The trigger is what starts it all. In a few seconds, rage and negativity can explode like a volcano. You will regret what you do or say before you have the chance to process it. But you can’t stop yourself. If we’re honest, sometimes it is good to just let everything out. ADHD is an emotional disorder that can cause emotional reactivity. Although ADHD brains are wired to feel Anger, frustration and hurt very intensely, emotional reactions can be changed with the right tools.
ADHD Brains: Why Anger and Big Emotions are so Powerful?
ADHD is characterized by emotional dysregulation. These features are all part of ADHD and explain why ADHD suffers from emotional disorders so frequently.
The brain’s emotional part, the amygdala, drives the fight-flight-freeze response. Amygdala hijack is a term that Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., coined to describe the situation when the brain reacts too strongly to perceived or real threats and effectively controls the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of its brain.
ADHD brains are more likely to suffer from amygdala hijack. ADHD brains are more likely to experience amygdala hijack.1 2 This is because they struggle to switch off their emotional processing, which can occur when there is constant stress from individual or systemic forces. Individuals can lose their rational side when they are constantly overwhelmed by emotions and stress.
Poor Working Memory
Strong working memory is connected to effective emotional regulation. However, weak working memory (which is often associated with ADHD or executive dysfunction) can make it difficult to remember and choose the best coping strategies and tools to use when confronted with a trigger. When you are overwhelmed, you may have a limited ability to control your impulses or you could say or do things you later regret.
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
The condition Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria causes emotional extreme reactions when criticised or rejected, real or perceived. It can also be associated with:
- Intense feelings of shame, embarrassment, and failure can be a result.
- Fear that others might withdraw their support or friendship because of your mistakes.
- It is difficult to let go of hurtful experiences, such as rejection or hurt.
RSD can cause you to think and feel anxious, which can lead to emotional outbursts. You may react defensively if you hear or feel the worst. Anger is sometimes called a secondary emotion because fear and other emotions are often hidden below the surface. It’s possible that the negative outcome you imagined may not happen.
How to Control ADHD-Laced Anger
Understanding your anger habits are usually involuntary patterns that arise to satisfy an emotional need. Habits are composed of triggers, routine behavior, and reinforcing outcomes. You only need to hit one component from it to change a habit.
Some habits can be harmful. Anger and emotional outbursts can be a result of coping with uncomfortable feelings. These feelings often occur when we underestimate our abilities to deal with stressors.
Investigate Your Reactivity
Be curious about your Anger. Think about it as a series of habits, when it appears, and the patterns that are associated with it. Metacognitive thinking, a powerful tool and an executive function skill, can help you evaluate and monitor your anger-related thoughts and behavior. These metacognitive questions will help you to understand your reactive patterns.
- “What’s triggering me?”
- “What will the feelings I get when angry?”
- “What are my reactions to anger or upset?”
Are these responses useful?
“What are their bodies and faces saying? This will help you move from a quick response to a situation to one that is thoughtful and measured.
Improving your metacognitive skills takes effort and time. 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
Get tools to slow down Anger at every stage.
Access the calm part of yourself that is modulated. These are some ideas to help you get through any stage of emotional intensity.
When you’re mildly uncomfortable
This stage is above your baseline of comfort and calm. It’s easy to overlook, but there is an invisible trigger.
Be aware of the negative voice in your head that is trying to charge you with thoughts.
Your limiting beliefs about yourself and the situation can be compared to the facts.
When you’ve activated
This stage is when you feel overwhelmed, upset, or angry, and it becomes difficult to ignore. You might be dwelling on something that is troubling you. The brain’s emotional and thinking parts are fighting for supremacy. Talk to the emotional brain.
Recognize and validate your emotions. It’s okay to feel angry. What can I do?
Repetition affirmations and supportive phrases. It is possible that this moment may not have been the best or most pleasant moment of your life, but you’ll get through it.
Visualize yourself settling down. Picture yourself relaxing by a lake and tossing in some pebbles. Feel yourself settle down on your feet or in your chair as each pebble makes its way to the sandy bottom.
When you’re on “High Alert.”
This stage is when you’re most dysregulated. Is your body 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 and belly breathing. Triangle breathing is a common technique I recommend: Inhale, hold the breath for four counts, and then exhale for six. The cycle should be stopped and paused before you repeat it again. The physiological response to fight or flight slows down the longer you exhale.
Remove yourself physically from any stressful situation.
To get some steam going, go for a walk or run.
Use a timed distraction. You can listen to music or play a video on your phone.
You can choose your favorite soothers, but you also have the option to mix and match. For example, breathing is helpful at any stage.
Practice, Practice, and Practice
Unfortunately, stress is a natural part of human life. 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 easier to find your coping tools, you can list them in several places: on your phone or on sticky notes in your home.
One thing you can do at a given time is what you should be focusing on. Smaller goals mean greater progress.
Be open to learning. As you adapt your emotional responses, expect to be frustrated and challenged. Don’t view your mistakes as personal faults but as learning opportunities.
Keep in mind why you want to change and get rid of Anger.
Do not be 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 berate yourself. Self-compassion is about acknowledging your efforts and being grateful for them. You will likely lose your self-compassion at times, even if you do everything in your power. Although progress may seem like it’s two steps back and one forward, it’s still one step ahead.
ADHD reactivity is not you. Although intense feelings may have been part of your life for some time, they don’t define you. Your foibles are not what define you. Stumbling allows us to do what is best for us: learn.
You can improve your emotional regulation in many different ways.
Recognize your strengths and find the positive. Write down three things that were good each day, no matter how small. For example: “I had a delicious cup of coffee.” Today, I smiled. I like the clothes that I wore.”
Show kindness to yourself. 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.
Keep a healthy lifestyle.
You should follow a routine that gives you enough sleep, healthy meals, and movement and allows you to connect with others. A routine can help you stay grounded and reduce stress.
All day, think HALT – Are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Are you tired?
Be positive and build relationships with others. Plan ahead to avoid conflicts.
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), 671-678. 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