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The Emotional Side of ADHD

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on November 13, 2019

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can trigger certain emotions. For example, you might feel guilty or ashamed because of the way you think other people see you. You may get stressed if your loved ones say you don’t listen and you feel you’ve let them down in some way.

You have the same emotions as everyone else. But because of ADHD, you may feel them more strongly or for a longer time.

The right treatment and therapy can help you manage your ADHD symptoms and emotions. Coaching, therapy, and support groups can help you learn new ways to deal with them and feel better about life with ADHD.

ADHD and Stress

Everyone feels stress. Stress helps you focus on something that requires your attention -- and that's good. It can make you work harder and react quicker. Otherwise, you might stumble into something dangerous.

Stress becomes bad when it overwhelms your ability to act. When stress levels remain high for long periods, problems like depression and heart disease can result.

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So what's the connection between stress and ADHD? ADHD presents ongoing challenges that can make stress and frustration become out of control. If you have ADHD and a lot of unmanaged stress, it could raise your risk of some health problems and worsen symptoms of others, including:

 

Manage Stress

Anyone with ADHD -- children, teens, and adults -- can do a lot to manage ADHD and reduce stress. These strategies can be adapted for any age and include the following suggestions:

Follow through on your ADHD treatment plan

Follow through on the ADHD treatment plan, whether it's medication and/or behavior therapy. Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.

Learn stress management skills

You can learn skills to deal more effectively or minimize stress. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Strategies for dealing with or avoiding stressful situations
  • Developing more effective problem-solving skills
  • Improving communication skills
  • Learning to speak up for yourself and your needs (self-advocacy)

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Develop relaxation techniques

Learn techniques for meditation or relaxation. Biofeedback may also be useful to help monitor your level of stress and how you respond to it.

Remove stressors when appropriate

Some stressors can simply be removed or avoided altogether. For example, for a child with ADHD, you may want to schedule play dates with only one other child and monitor the play closely. A teen or adult may want to cut back on extra activities during stressful times.

Take control of your life wherever you can

This can be especially helpful to children and teens who often feel a lack of control over their ADHD. Older children and teens, for example, should be part of any school planning team that reviews the student's educational needs and plans. Adults may want to learn how to make ADHD-friendly career choices or ask for help to lessen stressors in the workplace.

Maintain overall health

Staying healthy helps you manage ADHD better and also helps your body respond more readily to any extra stress. Children, teens, and adults with ADHD can all take these steps to maintain health:

 

Manage Emotions at Work

ADHD can create challenges at work. You may tend to put off tasks or have a hard time organizing them. You may get distracted easily, have trouble finishing projects, or interrupt others during meetings.

These things can lead to work stress and burnout -- you may even want to quit your job at certain times. You may worry that others will think you’re a failure.

A career coach or career counselor can help you understand how your ADHD symptoms affect you on the job and learn to manage your emotions at work.

Here are some tips to deal with common ADHD symptoms at work:

  • Ask for a quiet spot to work in. Use earphones with music or white noise to block out chatter.
  • Write down all your tasks so you don’t forget anything.
  • Do one thing at a time, and finish it before you move on.
  • Take breaks to do quick things like filing. Take a walk on your lunch break. In long meetings, take notes to break up the time. Ask your therapist to teach you relaxation techniques you can do at your desk.
  • Talk with co-workers about better ways to work with people you might not get along well with. Find out if you overlook their cues and set off conflicts. See if you can take on more solo projects if teamwork is too stressful.

 

Deal With Emotions at Home

People who have ADHD often hear negative things about themselves from others. That can lead to issues with your self-image, and shame and guilt can affect your relationships. You may seem bored or interrupt your partner in conversations, show up late to things, or misread body language. Sometimes you may react impulsively with a big show of emotion. If your partner complains, you may start to resent them.

Here are some ways to deal with your emotions in relationships:

  • Plan ahead: If family gatherings or other social events make you stressed, let your partner know. Agree to leave early or take a break halfway through to walk outside.
  • Strike a balance: If you don’t finish tasks, your partner may try to step in, and that can lead to resentment on both sides. Talk about what needs to be done and divide things up. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
  • Give yourself burnout breaks: It’s OK to let your partner or friends know you need some quiet time.
  • Admit when you’ve messed up: Don’t blame all your mistakes on your ADHD or get defensive with your partner.

 

Get Support

Friends, family, others with ADHD, and mental health professionals who understand ADHD can all help children, teens, and adults deal with stress. Here are some suggestions:

  • Teens and adults can benefit from working with an ADHD coach, a professional organizer, or a job coach.
  • Connect with groups that provide ADHD information and support.
  • Individual, couples, or group therapy can help you learn ways to manage ADHD symptoms and your emotions. You can work on certain skills and get tips to manage stressful situations. A therapist can also help you be more aware of your actions and feelings and have a more positive outlook.

If you're not sure where to go for support, you can start with Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, a nonprofit group that serves people who are affected by ADHD.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Understood.org: “ADHD and Emotions: What You Need to Know.”

Attention Deficit Disorder Association: "ADHD: Not Just for Kids Anymore."

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder FAQs.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Child Mind Institute: “School Success Kit for Kids with ADHD.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “About ADHD.”

CHADD of Northern California: “How Adult ADHD Affects Relationships.”

Amen Clinics: "A Summary of Ways to Optimize Brain Function and Break Bad Brain Habits," "Soothing the Brain and Calming Stress."

National Resource Center for AD/HD: "AD/HD and Coexisting Disorders," "The Disorder Named AD/HD," "Women and ADHD."

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