When I was a child, I used to be described as a whirlwind of emotions and even seen as a real Jekyll and Hyde because of my contrasting moods. While these comparisons were drawn many years back, the observations hold true yet to this day. My emotions tend to go from 0 to 100 and the other way around many times even today!
When I started to learn about ADHD after my diagnosis, one thing that did not make sense to me was how my emotions worked. I got the answers I was looking for after stumbling upon emotional regulation. Learning more about emotional responses led me to the discovery of how emotional dysregulation impacts individuals with ADHD.
Although the inability to modulate emotions and expression is not listed under the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for ADHD, emotional symptoms are highly common in those with ADHD. Many, if not all, of individuals with ADHD whom I have met with find it challenging to regulate their emotions.
According to research, about 24-50% of children and 30-70% of adults with ADHD struggle with emotional dysregulation. Those that have the ability to self-regulate their emotions can critically judge when to act on emotional triggers and when not to. They can control their emotions and use them optimally. By definition, emotional regulation refers to the process by which individuals influence their emotions, when to have them and how they confront as well as express them.
Those that have emotional dysregulation lack the ability to navigate this emotional regulation process. Individuals with ADHD who are unable to rely on crucial emotional self-regulatory skills may greatly struggle with their wellbeing and self-esteem. It’s been found that the reason for emotional dysregulation in individuals with ADHD may be due to their poor executive functioning skills.
How does emotional dysregulation affect everyday life?
If you have emotional dysregulation, you may not be able to appropriately modulate emotions like anger, fear and anxiety which can result in causing harm to relationships, missed opportunities and unnecessary misery. It’s essential to be able to take charge of your emotions as they play a crucial part in various aspects of life including social relationships, goal attainment as well as health and wellbeing.
If you do not have the ability to control the regulation process, emotions that result from different stimuli, the trauma of the past and less-than-ideal executive functioning skills can build and become overpowering with time. The intense emotions can cause a lot of variability and inconsistency throughout the day, making things quite overwhelming.
I remember a time when someone asked:
“How was your day today?”
I just froze in time while internally recalling the mix of emotions I felt over the day:
The illustrations above portray how my emotions are like on some days. As I cannot properly self-regulate my emotions, they tend to fluctuate and become very overpowering at times. It’s like my mind takes over and things become very intense and extreme. The feelings become very hard to control and manage. Strangely, the emotions don’t usually last for long; as sudden as they come, they go! The problem is that they ultimately return and the cycle repeats itself.
However, with every dark cloud, there is a light. The emotions and resistivities I experience cause me to have compassion, passion, spar enthusiasm and very high energy! So, in a way, I am thankful for my powerful emotions; however, most days I wouldn’t say this!
The question is, how can we manage the intense feelings and moderate them appropriately?
Here are my top I’s to managing the emotions of the mind head-on:
Name the emotion: Name it to tame it is a very well-known strategy! Naming the emotions that you feel can help you not only identify them but also acknowledge the intense feelings that accompany them. This habit can help you bring some sense to the situation, making it easier for you to deal with different stimuli that cause the emotions.
Articulate or express your emotions: After identifying and naming the emotion you are feeling, try and express it using any method of preference. You may want to express through drawings, verbal processing, thinking, mindfulness or just internal interpretation. Allow yourself some time to feel it!
Reflect: After an emotion has taken charge, reflect on it and think about what caused it! Looking back on the reason can help you to plan for similar situations that may occur in the future.
Have outlets: Emotions are energy bursts and if you have ADHD, the intensity of your feelings may multiply and feel extreme. Consider having an outlet to get those emotions out whether it’s through exegesis, connection, or mediation! It always will come out one way or another; it just comes down to whether you want it to come out positively or not.
Note the triggers: When you educate yourself on when you feel certain emotions, you may be able to begin taking control of what you feel and how you experience as well as express them. Keep an eye out for those triggering occasions and be aware of them.
Know that it’s okay: Last but not least, give yourself a hug as it can get hard to accept and allow all of the different emotions to come through, especially if you have been constantly told to suppress them. Just know that it is okay to feel whatever you are feeling! You are valid!
Emotions in everyday life can be unpredictable and pesky, always waiting to pounce at any point in time. Expect different possibilities out of your days so that you will always be mentally prepared for what comes your way!
If you are looking for ADHD coaching and support, reach out to us! We are here to help.