. It's just too much for my brain to process all in one go. 🤯
In the next section, we will delve into some common triggers behind these outbursts, and I’ll give you some insight into what sets them in motion for me. Then, I'll share some strategies and techniques that I have personally found helpful in managing these situations.
The ADHD Related Behaviors And Emotions That Can Activate Meltdown Mode
We all experience frustration when things go differently than planned, or our expectations aren't met. It can be disheartening when something we were looking forward to doesn't turn out as meaningful as we had hoped. ☹️
This has happened to me countless times, especially when I didn't achieve the desired results in exams or projects despite putting in my best effort. The feeling of extreme frustration can sometimes lead to meltdowns, where emotion boils over, and tears start to flow.
Looking back, I realize there were better ways to handle the situation. Instead of letting frustration take control, I could have taken a deep breath, reviewed the questions, and focused on recalling everything I knew about the topics covered in the exam. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it's important to remember that setbacks and challenges are part of life. It's our behavior and attitude towards them that truly matters, and our ability to learn from the past. ♥️
Perceived or actual failures can cause intense anger and frustration. 😡 When our hyperactive symptoms take over, and we feel like we're not succeeding in anything and are behind everyone else, meltdowns can become our immediate response. These failures can profoundly affect our self-esteem and make us feel inferior to others, making it harder to bounce back and try again.
During my college years, before being diagnosed with ADHD, it seemed like everything was working against me. I struggled in most of my classes and felt overwhelmed. This demotivation led to skipping assignments, missing classes, and failing exams. It was a chaotic time, and I didn't realize that these were symptoms of ADHD.
Looking back, I now recognize what I could have done differently. Instead of internalizing my struggles, I could have reached out to someone who understood what I was going through. 🤗 Sharing my thoughts and seeking advice from my parents or friends would have been beneficial. Keeping everything to myself only intensified the internal struggle. Opening up and seeking support could have made a significant difference.
Remember, failures are a natural part of life, providing opportunities for growth and learning. While it's normal to fear failure, what truly matters is how we respond and cope with setbacks. If you are experiencing an emotional outburst, focus on what you are good at and have achieved despite your ADHD. ADHD can amplify our strengths in certain areas, even when we face challenges in other aspects. It's important to recognize and celebrate the unique abilities and talents that ADHD can bring.🏆
Stay resilient and keep moving forward. You have the strength to overcome challenges and find success. 💪
Sensory overload can be the perfect recipe for triggering meltdowns and sometimes, it feels like we can't escape it. Those overwhelming external stimuli, like a loud noise or an overpowering fragrance, can quickly throw us into a tailspin. It's frustrating to know that we can't simply snap at people to stop because it's causing us too much distress.
During one of my attempts to have a moment to myself in the park after a tough day, I walked past a distressed child during a full-blown tantrum. The piercing cries filled my ears and flooded my brain, which sent my stress levels into overdrive. As I felt myself edge towards a breakdown, I quickly walked away.
Just as I thought I had escaped, a group of people smoking cigarettes sat near me. 🙄Cigarette smoke is one of my sensory triggers, so this smell sent my senses further into overdrive.
My breathing sped up, and it felt like my head might explode from the pressure. In a moment of pure desperation, I politely requested that they move away or put out the cigarette. Admittedly, my tone may have come across as abrupt, but the pent-up frustration had left me angry and ready to burst. 🧨
But, my plea fell on deaf ears, and they carried on, seemingly undeterred. As I felt myself heading for a full-blown breakdown, I tried to remain calm. Eventually, I regained control by getting up and moving again.
Reflecting on that experience, I've learned that navigating public spaces means encountering people from all walks of life, each with quirks and triggers. Trying to stay calm in these situations is crucial to prevent unnecessary conflicts. There are alternative ways to cope with sensory overload without getting mad (even though it's really hard not to).
Deep breathing exercises (preferably away from smokers, in my case!) can help restore calmness. Wearing noise canceling headphones and listening to different frequencies can also trick our brain into thinking the sensory stimuli is no longer a threat.
It's also essential to remind ourselves that these people are just like us, with their own struggles and difficulties. By trying to humanize the people sending us into sensory overload, we can understand that they are not doing it intentionally and will pass. I know this is so much easier said than done, but it's an important step when interacting with the world.
Forgetfulness & Memory Issues
ADHD often comes with its fair share of frustrating symptoms, and one that can be particularly exasperating is the tendency to misplace things. Whether it's your phone, keys, wallet, or any other essential item, the struggle to find them can quickly push you toward a meltdown. When you can't locate what you're searching for, the feeling of helplessness can cause a whirlwind of emotions.
As a child, I constantly lost my things - much to my mother's frustration. She would tell me that I needed to be more responsible and take better care of my things. She didn't understand that it wasn't due to carelessness. The frustration and feelings of being misunderstood would build up inside me, occasionally leading to a full-blown meltdown. 😥
Fast forward to adulthood, and the struggle is still there. Despite my best attempts at organization, I find myself frantically searching for lost items, making me mad at myself and emotionally dysregulated. While I recognize that some blame does fall on me for losing things, I also know that my ADHD-related forgetfulness plays a significant role.
When you find yourself in those situations, don't be afraid to ask for help or support from people you trust. They can offer positive reinforcement or lend a hand in your search. It is also helpful to develop a system of ways to look for your things and stick to them consistently. This system might include a specific strategy of looking in different places in a particular order or physically retracing your steps. 🐾
If you have an outburst, take a step back and give yourself time to regroup. Taking five minutes to pause the frantic search and clear your mind can give you a new perspective on what to do or where to look next. It's normal for anybody to feel frustrated when they can't find something immediately, so don't be too hard on yourself. ♥️
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The Difference Between Tantrums and Meltdowns
There is a distinction between meltdowns and tantrums.
Meltdowns and tantrums are intense emotional reactions, but they have distinct characteristics. Meltdowns occur when we feel overwhelmed by stimuli or stress, leading to an uncontrolled emotional response. On the other hand, tantrums are usually manifestations of displays of anger, frustration, or sadness in response to a specific reason. Sometimes, they're a way to get what we want.
Understanding the difference between the two is crucial in handling these situations effectively. In the case of ADHD, meltdowns can sometimes be more like ADHD tantrums that need to be acknowledged and addressed for us to find relief and regain our balance.
No matter which one you might be experiencing, what matters most is knowing how to approach and manage these events. You and the people who truly understand you are the key players in navigating meltdowns and tantrums.
Together, you can find strategies and support to help you through these challenging moments. Remember, you're not alone in this; there is always a way forward. 🙌
The Importance of Emotional Regulation During An ADHD Meltdown
Have you heard about the ADHD Volcano Model? It is a great illustration that explains the forces that can cause an overflow of emotion - much like a volcano.
With this in mind, here are a few strategies for preventing or stopping an episode. These strategies all revolve around the ability to emotionally regulate, which is a skill that we can work on and develop with practice.
Talk It Out
One helpful strategy is to express your frustrations and disappointments to a compassionate, non-judgemental person. Sharing your feelings can help lighten the load and reduce stress.When you’re sharing, remember that this person is on your side; try to take deep breaths and speak in a calm voice, especially if you’re angry at that moment.
Write It Out
If you don't feel comfortable talking to someone, try journaling or keeping a diary. Write about your day to day life, including things or people that bother you or make you angry. Being honest with yourself can help you analyze your triggers and find appropriate ways to channel your angry outbursts.
Shout It Out
When a meltdown begins, and have no one to talk to, find a private space where you can be loud without bothering anyone. It can be your room, car, or anywhere you feel safe. The important thing is being able to release your emotions when having a hard time without consequences, such as hurting anyone or damaging relationships.
Check It Out
Being aware of your triggers is key to managing stressors. Make a note of all the situations that have ended in the same result before. It’s not necessarily about avoiding these triggers, but being prepared for them. Also, learn about coexisting mental health conditions that can worsen ADHD and explore strategies to manage them.
Most importantly, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Talk to a mental healthcare professional about your feelings and struggles. They can provide medication or behavioral therapy if needed.
ADHD meltdowns are not something to be ashamed of or dismissed as mere temper tantrums. They are a natural response to overwhelming stimuli and a dysregulated emotional state that many individuals with ADHD face.
Understanding the distinction between meltdowns and tantrums is key to effectively addressing and managing them. Various factors, such as frustration, failure, sensory overload, and forgetfulness, can trigger outbursts. Everyone's experience is unique, but some strategies can help.
Sharing your frustrations and disappointments can help lighten the burden and relieve stress, making you feel understood and supported. If expressing your emotions with others isn't your thing, don't worry. Writing it out in a journal or diary can be just as helpful. Reflecting on your day and identifying triggers allows you to gain insights into your emotions and find better coping methods. Be honest and open in your writing, and use it as a tool for self-discovery.
When you feel an episode approaching, and there's no one available to talk to, find a safe space to let it out without harming others. It could be your room, car, or any place you feel comfortable in. Remember, releasing the built-up emotions is essential to prevent hurtful behaviors that could strain your relationships.
Seeking professional help is a crucial step in managing ADHD meltdowns. Mental health professionals can provide guidance on any coexisting conditions, prescribe medication if needed, and offer behavioral therapy to develop effective coping strategies. Don't hesitate to reach out for the support you deserve.
Approach outbursts and tantrums with self-compassion and a growth mindset. Embrace your strengths and celebrate your accomplishments, even in the face of setbacks. Remember that personal growth is a journey, and each step you take toward understanding and managing your meltdowns is progress.
With resilience, support, and the strategies you've learned, you can overcome challenges and succeed in managing ADHD meltdowns. Embrace your uniqueness, be kind to yourself, and remember that there is a path forward filled with growth and self-discovery. You've got this!
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ADHD and Meltdowns: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Do adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder experience frequent emotional meltdowns?
The frequency of meltdowns can vary from person to person, as there is no definitive description. However, adults with ADHD can experience meltdowns. ADHD symptoms can contribute to stress levels, and when stress becomes too overwhelming, the emotions can be too much to handle. Additionally, sensory overload or being easily distracted can play a role in meltdowns, among other factors.
What distinguishes a tantrum from a meltdown in people with ADHD?
A tantrum typically arises from a specific reason, often associated with not getting what one wants. On the other hand, a meltdown occurs when multiple factors and overwhelming events happen simultaneously, leading to an intense reaction that may not seem proportional to the cause.
How do you prevent an ADHD meltdown?
The most effective way to prevent meltdowns is to try to reduce negative stimuli whenever possible. However, there may be situations that are beyond our control. In such cases, managing and regulating our emotional state is crucial to prevent feeling overwhelmed. Seeking support from an ADHD coach can also be beneficial in learning techniques to cope with emotions and prevent meltdowns.