ADHD Meltdowns

Why Do People with ADHD Easily Experience Meltdowns?

When one negative thing happens after another, you might experience a meltdown, moreso, if you have ADHD. What ADHD-related symptoms and behavior contribute to the development of a meltdown? How can you best address it? The answers and more here.

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Reviewed by

Lisa Batten

PhD in Psychology
In this Article
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ADHD & Meltdowns: Having Such Is Normal

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can contribute to emotional outbursts and frequent meltdowns that may be confused with tantrums. 🥺 Hence, it's important to know that some people with ADHD are prone to emotional dysregulation. Simply put, they might have difficulties managing their emotions well when facing stress. Experiencing emotional struggles may be caused by ADHD itself or may result from years of feeling misunderstood and unsupported by our environment.

Sometimes we feel like we cannot take any more stress from our home, work, or school. The difficulty dealing with intense emotions may trigger meltdowns. Meltdowns, especially for people with ADHD, can be in the form of impulsive and explosive ADHD-related behaviors. They can happen when a person has too much pressure, stress, anger, anxiety or other strong emotions. During meltdown mode, a person may feel out of control and be unable to stop and think straight. 😵

ADHD Meltdowns: Explosions of Emotions

Though having meltdowns aren't part of the official diagnostic criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, it can be linked to the impulsivity and emotional dysregulation that are common among people with ADHD. Not everyone can experience an ADHD meltdown, but it is equally important to know more about this, so that we can be more understanding of ourselves, as well as know the best ways to support us when we find ourselves struggling when a meltdown occurs. 👌 

The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: “There are several factors at play when it comes to the way people with ADHD experience emotions differently than neurotypical people, and it has nothing to do with immaturity or personality flaws. With ADHD, delays in executive functioning make it harder to properly interpret and temper emotional reactions. This lack of filter can lead to extreme emotional reactions to everyday life events or inconveniences. When you combine these lapses in your brain’s ability to take a deep breath with negative internal talk, sensitivity to sensory stimulation, and societal pressures — it can lead to intensely negative and overwhelming meltdowns. You may not always be able to prevent this from occurring, but you can learn to self-soothe by removing yourself from the situation and engaging in relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing.”

Struggling to Handle Emotional Regulation

The day to day life of people with ADHD can be full of struggles and difficulties compared to that of a neurotypical person. Sometimes, we can be subjected to bullying and judgment by others because they feel that we are different from them or we make mistakes most of the time. 😭 Our environment can put a significant hurdle on how we function and manage our ADHD symptoms.

ADHD Meltdowns: Tend to Struggle to Regulate our Emotions

When different things in our environment feel like they are testing us, we might feel overwhelmed, which can then lead to a meltdown. For example, when we are easily distracted by the noise we hear and cannot entirely focus on things we need to submit before the nearing deadline, this can result in stress. When we feel like we are constantly unable to do tasks asked of us, it can lead to feelings of anxiety and worthlessness, which can lead to a meltdown, too.

Meltdowns may occur when deep breaths and time-outs aren't working and angry outbursts are imminent 😨 . For me, meltdowns might mean anyone on my way will have a hard time dealing with me. Don't worry; this doesn't happen all the time but only during specific triggers that put me on edge.

Meltdown Triggers and How to Handle Them

Before we proceed with the triggers, please remember that these instances are based on my experience 🙋‍♀️ and things that have happened to me. For background, my patience has often been tested by external factors, and of course, my ADHD symptoms can make situations more complicated.

Either way, meltdowns can be a typical instance for those with ADHD, and people need to understand that we should not be judged entirely because of it. There are moments when our mental health conditions will get the best of us, and we can't do anything about it. The best we could do is be mindful of our triggers to avoid them or at least be more prepared when they happen 💪. So, here are possible moments when a meltdown might occur:

ADHD Meltdowns Due To Frustration

We might become frustrated when things don't go as planned or we get disappointed because the thing we’re looking forward to didn’t turn into something meaningful. 😔

This usually happens to me when I don't get the results I want from an exam or project. Extreme frustrations can occur during instances when we perform our best, but factors out of our control seem to ruin everything.

One time, I studied hard for an exam but was shocked because the questions differed from what was discussed in class. It felt like all my efforts went to waste, leading to extreme frustration, which eventually turned into a meltdown. So, instead of focusing on the questions and trying to understand them, I started lashing out and crying my eyes out. 😭

ADHD Meltdowns: Happens when we feel Extremely Frustrated.

Looking back, here’s how I think I could have better reacted: Upon receiving the test paper 📝 and reading all the questions, I could have taken a deep breath, gone through the questions once more, and then recalled everything I knew about those specific topics on the test. I should have remembered that there could be more significant consequences if I didn't answer those test papers.

You can't have everything in life. There can be a few wrinkles and bumps on the road, but that doesn't mean you should stop trying to achieve what you want. The most important thing about struggles and difficulties is how we handle them. Our behavior and attitude towards those trying times can make a difference. 🥰

ADHD Meltdowns Due to Failures

A perceived failure or an actual failure can result in angry outbursts. When our mind is full of hyperactivity, and we think we aren't successful in anything that we do, having a meltdown can be our last reaction. Failures can make us have lower self-esteem and give us a hard time trying again. 🥺 

During college, when I still didn't have an ADHD diagnosis, everything seemed to be going against what I wanted. I felt I was failing most of my classes and struggled to deal with it. My demotivation during those times resulted in being discouraged with doing my assignments, skipping class, and failing the exams. Everything was quite a mess when I could not understand that what I experienced were ADHD symptoms. 😵

ADHD Meltdowns: Happens when we feel like we are Failing.

What I now think I could have done: The moment I felt that I was struggling with my studies, I could have talked to someone who understands my difficulty. I could have approached my parents or spoke with my friends and sought their advice 💏. The internal struggle I had during those times only worsened since I kept everything to myself. And when failure was almost certain to happen, it could have been more helpful to share my thoughts and feelings with someone instead of absorbing everything on my own.

Remember that failures are part of our lives. You can learn some things through experiencing them. I am afraid to fail but what matters most is how I react and cope with such failures 💪. If you happen to experience a meltdown or an angry outburst, remember the things you are grateful for and be optimistic about the future.

ADHD Meltdowns Due to Sensory Overload

Sensory overload can trigger meltdowns easily, especially when we cannot do something about it. When we are faced with intense or too much external stimuli,  breakdowns can be hard to avoid. For example, loud, distracting noises from your environment or an overly strong perfume or cologne can quickly send you into a tailspin. The worst part is that I know I cannot just lash out at people and tell them to stop what they're doing or stop being too distracting.

When I was taking a walk at the park to cool down because life had been rather difficult, I saw a child crying 🧒 and yelling while his mother tried calming him down. The child's parents couldn't control the loud cry, which was already overwhelming for me,  so I immediately left that spot. But then I encountered adults smoking cigarettes. The smoke from the cigarette was too strong and the irritating noises from before made me feel angry and uncomfortable.

ADHD Meltdowns: Happens because of Sensory Overload.

I had difficulty breathing and felt my head was going to explode, so I approached and talked with them briefly. I knew my behavior was rude then, but I couldn't help it. I asked them to stop smoking 🚬, but they seemed to shake me off and continued what they were doing. I was about to have a meltdown, but thankfully I was able to control it quickly by leaving that spot and going someplace else - for the second time.

My take on improving my reaction on such instances: When out in a public space, you can meet people from all walks of life. They can also possess things or characteristics that can trigger sensory overload. It is vital to remain calm during these situations to avoid conflicts. There are more appropriate ways to deal with sensory overload without lashing out. 

Do deep breathing exercises 🧘 (of course, away from those smokers), and think they are also just people with their own lives. Like us, they might be going through something difficult in their lives. It's essential to be understanding and have a positive outlook on life despite everything.

ADHD Meltdowns Due to Misplacing Things

ADHD can have specific symptoms that can sometimes be annoying: one of them is losing or misplacing things. It can be your phone, keys, wallet, or anything else important to you. And when you can't find them, no matter how hard you look, it can quickly send you into a meltdown. The feeling of not being able to find what you're looking for is frustrating and can send you into a spiral of emotions.

When I was a kid, I used to misplace my things a lot, and my mom would always get mad at me. She would say that I wasn't taking good care of my items and needed to be more responsible. As a result, I would get agitated and frustrated, which sometimes led to a meltdown. 

ADHD Meltdowns: Happens when we've been looking for something for hours...

The same struggle haunts me to date, but this time, I am already an adult living independently. The same outcome happens. I often search for misplaced things with grumpy behavior and a meltdown. I know it's partly my fault for losing them 😅 , but my ADHD forgetfulness also had a more significant part in it.

Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums: If looking for lost items takes too much time and you still end up not finding them, consider trying to be more organized next time. But, for people like us with ADHD, even though we try to remember not to lose them, things can still end up in weird places. When these instances happen, try to ask for positive reinforcement or help from people you know. You can also try to search systematically and create strategies for looking for them.

If you have a meltdown or tantrums, try to walk away from the situation and take some time for yourself. It's okay to not be able to find them immediately and feel frustrated. Remember that you're doing your best and try not to be too hard on yourself. You need to focus on your behavior and action to respond well to the situation.

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The Difference Between Meltdowns and Temper Tantrums

Here's a brief distinction between Meltdowns and Tantrums:

  • Meltdowns are a reaction to overwhelming stimuli and are characterized by an uncontrolled emotional response. They are often the result of sensory overload or too much stress.
  • Tantrums, on the other hand, are a display of negative emotions such as anger, frustration, or sadness due to a specific reason. Sometimes, they can be used as a way to get something that the person wants.

While both can be overwhelming and frustrating, knowing the difference is essential to better deal with each situation. ADHD meltdowns may sometimes not be meltdowns at all, but can be a bit of ADHD tantrums that need to be satisfied for us to feel much better.

But whichever you may be experiencing, it is much more important to know the right approach when these events happen. The only person that can help address these instances is you and the people who truly understand you. 🙌

An ADHD Meltdown Can Be Managed

Have you heard about the ADHD Volcano Model? It is a great illustration that explains how ADHD can affect our emotions and which factors should not be triggered to prevent us from bursting out. Aside from the image, knowing more about yourself is also essential in managing your struggles. To prevent tantrums or ADHD meltdowns from happening, you can try these Mini ADHD Coach tips:

  • Talk it Out - being vocal to your parents or any adult who understands your struggle is a helpful strategy. Expressing your frustrations and disappointments releases that heavy load on your shoulder, making you feel less stressed and lighter.
  • Write It Out - if being open to someone isn't your thing, you can try to do journals or a diary of how your day went. You can also include the things or people that bother you so that you can better analyze your triggers. Be as honest as possible. 
  • Shout It Out - when you feel that you are on the verge of a meltdown and there's no one you can talk to, go somewhere alone where you can be loud without bothering anyone. It can be in your room, the car, or anywhere you feel safe and comfortable. The most important thing is that nobody will hear you except yourself. This prevents hurtful behavior that can affect your relationship with others.
  • Check It Out - knowing your triggers can significantly help you deal with your stressors. Try to research more about the possible scenarios that can yield the same result for you. Check about coexisting conditions that can aggravate your ADHD and find ways to manage them.
  • Seek It Out - finally, the most important part is to ask for professional help. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to reach out because there are a lot of people who want to help you. You can start by talking to your mental healthcare professional about your feelings and struggles. From there, they will be the ones to prescribe you the necessary medication or behavioral therapy if needed.

ADHD and Meltdowns can be hard to understand especially when you are in the dark about this neurodivergent condition. But once you are aware and you know how to manage it, half of your battle is already won 🙌. You can also try to avoid the consequences of an ADHD meltdown by following the tips above. Lastly, other helpful strategies and support communities are waiting to welcome you into their fold. Don't get bound by ADHD Meltdowns. Keep calm and carry on ❤️.

ADHD Meltdowns: Things that can help.

ADHD and Meltdowns: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Do people with ADHD experience meltdowns frequently?

There’s no definite description when it comes to frequency, but yes, ADHD-related symptoms can trigger a meltdown in an adult. ADHD symptoms can lead to stress, which, if becomes too high, can cause a breakdown. Sensory overload can also contribute to a meltdown, amongst other things.

What’s the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown?

A tantrum often occurs because of a specific reason, essentially, not getting your way. A meltdown occurs because too many things happen all at once.

How can you best avoid a meltdown?

The best way to avoid a meltdown is, of course, to try to reduce the negative stimuli. If things are out of your control, then the next best way is to get a hold of your emotions, so you wouldn’t feel too overwhelmed. An ADHD coach can help you with this.‍

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