How to Regulate Emotions with ADHD: Practical Strategies

How to Regulate Emotions with ADHD: Practical Strategies. Explore effective techniques for managing emotional dysregulation, mood swings, and intense feelings associated with ADHD.

People know that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) makes focus hard. But fewer realize it can also make controlling emotions tough. This leads to what psychologists call emotional dysregulation.1 Around 70% of adults with ADHD struggle with this.1 Over half of them face anxiety, and almost half deal with depression at some point in their life.1 Getting suddenly and uncontrollably angry is not unusual for those with ADHD.

Emotional control means not overreacting to feelings. It allows someone to face emotional situations calmly. Without it, emotions might not match what someone wants to achieve.1 Studies show a lack of emotional control can lead to harming others, self-harm, school dropouts, divorces, crimes, traffic accidents, and bad money choices.

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional dysregulation is a common challenge for individuals with ADHD, affecting up to 70% of adults.
  • ADHD can contribute to anxiety, depression, and difficulty controlling anger and other intense emotions.
  • Emotional dysregulation can have profound impacts on relationships, academic and work performance, and mental health.
  • Developing self-awareness, implementing self-regulation strategies, and seeking professional support can help manage emotional dysregulation in ADHD.
  • Lifestyle modifications, such as prioritizing sleep, exercise, and stress management, can also aid in emotional regulation.

Understanding Emotional Dysregulation in ADHD

Emotional regulation means you can manage feelings and react well in different situations. But, sometimes people can’t do this well. They might have Emotional Dysregulation, especially if they have ADHD.2 This can show in mood swings, finding it hard to deal with frustration, and becoming very angry.

ADHD with emotional dysregulation can make daily life hard. This includes issues with work, school, and how they feel about themselves. Health, both physical and mental, can be affected.2 It may also lead to harmful behaviors, such as using drugs, hurting oneself, and thinking about suicide.

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation is often linked with other mental health problems. These might be Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and others. It makes it tough for people to control their reactions and emotions.2

They might seem to overreact, find it hard to calm down, or get angry easily. These folks can also be easily swamped by their feelings and have a tough time focusing. They might cry a lot, hurt themselves, or avoid others. Anxiety can be very strong for them.

Prevalence of Emotional Dysregulation in ADHD

3 Studies show emotional dysregulation is very common in all ADHD types. Those with the combined type are often more affected.3 About 1 in 10 kids in the U.S. has ADHD, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.3

Figures for how many people with ADHD face emotion regulation problems vary. But, it’s clear a lot of them do. Estimates say from 25% to 70% of kids and adults with ADHD have difficulties regulating their emotions.

Brain Regions Associated with Emotion Regulation

The amygdala and frontal cortex are key for regulating emotions. They work differently in those with ADHD. This can lead to emotional dysregulation.2

Recent findings suggest an overactive amygdala and underactive frontal cortex might cause this problem in ADHD. Today, therapies like CBT and DBT are known to help. It’s crucial to work with mental health professionals for the best treatment.2

Causes of Emotional Dysregulation in ADHD

The prefrontal cortex, an important part of the brain, doesn’t work quite right in adults with ADHD. Imagine the brain is a high-speed car with brakes that are too slow. This explains why emotions can be hard to control for them.2

Impaired Prefrontal Cortex Functioning

In people with ADHD, the prefrontal cortex doesn’t act as it should. This issue might happen because there’s not enough dopamine, a chemical in the brain. Dopamine helps keep our emotions in check.2

Overlapping Symptoms with Mood Disorders

Some parts of the brain, like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, are different in those with ADHD. These differences can lead to emotional problems and other signs of ADHD. Plus, the signs of depression and anxiety can be similar to ADHD signs. This makes managing emotions even harder.2

Consequences of Untreated ADHD Symptoms

If ADHD isn’t treated, it can make dealing with emotions very tough. For instance, someone with ADHD might miss deadlines. This can lead to stress and make them feel bad about themselves. It also opens the door for more frustration and hopelessness.2

Studies show that 30% to 70% of adults with ADHD and 25% to 45% of kids with ADHD have big trouble with controlling their emotions.3 Only about 25% of kids with ADHD show regular emotion control. Most kids have some emotional struggles.3 Not dealing with ADHD can add more stress. This, in turn, can worsen emotional issues.3

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Impact of Emotional Dysregulation on Life

Emotional dysregulation linked with ADHD can deeply affect a person’s life.2 It causes issues in relationships and work. People with this struggle might face problems like impulsive actions and trouble managing emotions.2

Interpersonal Relationships

Dealing with emotions is tough for those with ADHD, especially in social scenes.2 This can harm how they connect with others, leading to communication issues and feelings of being disconnected.

Academic and Work Performance

In school or at work, it’s hard for them to stay focused due to their emotional struggles.2 Meeting deadlines and handling stress are extra difficult. This can hold them back from doing well.

Self-Esteem and Mental Health

It can also make them doubt themselves and feel anxious or ashamed.2 Trying to control emotions all the time is draining. It might even lead to depression or other mental health problems.2

Emotional Dysregulation in ADHDImpact
Interpersonal RelationshipsStrained relationships, misunderstandings, conflicts, isolation, shame
Academic and Work PerformanceDisrupted concentration, focus, and productivity
Self-Esteem and Mental HealthEroded self-confidence, heightened anxiety, increased risk of depression

The table shows emotional dysregulation’s wide-reaching effects in ADHD.2 Getting the right help and support is critical. It can significantly improve their life and well-being.2

how to regulate emotions adhd

Developing Emotional Awareness

To better control your emotions with ADHD, start by recognizing how your mind and body deal with different feelings.2 Think about what situations and places often leave you feeling overwhelmed. Notice how your body reacts, too. Ways to do this include writing down your emotions, using a chart to name how you feel, and tracking your feelings over time.2

Identifying Triggers and Bodily Responses

Finding out what really sets off your emotions, and how your body reacts, is key.2 Pinpoint the times, people, or situations that often make you emotional. Also, pay attention to how your body feels when emotions run high. This information helps you stop big emotional spikes before they happen.

adhd emotional triggers

Self-Regulation Strategies

Sometimes, we need to manage our big emotions while dealing with daily life. For those with ADHD, self-regulation strategies can be very useful.emotional self-regulation strategies> Here, mindfulness and grounding play a big part. Techniques like focusing on senses or muscle relaxation can calm you down.cognitive restructuring> Understanding your emotions and using these techniques can really help. By doing this, folks with ADHD can control their feelings better.

Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques

Mindfulness meditation is great for handling feelings. It helps the brain notice pain without jumping to react.mindfulness techniques>4 Studies show mindfulness is extra helpful for kids with ADHD, even at seven years old.4 Grounding skills, like observing senses or muscle relaxation, can lower stress when feelings get too big.

Cognitive Restructuring

If you have ADHD, changing negative thoughts can be a game changer. This method helps control your emotional reactions.cognitive restructuring> Spotting and altering bad thoughts with positive ones is key. It helps people with ADHD handle tough times better.4 Having more words to describe how you feel also makes a huge difference.4

Role of Medication

Studies show that medicines can make people with ADHD feel better.5 If ADHD isn’t treated, it adds more stress. Stimulant drugs improve how someone feels by controlling ADHD symptoms.5 Some doctors also use antidepressants to help with feelings.5 Your best step is talking to both an ADHD expert and a psychiatrist. They can figure out the right drugs for each person’s needs.

The CDC writes that 1 out of 10 kids in the U.S. has ADHD.3 Many adults and kids with ADHD have issues managing their emotions.3 Drugs like Ritalin tend to help grown-ups with their intense feelings.3 But, Adderall might make kids’ emotions worse.3

A big study looked at how over a million people took their ADHD meds. Most teens and up stopped within the first year.3 This shows how hard finding the right medicine can be. It must fit both the ADHD symptoms and the emotional side well.5 The best treatment also includes help for parents. This can lessen how many medicines the child needs.5

For some kids, certain drugs can make their emotions worse. But, trying other similar drugs might fix this.5 Doctors suggest keeping track of how the medicine is working. This can help them choose the best treatment.5

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Incorporating Uplifting Activities

ADHD can make it hard for some people to handle their feelings. Uplifting activities and stress management help reduce these challenges.6 Things like taking a calming bath or going for a walk can make someone feel better. They refresh the mind and body.

Children with ADHD can feel emotions more strongly and for longer.7 It’s good for them to do things that boost positive feelings.7 Activities promoting gratitude and compassion help. They teach children to keep trying, work together, and understand others better.7 Learning to be thankful also helps kids wait for rewards and keeps big reactions in check.7

Moving around is key for good health and dealing with feelings.6 For kids with ADHD, activities like lifting heavy items can be great.6 Breaks for moving are a must – they help to calm and focus.6

Having a special box of soothing items can be a calming tool.6 Writing or drawing your feelings is another way to get them out without words. This can be very helpful for those who struggle to speak.6 Also, a quiet place with tools for drawing or writing can be a big help.6 Tools like pictures, emotion charts, and timers are useful for those who find talking hard.6

Getting outside often is crucial for everyone’s well-being.6 Music is also a strong support for handling feelings well. Making different playlists for different times can stabilize emotions.6 Another good way to relax is by arranging objects in a pattern.6 This can be especially calming in the morning.

Building Mastery and Self-Confidence

Doing things you love, and you’re good at, can make you feel happier.1 You’ll cope better with tough times if you have many “mastery moments.” These moments help boost how you see yourself.1 They also make it easier to handle strong feelings.

Completing tasks each day or learning new things can help you feel capable.8 It boosts your confidence too. If you get good at a hobby or a sport, it can also help control your emotions better.9 For those with special learning needs or differences, coaching can be very helpful.9 It teaches skills to manage emotions better.

Emotional Distancing Techniques

People with ADHD might find it hard to manage their emotions well. They often have trouble controlling how they react to their feelings.10 But, there are ways they can learn to deal with this. By using specific techniques, they can step back from their emotions. This makes it easier to see things clearly and stay in control.11

ADHD individuals can practice a few methods to achieve this. First, they can put some physical distance between themselves and what’s causing strong emotions. This can help them feel less affected emotionally.11 They can also try to picture how they might feel about this situation later on. Seeing the bigger picture helps lessen the immediate emotional impact.11 Lastly, they might imagine they’re watching the event happen to someone else. This can give them an outsider’s perspective. It often results in them feeling less emotionally involved, offering clarity and control.11

By practicing these ways to create emotional distance, those with ADHD can get better at handling strong emotions. They can then improve how they regulate their feelings in general.1011

Seeking Professional Support

Studies show focusing on2 dealing with emotional ups and downs in therapy can boost results.12 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is great for this. It’s short and targets changing how you think and act to better handle emotions.12

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

For adults with ADHD, CBT stands out as the top12 therapy for managing emotions. It teaches them to spot and challenge negative thoughts. This can really help improve handling emotions.12

Working with an ADHD Specialist

Getting help from an expert in ADHD and emotions can make a big difference.2 These specialists create plans and offer tips tailored to emotional struggles. They help you understand how ADHD affects your feelings and suggest ways to cope better.2

Self-Care and Lifestyle Modifications

Everyone knows a tired toddler can be cranky. But, sleep loss affects adults’ moods too.13 To keep emotions in check, sleep well, exercise, and manage stress wisely.13 Good physical health makes it easier to handle mental and emotional struggles.13 Besides, daily mindfulness, fun activities, and stress reduction help people with ADHD regulate their feelings.

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Sleep and Exercise

For those with ADHD, enough sleep and working out are key for handling moods.13 Things like sleep, eating well, and moving often are vital for emotional balance.13 Putting physical health first helps people with ADHD face their emotions each day.

Stress Management

Learning to manage stress is big for emotional control with ADHD.13 Practicing mindfulness helps both kids and adults regulate their feelings.13 Using stress relief helps people with ADHD react less to upsetting situations. It keeps them calm and in charge.


Living with ADHD often means dealing with strong emotions, a task that is frequently brushed aside.14 Studies show that trouble managing emotions is a major part of ADHD for adults.14 Even when we’re young, signs of irritability and struggling with emotions point to ADHD in the future.

So, how can adults with ADHD handle their powerful feelings better? It starts with knowing yourself and your triggers.14 Then, using specific tools and getting help from experts can make a big difference.14 Making your own well-being a top priority also plays a huge role.

Getting a grip on your emotions might be harder for those with ADHD. But the payoffs are enormous.14 When you manage your feelings well, not only you feel better within yourself, but your relationships and work life also flourish.14

Struggling with how you feel can lead to several problems, from social issues to trouble at work.14 But making efforts to control your emotions can help spot ADHD clearly, without the confusion of mood disorders.14

ADHD meds can also make a positive difference in how emotionally impulsive a person is. They target some of the key emotional issues faced by those with ADHD.14

Understanding and tackling the reasons behind emotional chaos in ADHD is crucial. A step-by-step strategy can really boost your emotional health and joy in life.14 It might take time and a lot of work, but the outcome is truly rewarding. It’s a critical journey for anyone wanting to beat the emotional hurdles linked with ADHD.


What is emotional dysregulation in ADHD?

Emotional dysregulation means your feelings don’t match your goals. People with ADHD often find it hard to understand their emotions. They might have trouble reacting to events in a calm and fitting way.

How prevalent is emotional dysregulation in ADHD?

About 70% of adults with ADHD show signs of emotional dysregulation. More than half have anxiety, and nearly half get treatment for depression.

What brain regions are associated with emotional regulation in ADHD?

The prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are key for managing emotions. Yet, they work differently in adults with ADHD, leading to emotional control issues.

What causes emotional dysregulation in ADHD?

Several factors can come into play. These include issues in the prefrontal cortex, similar symptoms to mood disorders, and the effects of untreated ADHD over time.

How does emotional dysregulation impact the lives of individuals with ADHD?

It can hurt relationships, job or school performance, and emotional well-being. This is a big challenge for people with ADHD.

How can individuals with ADHD develop emotional awareness and regulation?

They can learn to spot what triggers their emotions. And they can use strategies such as mindfulness and changing how they think to better control their feelings.

What role does medication play in managing emotional dysregulation in ADHD?

Medicines like stimulants and SSRIs can help. They treat underlying ADHD symptoms and deal with the emotional side directly.

How can individuals with ADHD incorporate uplifting activities and build mastery to support emotional regulation?

Doing things that make them happy and successful can really help. It lifts spirits and gives a sense of achievement, making it easier to deal with deep emotions.

What emotional distancing techniques can help individuals with ADHD regulate their emotions?

They can try ways to step back from strong feelings. This might mean getting physically away from what’s bothering them. They could also try to see the situation from a future or objective point of view.

What role can professional support and self-care play in addressing emotional dysregulation in ADHD?

Getting help from mental health experts, especially those familiar with ADHD, is important. Self-care habits like sleep, exercise, and managing stress also make a big difference.

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