Managing intense emotions is a shared human experience. But when it comes to kids, teens, and adults living with ADHD, it can feel more challenging.
Learning how to regulate and manage emotions can help those living with ADHD better respond to life’s challenges in healthy ways.
What is emotional dysregulation?
Emotional dysregulation Is an inability to control your emotional reactions and is defined by an extreme response to them.
Both adults and kids with ADD/ADHD frequently experience challenges in regulating their emotions. Research has shown that emotional dysregulation in kids with ADHD to be between 24 and 50%, while the prevalence in adults diagnosed with ADHD to be around 70%.
These challenges can be far more detrimental to someone’s sense of self-worth and overall well being than the core symptoms of ADHD, regardless of age.
What causes emotional dysregulation?
Poor regulation of emotions in people with ADHD is likely the result of poor executive function control, which leads to the following issues in day to day living:
- Experiencing emotions more intensely, especially in relationships
- Being overly excited
- Focusing on negative aspects of a task or situation
- Experiencing social issues, including social rejection, bullying, or isolation
- Experiencing relationship issues, such as breakups, divorce
However, it’s entirely possible to improve your emotional regulation despite these struggles if you or your child have ADD/ADHD. Here’s what you need to know.
Focus on prevention. Early preventative techniques can help by decreasing your vulnerability to powerful emotions. The best way to regulate a strong emotion is to prevent it from becoming overwhelming. The following areas will help to prevent solid emotional responses:
- Treat physical illness. Getting sick makes us vulnerable to increased emotional volatility. Take medication as prescribed, and schedule an appointment with your doctor if you don’t feel well.
- Eat well. Eating regularly and focusing on a nutritious, healthy diet can improve your body’s ability to regulate any distressing emotions that arise.
- Get quality sleep. Most people need 7- 10 hours of sleep a night. Practice good sleep hygiene by turning off electronics at least an hour before bedtime, going to sleep at the same time each night, and making the room as dark as possible.
- Get plenty of exercises. Exercise leads to a boost of mood-regulating chemicals in the brain and provides an outlet to burn off excess energy burning off excess energy that stems from ADHD.
Cope ahead, when possible. Coping ahead means planning for situations and events that you know will trigger a strong emotional response. Identify the types of situations and what you need to feel more in control and prepared for the situation. Then, follow through with what works.
Preparation techniques may take the form of:
- Role-play to prepare for a difficult situation
- Carrying an item to remind you of your coping strategies
- Using your self-soothing skills
If, at first, your coping attempts are not successful, don’t get discouraged! Sometimes, it takes some trial and error to find something that works. Remember to practice your coping strategies routinely, even in calm situations, so that you’re already a pro when it comes time to use them.
Be mindful of being present in the moment. It’s not uncommon to experience intense emotions where your thoughts begin to spiral down a negative path. This can create added anxiety in the present situation, so remember to focus on the current situation and your plan to deal with strong emotions.
Use grounding techniques. If you find yourself beginning to lose your focus, ground yourself in the present moment. One effective grounding technique is known as ‘ 5-4-3-2-1’. In this technique, you’ll ground yourself by paying attention to your environment, by naming:
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can hear
- Three things you can feel against your skin
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste
If this feels too complicated for you, remember to ground yourself in your environment using your five senses. Another way to ground yourself would be to count the different colors you see.
Practice good self-soothing techniques. When you identify that your emotions are becoming too intense or overwhelming, separate yourself from the situation and de-escalate yourself. One way to do this is by practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
- Start by taking a deep breath through your nose and allow it to fill your lungs, causing your diaphragm to rise.
- Then, breathe out slowly through your mouth. If you place your hands on your abdomen, you should be able to see them rise if you are breathing correctly.
- Do this a few times, and you should quickly feel more relaxed. Once you feel like your emotions are at a tolerable level, return to the situation and attempt to find a resolution.
If you’d like to learn more about assessment and treatment options for ADHD, schedule a consultation at Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic.