adhd and emotional regulation
ADHD and Emotional Regulation

adhd and emotional regulation

How does ADHD affect emotional regulation?

Even though emotional regulation isn't part of the "criteria for ADHD, it should be. It's one of the biggest problems Adhd women struggle with. They actually have a name for it - deficient emotional self-regulation- or desire. That sounds so awful.

Why do ADHD people struggle so much with emotional regulation?


Being Criticized, Forced to Mask, and Disconnected from Others

Being treated differently, shamed, and taught to mask can result in many emotions and, therefore, a lot to manage. When you feel okay the way you are, like you are okay and worthwhile, you feel more calm, at peace, and regulated.

Often, what ADHD children need to become regulated—safety, belonging, and understanding—they aren't given.

This is one reason adhd adults struggle with emotional regulation.

Brain Differences

ADHD influences emotional regulation through brain functioning and processing differences. The ADHD brain is different, making it harder to function in the world with the expectations that your brain is neurotypical.

The prefrontal cortex and amygdala are different in individuals with ADHD, and these areas are both responsible for emotional processing.

Neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which play crucial roles in emotional responses, also don't work the same in people with ADHD.

The Stress Response

Adhd Women have a heightened stress response often referred to as fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Again, feeling different, being criticized, and struggling to make sense of the world is often responsible for this. Adders are also much more likely to experience trauma than their neurotypical peers.

Delaying Overwhelming Tasks

Overwhelming can often cause ADHD to be avoided. This, coupled with "time blindness" or a skewed perception of time, can lead to increased stress and emotional dysregulation in a fast-paced world.

Difficulty Identifying Emotions (Alexithymia)

People with ADHD may experience alexithymia, which is significantly more common in this population than in the general public. Alexithymia involves deficits in identifying internal signs that you are hungry or thirsty and also gives you trouble identifying emotions. This can lead to challenges in recognizing stress signals and managing emotions effectively.

Difficulty Filtering Negative Experiences

Unlike neurotypical brains that can filter out painful experiences and memories more efficiently, ADHD brains may struggle with this filtering process. This can lead to a heightened focus on negative experiences and difficulty moving past them. Additionally, there is a tendency to stick to these difficult experiences or ruminate on them, churning on them repeatedly.

Challenges in Reducing Emotional Intensity

Once emotions are triggered, Adhders may find it harder to tamp down those emotions.

Default Mode Network (DMN) Activity

New research shows that the DMN in individuals with ADHD may not deactivate during tasks requiring focus as it typically does in neurotypical individuals. This constant activity can lead to overwhelming internal chatter about worries, mistakes, or desires, further complicating emotional regulation.

Reward System Differences (Horribly called Reward Deficiency Syndrome)

Sometimes, it may feel like nothing you seek satisfies you. At times, an ADHD person can feel intense suffering if something that does feel good is taken away or if they can't have it. We think dopamine levels are responsible in a large way for this. People with “reward deficiency syndrome” may also make ADHD people more prone to overeating and addiction. This is more common in the hyperactive, impulsive type of ADHD.

What are common emotional regulation challenges you can face as an ADHD person?

Here are some things that might be a little harder:

  1. Feeling strong emotions: Sometimes, you might feel your emotions more strongly. This can make it tough when you feel rejected or criticized.
  2. Controlling reactions: It can be hard to control how you react to things. You might sometimes act impulsively or react badly to things that happen.
  3. Getting upset easily: Everyday things that happen, like small problems or changes in plans, can make you feel intense emotions. It can be tough to stay calm and focused.
  4. Dealing with negative feelings: It might be hard to stop thinking about them. This can make it tough to feel better after something bad happens.

What are strategies for improving emotional regulation as an ADHD person?

Improving emotional regulation involves minimizing stress, self-compassion, physical activity, medication for some, strategies to make things easier for yourself, communicating your needs to others, increasing awareness and understanding of what you are feeling, and taking good care of yourself. Tailored approaches that consider individual needs are essential.

Another helpful approach is surrounding yourself with people and environments where you feel accepted and understood and where people are calm and can help emotionally regulate you.

Medications that help improve emotional regulation in people with ADHD:

Medications, including psychostimulants and non-stimulant options like Atomoxetine and guanfacine, can be effective. They help by improving emotion recognition and supporting the neural mechanisms underlying emotional regulation.

What is the connection between ADHD and its relationship with anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression are higher in adhd people. In women, the rates are higher than in men. The link involves emotional dysregulation contributing to increased stress, impaired recovery from stress, and a cycle of negative intrusive thoughts.

How can emotional regulation issues impact your social relationships?

It can be scary to feel you don't understand why and how to control your emotions. Other people are often not helpful, especially if you are a woman. Our culture devalues emotions, and if you are an emotional woman, you are likely to be devalued.

Emotional dysregulation impacts marriages, causing communication difficulties, intense bouts of depression, and even trouble at work. Let's look at some more of the areas below.


Emotional Dysregulation (ED) can contribute to traffic accidents, road rage, and even substance abuse! One-third of adults in treatment programs for substance abuse have ADHD.


Emotional regulation issues cause trouble at work. Women with ADHD can be underappreciated at work. They may struggle to feel connected to coworkers and may also struggle to keep up with neurotypical expectations. These issues contribute to low self-esteem and rejection sensitivity dysphoria, which may increase emotional dysregulation. Unfortunately, most people do not understand. Self-advocacy can be so important!


Emotional regulation issues can also cause women with ADHD to have issues with parenting. Overwhelming stress and lack of support may cause meltdowns. Sometimes, they may yell and lose their temper or cry out of overwhelm. Later, they may feel guilty and awful. If you are a woman with ADHD, emotional regulation issues can cause you to feel inadequate across so many domains of your life.

Are there any specific triggers or situations that tend to exacerbate emotional dysregulation in adhd people?

For women, various factors can trigger emotional dysregulation, including hormones, sensory overload, hunger, lack of sleep, and stress. Recent research indicates two critical times during your menstrual cycle when you may experience these challenges more intensely. These times are right before ovulation when you might be more impulsive, and right before your period when you might be more susceptible to emotional dysregulation. To manage these fluctuations, keeping track of your cycle on a calendar and prioritizing self-care practices that are beneficial for your well-being is helpful.

What role does self-care have to do with emotional regulation?

Radical Self-care is vital in reducing stress, improving overall health, and enhancing the capacity to manage emotions effectively, underscoring its importance in ADHD and emotional regulation. The more you care for yourself with sleep, diet, and rest, the more regulated you will be. ADHD women often face unique challenges when it comes to self-care because they may not have been taught to prioritize their own needs and tend to put others before themselves. You likely need to recognize the importance of self-care and make a conscious effort to prioritize your well-being. Taking the time to care for you can better manage their emotional regulation and find a healthier balance in their lives.

What about parenting a child with ADHD? How can you help your child with emotional regulation?

Supporting a child involves teaching coping strategies like emotion identification, implementing structured routines, and modeling healthy emotional regulation. Emphasizing a strength-focused, neurodivergent-affirming environment is crucial for fostering emotional regulation skills. This is why learning self-compassion skills is helpful for ADHD women; they are emotionally regulating and will help you be a better parent.

Why didn't you know emotional regulation was part of your ADHD? How come no one told you before?

Emotional dysregulation is a core feature of ADHD but isn't captured in the diagnostic criteria. Experts like Paul Windsor and Russell Barkley believe emotional regulation issues should be part of the core criteria, estimated to impact about 45-55 percent of ADHD adults. Russel Barkley calls these issues deficient emotional self-regulation or DESR.

How ADHD and Emotional Regulation is treated?

Medication alleviates emotional regulation issues in ADHD, with stimulants showing significant improvement. Atomoxetine and Guanfacine extended-release have also been shown to help with temper, irritability, and reactivity.

Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.



By admin