ADHD: Emotional Rescue
Students who struggle with ADHD are frequently trying to function while in a constant state of sensory arousal—they’re a virtual magnet for incoming stimuli with a combined inability to regulate those inputs efficiently. Although not everyone with attention challenges has difficulty managing their feelings, it is a common trait, and it often contributes to the anxiety and shame many students experience. Going through life with a quick temper, vulnerable to criticism and rejection, and easily overwhelmed, they are often characterized as overreactive, hypersensitive, or emotionally unstable—an additional set of labels on top of the ones they already carry. That’s hard on a child’s self-esteem.
A regulation situation
“Most people with ADHD have a very low frustration tolerance,” writes William Dodson, MD. “They don’t have a barrier that allows them to set aside uncomfortable emotions, and they often become completely flooded by a feeling, making it unbearable.”
According to Dodson, people with ADHD struggle to distinguish between dangerous threats and minor problems. What makes them so particularly susceptible to emotional overload?
“Challenges with processing emotions start in the brain itself. Sometimes the working memory impairments of ADHD allow a momentary emotion to become too strong, flooding the brain with one intense emotion,” writes Thomas Brown, PhD. The focus on a single feeling, he says, crowds out other important information that might help someone modulate their anger and regulate their behavior.
The impact of this struggle can be deep and long-lasting. “Significant social anxiety is a chronic difficulty experienced by more than one-third of teens and adults with ADHD. They live almost constantly with exaggerated fears of being seen by others as incompetent, unappealing, or uncool,” says Brown.
The peaks and valleys of that emotional roller coaster can also impact interpersonal and work relationships later in life.
Students who struggle to control their emotions often give up quickly on tasks, are hesitant to initiate projects they know they need to complete, avoid social situations, prefer small and immediate rewards, and become rapidly discouraged. Parents can help their children by acknowledging what they are feeling—and avoid pointing out what they ought to be feeling—as a way to encourage the student’s self-mastery.
A multi-pronged solution
Brown recommends a multimodal approach to managing emotional challenges. “It starts with a careful and accurate evaluation of ADHD,” he says. “One that explains ADHD and its effect on emotions. ADHD medication may improve the emotional networks in the brain. Talk therapy can help a person manage fear or low self-esteem. Coaching may help a person overcome problems with getting boring tasks completed.”
Evoke Learning offers mentoring and coaching programs that can help students overcome the obstacles of social anxiety, executive function challenges, and processing deficits in order to achieve and thrive in school and on the job. Contact us to learn how we can help.
Brown, T. E. (2019, August 2). Exaggerated Emotions: How and Why ADHD Triggers Intense Feelings. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from ADDitude
Brown, T. E. (2019, October 4). ADD and Emotions: What You Need to Know. Retrieved October 9, 2019, from Understood.org.
Dodson, W. (2019, September 5). 7 Emotions That Knock Us Off Our Feet. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from ADDitude.