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  • cherylgigler

Runaway Emotions


Why is it so hard to manage moods when you have ADHD? Ever lose your temper, going from zero to sixty? Do you get stuck, unable to muster up the motivation to get into action? Ever try to understand directions and give up because you are so frustrated? You are not alone! Feelings are frequent and intense for people with ADHD. They can last longer and get in the way of everyday life. We get overwhelmed by them, which makes it hard to control them. We feel at their mercy. According to ADHD expert Dr. Thomas Brown, processing emotion is a brain thing. The brain networks responsible for regulating emotion do not work as well for people with ADHD. The traits of ADHD, such as impulsivity and hyperactivity, influence how well we can manage troublesome emotions. We aren’t always aware of what we are feeling, which makes dealing with it more difficult. We can get focused in on one aspect of a situation, without taking into account all of the relevant information, which keeps us stuck. We can react instantly, flying off the handle, saying things that we don’t mean. We can procrastinate and get overwhelmed because we don’t know how to break down a project, due to challenges with executive function and memory. The strong feelings that we have triggers the sympathetic nervous system, and we experience the fight or flight response. The amygdala, the emotional brain, is responsible for keeping us safe. The body perceives all threats as being dangerous, whether real or perceived, and reacts accordingly. ADHD psychologist Ari Tuckman states, “People with ADHD have challenges knowing the appropriate emotion, as well as feeling it in the right intensity.” What Can You Do About It? Fortunately, we can learn how to better understand and manage our emotions. How we respond to emotions is important, because it influences how we act. Our thoughts affect our feelings, which in turn influence our actions. When you feel strong emotions, try one or more of the following suggestions. Over time, practicing these techniques can help improve your emotional intelligence. Pause. Pressing the “pause” button creates distance between the feeling and the action. It helps you process what has happened, countering impulsivity. Try counting backwards as a way to hit “pause.” Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Deep abdominal breathing calms the stress response. This will override the intense feelings and help to activate the logical, problem solving part of the brain. Bringing more oxygen to the brain sends a calming message to the body, and back again to the brain. Diaphragmatic breathing causes endorphins to release and slows your heart rate. Consider a meditation app, such as Calm (www.calm.com). Acknowledge and label the feeling. Feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just are. Identify the emotions as best you can. Labeling the feeling shifts brain activity from the primitive emotional brain to the rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Find ways to distract yourself. You want to create distance between yourself and the challenging situation. Walk away, drive somewhere, call a friend to vent, read, watch a video or read your favorite author, seek sensory stimulation with fidgets, etc. Do something that always makes you feel good. This could be a using a talent or engaging with a hobby or volunteer activity. Connect with your strengths, and do the thing that you know you are good at. Exercise. Move, shake out the tension, and discharge the stress. Twenty minutes of an aerobic activity equals an hour and a half of a stimulant medication, says John Ratey, MD. Make a plan. Have a plan in place, so that you know what to do in the heat of the moment. Find a therapist. Consider working with a therapist to help you understand and manage your emotions. Therapy can help to reframe the past, building self-esteem. Address the ADHD Layer of Your Emotions Many people with ADHD are also creative people, who tend to be very sensitive to the world and experience the world through their emotions. There are upsides to this, because these highly sensitive people are empathic and intuitive. The downside is that feeling intense feelings can be overwhelming, and we need a lot more time to process them. Trying to tame the emotional tiger without addressing its underlying struggles is like putting a bandage on a leg that needs a brace. Here are some suggestions for addressing the ADHD layer of emotional regulation. Get the ADHD diagnosis. Self-management is difficult if your brain is offline. Make sure that you are aware of any coexisting conditions, such as anxiety or depression. These need to be treated, as well, in order to modulate emotion successfully. Take your medication. Medication can make a huge difference. If your ADHD symptoms are under control, you are less frustrated and not working so hard to get through the day. Take downtime. Give yourself space to relax, instead of doing everything back-to- back. Living with ADHD is stressful. Have a signal. Choose a trusted friend and come up with a signal that your friend can use if you are showing signs of having a meltdown. Creating a visual cue can help alert you that it’s time for you to push the “pause” button. Consider your comfort zone. Forewarned is forearmed. If you struggle with ambient sound and are meeting for a family event in a loud restaurant, bring earbuds, or choose to sit it out. Hire a coach. Coaches troubleshoot the daily challenges of ADHD, helping you to plan, organize, manage time, break down projects, etc. You will understand where your ADHD shows up and develop tips, tools, and strategies to manage it. Your frustration level will go down as you build transferrable skills. If you’d like help moving from the emotional roller-coaster to solid ground, consider scheduling a session with an ADHD coach. Sources --Understand Your Brain, Get More Done, Ari Tuckman, PhD., MBA --Exaggerated Emotions: How and Why ADHD Triggers Intense Emotions, Thomas Brown, Ph.D., ADDitude Magazine. --Five Simple Lessons for Social and Emotional Learning for Adults, Elena Aguilar --How to Manage Emotions More Effectively, Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, Psych Central. --Helpful vs. Harmful Ways to Manage Emotions, Mental Health America, mhanational.org .

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