Updated: May 1
ADHD and the Emotional Rollercoaster
Yes, emotional roller coasting is a symptom of ADHD! Anger, frustration, fear, sadness, even happiness or excitement - ADHDers feel them all more intensely.
Why Didn’t I Know That?
Well, the DSM, which is what doctors use to diagnose ADHD, doesn't even mention emotional regulation! Why not, you’re probably wondering, when it feels like such a big part of your own ADHD?
The answer is that the DSM is based on measurable symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Because emotional regulation is harder to measure, they took it out as a criteria for ADHD.
Nowadays, there are many people arguing to put emotional dysregulation back in the definition of ADHD, and experts agree that there is a connection between ADHD and emotional dysregulation.
What is Emotional Dysregulation?
People with ADHD experience emotions like anyone else, but these emotions can be more intense than in their neurotypical counterparts. It's like the volume has been turned up on the emotion, and it can last longer - you find it harder to let go, you "ruminate". The intensity and duration make it harder for ADHDers to calm down (self-regulate).
How Do we Self-Regulate?
Self-regulating is a 4 step process, and each step on it's own is challenging for ADHDers:
Response Inhibition - the ability to “look before you leap”; to stop, think and weigh up the consequences of certain reactions. This is pretty hard for people who are impulsive.
Self-Soothing - Even if ADHDers do manage to inhibit their first responses to an emotional trigger, impulsivity can also get in the way of making healthy choices for self-soothing. We get quicker dopamine hits from ranting or snacking than we do from deep breathing or going for a walk.
Responding in an Effective Way - There's a whole lot to consider here: What are my options? What is my goal? What actually happened to spark the emotion? Who said what again? What did I actually want to say? What happened the last time I reacted this way? What’s different in this situation? What are the possible outcomes of all the possible responses? What’s my best option? Whew! This all takes a huge toll on ADHDers’ already weak working memory.
Refocusing Attention - And finally, once we are able to contain the emotion, we still need to figure out how to put it aside and re-engage in what we should be focusing on.
So What’s and ADHDer to Do?
As a start, just the idea of noticing your emotions can help you slow down and respond consciously instead of reacting impulsively. Try taking a S.T.O.P:
S -Stop what you are doing.
T - Take a breath or 5 or 10. Breathing helps to ground us.
O - Observe what is going on in your body, what you are feeling, what triggered it.
P - Proceed to respond (or not) after considering your options, instead of reacting impulsively.
In addition, here is a worksheet that my clients like to use to help them with big emotions.
There are some more great ideas in this video.
The Good News
It’s not all bad. Emotions are a good thing - they motivate us and help us communicate. The ADHDers I've worked with are some of the warmest, fun-loving and caring people I know. They’re passionate, interesting and expressive. There are definitely advantages to deeply feeling your emotions.
So how about you? Do you find yourself sometimes "too emotional"? Have you been accused of being too emotional? What do you like about being in touch with your emotions?
I'd love to hear from you. Comment below.
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