Coping with Heightened Emotions When You Have ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects approximately 5% of children, and many continue to struggle with it into adulthood. ADHD involves challenges in executive functioning, which includes difficulties with focus, attention, organisation, and impulse control. Another hallmark of ADHD is experiencing heightened emotions and reactivity. When someone with ADHD feels overwhelmed, their emotions can become intense, making it challenging to regulate them effectively. This article explores some practical strategies that can help individuals with ADHD cope with their overwhelming emotions.

1. Identify and Label Emotions

One of the first steps to coping with heightened emotions is to identify and label them accurately. Many individuals with ADHD struggle to pinpoint precisely what they are feeling because of difficulty with emotional regulation. It is entirely normal to have multiple emotions simultaneously, but it can make it even more confusing for individuals with ADHD. Therefore, it is crucial to name each emotion as it arises.

Some tips to help identify emotions include:

  • Keep a journal of what triggers different emotions in different situations.
  • List and name emotions as they happen.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation, which can help you identify thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without reacting to them.
  • Consult a therapist who can help you understand and regulate your emotions better.

2. Engage in Regular Exercise

Exercise is an excellent strategy to help regulate emotions. Regular physical activity can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which often co-occur with ADHD. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain. Exercise also helps clear the mind, improves focus, and cognitive processing.

It is essential to find a physical activity that you enjoy and can sustain over time to get the maximum benefit. Some physical activities that may be helpful include:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Cycling

If possible, aim to engage in physical activity for 30 minutes per day, at least five days per week. Start slowly and increase the intensity and duration as you build up stamina and tolerance.

3. Use Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the current moment, observing thoughts and feelings without judgment, and returning to the present moment when the mind wanders. Mindfulness can be helpful for individuals with ADHD because it helps them re-direct their attention and focus on the present moment, which can be challenging for those with the condition.

The following are some mindfulness practices that individuals with ADHD might find helpful:

  • Breathing exercises: Notice your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Try to make your breaths slower and deeper.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Tense and relax each muscle group, starting from your feet and working your way up to the top of your head.
  • Body scan: Focus your attention on each part of your body, noticing sensations, and any areas of tension or discomfort.

4. Seek Professional Support

Living with ADHD can be challenging, and it can be helpful to seek professional support when feeling stuck. Many therapists specialize in treating ADHD and can provide practical strategies to manage emotions, increase focus, and improve overall well-being. Additionally, some people with ADHD may benefit from medication to manage symptoms of ADHD, including emotional dysregulation.

It is crucial to find a therapist who understands ADHD and its implications on emotions.

5. Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude involves paying attention to the positive things in one’s life, current or past, and seeing them as gifts to be grateful for, despite any difficulty or suffering. This strategy can help redirect one’s thoughts from the negative to the positive and help individuals with ADHD cultivate more positive emotions over time.

To practice gratitude, start by writing down a few things each day that you are grateful for. Try to focus on specifics rather than generalities. For example, “I am grateful for the sunshine today” could be changed to “I am grateful for the warm sun on my face, and for the feeling of being able to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.”

6. Develop a Routine

Living with ADHD can be overwhelming at times, especially when there is no structure or routine in place. Developing a routine can provide a sense of security and predictability, which can help reduce anxiety and overwhelm. A routine can help reduce decision fatigue and help individuals with ADHD make more conscious choices, which can be helpful when managing emotions.

When developing a routine, try to include the following:

  • A regular sleep schedule
  • Regular meal times
  • A consistent workout schedule
  • Designated times for self-care and relaxation
  • Block out time to work on a specific task or project


Living with ADHD can present many challenges, especially when it comes to managing emotions. However, there are many practical strategies individuals can use to build emotional self-awareness, increase emotional regulation, and cultivate positive emotions. Strategies such as identifying and labelling emotions, engaging in regular exercise, using mindfulness practices, seeking professional support, practicing gratitude, and developing a routine can provide valuable tools to help cope with heightened emotions.


FAQs about Coping With Heightened Emotions When You Have ADHD

1. Can ADHD increase the intensity of emotions?

Yes, ADHD can lead to intense emotions, often referred to as emotional dysregulation. Individuals with ADHD may experience anger, frustration, mood swings, anxiety, and even depression more intensely than others. This can be due to the neurological differences in the brain that affect emotional regulation.

2. What coping strategies can be helpful for managing heightened emotions?

There are several coping strategies that can be helpful in managing heightened emotions when you have ADHD. These include mindfulness practices, regular exercise, practicing self-care, identifying triggers and patterns, and seeking support from a therapist, counselor, or support group. It’s also important to develop healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

3. How can family and friends support someone with ADHD who experiences intense emotions?

If you have a friend or family member with ADHD who experiences intense emotions, there are several ways you can support them. It’s important to listen without judgment and offer emotional support and validation. Encouraging them to seek professional help is also beneficial. You can also help them develop healthy coping strategies and encourage them to practice self-care. Remember that managing emotions can be challenging for individuals with ADHD, and your support and understanding can make a significant difference.


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