Think back to the last time you did something when you felt angry, hurt or frustrated and later thought, “I wish I wouldn’t have done that!!” If you have ever thought that, it may be, like many Adults with ADHD, you have difficulty regulating your emotions.
It is not that you have different feelings than others or that your feelings are wrong. Rather, the challenge for you is that because of your ADHD you may get triggered quickly, stew for long periods of time and act on your feelings before you’ve had a chance to think.
Sure, feelings are feelings. But you don’t need to let them run the show, right?
If you want, you can learn how to decrease the number of times you get triggered and modulate your emotional responses in the moment.
Ready to try?
What It Looks Like When Your Emotions Are Running The Show
First, to illustrate how not managing emotions can derail an Adult with ADHD, let’s look at a snapshot of Cory’s day.
When Cory checked his email upon waking he found one from his boss, asking Cory to call him as soon as he got to the office. Immediately, Cory became worried and thought, “I’m in trouble. I bet that client complained!” Though he had no idea what his boss wanted.
Then, as he was stuck in his worried thoughts, his 10 year old son spilled his cup of juice all over the floor. Happens, right? But Cory got really frustrated and snapped, asking his son, “Why can’t you be more careful?!”
And, when his spouse gently suggested that maybe Cory could go a little easier on his son, Cory exploded and exclaimed, “I can’t deal with this. I need to get to the office right now to deal with my boss!”
Cory was really hurt by his spouse’s comments and, as he was leaving, thought “Great, now I’m not a good father, too!” Though that is not what his spouse said.
Cory was so amped up he couldn’t calm down. So, once he got to the office he couldn’t focus on his work…
If this scenario sounds familiar, you may also, as Dr. Thomas Brown, author of Smart but Stuck – Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD, notes:
- be quick to get frustrated by minor annoyances
- worry too much or too long about even small things
- have trouble calming down when annoyed or angry
- feel wounded or take offense at even gentle criticism
- feel excessive urgency to get something they want immediately
Do you ever experience any of the above?
Why Your ADHD Makes It Hard To Regulate Your Emotions
I know you may know all too well the challenges with managing your emotions. But do you know how your ADHD contributes to this?
One ADHD related symptom may be impulsiveness, which you may have learned to temper to some degree as an adult. Yet, your impulsiveness may still lead you to latch on to the first thought that enters your mind, leading you to immediately become hurt, angry or frustrated.
Another symptom that may get in your way is your weak working memory. Your working memory allows you to hold and consider multiple pieces of information/perspectives at once in order to guide your actions. Because your working memory is weak, though, what may happen is:
- You have difficulty in the moment considering multiple perspectives about a person or situation.
- This may lead you to think very narrowly, rather than broadly about all the possibilities.
- Your immediate feelings “flood your mind,” and that is all you can hold in the moment.
- Then you engage in all sorts of cognitive distortions and get stuck in negative thinking traps.
So before getting a sense of the big picture you may:
- act without thinking
- think without acting
- avoid a situation or person – neither act or think
But what if you could learn how to inhibit your emotional reactions for enough time so you can decide and be intentional about how you want to proceed? Below are steps you can take so you can be who you want to be and act the way you want, rather than letting your emotions run the show.
1. Practice good self-care
Practicing good self-care is definitely the first line of defense in regulating your emotions, as well as treating your ADHD. This includes getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, getting downtime, and connecting with important people in your life.
Because you know you are more easily triggered and your reactions are more intense and longer when you are tired, hungry, overwhelmed and feeling disconnected, right?
So, being proactive in managing your emotions by practicing good self-care is the place to start.
2. Be Aware of Cues
Next, be aware of the cues that indicate your emotions are ramping up.
You can pause when you notice these cues, and use self-talk to remind yourself, “Uh, oh, I better put the brakes on so I can think about what is really going on for me and decide what I want to do.”
These cues may include:
- physical cues, such as a tight stomach, pounding heart, etc.
- thoughts, cognitive cues, of revenge, putdowns and more
- actions or behavioral cues, including shutting down, retreating, being sarcastic, not making eye contact or clenching your fist
- emotional cues, like feeling disrespected, humiliated, rejected or just tired
Take a beat however you can in the moment.
For example, if you can’t physically leave a situation, such as a large meeting, you might try taking notes and not talking for a bit.
If you are talking with just one other person, suggest you resume talking another time or excuse yourself for a short break, if possible.
In some contexts, such as working on a project by yourself, you may be able to stop working.
4. Question Your Thoughts
Once you’ve had a chance to pause the next step is to question your thoughts. Because you know it is your thoughts that are fueling your feeling.
If you do not yet know how your thoughts contribute to your feelings, take time to explore the various kinds of cognitive distortions and negative thought patterns (black and white thinking, overgeneralizing, etc.) that can contribute to and magnify your feelings.
5. Treat Other Conditions
Make sure you are treating other conditions, such as depression or anxiety, as these can also contribute to your challenges with regulating your emotions.
6. Think Ahead
If you know there are certain situations that might trigger you, think about what you might do.
While you don’t want to hide out from every situation that might make you uncomfortable, you might decide at times to avoid certain places. Because sometimes it is not worth the turmoil, right!? You just want to be judicious about using this strategy. 🙂
Alternatively, if you know a situation might be uncomfortable, you can plan ahead how you will respond.
7. This Too Shall Pass
Remember that “this too shall pass.” While the feeling may not disappear entirely, it will dissipate. Think of all the times you reacted strongly to your feelings only to later wonder why.
So, give yourself the time you need to allow the feelings to dissolve a bit.
8. Own It
No matter how hard you try to manage your emotions you will goof up. Sometimes you’ll say or do things you wish you hadn’t.
It is inevitable because, well, you are human.
So, explain what you meant. Apologize, if you need to. Try to make it right. And then, when you’ve done all you can, try to move on…
ADDed Perspectives Bottom Line
Your feelings aren’t wrong. But they also aren’t the best indicator of what you want to say or do.
Which of the above strategies do you want to try so you can stay in charge?