ADHD and Emotional Regulation

ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is often thought of as being about having a short attention span and lack of focus. However, another element of ADHD is problems with emotional regulation or the ability to control one’s emotions. Anger and anxiety are common emotions that people with ADHD find it difficult to regulate and so they often become overwhelmed by these feelings. This article will explore tips for emotional regulation in adults with ADHD.

What Are Emotional Regulation and Dysregulation?

Emotional regulation is the ability to match one’s emotions to the situation. Someone with good emotional regulation will respond appropriately, without overreacting. The person with good emotional regulation will maintain calm in difficult situations as opposed to having emotional outbursts, and they will be able to think clearly and remain focused on their goals.

Conversely, emotional dysregulation is characterised by the inability to match one’s emotions to the situation. Someone with emotional dysregulation may be prone to losing their temper, becoming highly anxious or otherwise distressed in ways that can appear to be out of alignment with the gravity of the situation. Emotional dysregulation impairs a person’s ability to think clearly so they may make poor choices. People who are unable to regulate their emotions are more likely to achieve less academically, invest their finances badly, or experience relationship breakdown.

What Links ADHD With Emotional Dysregulation?

The pre-frontal cortex of the brain regulates emotions, but it functions differently in people with ADHD when compared with people without ADHD. People with ADHD find that their emotions get easily over-activated and it’s then difficult put the brakes on them. Untreated symptoms of ADHD can also make emotional difficulties more likely, for instance lack of focus or concentration might lead to frustration and anger.

Ten Emotion Regulation Tips For ADHD:

Pay Attention to Your Physical Needs

Everyone is more emotional when important physical needs aren’t met. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating regular and healthy meals, exercising, and getting outside in daylight. Regular exercise can be especially important as a way of reducing stress in people with ADHD. Taking care of your physical needs will support you to better regulate your emotional needs.

Practice Regular Self-Care

It’s often a buildup of difficult situations that leads to a person feeling they can’t cope, rather than one isolated incident. Plan relaxing activities into your day and week as a way to prevent the accumulation of stress. You could go for a walk each day, get a massage, practice mindfulness, read, speak with a close friend, or anything else that you find calming.

Learn How to Stay in the Present

When we’re emotionally overwhelmed it’s easy to start to worry about the future or focus on difficult things from the past. Take a step back and focus on the present instead. Pay attention to your breathing, or list five things you can see, hear or touch. Splashing cold water on your face or holding an ice cube can also help to ground you in the present moment.

Recognise the Early Warning Signs

Maybe you start to snap at your children more quickly than usual. Or perhaps you notice your heart rate increases. Maybe you always argue with your partner in the mornings. Pay attention to the early warning signs that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and take steps to manage the triggers. For instance, ask someone to help out with your children if you notice you’re getting stressed, or change the morning routine with your partner to make things run more smoothly.

Thoughts are not Facts

Adults with ADHD often fixate on difficult thoughts however just because we can think something it doesn’t mean it’s true. Gently challenge your negative thoughts and see if there are more helpful alternative explanations. For instance, if your boss scheduled a meeting with you it doesn’t mean she’s going to give you bad feedback, perhaps she wants you to head up a new project.

Get to Know and Name Your Emotions

People with emotional dysregulation find it challenging to identity their emotions. Pay attention to yourself in different situations. How do you feel? Can you name your emotions (for example anger, anxiety, fear)? How do you react? Do your emotions seem helpful? Or are their intensity making the situation more difficult? Journal some of your answers to these questions over a few days. It’s easier to manage our emotions appropriately once we’re able to identify and name them.

Take a Step Back and Pause

Emotions aren’t always a good guide to our behaviour, especially when we’re experiencing intense feelings. When you notice that you’re overwhelmed, pause, name the emotion you’re feeling and remind yourself that it will pass. Give yourself time to check that any response you make aligns with your longer-term goals, rather than just with the short-term emotion you’re feeling. If in doubt, you could check with a friend, or imagine what a close friend without ADHD might do.

Remember Not All Emotions Are Bad

Emotions are a normal part of being human and are a natural reaction to situations we experience. It’s OK to express our emotions in healthy ways, such as through talking about them or writing them down. No one can completely eliminate difficult emotions, whether or not they have ADHD, and it’s OK to feel them. However, we can learn to manage our emotions differently and keep difficult emotions in check.

Take Steps to Improve Self-Esteem

Having good self-esteem can make us more resilient to challenges and setbacks and help us to manage our emotions better. Set yourself small and achievable challenges and congratulate yourself when you accomplish something. Find a hobby that you enjoy and watch yourself proudly as you improve at it with practise. Talking with ourselves kindly is also good for self-esteem, so replace any self-criticism with compassion and understanding.

Consider Medication

If you have ADHD, then there are a lot of steps that you can take to help yourself to regulate your emotions better. However, medication can be a useful option for controlling ADHD symptoms in adults too. Find a medical professional with expertise in ADHD to make sure you have the correct diagnosis and to seek potential treatment.

How Can Help?

If you have or think you might have ADHD and have tried these tips for emotional regulation but are still finding it difficult, then can help. By signing up with our program you can chose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalised toolkit to support you with ADHD and to learn to manage your emotions differently.

At we offer an integrated and holistic package to enable you to feel at your best. Our approach includes regular sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and worksheet support, journaling and yoga. This ongoing support means that you have the daily expert guidance you need to make progress with learning to regulate your emotions and express them in healthy ways.