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Three Steps For Managing ADHD Emotions


A common symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is experiencing deep emotional reactions such as frustration, impatience and excitability. This can be difficult to handle for an ADHD brain. Someone may find themselves overdramatising situations as if they are of grave concern even when in fact, they can be resolved relatively easily and quickly. This is why people with ADHD have a tendency to exaggerate and catastrophize situations.

The brain can also get flooded by one single emotion, which makes it hard to see reason or to concentrate on anything else. This can lead to high levels of anxiety and make it impossible for someone to think clearly.

If you have ADHD and find yourself struggling to handle emotionally upsetting issues, there is a three-step process that we recommend to help you deal with it.

1. Learn to identify your feelings

People with ADHD often feel emotion very intensely and this can lead to impulsive behaviour they might later regret. It’s important to learn to recognise when these feelings are starting in order to stop such behaviour from happening.

When something happens that causes a deep emotional reaction, someone with ADHD will often experience a physical trigger. An example of this could be a tightening of the chest, you might ‘freeze’ and feel unable to move or notice a flooding feeling of overwhelm. Sometimes the physical reaction will appear stronger than the emotional reaction, at least at first.

It varies from person to person but once you have identified emotions such as fear, anxiety or frustration, you can learn what to do next to deal with this kind of situation effectively before it escalates.

2. Take a Mindful Pause

When you are overcome with emotion, it’s difficult to focus on anything else and you can make bad decisions. Taking some time can be helpful regardless of whether the issue is upset, anger or another emotion. If you can, try to do something to distance yourself from the situation. This gives you time to settle the mind, brings you back to a state of calm and stops you from acting in the moment. 

The best distraction is usually a practical or physical activity that stimulates the senses. It may take time to find out what suits you best as it varies from person to person. You might benefit from exercise, spending time in nature or listening to music. 

Some people find meditation particularly helpful and it’s certainly worth trying if you haven’t considered it before.  This short meditation is a great way to overcome stress when you can feel it overwhelming your body Five Minute Mindful Pause.

Mindfulness practice can easily be embedded into our everyday lives and used to improve our executive functions. Our blog 6 Essential Mindfulness Practices To Help With 6 Common ADHD Symptoms features contributions from Alexandra Loewe, ADHD and Mindfulness Coach at The ADHD Centre. It has suggestions for short and practical mindfulness practices that are useful for the following executive functions:

  • Impulsivity
  • Self-Regulation
  • Emotional Control
  • Flexibility Control
  • Focus And Attention
  • Working Memory

3. Return to the situation

You need to return to the situation with a clearer head and possibly a new perspective. Only do this when you are ready. Here are some tips for handling challenging issues:

  • Don’t respond to anything when you are at your most emotional.
  • If you can, wait 24 hours before responding to upsetting emails, voice messages or other emotionally upsetting events.
  • If you feel pressured into giving an immediate response, avoid doing so by clearly stating you will do it by a certain deadline in the future.
  • Put off making decisions until you allow yourself more time to process things more fully.
  • Try to gather more information on the issue if you can.
  • Talk to other people about it and ask for their objective opinions. This is particularly important as it provides an outlet for the thoughts in your head. 

Once a difficult situation has passed, it’s worth taking a minute to reflect on how you managed your emotions. Often we subconsciously go through a process similar to the one described above, in that we experience emotional arousal, find a way to calm down and then try to deal with it. However, if you’re more aware of the process, it becomes easier to reach a state of calm and resolution more quickly.

Learning to manage emotions is not easy to do for people with ADHD and it will take time and practice. The first step of identifying your emotions is the most crucial in being able to deal with them. 

In this video, ADHD coach Alexandra Loewe offers advice about managing emotions and avoiding burnout.

Managing Emotions In ADHD Children

It can be especially challenging for children with ADHD to learn to regulate their emotions. Often children can identify that they need something but not always the specific need. A child may not always realise if they are too hot/cold/hungry/thirsty. This can easily lead to heightened emotions that trigger certain behaviours. 

A child may not be able to reflect back on a situation and consider how they felt and might not see a causal link between emotion and their behaviour.  Children need a lot of support to be able to learn to recognise and deal with deep emotional reactions. However, it is worth persevering with and taking the time to help ADHD children to identify their emotions, and what triggers them. This will help them to learn how to prevent their emotions and behaviour from escalating. 

If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness for ADHD, we run a short and practical online six-part mindfulness course with guided practices from Alexandra Loewe. You can access it here and the first lesson is free. 

For further advice about managing emotions or any other aspects of ADHD assessment and treatment, please contact us on 0800 061 4276 or by email at [email protected]

Further Information

This conversation has some great tips for taking control of emotional intelligence in order to live a happier life Emotional Intelligence with Dan Goleman

During lockdown in 2020, ADHD coach Alexandra Loewe recorded 6 Tips To Keep On An Even Keel During Lockdown

It remains relevant and provides useful tips for managing emotions that can be applied at any time.

Updated July 2022

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