ADHD brains are more likely to experience amygdala hijack due to a variety reasons. ADHD brains are more likely to experience amygdala hijack.1 2 ADHD brain also has trouble turning off emotional processing. This happens when stress, whether systemic or individual, is persistently present. Individuals who are constantly overwhelmed by stress and emotions lose their ability to access the rational side of themselves.
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Poor Working Memory
A strong working memory is linked to emotional regulation. However, a weak working memory — which can be associated with ADHD or executive dysfunction — can often compromise a person’s ability manage and respond appropriately.3 A weak working memory could explain why your ability to recall and decide on the best coping strategies and tools to use when you are faced with a trigger. Executive dysfunction can also explain limited impulse control, or why you might regret doing or saying things when you’re overwhelmed.
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
It is a condition in which person shows emotional reactions to real or fake criticism . It can also be associated with:
- Intense feelings of shame, embarrassment, and failure can be a result.
- Fear that others will abandon you because of your mistakes
- It is difficult to let go of hurtful experiences, such as rejection and hurt.
RSD can cause you to think and feel anxious, which can lead to emotional outbursts. You may react defensively if you hear or experience the worst. Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion, because fear and other emotions are often hidden below the surface. It’s possible that the negative outcome you imagined might not happen.
[Read: I Can’t Handle Rejection. Will I Ever Change?]
Understanding your anger habits
Habits are usually involuntary patterns that arise to satisfy an emotional need. Habits are composed of triggers, routine behavior, and reinforcing outcomes. To change a habit, you only need to target one of these components.
Not all habits are healthy. Anger and emotional outbursts can be a result of a habitual response to unpleasant feelings. These feelings often occur when we underestimate our ability or inability to deal with stressors.
It takes effort and time to improve metacognitive skills. As you observe your thoughts and sensations, don’t judge. Just notice and shift one thing. You are doing your best to reduce your anger and reactivity.
Use effective responses to change old anger habits
Gather Tools to Relieve Anger at Every Stage
Access the calm part of yourself that is modulated. Here are some ideas for dealing with emotional intensity at any stage.
When you’re mildly uncomfortable
This stage is just above your baseline level of calm and comfort. It’s easy to overlook, but there is a subtle trigger.
- Be aware of the negative voice in your head that is trying to charge you with thoughts.
- Compare your limiting beliefs about yourself and the situation to the facts.
When you’re activated
This stage is when you feel overwhelmed, angry, or frustrated. It’s becoming hard to ignore. You might be dwelling on something that is bothering your mind. It’s possible to have a battle between your thinking and emotional parts of your brain. Talk to your emotional brain.
- Recognize and validate your emotions. It’s okay to be mad. But how can I settle down?
- Repetition affirmations and supportive phrases. Here’s an example: “This may not be the most enjoyable moment or your best moment, but it will get you through it.”
- Visualize yourself settling down. Imagine yourself sitting by a lake and tossing in some pebbles. As each one makes its way to the sandy bottom feel yourself settle in your feet or in your chair.
When you’re on “High Alert”
This stage is when you’re most disregulated. Your body is ready to fight or flee. These are the physical signs of anger. Your body can respond to these emotions by changing your body’s behavior.
- Focused breathing techniques include alternate nostril breathing, belly breath, and other breathing techniques. Triangle breathing is a common technique I recommend: Inhale for a count four, hold for four, and exhale for six. The cycle should be stopped and pause before you repeat it again. The physiological response to fight or flight slows down the longer you exhale.
- Physically remove yourself completely from the stressful situation.
- To get some steam going, go for a run or a walk.
- Use a timed distraction. You can listen to music or play a video on your phone.
You can choose your favorite soothers, but you can also mix and match them. Breathing is a useful skill at any stage, such as in the beginning.
Practice, Practice and Practice
Stressful situations are part of everyday life and are not something we can control. We can control our reactions with clever strategies. These are some tips to help you shift from reactive habits to responsive ones.
- Change is possible. To make it easy to find your coping tools, you can list them in several places: on your phone, on sticky notes around the house.
- Concentrate on one thing You can always change one thing at a time. Smaller goals mean greater progress.
- Rely on A growth mindset. Expect to be frustrated and challenged as you adjust your emotional reactions. Don’t view your mistakes as personal flaws, but as learning opportunities.
- Keep this in mind Why you want to change your behavior and stop causing anger
- Do not be so hard on yourself. Shame and regret over your emotional reactions will only make you feel worse. If you aren’t able to learn from the mistakes you have made, it is pointless to berating yourself. Self-compassion is about acknowledging that you are doing your best. Accept that you may lose it sometimes, despite all your best efforts. Although progress may seem like two steps forward, it’s still one step ahead.
- You are not your ADHD reactivity. Although intense feelings may have been part of your life for a while, they don’t define you. You are more than your flaws. Stumbling allows us to do what we are meant to do: learn.
- Recognize your strengths and find the good. Write down three things that went smoothly each day, no matter how small. Example: “I had a great coffee. I smiled today. I like the clothes that I wore.”
- Treat yourself with kindness. Make a list of affirmations and encouraging words for yourself. These can be put on your phone, or posted around your home or office.
- You should plan how you will respond to criticisms, even constructive ones. This resource explains how you can deal with RSD.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- You should follow a routine that allows for you to get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, move your body, and connect to others. A routine can help you stay grounded and reduce stress.
- You can think HALT all day – aren’t you? hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? What are your options for addressing these issues and regulating?
- Be positive and build relationships with others. Plan ahead to resolve conflicts.
Next Steps: How to Control ADHD Anger & Emotional Reactivity
- Quiz: Am I Experiencing Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?
- Download: Emotional Regulation & Anger Management Scripts
- From Readers: How to manage your anger before it bubbles to a boil
This article was partly inspired by the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled “ADHD Causes Emotional Outbursts” [Video Replay & Podcast #426]”With Sharon Saline, Psy.D.,” which was broadcast October 19, 2022.
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View Article Sources
1 Tajima-Pozo, K., Yus, M., Ruiz-Manrique, G., Lewczuk, A., Arrazola, J., & Montanes-Rada, F. (2018). Amygdala abnormalities in adults with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders 22(7), 667-678. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054716629213
2 Hulvershorn, L. A., Mennes, M., Castellanos, F. X., Di Martino, A., Milham, M. P., Hummer, T. A., & Roy, A. K. (2014). Abnormal amygdala functional connectivity associated with emotional lability in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 53(3), 351-61.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2013.11.012
3 Groves, N. B., Kofler, M. J., Wells, E. L., Day, T. N., & Chan, E. S. M. (2020). An Examination of Relationships Among ADHD Symptoms, Working Memory, and Emotion Regulation. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 48(4), 525-537. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-019-00612-8